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Wednesday Apr 03 2019

Japan’s judo diplomat and his drummer deputy

The Counsel General of Japan in Karachi and his deputy are men of many talents 

A 50-kilogramme tuna fish was lying on a stone in the Japanese Consulate courtyard as guests entered the building. Encircled by the perplexed guests, a man was trying to open the fish’s mouth and thirst a thick garden plastic pipe inside. Two other men held the poor tuna from the fatty middle and the tail end as the motor pump was switched on. In a second, water rushed in her mouth and started showering the men through the gills, who instantly adjusted their positions. The chef took a big sigh of relief but you could still notice a thousand things crossing his mind.

All their lives, the Pakistani guests had seen sacrificial animals being fed with fodder and water before slaughter. But, looking at that dramatic scene, many wondered if Muslim customs were being adopted by the Japanese for the tuna cutting ceremony? Or have they borrowed the waterboarding torture technique from the United States that used to have its iconic consulate on the other side of the road? Before having even more wild thoughts, invitees were told that the fishermen had delivered a frozen tuna despite a fresh fish being ordered. And, for that reason, efforts were being made to defrost it.

Inside, the hall was packed to its capacity with families. Sitting around a large table, their kids were emotional yet impassioned. Looking at the nicely arranged knives, some kept telling made up stories of how they had previously witnessed such an event. Standing up from her chair, a fairy came up with a fable about seeing a chef being bitten by a fish for failing to cut her with the world’s sharpest sword. Just then the frozen tuna was brought with its mouth wide open. And, parents of the little girl looked at the chef and broadly smiled meaningfully.

Deputy Consul-General Katsunori Ashida showcasing his fish carving skills 

The Chef was the Deputy Consul-General, Katsunori Ashida who had already equipped himself to deal with the situation. After introducing a variety of sharp maguro and sashimi bocho knives, he waved a hammer and smiled back to them. Conforming himself to the new reality, he avoided taking traditional slices from the head to tail. Instead, he skilfully chopped small pieces by hammering the knives into mostly frozen meat. With an even faster pace, he started preparing the sought after food.

It’s an expensive delicacy popular around the world and also incites the taste buds of the urban populace of Pakistan. The guests enjoyed both thin raw pieces which are called sashimi and a clump of rice with a topping of raw or cooked tuna popularly known as sushi.

For over a century, it is common in Japan to eat truly raw fish. It is treated with salt or vinegar to prevent deterioration and served with special soy sauce and wasabi leaves. The Japanese families who die for tasting the fat-enriched belly meat compromised on whatever best they could select as fats are only deposited in aquatic animals that grow in extremely cold waters. Katsunori Ashida was relieved that even Japanese ladies including the wife of his boss were highly appreciative of the taste.

Katsunori Ashida (right) showcasing his drumming skills during the Japanese Calender Exhibition 

Katsunori Ashida is a multi-skilled man. Last month, he had entertained guests with another enriching performance. Along with two consulate members, the versatile man enthralled the audience by playing Wadaiko Japanese drums. The event was held to exhibit new Japanese calendars but those who attended the event got captivated by the overwhelming power of beat and energy. Clad in traditional attire, Ashida and his group resonated the hall with a rumbling thunder sound. It was more than just beating drums as the performers got immersed in their art to announce the launch in that festive atmosphere. For spectators, it indeed was a breath-taking experience.

Ashida’s boss is a master of many talents. Astute diplomat Toshikazu Isomura who is better known for being close to cross party politicians and diplomats is a Shodan in Judo. Right from childhood, he opted for this sport and moved on to win a black belt and then first Dan in Judo in high school. Karate was his another passion so he earned second Dan in that art as well.

Consul General Toshikazu Isomura hosting a Karate Event 

Isomura found martial art so interesting that he would play for straight eight hours a day during vacations. It was in his genes. By stealing time, his grandfather would spend the whole day playing Kendo on the horseback.

But, stars had something else for Isomura. Lady luck took him to the foreign office whereas a diplomat he would sit for hours discussing, reading or writing. He stopped toppling challengers. Yet, continued hard exercises. Walking for five hours to take fifty thousand steps remained a piece of cake for him.

Soon he found other alternates. During his first overseas assignment, Isomura gave Judo lessons to an overly enthusiastic young man in Lahore. And, since then started hosting Karate workshops by inviting top martial artists from his country.

Karate is now being included in the Olympics being held in Tokyo in 2020. To encourage Pakistani players, excel in the field, he recently persuaded 7th Dan Katsutoshi Shina, a Japanese Karate Association official instructor give tips to young aspirants.

The Spirt of Budo exhibition at the Japanese Consulate 

A few months ago, the consulate also borrowed the services of a Karachi based leading Japanese businessman Toru Hisabayashi. This 7th Dan champion in Kendo displayed Samurai skills during The Spirit of Budo exhibition.

Kendo was descended from swordsmanship but now uses flexible bamboos and impressive protective armours that also hides the identity of the fighter. In this form of martial arts, the 8th Dan is considered the supreme position. In our country, the beholder of the highest Dan is another Japanese diplomat based in Islamabad. Masanori Yasue has still a long way to get the top diplomatic assignment. Yet, had secured 8th Dan at a relatively younger age.

Around the world, some of the most developed countries are known for their inventions and technological expertise in different fields. There are only a handful equally admired for their culture. Japan is revered for sophisticated and reliable technology. At the same time, Sushi, Ikebana and Martial Arts of this cherry blossom country are also adored.

Leaving a lasting impression on the hearts of the people is an art. This is normally achieved by soft diplomacy. And what better way of making it possible, if you have a Dan diplomat with a drummer deputy.