Sano Sensei & Julien Naudot Train At Hombu

Sano Sensei & Julien Naudot Train at Aikikai Hombu Dojo

During a recent visit to Japan, Sano sensei and Julien had the opportunity to train with former Salt Lake Aikikai dojo-mate Ishida Tsuyoshi at the Aikikai Foundation World Headquarters Hombu Dojo. Following keiko, they had the opportunity to be photographed with the Doshu, Ueshiba Moriteru.

Keiko also provided the opportunity to train with other friends of the dojo including Aikawa sensei and Matsuoka Hiromi san.

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Dojo Mate Tsuyoshi Ishida Joins Hombu Dojo

Salt Lake Aikikai regular, Tsuyoshi Ishida, recently moved back home to Japan where he joined Hombu dojo to continue his training. While we were saddened to lose such an excellent training partner, we are excited for this new chapter in Tsuyoshi’s life. We were also happy to see dojo friend, Hiromi Matsuoka san in the photo with the Doshu that Tsuyoshi sent us.
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Chris Hoy Japan Trip Report

May 19, 2016 - June 3, 2016

Airline: I used to book my flight. I flew from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles on Alaska Airlines and from L.A. to Tokyo (Narita Airport) on Singapore Airlines. The reverse on the return trip.

Cost: $985.
Notes: I highly recommend Singapore Airlines, it was by far the nicest flight that I have ever taken. Nice entertainment, two meals and plenty of snacks, decent sized seats and all around great service.

Ground Transportation:
I took the Keisei Skyliner to my hotel.
Cost: ¥2470
To return to the airport, I took the Narita Express (NEX)
Cost: Included with the price of my Japan Rail Pass. Current price for NEX is ¥4000 round trip and ¥3300 one-way.
Notes: The best way to get to your hotel from Narita airport and back has a number of variables. Where you are going? When? How much you want to spend. Do you have a Japan Rail Pass? How long are you staying?
Another alternative is the airport limousine bus
Cost: variable with destination
The most cost effective is the regular train, but not nearly as comfortable, especially with luggage.

Both the Narita Express and the Keisei Skyliner were very comfortable with reserved seats and plenty of space to put your luggage in shelves at the front of each car. The downside to all of these methods is that none of them go directly to most hotels, at least not to mine, so they require transferring to other trains, subways or buses. For example, I took the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori station and transferred to the JR Yamanote line to Ikebukuro and then switched to the Fukutoshin subway line to get to my final destination of Higashi Shinjuku station. 

I opted to buy a Japan Rail Pass and a Pasmo Card. The Japan Rail Pass is good on any JR line including shinkansen (bullet trains) with the exception of the non-stop trains (Nozomi and Mizuho trains). It was very convenient. You have to buy the pass online before you go to Japan. There are several websites which sell them, I purchased mine from:

They sell them in 7 day, 14 day and 21 day vouchers. When you get to Japan, you take the voucher to a JR office and get your actual Pass and tell them when you would like it activated.
Cost: $262, $418, $535 (7,14,21) currently. You can also upgrade to a Green Car pass, which is kind of like first class, the seats are bigger and they give you a disposable wet cloth when you get on the shinkansen. The cars are typically less crowded as well. I splurged and bought the green car pass ($567/ 14days). It was really worth it on one regular train that had green cars. I was exhausted after a long day of visiting temples and was returning during rush hour. Instead of being crammed into a car comparable to a TRAX car, I was sitting in a reclining Greyhound Bus like seat. Considering it was a 1 ½ train ride, it was nice, but definitely a splurge.

Pasmo and Suica:
You can buy pre-charged cards that you then just swipe as you get on and off subways, trains and some buses. You can even use them at some vending machines and stores. I bought one pre-charged from the same place that I bought my JR Rail Pass. They both work almost identically. I got the Pasmo card and I would say that in the two weeks that I was there I probably loaded ¥4000 yen on the card to use for mass transit and some snacks. The upside is that you don’t have to buy individual tickets every time that you take the subway or train. The downside is that I probably wasn’t as efficient as possible in all of my travel itineraries. I willingly paid a little extra for the convenience.

