Black Belt in Aikido
(submitted by Keisuke Ozeki to meet the requirement of Personal Goal)

I have been doing Aikido for 13 years now, in TIS and in YIS. Currently, I do it every Friday, with other students in the school and with four teachers. Aikido is a martial art which teaches you how to control the opponent using their own motion or taking their balance away to throw them. Ever since I started in Kindergarten, I always dreamt of earning my black belt, and at the end of 10th grade in May of 2012, I have achieved one of my greatest goals in my life.

In total, there are 10-kyus (levels) in Aikido, and it counts down from 10 to 1. After that, there is the dans (black belt levels), and I was able to earn my sho-dan (first level of black belt). This required a great deal of commitment for more than ten years, and the skills necessary to pass earn it. In order to level up, it is a requirement to pass a test, and you cannot take it until the teacher feels that you are ready to do so.

When I started the activity, the purpose of doing Aikido was simply for learning a martial art which involved selfdefense. However as I was improving, I started to dream about becoming a black belt owner one day.

The test was taken in May of 2012, and this brought a huge deal of pressure. This was partly because I was the first student in YIS to ever take a black belt test, but also it was because the test lasted for about two hours, which is twice the duration of a normal test. Prior to the testing, I was required to be extremely careful with fixing all my mistakes while performing the techniques/throws, because during testings, the teachers cannot help you in any way. This forced me to realize my strength in certain techniques, but also the weaknesses I must overcome to pass the test.

I believe I took/and am taking a lot of leadership in the class, as I am the oldest and the most experienced student in the class. When somebody is doing the techniques wrong, I am usually able to point out their mistakes and teach them how to fix it. A lot of collaboration is involved, since usually, we all throw each other for practice, and not so much the teachers.

A lot of consideration of ethics is involved, since when the teachers are not watching, you are able to be lazy and not do everything as instructed. However, in order to improve, this cannot happen, and a great deal of decision making was involved. This activity is probably the most meaningful and the most challenging extra curricular activity I have been doing my entire life, because of the fact I learn new skills and techniques every lesson, and also because a great deal of responsibility is involved because of the fact that I am a senior student in the class.


 
 

Published Writing
(submitted by Kat Whatley to meet the requirement of Personal Goal)

Since 2006 I have been publishing articles in different magazines. Writing different articles gives me the opportunity to explore one of my passions. I started by writing a small column in a community magazine called Tokyo Families. Then I had ideas to write about things I was passionate about, or things that I had experienced.

From these writing experiences, I have learned perseverance and determination. Writing something completely unrelated to school means that I need to set aside time out of my schedule to write. I need to force myself to get down to it, and set myself different tasks for each day. I give myself deadlines. It is hard to stay on top of everything, which is why I try to write the article drafts over a vacation. Then I can go back and edit them on weekends.

Writing gives me the opportunity to develop my journalistic writing skills. I get to write in a way that I normally would not at school. This means that I can grow as a writer. As I want to be a writer in the future, this is good training. It allows me to change my word chose and tone from the usual academic writing. This has made me a better academic writer as well. I notice that I found it easier to do research and writing for large scale IB essays, such as the History IA and Extended Essay than before. Instead of being scared of starting, I just got into it. I wasn’t overwhelmed anymore.

I want to continue finding different avenues to explore my writing. I’d love to explore creative writing, perhaps through the literary magazine at YIS. This has made me more confident about writing in the future, as I feel like I already have some form of experience.
 
A Selection of Published Articles

Metropolis Magazine Last Word, 2009
http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/789/lastword.asp

