Uzbekistan, one of the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia, gained independence in 1991. Its capital is Tashkent, but it also boasts the ancient and cultured cities of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand, rightfully known as the "Heart of the Silk Road", lying as it does midway between Europe in the West and Japan in the East. Uzbekistan is fostering relations with many countries, not least of which is Japan, who has invested millions of dollars in development aid. Within Uzbekistan there is a great deal of interest in Japanese language and culture, and in recent years the Embassy of Japan in Tashkent has sponsored and promoted an annual "Japanese Days of Culture" event. The organiser of the event is Hiroshi Takahashi, minister of the Japan Embasssy. His aim has been to bring aspects of Japanese art and culture to audiences in Uzbekistan. In this aim Mr Takahashi has been very successful. This year he wanted to introduce Japanese Budo to the Uzbek audience for the first time.
Mr Takahashi is a former Shorinji Kenshi, so he wanted to give Shorinji Kempo the honour of being the first martial art to be publicly demonstrated in Uzbekistan. Moreover, Mr Takahashi was a member of the British Shorinji Kempo Federation in the early 1980s, a student of Mizuno Sensei. So it came to be that during its 30th anniversary year, the British Shorinji Kempo Federation was invited to give the first public demonstration of Budo in Uzbekistan.
The delegation was headed by Tameo Mizuno Sensei (seihanshi), Chief Instructor of the BSKF. Also in attendence were Koji Kato (Okazaki Chubu doin, seikenshi), Senichi Mie (Kyoto Kintetsu Bunka Salon Culture, seikenshi) who joined the delegation from Japan. BSKF members were George Hyde (UCL, chukenshi), Satoshi Tachibana (Mayfair, chukenshi), Damian Mitchell, Xavier Alford, Satoko Iinuma, Yukiko Tasaki, Sami Elkhalifa (all Mayfair, junkenshi), Felix Lee (Mayfair, ikkyu) and myself. We landed at Tashkent Airport early in the morning of Monday September 13th, where we were met by Mr Takahashi and other members of the Embassy staff. After passing through diplomatic passport control we were accompanied to our hotel by a police escort.
After a much needed short rest we went to look at the venue for the next day's demonstration: The Uzbekistan Tennis Centre. It is an impressive building, which often hosts the Asian Tennis Games and holds an audience of 3000. From here we went to the Embassy, where we were very privileged to take tea with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Uzbekistan Yuichi Kusumoto. The Ambassador had only just arrived in Uzbekistan and we were his first official guests. He had spent time in London in the early 1970s, and spoke perfect English.
We were joined for the duration of our stay by Keiichi Sato (seikenshi), who used to live in Manchester, but is now Director of the Earth Link Japan Uzbekistan Office, based in Nukus, Uzbekistan. He made the long journey to Tashkent to look after us during our free time. He took us to local restaurants and attractions that we would not otherwise have found. We were very grateful for his hard work helping us, and without him the trip would have been lacking.
On Tuesday evening the Japanese Days of Culture event was opened by the ambassador, who expressed confidence that the action would serve to strengthening friendship between Uzbekistan and Japan. The audience numbered around two thousand. Uzbek television crews filmed as Mizuno Sensei narrated the demonstration, explaining the history and philosophy of Shorinji Kempo. Demonstrations included hono embu, dantai embu, hokei demonstrations by Kato-san and Mie-san, gosshin-jutsu demonstrations (self-defence), randori and was capped with a display of tanto-dori by Mizuno Sensei. The audience eagerly participated in the final sample kihon. At the end we were warmly thanked with flowers, photos and autograph requests.
On Wednesday local students of Japanese showed us the Museum of Art and took us for a traditional Uzbek lunch. In the evening Mizuno Sensei gave a lecture on Budo at the Japan International Co-operation Agency, in the International Business Center. The lecture was well-attended and included some of Tashkent's martial arts practitioners from Aikido, Judo and Nihon Kempo. Mizuno Sensei began the lecture with a discussion of ninja; he asked if anyone thought they were a ninja, or if they thought ninja existed in Japan. He then politely disabused the audience of any notion that ninja arts exist anywhere other than in the movies. Sensei explained the concept of "bun-bu ryodo", the two ways of literature and martial arts, which have traditionally been followed side by side. Sensei finished by explaining his motivation for studying budo. After the lecture we dined as guests of the ambassador, a very enjoyable and unique experience.
On Friday we travelled to Samarkand. This part of the trip was sponsored by the Uzbekistan ministry of Culture, and organised by Mr Yamamoto, a well-respected teacher of Japanese in Samarkand. We demonstrated again, in front of a thousand people this time, and once again the television cameras recorded. Mizuno Sensei was presented with a traditional Uzbek robe, and the rest of us with Uzbek caps. Sensei gave an interview for the local papers, and afterwards we were entertained by Mr Yamamoto and a member of the ministry of culture.
On a personal note, I think that the trip was highly successful. I was surprised how many martial artists there were in Tashkent. They showed great interest in the demonstration and Mizuno Sensei's lecture, and I believe that we gave a good introduction to budo in general and Shorinji Kempo in particular. We were completely looked after throughout our trip. The local hospitality by the Embassy staff and the Japanese students is a perfect example of how Shorinji kenshi should strive to be in similar situations. Mizuno Sensei later explained that we had been complimented on our good attitudes. I am very grateful for the hospitality which made a very enjoyable trip. This is not the first time that being a member of the BSKF has given me an opportunity to do something that would not ordinarily do. I hope it is not the last. Finally, as with all Shorinji Kempo trips and seminars, the prescence of other kenshi made for a great experience, and developing of good friendships. I urge other kenshi to seriously consider taking any similar opportunities that are presented to you.