The most affordable way that I found to convert dollars to yen was also the most convenient. Using ATMs. There are several ones that you can use at the airport to draw money, but the most prolific are from Seven Bank, which can also be found in all of the 7-11 stores. I bank at America First Credit Union and was charged $1.50 for each transaction. I was still subject to my US withdrawal limit of $500 per day. I took out ¥50,000 3 times ($461.35, $459.75, $459.75) and ¥30,000 once ($276.24).
The ATM gave me ¥10000 bills. I found that a good way to break them was to add ¥1000 to my Pasmo and insert a ¥10000 bill. Even though it is a cash based society I felt bad paying for a $5.00 lunch with a $100 bill.

I stayed at the E Hotel Higashi Shinjuku.
It is located adjacent to the A-1 exit of the Higashi Shinjuku metro station (Oedo and Fukutoshin lines). It is only a 10 minute walk to Aikikai Hombu Dojo.
The accommodations are small, but adequate. The shower was hot with nice pressure, the bed was firm and comfortable. There was a TV, desk, mini-fridge and a bedside table. They left instant tea and two bottles of water everyday. The air conditioner worked fine and quickly in such a small room. There are no dressers or closets, so you are living out of your suitcase. They also had laundry facilities which were very convenient. I was pleased with the hotel, but I wasn’t expecting much. It was no frills. There are plenty of places to eat in the vicinity, including a McDonald’s across the street and a Tully’s coffee bar on the first floor of the same building as the hotel (separate entrances).
Cost: The nightly rate fluctuated over the two week that I was there, but it averaged about $89/ night.

Aikikai Hombu Dojo:
They have very good information for visitors on their site. It is actually a pretty simple place. You remove your shoes before you enter, slippers are not necessary. Pay or drop off your membership card at the front desk, the men’s changing room is on the 3rd floor. There are lockers that you can use for a refundable ¥100. In the back of the dojo there is a board with hooks for you to hang your locker key during class. There are also showers. Beginners classes are on the 2nd floor and regular classes are on the 3rd floor. For the beginners class enter through the left door, bow to the shomen from seiza, and then go to the back of the dojo to stretch. The rest is pretty standard. Try to help sweep the mats after class or help wipe down the wooden floor around the mat. One thing that I noticed is that they are a bit more formal there. All of the bowing was done from seiza, before and after the technique. After class you also make an effort to bow to and thank everyone that you worked with that day.
Hombu dojo is not air conditioned, keep this in mind when you choose your gi and the time of year that you decide to go. In late May and early June, it was already hot and humid. I can’t imagine training there in July or August. When done changing, return to the 1st floor and pick-up your membership card and retrieve your shoes.
Cost: ¥10800/mo. or ¥1620/ day. Keep in mind the monthly rate is by the calendar so if you do as I did and go over two different months it can be more expensive.

Sakura Dojo:
This is a beautiful dojo located in the Sakura Sports Center that they also use for judo. This is the dojo where Gerry took his Shodan test and Jon took his Nidan test a few years ago. They were all very friendly and I highly recommend a visit. We went for the Sunday classes from approx.. 9:30am – 11:30am.
Directions: From Shinjiku station you can take the JR Yamanote line to Nippori (¥194), at Nippori connect to the Keisei Line go to Keisei Sakura Station (¥658). It is about 1hr 20 min. Then you can take a taxi to the Sakura Sports. (¥700)

