Public places in the crowded streets of Shinjuku in Tokyo are usually filled with movement, talking and the sounds emanating from shops. Whilst walking through West Shinjuku, I was minding my business walking to my destination. I stopped when I saw a sea of people standing outside Yodabashi camera. There...>>
In this recording you hear the sound of aikido training in the Ibaraki Dojo in Iwama, a small farming town 100km north-east of Tokyo. This dojo (place of practice) in Iwama has been a very important site in aikido's short history, as it was built by the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, and he lived there from 1942 until his death in 1969. Iwama has long been considered as a spiritual centre and pilgrimage site by aikido practitioners around the world, and is the location of the Aiki jinja (Aiki Shrine). The dojo is currently run by the Aikikai Foundation (with its headquarters inTokyo, at Hombu Dojo), but the acting chief instructor is Hiroshi Isoyama-sensei (8th dan) who began training with the founder in 1949 as a child.
The Iwama style of aikido training is sonically quite distinct from training in Hombu dojo, even though the body techniques are much the same. What you hear in the above recording is the sound of bodies and palms hitting the tatami (mats) as they fall as well as the sound of the male and female voices producing a kiai (a short yell or cry that emanates from the 'centre' or diaphragm) as they make contact with or throw their training partners. The space was crowded for this class with local students who came from the surrounding countryside as well as four foreign live-in students from the US, Argentina and Germany. I was training - the kiai sounds were foreign to me, and the grips of attacks felt harder than I was used to. The space was very crowded and the warm air thick with sweat, and people tended to throw in parallel lines away from the centre of the mat towards its edges to avoid collisions. In this recording you may also hear the chirping of crickets from the trees outside the open front wall of the wooden dojo. The dojo itself is a beautiful wooden structure (wholly reconstructed after its destruction in the earthquake of 2011) with large black and white pictures of O Sensei (an honorific title for Ueshiba) mounted on one edge and an elaborate shrine at the front of the room.
Text and recording by Tamara Kohn.