One night in early February of this year (1999) I sat down at my computer as I do every day, looking forward to checking my email and corresponding with a few of the readers of The Checkcord who take the time to write to me. On this particular day there was an email from Mr. Itaru Tanaka, a gentleman from Japan requesting some information about German Shorthairs, training and field trials here in the US.
It's not unusual for me to get an occasional email from overseas. They have come in from every continent except Antarctica over the 4 years I have been doing this. A couple of times I had to seek help with translations, one from Turkish and one from Hungarian! I always enjoy writing back and forth, learning new things and making a friend or two along the way. As usual, I wrote back to Mr. Tanaka, being brief and to the point as I always am. (I'll tolerate no snickers from the peanut gallery...) I was not prepared for this his next reply in which he stated that he was coming to the US later in the Spring and would like to include a visit to me in Omaha on his itinerary. To make a long story short, we wrote back and forth over the next several months and I became very pleased as the time got closer and it became certain that he was not only coming here, but that two of his teen-age children were going to be joining him.
Through our ongoing emails, Itaru, an avid hunter and owner of an English Setter and a young German Shorthaired Pointer, expressed an interest in seeing a GSP field trial during his visit . Luckily, our local GSP club was holding it's Spring trial the very weekend that he was planning to come to town. The bulk of our plans would be made around getting him down to the trial and then up on a horse to ride some braces.
Itaru's whirlwind visit for a glimpse of bird dogs in the US began on a Friday night in late May. His daughter, Megumi or "Meg" was the first to arrive at Omaha's Eppley Airfield. Meg is actually a first-year student at a prominent mid-western US University, studying architecture and so was traveling separately to join her father and brother, Ryoma, who would have to make the 24-hour trip from their home in Japan.
Meg told me that she and her family live on an island off the west coast of mainland Japan. Itaru later told me that from the mountains there where he hunts, one can see the outline of the coast of North Korea across the ocean to the west. The island's main industry has historically been fishing and from the pictures they shared with us, the terrain appears to be similar to what I saw in Hawaii, but maybe a bit more mountainous. Meg also told me that all school children in Japan are taught to read and write English but are not to speak it in school as English pronunciation is very different from the Japanese language. She said she chose to come to the US to go to college because of the fine reputation of the schools here and primarily to learn to speak English. She had just begun truly speaking the language on her arrival the fall before and was really doing very well as we had very few problems talking back and forth. I think her father sent her here so that he can come hunt pheasants when he comes to visit her as he did the previous fall!!
After their arrival, Itaru and his family spent what must have been an very short night at a local hotel and the next morning I took Itaru out with Freck and another member of the GSPC of NE, Mark Wilkins for a training session with Mark's dog, Yogi. We spent a couple of hours working the dogs on some pigeons as they were both heavily entered in AKC hunting tests and trials this Spring. We set the dogs up in alot of backing situations and shot some birds for retrieving practice.Training together has always paid off for us as Yogi finished is SH this Spring and Freck earned two legs of her MH title shortly after becoming pregnant with the litter we have now. Itaru was interested in all of our equipment and training methods as it seems such items and information is not as readily available there as it is here. Itaru even did a bit of the gunning for us and as he really showed us the next day on the Sporting Clays range in Bellevue, he is an excellent shot.
What was evident from the outset is that Itaru is as enthusiastic for hunting and bird dogs as anyone I have ever met and it was a great thrill to spend this time afield with him. Any trouble we had communicating was usually quickly carried over and resolved by sheer excitement , patience and persistence, the hallmarks of all sportsmen everywhere.
Itaru reported that the opportunities to enjoy such things in Japan is far more limited than what we enjoy in the US. First off, to even own and hunt with shotgun in Japan, one must take course work and pass certain tests. Furthermore, it costs nearly $1000.00 just to be able to take these tests. On top of that, it is even more involved to be licensed to hunt with a rifle starting with the requirement that one must first successfully keep their shotgun license for 10 years before even being eligible to test for a permit to possess a rifle. From what I could gather, hunting big game with a rifle in Japan is a pursuit that is practically non-existent. Itaru hunts with both a 12-guage and a 20-gauge double barrel shotgun.
As far as bird hunting goes, Itaru related that they pursue various upland birds including the Bamboo Partridge, which is a small quail, and the Copper Pheasant, which is similar in size to a ringneck pheasant, but lives in mountainous woodlands and has a tail that is sometimes 3 or 4 feet in length. They also stock some game birds, namely Bobwhite Quail and Chukar partridge, to hunt on the property of a club to which he belongs. Itura was to make another stop in the state of Washington during this visit to procure some Bobwhite eggs to take back to Japan with him. He also made mention of some limited waterfowl hunting during the hunting season there, which is about 3 months long.
