‘In America, they explain a lot. Japanese don’t explain so much.’

Times staff writer

When Satoshi Takamori moved to America from Japan last year, he was stunned when a friendly elevator rider struck up a conversation. “I didn’t know him!” he later declared. All the talk about weather in San Diego left him mystified, and he still can’t figure out what American food is--he travels to Los Angeles for a decent Japanese meal. The 32-year-old martial arts instructor was a Japanese chemical engineer when the owner of Ocean Beach’s Sunset Cliffs Aikido invited him to America to teach aikido , which stresses spiritual values and defense rather than attack, and kyudo , Japanese archery. His hobby became his profession, and his ready laugh became a barrier breaker in a country where he is still struggling with the language. Despite doubts about his life here, he talks of the cultural differences with a sense of humor, enjoys the friendliness and doesn’t regret the move--if he could only make a living and figure out women. Takamori was interviewed by Times staff writer Nancy Reed and photographed by Sandra Tatum.

Sometimes, I want to go back. I am homesick and wonder if I made a mistake. I think for instance, habits and ideas are totally different here. Especially in San Diego. People relax all the time. Over there, people work all of the time. Of course they work here, but they really enjoy life. They enjoy playing.

I didn’t know that. It was my custom, my circumstance, to work hard all the time. Time here is slow. I can’t adjust yet.


I like the nature, and the people. In Japan, I live in Yokohama, it is a big city like Tokyo. So it is always crowded. Here, a drive north or east of the city, you can get to desert or trees, but in Japan, even if you drive for one or two hours, still it is city.

I want to communicate more. Still, I can’t speak what I want to.

My family is very worried about me; they want me to come back. I am single still. They want me married and to have a family. They want me to have more security.

Last week, I had a chance to meet the Japanese community at a Japanese church. These people were born in San Diego so many can’t speak Japanese. They look very Japanese, but their ideas are American.

I was very surprised. So sometimes, I go to Los Angeles to find Japanese people.

I can teach aikido to get some money but not enough to live here.

When I teach aikido in Japan, I am a senior student, just under the teacher. So everybody respects me. If I say let’s do it this way, there are no questions.

But here, many people ask why do you step this way, turn this way. At first I went “What?”

I had never had the experience of having a student ask a question.

Before then, I never had any doubt or question, I just did what my teacher told me.

In America, they explain a lot. Japanese don’t explain so much. Over there, we have very set relationships between senior and student, but here it is very equal and people are very friendly all the time.

One day, my teacher came from Japan and he is standing here after class. One student, American, came over to talk to him and put his hand on the sensei’s (teacher’s) shoulder and says, “How are you sensei?” I was so surprised because the Japanese never touch the teacher.


He laughed. I had to say don’t touch the sensei. Right now, I teach the visual movement only. Later, I will explain the philosophy of Japanese martial arts. My Japanese teacher didn’t say about the philosophy all the time, it was always just train, train, train.

I want to learn the physical thing, and later I can feel more the mental thing. Of course I have studied Zen, but still I don’t know what is Zen. It is a way of life.

My purpose of teaching is to enjoy with the student. I want them to relax. I teach discipline too, but if you teach it all the time, people get bored. My teacher told me that.

A lot of people say, “I want to be strong. I want to get other people. I want to fight.”

With kyudo it is the same, “I want to hit the bull’s-eye all the time.”

Those people who are very ambitious, and can’t do it right away, that kind of person can’t continue anymore. They are looking for the result. And they are expecting it in a few months. I tell them it may take three years.

Some people really want to use the aikido technique on the street, but I say it is not a good idea. They want to show other people. But if you practice a martial art for 10 years, you don’t need to fight because you don’t want to fight. Already you are strong, you have confidence. You have reached that kind of ideal.