Nabeyama Takahiro-sensei is a highly respected kendoka who boasts both a successful shiai and teaching career. He has also been actively teaching kendo overseas; today we will be interviewing him on his thoughts towards the spread of kendo.
Nabeyama Takahiro Sensei
-Born in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture
-Osaka PL Gakuin: Gyokuryuki 1st Place, Interhigh Individuals 1st Place, Interhigh Team Match 1st Place
-Tsukuba University: All Japan University Championships Two Time Team Match 1st Place
- After graduation: All Japan Kendo Championships Best 8, World Kendo Championships Two Time Delegate
Teaching kendo in the Netherlands
-Please tell us why you decided to start teaching kendo in the Netherlands.
Nabeyama: I began teaching there twenty years ago. Everything started forty years ago when Edo Koukichi sensei had the chance to live in the Netherlands for an year. After him, Iijima Akira sensei took over and continued teaching of kendo there. I was asked to help out with the teaching and accepted the request.
-Had Iijima sensei also been teaching kendo for a long time?
Nabeyama: Iijima sensei has probably been teaching for around forty years or so. He went to Chukyo University and became acquainted with Edo sensei during his time there.
-How often do you frequent the Netherlands?
Nabeyama: I go there every year. The Netherland Kendo federation sponsors a “Summer Seminar” every year, so I usually go during that time.
-How many people go to that seminar?
Nabeyama: Around one-hundred-and-twenty people participate over a three day period, ending with a dan-exam on the last day. It appears that participants are on the rise every year. An increase in the number of participants must mean that the people are finding something of value at this seminar, I see this as a positive sign. One thing I cherish the most from these experiences is when someone says to me, “I’m looking forward to next year”.
I treat every match as a serious fight. I’ll give advice that will help them be judged favorably. Anybody, regardless of their nationality, can participate in this seminar as long as they apply. Please consider applying if you are interested, the next session is planned in August.
Contents of the Seminar
-What are some concrete examples of what you teach at the seminar?
Nabeyama: The most important thing is knowing what the participants want. After establishing their interests, I will then try my best to answer their questions in detail.
In many cases, people outside of Japan tend to start kendo later as an adult. Many of these people are intelligent individuals who have achieved great things in their field of work. Their way of thinking and ability to comprehend kendo is in no way inferior to Japanese people.
-What do foreign kenshi usually seek to learn from this seminar?
Nabeyama: Questions involving, “how to move one’s body”, are quite common. I noticed that there are many people who know a lot about kendo theory. But because they don’t get enough keiko, theories such as “suburi” becomes hard to apply practically.
-Does that mean the standard we use to teach in Japan won’t work overseas?
Nabeyama: It would be easy if we could start from the basics, but time is very limited. Due to the three day limit, I usually have a hearing to see what people are interested before the seminar starts. My approach is to provide what is being sought. Of course, I also prepare beforehand so I can answer on the spot.
-There seems to be a lot of “logical” people around.
Nabeyama: That’s true, but you also have to change your logic to adapt to your audience. Take the difference between university students and elementary students as an example. Elementary student’s brains are still developing, so it's more important to make their bodies remember what it is they are doing. On the other hand, university students should be made to think and comprehend concepts in kendo. My policy is to avoid using onomatopoeia when I teach.
-That’s quite rare among kendo sensei.
Nabeyama: I don’t teach using words such as “Seme in like GU*“ or “Hit with a PAN*”, it’s quite difficult. I try to concepts such as the balance distribution and the way our joints bend. I don’t, however, see onomatopoeia as a bad thing.
-Is there a difference in the skill overseas?
Nabeyama: People are motivated by different reasons to do kendo. There are people who want to learn more about Japanese culture while others do it as a form of sports, it really varies a lot. One thing I can say is that everyone is interested in Japanese etiquette and culture to some extent.
-Is there anything you need to be especially careful of?
