17 June 2014

Training in Japan

On Monday 9th June, Kath and Karen set off to Japan from Birmingham Airport via Amsterdam and arrived at Narita Airport, Tokyo after travelling for 17 hours at a reasonable 9:00am on Tuesday 10th June.  Customs and Passport Control took quite some time to negotiate but at the Arrivals Barrier they were very pleased to be met by Asako who had invited them to Japan to run two days of training and to judge their competition.    
Japan had just started the rainy season and the forecasts had predicted cloud, thunderstorms and of course rain!   But Tuesday was a pleasant day – apart from the humidity which hit them as soon as the ventured out of the airport.  Asako wanted to keep them both very busy to avoid any jetlag and drove them directly to Tokyo City to start the sightseeing!

A rickshaw ride seemed a must – the poor “driver” Tommy who had taught himself English (which was very good) was very happy to transport the sightseers in spite the very hot temperature.  
He ran and pulled the rickshaw (not an easy task) and he talked the whole journey of around 30 minutes only stopping to explain more about the sights or to position the rickshaw in front of certain buildings for the souvenir photos to be taken.
He dropped off the travellers in a different area from where he had collected them which gave them a superb opportunity to look at a very old shrine and then browse the streets at a leisurely pace, back towards the city.
Time soon passed looking around Tokyo sightseeing till late afternoon. Asako then drove Kath and Karen to her home town close to Tokyo and to the hotel where they would stay for two days.  That evening Asako met them along with Shinobu who would be their translator for the competition.   After a light dinner, the pair were pleased to retire quite early and get some sleep before a busy day which had been planned for Wednesday.

Asako and Shinubo collected Kath and Karen from the hotel shortly after breakfast and drove quite some miles to the Kegon Waterfall. 
A spectacular waterfall with a drop of almost 100 metres.  To reach the waterfall they had to drive up a mountain which had 48 bends in the road, mostly hairpin! 
Sadly, with heavy cloud around, there were no stops at the viewpoints but the waterfall was not disappointing.  Due to very heavy rain, the fall was dropping 20 tons of water per second.  An elevator then took 1 minute to drop from the top level of the waterfall to a viewing platform.  A wonderful sight and very wet!!
Lunch was next and was taken at a Japanese restaurant.  Their hosts chose the selection of dishes for each of them which gave them a good idea of the traditional Japanese food.
Back to the car and onwards to the Nikko Toshogu Shrine. You may like to watch this video for more details   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRVYs9Ubf4w#t=45
Lots and lots of steps to climb to see what this shrine had to offer the visitors. 
After a very interesting day, Kath and Karen returned to their hotel for a light supper and good night’s rest.

The following morning (Thursday) they were collected by Shobinu to transfer to the where they would be training and judging.  This was a 3 hour drive in some torrential rain but they made it to the hotel just before lunch.  The good news was that they had left the humidity of Tokyo behind and they had arrived in a very nice atmosphere!  http://www.dogresortwoof.jp/en/dogrun.html
That afternoon had already been arranged for Kath to present a seminar about judging. An informal chat was what they had agreed, but on entering the “classroom” it wasn’t as casual as expected.   
Afternoon tea was served as soon as everyone was settled and this was eaten throughout the seminar.  Kath had been asked to cover four subjects in detail, however, the first subject “What do you look for when judging HTM and Freestyle” took the entire time allowed for the seminar.  There are only three official judges in Japan and no agreed set of rules making competition very hard as different rules are used in each competition, but Kath had been asked to talk about the Open European Championships (OEC) Rules which made it a little easier.  Many questions were asked throughout the afternoon making it an invaluable experience for the 20 people there. 

The evening meal was served in the hotel which gave the pair a chance to look around the venue.  This hotel is for dog owners and offers a 25m pool for the dogs and many beautiful walks around the area all double gated to avoid any escapes! 

