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Postcards from Japan: Practicing martial arts in karate's birthplace - Okinawa, with James Pankiewicz

James found his passion for martial arts when he was a university student. Combine that with a love for Japanese culture and you have the perfect recipe for a move to Okinawa! The birthplace of karate is known for its distinct culture and subtropical climate that James is proud to call home. James takes an active part in Okinawa's martial arts scene. After 25 years of practicing karate, he took the brave decision to open his own dojo - Asato Dojo! We talked to James about his journey, the best places to get a taste of karate as a visitor, and Okinawa's delicious flavours.

Hi James, thanks for talking to us today. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi, my pleasure. I live in Okinawa and practice karate along with some other martial arts. I found my way to Japan back in the 90’s as a university student pursuing a passion for martial arts and Japanese culture. My wife is Okinawan and we have 3 daughters. I feel very fortunate to be able to pursue “the way” of karate in this beautiful place. Over the years I have been involved in many karate projects and activities such as international seminars, competitions and many promotional events. For almost a decade I ran a very popular meeting place here called “The DOJO Bar” and recently I co-founded an online video streaming channel for martial arts at bujin.tv.


How did you end up becoming a karate instructor in Japan?

Well after 25 years of practice it finally felt right to open my own dojo. It was of course something I had thought about for many years but I didn’t want to rush into it, especially here in Okinawa where there are already so many dojo with incredible history and credentials. But I felt I had reached a point in my path where I wanted my own place of study, a place to welcome others to share knowledge and experience. Opening a dojo and taking on students is a great responsibility and sometimes challenging. But equally rewarding too. I’m very grateful to all my seniors who helped me progress to this point and continue to guide me.

It’s a big year for karate. How can visitors to Okinawa learn more about it and try their hand at this exciting discipline?

Every year is a big year for karate (I like to think) but the inclusion of karate in the Tokyo Olympics will of course go down in history. I hope it attracts more people to want to practice karate AND visit Japan and Okinawa to do so. 
There are some excellent facilities in Okinawa now to help visitors connect with training opportunities.

The Karate Kaikan is a must-see location and the staff there can help with arranging training.
The Karate Museum of Hokama Tetsuhiro sensei is also highly recommended.
And my dojo, the Asato Dojo, welcomes visitors of all levels of experience and ability year round to come train with us. We often organise special seminars and other participatory events too.
But even if you can’t physically travel here then you can easily join an online class. Asato Dojo offers one online class per week and there are many others available too from other dojo that have embraced the new technology in the face of COVID-related restrictions on travel.

Okinawa has a very distinct cuisine. What can you recommend to someone visiting for the first time?

It's a diverse and delicious cuisine containing elements of Japanese, Chinese and South East Asian cooking. But modern Okinawa also has lots of modern fast food and international cuisine restaurants too as it's a popular tourist destination. But please make the effort to find traditional Okinawa places and try everything! Be adventurous and open-minded. A lot of food is grown locally so it's rich in nutrients and very healthily made. Okinawa soba is a classic of course but you should also try Goya Champuru among many other great choices.

What’s your favourite place to visit in Japan?

There’s so much of Japan I haven’t seen yet but after Okinawa, I like Hokkaido best I think. These two places are a real contrast being the northern and southern extremities of Japan but I guess you appreciate them both more for that. I lived in Hokkaido for several months back in my student days and love to go back again when I can. 

You can find James on his Facebook, find out more about Asato Dojo on their Instagram and website!



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