Nabeyama: I take care not to completely negate their way of thinking, nor force our way of doing things onto them. I respect their way of doing things. For example, in Japan the person leading suburi will shout the repetitions while everyone will respond with “men”. However, overseas everyone counts “Ichi, ni, san, ect.” together. It seems that they are self conscious of their pronunciation (chuckles).
The Spread of Kendo Overseas
-I heard you have been visiting America as well.
Nabeyama: I went last year, and luckily, I was requested to go this year as well. Chris Yang from team USA studied abroad at Tsukuba University for a year, and his younger brother, Danny Yang, did the same. I was requested to go based on those connections. He is a lawyer who works for Toyota. I think he is a wonderful person with an individualistic way of thinking. He went to Hong Kong this June and is planning another trip to Bangkok at the end of this year with his wife.
※We did this interview in 2017.
-Do you make it a point to make connections overseas?
Nabeyama: It’s not like that at all. I think of each match as a one-time life or death match.
-What do you think is needed for Southeast Asia and Europe to fight on the same level as Japan, Korea, and America in the near future?
Nabeyama: I think the first step is to create a suitable environment. For example, Japanese police are provided with an environment where they can focus on kendo everyday. I feel that countries where one can focus solely on kendo is very limited. Korea is probably the only country other than Japan where making a living out of kendo is possible.
-It seems like making a living out of kendo in other countries is almost impossible.
Nabeyama: I know of people from America who were willing to quit their jobs for the world tournament. Their will to win was truly amazing. I’m not necessarily talking about their techniques, but more so that their heart is in the right place. During the world tournament hosted by Taiwan, Japan lost to America. I had a chance to keiko with the Americans before the tournament, and I’m going to be rather blunt here, but their technical prowess did not match up to the Japanese. Despite that, the Americans won; techniques aside it was a victory of the heart.
-America’s commitment to kendo can be felt clearly. Do you think America has a well established kendo environment?
Nabeyama: I can definitely feel the national team putting more effort in. Chris Yang even went to train with the Tokyo police force a month before the tournament started.
-How do you think the kendo in Europe compares?
Nabeyama: I got the impression that there is a large kendo population in France and that many of their national team members have good sense. In Hungary, there is a man teaching there named Mr. Abe. He studied at the International Budo University and pursued his graduate studies at Tsukuba University. They are well trained and have clean kendo.
-What is the impression you have of kendo in Southeast Asia?
Nabeyama: There are many countries in South Asia that haven’t been registered with the world kendo federation yet. However, many Japanese companies are operating in places like Thailand. Some of these company workers usually end up teaching kendo during their stay there.
Message to Foreign Kenshi
-Please give one last message to the foreign kenshi reading this interview
Nabeyama: I think it’s important to focus on immersing yourself in kendo. Try to find the right Japanese environment that can help you achieve that. There are many exchange students who have come to Tsukuba and improved their kendo through the process. I would like to see more people coming to Japan, tasting delicious food, and immersing themselves in kendo. There is an impression that natural disasters are common Japan, but in reality, it’s very safe. Please come to Japan at least once if you have the chance and try doing kendo with the people here.
This time, we interviewed Mr. Kazuki Kawashima of the sword artist who is a Japanese craftworker.
It was a very impressed interview with Mr. Kawashima.
The reason why Mr. Kawashima became craftsman
ーWhy did you want to become a sword craftsman?
Kawashima: Since my family work was making a knife. When I was a kid, I wanted to make a sword for king.
ーMaking sword was familiar to you. As a sword maker, what is your motivation?
Kawashima: A sword becomes a guardian. I will be pleased if I make a beautiful sword, and customers gladly receive it, and customers will be happy they have it.
ーWhat is most important point making sword?
Kawashima: I keep in mind that I do a careful work, because polite work put in my soul into swords.
ーWhat is your goal?
Kawashima: I want to make swords as much as possible. I want to make beautiful swords as much as possible.
Thank you for today!