Confessions of a teenager in kimono
The first time I remember wearing kimono was when I was seven. It was shichi-go-san, the festival where parents with kids aged three, five and seven dress up their kids in kimono and take them to the local shrine to pay for good health. My parents got all of their Japanese friends involved I was the center of attention for a good hour as I was dressed in a gorgeous soft orange and green kimono. They tied my obi and pulled my hair up into a bun with a pink clip. Everyone was so excited to dress me, and I loved every moment of it, just as most seven year olds would. I still remember the feeling of sliding my arm into the kimono and feeling the soft lining envelope my arm. I felt like princess from long ago. My three year old sister on the other hand, could not get into the sprit of things. She would not wear the stiff obi and hated wearing the kimono because it inhibited her from running around like her usual tomboy self. To this day, she still does not understand my love for kimono and all things girly. She just laughs and goes and plays with her Lego.
As we walked down the big rocky avenue at Meiji Shrine, everyone looked at us like we were dressed up dolls. “Kawaii!” How cute they thought we looked. They excitedly took pictures, something our parents were not excited about. I enjoyed everything about shichi-go-san, and why shouldn’t I? I got to dress up, something I still love to do today and get lots of attention. What more could a seven year old ask for?
Fast forward four years. I’m sitting at the dining table one day and a brilliant idea popped into my mum’s head. Thinking about how much I like to dress up and how much I loved waring kimono for shichi-go-san, she suggests getting Oishi-san to teach me how to wear kimono. Oishi-san, is an older lady who used to be one of my mum’s English students. One of her passion’s in life is kimono. She learnt to wear it as a young lady and has dressed others ever since. Oishi-san readily agreed to the idea and my best friend and I started our first lesson a few weeks later.
From tying the intricate obi, to walking gracefully, we mastered it all. Every Saturday for a year we stepped in to a timeless world, filled with stunning silks and pretty patterns as well as an elegance not found in the regular world of teenage hood. At first, it would take two hours to get the obi on and we would always need Oishi-san’s, small but talented hands to get us out of a mess. We were definitely not graceful or elegant. We looked liked to foreign teenagers trying to pull off wearing kimono, which is exactly what we were. Gradually, we began to need her help less and less and by January of 2008, we could do the whole operation in under 45 minutes. We were definitely not as elegant as Oishi-san, but the kimono had seen much less elegant people wearing it.
In February, Abby and I wore kimono outside for the first time. At first, we were like newborn colts in our geta sandals, knocking our knees together. We had not thought to practice wearing our geta and it was not the most comfortable occasion. We were worried about what people thought about gaijin wearing kimono, let alone teenagers in flea market kimono. Gradually, we realized that the stares from old ladies were not out of annoyance but out of amazement and excitement. The ones that talked to us were all amazed that we could wear kimono by ourselves, and congratulated us. Mentally, I gave a sigh of relief. I had braced myself for being stared at like I was batty or a public nuisance. Instead, all of the ladies were happy that we were wearing kimono and not one of them looked at us meanly. Later on however, a few would look quizzically when I wore western shoes with kimono.
Older Japanese ladies are the only people that understand why we like kimono so much. Most of them have worn it not just at the obligatory weddings and funerals. They understand the thrill of feeling cocooned in silk. No one my age understands at all. To the Japanese girls, it was what their grandmothers wore, some boring old fashioned thing that you wear on special occasions that’s extremely traditional and stuffy. To the gaijin, it’s some lame cultural thing, something that their teachers or mothers make them learn about and not something that they would talk about on their own accord.  We tell them about the feeling of wearing it, feeling beautiful. They shrug it off, not understanding and not caring. One of our friends jokingly told us we should wear kimono to the school dance trying to make us shut up about kimono. She didn’t realize it, but she planted the seed of a great plan in my head.
I’m sad to report, there will not be a full scale revolution on your hands. I have not been able to make even one of my friends want to wear kimono. You will not see groups of girls in kimono walking around Shibuya and hanging out. Kimono is still a dying traditional craft, but it’s death is not as close as you might have imagined. A very small amount of Japanese women are changing kimono into a fun outfit. You can buy countless books about wearing kimono, making kimono and making accessories for when you are wearing kimono. So for the moment, my dress up outfit is safe.

Metropolis Magazine, 2010
http://metropolis.co.jp/travel/travel-features/the-goto-islands/

