There was an article published on the “News on Japan” website that caught my eye recently. It was about the Japanese government, “launching a new certification program in an effort to crack down on poor-quality sushi made overseas.”
There has been a boom in the number of sushi restaurants outside of Japan. This really isn’t very surprising as even the smallest cities in Canada boast a number of sushi restaurants. Here in Vancouver there are literally hundreds of them that run the gamut from inedible to world-class. So, it isn’t much of a surprise to read that there have been complaints about sushi restaurants overseas preparing and serving it incorrectly (1).
Enter the Japanese government. In their bureaucratic wisdom they have determined that this is a grave problem and decided to start certifying overseas sushi restaurants. It seems the government wants overseas sushi chefs to travel to Japan to be trained and certified in the craft of making sushi. The article doesn’t say, but perhaps after completion of their training these foreign sushi chefs would receive some sort of certificate they could proudly put on the wall and advertise on their website.
All of this should ring a bell I hope. It certainly did for me and when I read this article I was horrified, not because I don’t like good sushi; who doesn’t. No, I was horrified because of its implications for Okinawa Karate and Kobudo. In its own way, the various Okinawa Karate and Kobudo groups are moving towards this same model of regulation. Already there are international seminars on Okinawa where overseas teachers and students can come and learn from some the best Karate and Kobudo teachers in the safety and comfort of the Budokan, complete with English translation and air-conditioning. After a few hours of training and feeling good about themselves they can take a break and go site-seeing at Shurijo, Kumemura, or perhaps do a little shopping on Kokusaidori. Then return to the comfort of their hotel room only to repeat the same schedule the next day. After a week they can receive a nice piece of paper saying they trained with sensei x and y which they can proudly put on the wall of their dojo and advertise on their dojo website.
I know this may come across as overly cynical and I apologize for that. Instead I hope this serves as a warning for what might lie ahead in Karate and Kobudo’s future. I have argued before that Karate and Kobudo cannot be understood from this regulated, factory point of view. No, it can only be understood from a much smaller perspective; that of your teacher and your dojo and the relationship you have between the two. Nothing else really matters in the long run with respect to your ‘busai’. This whole notion of ‘international standards’ flies in the face of this and is something that makes me sad.
(1) How the Japanese government or whatever organization would know or be able to collect this kind of information is beyond me and the quality of the information, even if it could be collected, would be of very poor quality I suspect.