Born in Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture, he has commented on fashion, culture, gourmet, travel, and luxury lifestyle in magazines, newspapers, and on TV. In 2007, he received the title of Chevalier (knighthood) in Champagne, France. In 2010, he also received knighthood in Cava, Spain, which is famous for its sparkling wine. In 2013, Nakamura became the chairperson of the Japanese council for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. He is a 7th-dan kendo instructor, and is also an instructor for the Japan Tea Ceremony Association. (May 2017)
A New Challenge as a Gourmand
ーTo begin, could you describe your work?
Mr. Nakamura: I mostly write columns, and while I do write essays, I often write for magazines as a columnist. Recently I have been writing for the Nikkei regularly.
ーCould you talk about your work for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants?
Mr. Nakamura: Originally, I was only writing, however, once I became a regular on NHK BS1’s El Mundo (a program that focuses on international topics), I started to be invited to talks and also gave lectures. Recently, I starred in an international commercial for InterContinental Hotels Group as a gourmand, and I think that I will have similar opportunities in the future.
“Sophistication: A Sensory Experience” (Featuring Culinary Connoisseur Takanori Nakamura)
ーWhat kind of genre would you say culinary criticism falls into?
Mr. Nakamura: It is a critique, so I would consider it a literary art. I think that the quality of expression is required.
ーWhat is the difference between cuisine and gastronomy?
Mr. Nakamura: Recently, the term “gastronomy” is becoming frequently used around the world. This directly translates to bishoku-gaku (美食学) in Japanese. However, in the case of bishokugaku, it is not only the food on the plate that is considered, but also the culture and aesthetic elements that surround the dish. For example, the historical background of a recipe, the artistic experience, dishes, the spatial and architectural elements of the restaurant are taken into account, along with other decisions such as wine, drink, and cigar pairing. Although this approach of gastronomy has a rather short history, I believe that the study of bishoku will eventually mature and be well recognized, just as the automobile reviewing has matured 150 years past the invention of the automobile, and likewise with critique of photography. Also, because food, clothing, and shelter are essential to humans, understanding gastronomy is important for people’s daily life.
ーSo it’s a job that requires extensive knowledge. What drew you to this field?
Mr. Nakamura: It was really just an outcome of the circumstances. Whether I can continue to be recognized as a credible critic will depend on my future performance. Although I enjoy eating the food, I actually wasn’t very interested in this job at first. Gastronomy is a very specialized art with a lot of history corresponding to it. Evaluating and criticizing the food is a lot of work both physically and financially.Even when the offer came for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, I knew it would be a lot of work, but I couldn’t turn down such an interesting offer, and I am generally up for the challenge for things like that. Although I’m sure there are other easier ways to make a living, it’s in my nature to prioritize the things that interest me the most.
Kendo is Neither a Hobby nor a Job
ーWhat is kendo to you?
Mr. Nakamura: People often assume that kendo is something that I do as a hobby or just for fun, but to me, it feels like something more than just a hobby. It’s not my job, it’s not my hobby, and it’s also not something I do just for fun. Although I wouldn’t tell this to my clients, I sometimes prioritize kendo over my job, and in some cases, even over dates! My job is important of course, but I treat kendo with the same level of seriousness as I do my job.
ーHave your kendo and tea ceremony experiences been useful in your job?
Mr. Nakamura: My job is to convey things to people. When you think about it, even salesmen have to communicate to customers what the products are, and in the same way, engineers have to communicate their ideas as well. In my case, although I am just putting words and sentences together, the aspect of moving people emotionally with my words is similar to the arts of kendo and tea ceremony.
ーFor example, the way you take pauses in conversation?
Mr. Nakamura: 「Yes, and also the pace of communication. I think that’s the point of kendo and tea ceremony. For example, foreigners and Japanese people have different ways of communicating. Westerners may hug or shake hands with those they are close to. If you adjust yourself according to the person you are engaging, it will become easier for us to relate to each other and work together. In kendo, depending on whether you are up against a child, or an eighth-dan instructor, you will pace yourself differently. Recently, I’ve begun to realize just how important it is to have a sense of the relationship both when doing kendo and my job.
Why Do Kendo?