The following day, we traveled with Stephanie, my daughter and his children to Lincoln, NE to the Branched Oak State Field Trial grounds where several club members were very generous to allow us to borrow some mounts to follow some braces of the running of the Spring GSPC of NE Field Trial. Again, Itaru enjoyed this immensely, particularly as he had never seen a field trial before. As we rode and talked it was obvious that he knows dog work (good and bad!) and did not miss a thing. His hunters eye and stamina through several hours of hard riding showed why he is such a successful hunter back home.However, he had obviously ridden a horse before, and his ease on the backs of several different animals put yours truly and many of the" weekend warriors" on hand to shame. We even had time to get Meg and Ryoma up on horses for a few moments when Steph wasn't giving them the grand tour of the grounds.
We came back home after viewing some of the birdfield action of the Amateur Gundog stake and dropped the kids off at the hotel pool. We then went and picked up some shotguns and went over to the Sporting Clays range near my house to join Mark again for a round before dinner as Itaru had not done this before either. Again, we struggled a bit with the language difference a bit as we discussed guns, loads and the various stations etc. If my Japanese were even half as good as Itaru's English, things would have been easier. But this was really not a matter as there is nothing finer that watching a truly first rate shot handle a shotgun and Itaru made very short work of the clays that afternoon. Anything that got lost in translation was clearly spelled out every time he stepped up to the line to take his turn. You know, it really bites when someone outshoots you with your own shotgun. (It bites even more when you borrow your buddies gun and start to shoot a bit better...) Mark actually had the high score for the round, but Itaru outshot me by alot more than Mark outshot him. (For the record though, I wish to state that I did double the"fur and feather" station for the first time ever on this outing...!!)
We all hit the hay a bit earlier that night and got up the next morning a bit later and traveled to my wife, Sue's elementary school where Meg and Ryoma gave a presentation for her classroom of third graders. Steph modeled the handmade Kimono that Itura's wife had sent along for her for the children. The highlight of the day came later for us all when Meg and Ryoma prepared a traditional Japanese meal for us at our home. I have never eaten a more unusual and tasty meal. We enjoyed marinated pork and a tasty rice dish along with seaweed (yes, seaweed!) soup and bacon wrapped asparagus. Itaru even brought along a bottle of Sake for me and then we did break a bit with tradition by having banana splits for desert.
We talked long into the night and I learned that Itaru was very interested in importing a German Shorthair puppy from the US. So there was only one thing to do. I spent the better part of the next morning tracking down Don Paltani of Rawhide Kennels, who lives all of five minutes from me (Don was still down at the field trial grounds as the trial didn't wind up until Tuesday morning) and we arranged a visit to his home to have a look at some of his dogs and discuss upcoming litters. Don and Pam graciously broke out all of their photo albums to share with us once we got there and answered Itaru's many questions. This was just one of the many times I was sorry we didn't have more time for Itaru on this visit as it was a gas seeing two people who love the dogs and hunting as much as Itaru and Don get a chance to spend some together. The result was successful just the same as now Itaru is planning to bring one of Don's fine pups to Japan in the next few months with the hope of increasing the interest in fine bird dogs among the members of his hunting club near his home. All I know is that is going to be one lucky dog!
I think it won't be long until Itaru has some field trials organized in his area and I will be bringing you all news of somebody here importing Japanese bred German Shorthairs back to the US!! All in all the weekend of Itaru's visit was a great treat for my family and I. It goes to show you that you can never be sure what will happen next anymore. It goes to show you that you had better be ready for almost anything! It goes to show you that there are great people everywhere who are interested in promoting and preserving bird hunting and birds dogs in alot more places that I ever imagined.
The world is now truly a much, much smaller place that moves light years faster than anything than that dear old man, my grandfather, who introduced me to bird hunting as a child in Pennsylvania can ever imagine. When I told him what was to take place and how it came about, I could almost hear him shaking his head in disbelief over the phone. What is even more amazing is that those things he taught me are even more true and brought into even sharper focus by Itaru's visit. It still all comes down to people. The hunters, the landowners, the Game and Parks folks and all the clubs. Now more than ever we need to communicate back and forth better than ever before if there are to be bird dogs and pheasant seasons for our grand kids even here in the US where we really take all of this way too much for granted. Oh, that and we all NEED a good club or two. Really, get out there and join one or make one, it's the only way we are ever going to save what we have. Gramp didn't belong to the Ike's back there for about 60 years for nothing, ya' know.
I hope to be able to talk Itaru into writing a piece on Japanese bird hunting to share with all of you on The Checkcord. He takes such great pictures, you see. The good ones accompanying this article are his, the rest are mine. I hope you have enjoyed this little piece as this was a most extraordinary occurrence for my family and I have been wanting to get it down on paper to share with you all. I will keep you posted as I hope to have Itaru back within a year or two to hunt with Steph and I.