The Study Abroad Newsletter

Kendo The Japanese Experience

Ashley Tomori
Seinan Gakuin University, Japan

My name is Ashley Tomori. I am a Japanese Studies major and I chose to study abroad at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka prefecture, Japan. It is hard to believe that a whole year had gone by since I first came to Fukuoka. It only felt like yesterday that I met my host family on the platform at Hakata station. Although my time here was short, I was able to make so many cool memories and long-lasting friendships. Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I encourage everyone to do it sometime during their college career. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the memories made and experience gained in that new country will stick with you forever.

Ashley with a group of Japanese students

During the first semester, all of the international students were encouraged to either try out a club or a circle. A club is a group that centers around one type of activity, such as kyudo (Japanese-style archery), kendo (Japanese-style fencing), swimming, etc. These clubs meet up almost every day to partake in serious training or activity in preparation for competitions or events. On the other hand, university circles are like a more laid-back and casual version of clubs. They exist more-so as a way for people with similar interests and hobbies to get together and have fun. A lot of times, a person would be into a sport such as soccer, but they do not want the strictness and dedication that comes with joining a soccer club. Instead they may decide to join a circle for people who play soccer for fun, instead of competitively. I myself wanted to “experience” kendo club, but I was always too afraid to visit them during one of their practices and say, “By the way I want to join you guys...” It was like that for a whole semester. I would visit the club during their practices just to observe them on the side, but I never had the courage to go up to them and ask them to teach me how to wield a shinai (bamboo sword).

Ashley standing in front of Kendo Club

It was not until the second semester, and a little bit of encouragement from my American friend who had joined the kyudo club, that I finally fought back my fears and asked the kendo club members to let me join them. After a few practices, and a trip to the kendo shop to buy my own gi and shinai later, I finally felt like I was a part of the club. The nervousness I felt prior to joining was gone and I was happy knowing that everyone there accepted me despite the language and cultural barrier. Joining kendo club was the second best decision I ever made, and in my personal opinion, the best way to make new Japanese friends. Regardless of which club you decide to join, the members will do their best to welcome you and make you feel as comfortable as possible. I am glad I made the leap to join kendo, and I would do it again if I had the chance.