Food & Drink:
Let me begin by saying that there is no Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi in Japan, they have Coke Zero and something called Pepsi Strong so plan accordingly if you are addicted. Food was very affordable and abundant. There are many different choices from American fast food to Japanese street food and fine dining. One of the differences is the role that the Combini plays. They are all over the place and there are several different chains (7-11, FamilyMart, Lawson’s, etc.) They all carry lots of premade food and drinks and snacks. Some even have seating. The food isn’t bad. I had the best corndog of my life at a 7-11 in Tokyo. They have pastries and sandwiches as well as many types of bento.
Cost: Food was cheaper than I expected. Meals ranged from ¥350 for a Chicken McMuffin, hashbrown and soda at McDonalds to ¥4000 for a very nice Tempura meal. I probably averaged about ¥800 – ¥1000/ meal. Tonkatsu w/rice, pickles, miso soup and cabbage salad ¥690. Tonkatsu curry w/rice and pickles ¥890 add an iced tea or coffee for ¥108. So, you get the idea. Vending machines are everywhere and range from ¥100 -¥350 for most drinks.

Continue ReadingChris Hoy Japan Trip Report

Japan Visit 2014

In May 2014, Salt Lake Aikikai visited Japan for training at Hombu and other activities, including training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo (Aikikai World Headquarters) in Tokyo; training and dan testing at Sakura Dojo in Sakura, Chiba; training at Asahi Newspaper Aikido Club in Tokyo; and attendance at the 52nd annual Aiki Embutaikai at the Budokan in Tokyo.

Training at Hombu Dojo

Gerry Carpenter

My first day at Hombu was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I planned to arrive early for the Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu’s class at 6:30 a.m., but because I got lost, I didn’t arrive until his class had already begun.

Once I got on the right street, it was easy to find Hombu. With the first classes already well under way, the sound of ukemi coming from the second and third floors were the first giveaway. It was a humbling feeling to be in front of the building that I had seen pictured on the Internet. I was standing where Kaiso (O Sensei) had built his first dojo in Tokyo—where much of modern Aikido developed.

Entering the building, I was greeted by a member of the office staff who graciously accepted my membership card and day fee (¥1,620) and provided me with a receipt when I mentioned I would be returning again to train later in the day. (I learned later it isn’t necessary to get a receipt, because they keep track of who has paid along with the attendance records.)

I removed my shoes in the foyer and left them in the hallway leading to the stairs. Normally, you place your shoes in cubby holes along the wall, but today all the cubbies were taken and there were several rows of shoes resting on newspaper on the floor. Being the day before the Embu Taikai (All-Japan Aikido Demonstration), there were many large groups in Tokyo that had already arrived that morning for Doshu’s class.  After leaving my shoes I went down the hallway and proceeded to the third floor.

At the end of the hall on the first floors is a large bronze mural of Kaiso. On the landing between the second and third floors, there is another bronze mural of the second doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba. It is important to stop and pay respect to these two memorials when entering and exiting Hombu.

Before you enter the dressing room on the third floor there is a doorway that opens into the main dojo. This is the door through which the Doshu, instructor shihans, and women practitioners enter the dojo. With class already in session, the Doshu was demonstrating a technique to a crowded dojo. It was a very dreamlike feeling and hard to believe that I was really at Hombu and that was really the Doshu in there. (You should also bow toward the dojo when you cross by this doorway.)

Passing through the curtains into the men’s dressing room, there were a few people who were getting ready for the next class. I said hello to a couple of Russian guys who were getting ready for the next class as well. If you enter the dressing room while training is in session, it is important to whisper. One nice thing about Hombu is that everyone is so friendly. Whenever anyone enters the dressing room, they are greeted by “ohayou gozaimasu!” The welcome and friendly conversation makes it a real pleasure to arrive, especially between classes when there isn’t a need to maintain the quiet.

Again, because of the large crowds (I believe about 160 were on the tatami that day), all of the lockers were already taken, so I ended up waiting for the Doshu’s class to end before I could get a locker. There are usually plenty of lockers, and they are very convenient. All you need is a ¥100 yen coin to lock it, and the coin is returned when you open the locker.

After getting dressed, I entered the dojo through the dressing room door. This is where all of the men except the Doshu (or other instructor) enter. Once inside, I kneeled and bowed toward the shomen, then I bowed toward the other aikidoka. Although there was still plenty of time before the next class, the room was already very full. I made my way around to the window side of the room, crossing behind people whenever possible, or bowing slightly to show my respect when I had to cross in front of them.