Explore the home of Japan’s “hidden Christians” off the coast of Nagasaki
When one thinks of Japanese islands, churches aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. But tucked away in the Goto Islands, an archipelago off Nagasaki, you’ll find 50 of them—a reminder of the strength and determination of the Christian community in historical Japan.
First introduced to Japan in 1549, Christianity was initially welcomed by the local rulers, and flourished in the latter half of the century. However, the Tokugawa shogunate that came to power in 1603 came to see it as a threat, and launched a campaign against the country’s estimated 300,000 converts, eventually banning the religion altogether.
Many of the converts fled to the Goto Islands to escape persecution, where they continued to practice their faith in secret through the Edo Period and became know as the “Hidden Christians” or kakure kirishitan in Japanese. The priest who showed us around during our trip was a descendent of this group, and took us to churches and other sites that commemorated their plight.
One of the most memorable churches we went to was Dozaki on Fukuejima, the most famous church in the archipelago. Positioned on the edge of a beach looking out over the ocean, it was built by French missionaries who arrived on the island in early Meiji. Imagine their surprise on discovering that there were already Christians living there. With its red brick walls and tall columns, the church is the closest thing that the islands have to a cathedral. The simple stained glass windows and white shutters ensure that it retains the feeling of a small country church.
A short ferry ride took us from Fukuejima to Hisakajima, where we drove through lush green rice paddies and deep fjords to the site of a prison in which Christians had once been held. An incident occurred in early Meiji, where many who had been hiding their faith chose to declare it publicly, and as a result,  a number of men —and sometimes their entire families— were forced into a single hut. They were only released after word of the prison spread overseas, sparking an international outcry. A humble but immaculately clean chapel maintained by the local people serves as a memorial to this moment in history.
After staying the night in a guest house run by a local convent, we traveled to Gorin, one of the first churches built in Japan. As a result, the building incorporates many Japanese elements in its design, including the gray-tiled roofing seen in traditional homes. Unlike the other churches on the Goto Islands, Gorin is made of unpainted wood, and employs sliding windows reminiscent of shoji doors. The windows even have amado, traditional Japanese wooden coverings for the windows in case of a typhoon.
The following morning, we went by boat to look at a cave-like crevice known as “the eye of a needle”—so called because whichever way you look through it, you can see a sliver of sky on the other side. This was once a hiding spot, where Christians congregated when they heard about coming raids. They were eventually caught when a local fisherman saw the smoke coming off their lunchtime fires and reported them to the local government. Today, a statue of the Virgin Mary next to the opening of the crevice commemorates their plight.
On the final morning of our stay, we attended an early Easter Sunday mass. It was filled to the brim with people a big difference to the half empty services we had been to previously. It was inspirational to see farmers and fishermen observing a holiday that was being celebrated all around the world. That 250-odd years of persecution weren’t enough to drive Christians away from these islands is a true testament to human courage.

Gomad Nomad Travel Magazine, April 2010
http://gomadnomad.com/2010/04/26/hometown-traveler-tokyo/

Hometown Traveller: Tokyo
To a foreigner, Tokyo conjures up images of kimono, sky scrapers, Godzilla and crazy fashions. A city with a great vibe, it’s somewhere that any self respecting tourist should visit once. But let’s face it, Tokyo is expensive. It’s easy to spend more and more money than to find great bargains. But, if you know where to go and what to do, it doesn’t have to be prohibitive.

Planning Ahead
Before you even book your flight to Tokyo, be aware of a few things. First, Tokyo is a city with four very distinct seasons. From December to early March, Tokyo can get very cold. Spring is lovely, with flowers everywhere, including the famous sakura in March. June is the rainy season which is humid and very rainy. It is incredibly hot and humid in August, think Singapore, so don’t go then if you can avoid it. Try to go to Tokyo from the middle of March to the middle of June and from September to November.
Tokyo is a huge metropolis. If you are interested in beautiful scenery, relaxed atmosphere and old temples, hop on the train to Kyoto or any number of small and picturesque towns in rural Japan. Come to Tokyo for an exciting melting pot of cultures where seeing a lady in kimono next to a goth on the train is an everyday experience.

Food
The first thing you should do is get used to eating a big lunch. Many restaurants have a lunch sets on weekdays that are substantially cheaper than ordering a la carte. Usually between 500 and 1000 yen, around $5.40 and $11.00 U.S dollars, these lunches normally come with a main course, salad and sometimes dessert. For dinner, check out the many fast food chains near stations that cater to the tight budgets of business men on the way home. Noodles and rice bowls or donburi are some of the more popular choices. The meals will typically cost around 400 yen. Many of these establishments will make you buy a ticket for your meal before you order. Though it may unnerve you to see all the Japanese writing, try talking to the waiters, everyone is willing to practice their five words of English.
Convenience stores or combini are a great place to buy food. Unlike convenience stores in the US, the prepared food is quite good at these combini. There are all kinds of ready prepared meals including salads, onigiri which are rice balls with flavorings, bento which are lunch boxes typically consisting of rice and a piece of meat or fish and, of course the omnipresent cup noodle. Onigiri and salad typically cost around 120 yen and bento cost between 300 and 500 yen. In the summer time, try the cold noodles for a refreshing treat.

