Kendo Friends Found

Courtesy of Jenny Nash
Jenny Nash

Jenny Nash shares her experiences as participant of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which is administered through the collaboration of Japan’s local and national government authorities and promotes grass-roots internationalisation at the local level.

Thinking of kendo, I opened my JET Programme acceptance letter. My imaginary future self was already riding a bike past a rice paddy, shinai bamboo sword on my shoulder. My dream was to experience life as a teacher in a small town. My only interview request: “Please, don’t put me in Tokyo.”

The next thing I knew, I had a daily commute by train, right into the heart of the Tokyo metropolis.

I spent three months feeling out of place. I loved my school and the teachers were friendly. The only problem: Apart from a very small circle of students, they didn’t care about kendo at all! Fortunately, I was able to run a physical education class for a month every year to teach junior high school students the kendo basics. A British woman teaching a Japanese sport must be a funny memory for those children.

By a stroke of luck, a friend told me about a kendo club near my apartment. It was a club for elementary school children, with adult practice sessions. I put on a brave face but was shaking inside as I introduced myself in broken Japanese. That moment changed my life. From the first visit, I was impressed and awed by the kendo instructors. They were the perfect balance of strict but inspiring, positively reinforcing the children as they grew to understand themselves and kendo. I love to see the children go to kendo matches, try their best and bounce back from defeat. There’s a lot to learn from them.

Courtesy of Jenny Nash
Jenny Nash, in white, teaches her students kendo.

They train hard, but enjoy life together, too. They invited me to experience tournaments, watermelon cutting on the beach, riverside fireworks festivals, mochi with red beans on the first keiko (practice) of the year, karaoke parties until midnight and shouting, “Goodbye, see you next keiko!”

In kendo, you learn a universal truth: You will lose. A lot. With the support of your friends, you have to get back up.

Not only did I find friends at this club, but a family and a philosophy. I hope that after the pandemic ends, I can again be surrounded by people who share a passion for this strange sport. As I learned while sweating and playing together with my kendo friends, “Sports can overcome the language barrier.”

— Jenny Nash took up kendo at the University of Kent in England and began to travel and make friends all over the world. In 2015, she moved to Tokyo as an ALT in the JET Programme. She worked in a high school in Tokyo for five years.