I had a few very strong feelings as I took a few minutes to stretch out:

1. I was actually in Hombu dojo and about to take a class there – another surreal moment.

2. I was right next to the statute of Kaiso. I’ve been seeing a picture of that statue since the day I started training.

3. The tatami in Hombu are really hard.

After a few minutes of stretching out and then kneeling in seiza waiting for the instructor to arrive (again, those tatami are REALLY hard and you feel it in seiza), class was ready to being.

The instructor for the 8 a.m. class that day was Irie Shihan. I really enjoyed his class. Irie Shihan speaks English quite well, so much of the verbal part of the instruction was given in both English and Japanese. This was a nice first introduction to me. He also had us change partners twice, so I had an opportunity to work with three partners. This is not common for the regular classes at Hombu where you usually stay with the same partner for the entire class. It was great for me because I had an opportunity to work with three partners, each of which provided me with a different experience.

Here are a couple of observations about training at Hombu. First, I didn’t expect the humidity to affect me as strongly as it did. Between the high intensity of the training and the humidity, you will sweat a lot. Plus, it is not appropriate to bring drinks into class. If you absolutely have to pause for a drink you would need to step out of dojo to do so after communicating your intention to your partner. Hombu instructor are very keen on what’s going on in the class, so he/she may ask what happened to the partner. It’s best to make sure you are well hydrated before you go and have access to plenty to drink after training. There are drink vending machines everywhere, so that helps. I particularly recommend Pocari Sweat, which is a Gatorade like drink (only better). Per Sano Sensei, May is one of the best times of year to train in Japan (along with October).  I can’t imagine how hard it would be on a visitor not used to the humidity to train there during the heat of the summer.

Second, the regular classes always seem to be very full, so you have to be particularly attentive to the people around you. There is no room for big, dramatic ukemi. It is very important to watch for others and take careful ukemi. One of my partners said that this is an important part of training Aikido, because it is meant as a defense against multiple attackers. Training in a crowded space helps you be aware of others around you.

When the class ended, we finished by bowing to the shomen and to the shihan. We also sought out each of our training partners for a bow and “arigato Gozaimashita”.

As I exited the dojo, I repeated the same procedure as entering by bowing to the shomen and to the others in the dojo before returning to them men’s dressing room. When exiting the building, it’s important to stop and pick up your membership card from the front desk.

Evening Class

My experience in returning for the evening class was much like the first, with one major difference. Sano Sensei, Jon Sempai, and I attended the Doshu’s class. This was my first of several times being instructed by the Doshu, and it was an incredible experience. Because of the lineage of his training, I believe this is the closest most of us will have to be trained by O Sensei himself.

This training had a level of intensity well beyond anything I had ever previously experienced. While there were participants at every level from kyu rank to high-ranking dans in the class, everyone seemed to put everything they had into it. It pushed me physically and mentally far beyond anything I had ever done before.

The Doshu himself was very gracious and friendly. He moved around the room after demonstrating a technique and would often take a few minutes to provide individual instruction. Other aikidoka nearby would often kneel and observe, but as soon as the Doshu noticed, he would smile and tell us, “Do not watch and rest please continue training.” After the class was over, he posed for multiple photographs with groups who had traveled to Tokyo for training and the Embu Taikai.

Beginners Class

During the course of my training over the week, I also had the opportunity to try out one of the beginners classes. This is a great option, especially if you need to lower the intensity a little and train in a less crowded environment. The class I took had about 15 or so people and was taught by Sugawara Shihan. I was glad I took this class.

I am very grateful to have had the chance to travel to Japan and train at Hombu. It was both memorable and rewarding. I look forward to another opportunity to do so as soon as possible. I assure you that any aikidoka won’t be sorry to have trained at Hombu at least once and as often as possible.

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