Mr. Nakamura: Just as I’ve experienced, since kendo becomes really helpful later in life, I’ve always wanted children to do kendo.
ーPeople don’t seem to be aware of how useful kendo can be.
Mr. Nakamura: Although paradoxical, doing kendo because you think it will be useful isn’t necessarily a good idea. As with many kendo athletes, I didn’t realize how helpful it was until later. The same thing is true for tea ceremony—if you do it because you think it will help you in the future, your motivation to continue will not last. You need to be able to enjoy what you are doing—be it kendo or tea ceremony—if you want to continue it for a long time and gain the intuition for the art.
ーDo you think it is not good to stick too much to form?
Mr. Nakamura: In both kendo and tea ceremony, it is very important to pay attention to form. Form has been sophisticated over many years, and is a rational thing. However, if you focus too much on style and following every rule, you may end up neglecting the essence of the art. Even in the case of tea ceremony, its style has changed from before Sen no Rikyu’s influence. He thought seriously about how supplies and flowers should be arranged in order to best entertain the guests. I think that tea ceremony is essentially about entertaining the guest you are serving. If you are too focused on style and following all the rules, you will not be able to produce good tea. Of course, the easiest way to learn tea ceremony is to study all of the techniques developed by the tea ceremony masters in history. However, I believe that it is important to go beyond that at times.
ーSo you have to let go of your defenses like shuhari (守破離)?
Mr. Nakamura: 「I think you have to aim to own what you are doing, whether it is tea ceremony or kendo. Then you can go beyond the basics that you’ve learned, as long as you have a good awareness of what you’re doing.
What do you mean by owning it?
Mr. Nakamura: You know, even with different kendo athletes, you get a different image of each athlete’s form of kendo. They have kendo in their nature. I think that it’s important to perfect that ability that they have within them. Each kendo athlete needs to perfect their own skill.
ーThis is a really simple question, but why do you choose to continue kendo?
Mr. Nakamura: Because I enjoy it.
Mr. Nakamura: It is really important to enjoy it. There’s nothing like that feeling of time stopping that I get when I’m doing kendo. I do get a similar feeling when I start working on one of my reviews, or serve tea, but when I do kendo, I feel something really exceptional.
ーWhere do you think that feeling comes from?
Mr. Nakamura: I guess it’s because kendo is about confronting death. Even though we’re using bamboo swords, it’s essentially about combating and killing the opponent. We face our own karma through kendo. You have to face the fear of death, and at that moment, it is the so-called katsujinken (活人剣) that makes the best use of both the opponent and yourself. Although I have never been in such a position, I get to experience something like this in kendo, and this is why combat sports are an artform. An art like kendo is really unique, and I think it should be recognized as a world heritage.
ーWhat does it mean to explore an artform?
Mr. Nakamura: 「I think it’s to see beauty in the techniques themselves, and to overcome one’s cowardice. That’s what martial arts are about. That’s where the beauty lies. It’s rare in the world to find a culture that finds beauty in combat, but that’s what we see in Japan in the form of kendo. I want the world to become more aware of this beauty.
ーIt truly is uniquely Japanese to see beauty in combat. Thanks for sharing these invaluable thoughts with us today.
Go Ueshima, CEO
Born in 1987 in Sendai. When he was in high school, he studied under Mitsunobu Sato. Selected eighth-best of inter-high school kendo team competition.
After graduating high school, he became a business development manager for a restaruant chain with 200 stores in the United States. Afterward, he worked as a salesperson at a foreign internet advertising firm, and later worked in the sales department and in the executive office leadership position of Inova. In January 2017, he founded Bushizo.
Yusuke Kodo, Director
Born in 1984 in Hokkaido, Kodo graduated from the Rikkyo University Faculty of Law. While he was in university, he helped publish the first issue of an independent magazine, and also helped with the marketing of an apparel brand. In 2008, he started working for Yahoo Inc, where he helped with the marketing of products using search-linked and display advertising. In January 2017, he founded Bushizo. He has been doing kendo since he was six, and continues it to this day.