What To Do
Many Tokyoites head to the few big parks in the city for a picnic on the weekends. Yoyogi Koen, right near Harajuku, is always packed with people eating, talking, walking their dogs and performing all kinds of things. Don’t be surprised to see 1950’s rockabilly dancing next to a trio playing the bongos. Bring along some of your combini purchases and join in for a break from the concrete. To see some spectacular modern Japanese architecture, go right next door to the National Stadium designed by Kenzo Tange for the 1964 Olympics. The closest station to Yoyogi Koen, is Harajuku station on the JR Yamanote line. For a more quiet picnic, try Shinjuku-Gyoen. Originally a wealthy family’s gardens, this park with its rolling lawn and big trees is reminiscent of an English Manor garden. Come here during March to see the sakura flowers blooming. Shinjuku-Gyoen has a fee of 200 yen and its closest station is Shinjuku-gyoenmae on the Marunochi line.
Learn to travel on foot. Though individual train rides aren’t expensive, from 160 yen, Tokyo is a city that is best seen by foot. There are no great sights to see in Tokyo, just neighborhoods to visit and take in. Try going to any number of stations to walk around for the day.
Asakusa should be one of the first stops for a first time visitor to Tokyo. It is in the shitamachi, the working class district of Tokyo, and is famous for its Sensoji temple. Though the temple is not particularly impressive, the area surrounding the temple is filled with many traditional snack shops, clothing shops and restaurants. This area is also popular for Japanese tourists and has been for many hundreds of years. Every year, on the third weekend of May, Sanjya-Matsuri is held in Sensoji temple. With a reputation of being one of the wildest festivals in Japan, if your in town, don’t miss it. The closest train station to Sensoji temple is Asakusa station on the Ginza line.
After seeing Sensoji temple, head over to Meiji Jingu, a shrine built in 1920 to honor the Meiji Emperor. Surrounded by 175 acre man made forest, you will be thankful for this oasis of green after tramping Tokyo. This serene shrine with its austere roofs is totally opposite to the excitement and commotion of Sensoji temple and comparing and contrasting the two is very interesting. Meiji Jingu is right next to Yoyogi Park and to the Harajuku shopping area. The closest train station to Meiji Jingu is Harajuku station on the JR Yamanote line.
Harajuku is one of the most popular shopping areas and you can find everything there from Nike to Louis Vouitton to teenage fashions to cosplay stores. Walk down Takeshita-dori to see some crazy teenage fashion then head to the main drag of Omote-sando to see some fabulously designed buildings for international brands. Keep walking to see the famous Prada building built by Herzog & de Meuron, the same architects as the Beijing 2008 Olympics Stadium.
To see some history, take the train to Otemachi station and take a walk inside the Imperial Palace Gardens. Part of the Imperial Palace complex, the section open to the public includes the ruin of the old castle that was destroyed by fire and a prime example of a Japanese garden. Also in the complex is a sizable park with many trees. Take a walk around the complex and look at the great moat. Entrance is free.

Tokyo is a city that can be explored and scavenged on a very tight budget. Just use some creativity and most importantly, enjoy!

Metropolis Magazine July 28th, 2011
http://metropolis.co.jp/features/the-last-word/eat-more-green/

Eat More Green: Think Before You Eat
About a year ago, I decided something had to change. I had always been relatively environmentally aware, but something in my mind sparked and I decided I wanted to do more to reduce my personal carbon footprint.
I found out that, apart from electricity usage and transportation, a great deal of our carbon emissions come from the food we eat. That sounded strange to me at first, but as I continued researching, I found some shocking statistics. In 2006, Japan’s food self-sufficiency was 39 percent. That means the majority of what we eat here in Japan every day is shipped to us, sometimes from halfway across the world. Automatically, this raises the carbon footprint of our diets. And only a mere 0.3 percent of Japan’s farmland is organic. Commercial fertilizers are created using the Haber Process, which uses exorbitant amounts of energy to turn the nitrogen in the air into nitrates for soil. So the more non-organic food we eat, the more our carbon footprints go up, not to mention the potentially very dangerous pesticides we are consuming at the same time.
Carnivores will be upset to hear how wasteful meat is as a food source. A ten-acre farm used for raising cattle can support two people, while the same farm used for growing soybeans can support 60 people. In the US, meat requires about eleven times more fossil fuel to produce than vegetables. This makes our diets even more carbon emission intensive. But what if you love meat and can’t imagine becoming a vegetarian?
Here’s some good news: You don’t need to totally stop eating meat to make a difference. If enough people become weekday vegetarians or stop eating beef, lamb and other cud-chewing livestock, and more pastureland can re-grow into forest, then the cost of climate change mitigation would go down by 40-70 percent by 2050. On a personal scale, becoming a vegetarian can save between 0.5 and 1 ton of CO2 emissions a year—so even cutting out meat for a few days a week will significantly lower your emissions.
If you decide to cut down on meat consumption, you need another source of protein. In Japan, eating seafood instead of land animals sounds like a rational and easy idea. In theory—yes. However, because of the lack of fishing regulations, combined with new fishing technology, many marine species are being overfished at an alarming rate. Some fish stocks— like bluefin tuna and cod—have depleted 90% since 1900. But how can an individual consumer choose not to support this form of commercial fishing?
The easiest thing to do is to stop ordering and buying exploited fish. Greenpeace’s red list of overfished species (http://meturl.com/seafoodredlist) has some 20 species of seafood, including tropical shrimp, Atlantic salmon and multiple species of tuna. Depending on where or how the fish is caught, some red list species can be eaten. For example, albacore tuna (the tuna found in cans) is on the red list, but if it is caught by simple trolling or pole and line, it is perfectly healthy for the oceans.
Until recently there was no way of knowing whether fish bought from a supermarket in Japan was over-exploited or not. However, since 2006, fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the worldwide certification and labeling organization for sustainable seafood, has been sold in Japanese supermarkets such as Aeon, Seiyu and Isetan. This is a huge step for Japan, a main culprit in the overfishing crisis, and gives consumers the information to choose a better alternative.
Though there is not a big network of stores selling organic or locally grown products here, the demand for organic food is rapidly rising and so are the choices. Many chain supermarkets such as Seijo Ishii and Peacock now have an organic section, albeit small. There is also the weekly grocery delivery service Radish Boya for domestically grown organic produce. The Natural House chain, with branches all over Tokyo, sells many organic and farm-fresh produce.
I wanted to find something I could do as an individual everyday to help the environment. At the same however, I have discovered the simple joy of cooking that comes with caring about my diet. Eating less meat and cooking at home more often has become a pleasure, and it’s healthier and better for the environment, as well. It’s not just about cutting out meat or cutting out fish, but about focusing more on what is going into our mouths and where it comes from. That doesn’t mean we can’t go out and enjoy meals. All we need is some restraint—and the rest comes easily.
 