The dining room had rings set in the floor next to most of the chairs so that leads could be secured.  Yes their dogs are made welcome throughout the hotel, even in the very stylish restaurant.  When Kath and Karen visited Japan in 2008, there was only one such hotel in the area but now there are many more due to the popularity of the dogs.
 Friday – the first Training Day.  Due to the low heavy cloud and rain on their journey to this new hotel, Karen and Kath were amazed when they drew back the curtains in their hotel room – straight in front of them was the magnificent sight of Mount Fiji in glorious Blue Sky and sunshine!!  WOW – what a start to the day!!
After breakfast they made their way to the training hall.   There were 30 people attending plus spectators.  Each handler performed their routine and each was given feedback by both Karen and Kath who also had been asked to judge the routine against the OEC rules and give scores for everyone who completed their routine.  
As there are not many competitions in Japan for the handlers to enter (possibly just a maximum of 2 per year) not many of the handlers felt able to perform for the full length of the music without food in their hands and many changed their rounds into training.  They are more accustomed to entering Fun Classes where food is allowed which gives them no true incentive to work without food.  
The feedback was translated and a short training session was then given to each competitor.  Towards the end of the day they were then given the opportunity to try performing again and many had taken on the advice given showing great improvement all round. Asako provided two prizes for the most improved handler, one to be chosen by each of the trainers!

The evening was spent in the hotel restaurant which produced another wonderful meal followed by an early night taken by Kath and Karen as it had proved to be a long day for them both.

Saturday – Competition Day.  Some of the handlers from the first training day took part in the competition but many of the competitors were new faces in the ring.  The ring was a good size 20m x 16m.   There were areas around the main ring where people could rest their dogs and there were also two warm up rings.  The building where the competition and training took place was absolutely wonderful.  There was plenty of space for everyone and the floor had a rubberised surface which seemed to suit both dogs and handlers.
There were quite a few entries for a country where competing isn’t priority! 

6 Novice HTM, 6 Beginner HTM, 3 Starter HTM (one of which was a pairs routine),  12 Starters Freestyle, 26 Beginner Freestyle (including a pair and a brace), 16 Novice Freestyle (including a pair)

Starters is a class for handlers who have never entered a competition before and the remaining handlers could then choose whether they entered Beginners or Novice according to their experience.
Some of the Novice routines were extremely good in Musical Interpretation, Content and Accuracy and a real pleasure for Karen and Kath to judge.  Asako had asked Kath and Karen to bring with them three awards each to give to their choice of handlers.  The recipients of their small silver engraved salvers were delighted to receive what they felt were very special awards.
Sunday – another Training Day with a large entry of 25.  The format was the same as the Friday Training Day and it pleased so many to receive individual feedback from both Kath and Karen and training to help them to progress.  On this, the second day of training most of the handlers were able to perform their routines without food therefore there were only a few training rounds. However, it took nearly all the day to work through all the performances but they were all given the opportunity to perform a second time and once again improvement could be seen from all the performances.  Kath and Karen were very pleased to see the majority of attendees huddle round to hear the feedback which was given to all of the teams in order to maximise the amount of information they received from the day as possible.
Another very nice meal at the hotel and an early night as Karen and Kath were to be returned to Tokyo the following day.
More requests for extra training were received on the final morning at Hotel Resort Woof from the organisers who had missed quite a lot of the feedback and training given over the two training days.  Happily Karen and Kath were able to give further advice for the eager learners!
By noon it was time to leave.  Everywhere Kath and Karen stayed, they were thrilled with the service and politeness of the staff.  
Everyone was so friendly, they even ran out the hotel and stood on the steps to wave goodbye to their English visitors!
Asako and Shinobu took them to a nearby “National Park” for a very leisurely walk in the tranquil woods between the foot of Mount Fuji and the lake, a perfect relaxing time. 

They then went on to an Organic Restaurant which served the most perfect of meals!!  After lunch it was time to bid farewell to Shinobu who had been very busy throughout their visit.  They then made the 3 hour drive back to Tokyo where Asako had booked them into the Narita Airport Hotel.   A long drive but a surprisingly pleasant motorway journey.  Driving through Tokyo took 1.5 hours and that was still on motorway – what a huge city!!  But when they arrived at the hotel the humidity of the lower altitude hit them once again!
A snack in the room followed by another good night’s rest and they awoke in the morning ready for a quick breakfast before catching the shuttle bus to the airport. The return flights kept to time and after the 19 hour flight from Tokyo to Amsterdam, there was a short transfer time before they boarded the final flight home to England.

Arriving home some 21 hours after rising that morning – home felt a great place to be!

Kath and Karen would like to thank Asako, Shinobu and everyone they met in Japan for making it a wonderful trip.

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