Friday, July 25

Narita /Tochigi

The BIG Dojo

Meeting Tohei Sensei

"Are we there yet?"

Japan. It’s 5000 miles and ten long hours of flight, but worth it. The first thing everyone notices as we step off the plane is the heat and humidity. I’m talking deep south humidity. We were warned about it but oh boy I’m not used to this. The bus ride to our final destination takes 3 hours with a toilet break at a truck stop. I make my first purchase with the Japanese yen. A badly needed coke. I figure I’ve been awake for over 21 hours.

We arrive at the Ki society headquarters- Ki no Sato around 9 pm. The complex is located out in the country on several acres of land but I can’t see much of it in the dark. After getting luggage and dorm room assignments figured out, we are treated to a light dinner in the cafeteria. A bowl of cold soup with cucumbers, seaweed and a side dish of rice with tomato sauce and salmon. Now I’m normally a fussy eater and not adventurous with food but we were told to clean our plates- it’s polite - so I dig in. I am treated to the first of many delicious meals and finish it all.

The next morning I get to see the facility in full overcast light. The main hall, cafeteria and dorm rooms are very bland in design. It looks a lot like a community college campus. Not what I expected but I’m not sure what I expected. Everyone must wear slippers inside the buildings, except in the bathrooms where you put on another pair especially for the toilet area and ONLY THERE. The toilets are western style but some have a spigot on the top of the tank and a hole where the water drains into the tank. Weird. The toilet and bathing rooms ( which are completely separate) are done in a pepto-bismol pink. Bleech. I wonder if the men's rooms are in blue.

Although the main rooms are unassuming, the dojo and meditation hall are gorgeous. The main dojo in Portland is about a 105 mats (each tatami mat is roughly 3 by 5 feet). The headquarters one is 502 mats. It’s HUGE.

Senichi Tohei -son of Koichi Tohei ( the founder of this branch of aikido) teaches the first class. He is a tall slender young man with a melodious voice and good command of English.

“Control yourself before you try to control others.” He tells us as he guides us through exercises to help us get our one point and therefore get that control. When meeting someone, he tells us, have mind and body coordinated, not separated. Focus on the person without distraction, being abrupt or negative. As with all things, focus 100%.

Though it’s quite warm even this early in the day, the class goes by swiftly. The afternoon class is a little more trying as Yutaka Otuka Sensei, a very nice man who smiles constantly does not speak English and his interpreters don’t keep up with him so I just follow the best I can.

At the evening welcoming party Tohei Sensei- now confined to a wheelchair after strokes and heart attacks, comes to visit. We all get a change to greet him shake hands. He is sharper than he appears, even drinking some wine.

The next day before an afternoon class we get to tour the ancestral home of Tohei’s family. A 350 year old traditional Japanese house. I think I have died and gone to heaven. I am a major architect freak.Everyone takes lots of pictures and we are entertained by Tabata Sensei ( Our senior instructor) with his experience living in the house as a kid. That’s right, Tohei Sensei and family lived in the house until about 20 years ago. It is a museum piece and I love it.

There are several metal poles about a hundred feet tall scattered around the complex. They aren’t cell towers because there’s no antenna on top so I’m puzzled by their use until one of the nice staff tells me these are lightening rods. They get a lot of electrical storms in the area and these “call the thunder” as he put it. I like a good thunderstorm but I’m not sure I want to be near one of these big suckers when it’s struck. They are too close for comfort

More classes and another party with much beer drinking ends our stay at headquarters. Tomorrow we leave for a week of touring. Next stop Osaka.

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