 

Swimming
(submitted by Alisa Waninge to meet the requirement of Personal Goal)

I’ve been attending a gym since 2012, but in 2013 I discovered a training session that brought back old memories. When I was younger, back in China, I was quite a dedicated swimmer – practicing 3 times a week, entering competitions, etc. However, at the age of 12, I realized that it took up too much of my time and I quit the team. I’ve had multiple attempts in coming back to it but these proved unsuccessful due to lack of motivation.

One day, a friend introduced me to a swim training session at the gym. I decided to give it a go. This is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. The session made me realize how natural swimming is to me and how long it’s been since I’ve last swum properly the way I did that day. From then on, I’ve been attending swimming practices at least twice a week. The training is a lot more systematic – rather than just swimming laps for an hour, the coach brings in a variety of drills – eg. arms only, gives a distance and the number of a reps eg. 50 x 3, and a time to do each rep, eg. 1 minute 20 seconds. This makes it very ordered and efficient in terms of time and getting as much exercise as possible done in one hour. It also increases endurance, speed and fitness. I feel so much better after I’ve started attending swim training, because it is great for releasing stress and simply feeling good about exercising at all. It has encouraged me to take up on other activities in the gym as well, through friends I’ve made in the team and generally going there more. Now, if I don’t go to the gym I feel stress accumulating, so it has become my standard way of managing my stress levels. After swim training I’ve completely forgotten that I was stressed at all before.

The picture above shows my swim team after a running event. They are all a bit older and more experienced than me, so they have taught me a lot about keeping fit and healthy. I have learned from them about how to take care of my body, whats good for it and what is not. For example, they have taught me about eating habits that may be good for me and what is not. However, in the end, it always is dependent on the person, and it was up to me to find what works for me. And I have found that eating healthy is of course, important, but it is okay to reward yourself with something sweet every now and then. Torturing yourself by not eating something you’re craving can just cause distress. The point is to listen to your body and what it needs.

My Goal
I have made a goal for myself at the beginning of the year as well. Back in the day, my strongest stroke was the butterfly – I still remember to this day the day I got a gold medal in a city competition for my 25m butterfly in 19 seconds. At that age, 25m was the typical race, but these days, 50m is the standard distance in which we do time trials and races in general. The difference between 50m and 25m is huge in swimming, and especially with the butterfly – it’s very difficult to keep the same pace going with butterfly for a long distance. So when I tried it the first time, I was well over 45 seconds for 50m. Although disappointed, I told myself I couldn’t really expect much more, just because it takes some time to get back into swimming and fitness. Instead of feeling sad about it, I decided to work towards a goal – to be able to swim 50m butterfly under 40 seconds.
A few months passed as I continued training every week. A Masters competition was coming up, and there was a day dedicated to time trials for the event. Although I was too young to attend the competition, I went anyway to see if I’ve made an improvement. And indeed I did – 38.7 seconds! I was ecstatic, and I was complimented by the coach, who happened to be a butterfly expert, that my technique, skills and speed has improved greatly over the months. It was a great feeling to finally achieve my goal, and it has only encouraged me to keep going and keep decreasing my time as I continue swimming regularly.
 
 

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