A Visit to Nagakute and Sensei’s New Dojo

After 30 years in the heart of Nagoya, Sensei has moved to suburban Nagakute. I was fortunate to visit just after the new dojo was operational, before its formal opening. What follows is a brief account of my visit.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I was fortunate to spend two and a half weeks in Japan, from May 28 to June 13, 2012. The purpose of the trip was to refresh my Japanese language and cultural competence, which I use professionally, and there were family reasons to go at this time. Another objective was to visit Sensei and practice Kokikai Aikido in Japan. I visited Sensei from June 4 to June 10 (Monday to Sunday), in Nagoya and nearby Nagakute.

This was an awkward time for Sensei to have a visitor because the dojo was in the process of moving from its long-time location in the center of Nagoya, just west of Nagoya Castle, to a new, suburban location, Nagakute. The 30-year lease was up, and the new rent would be expensive. It’s not just the dojo that moved, but Sensei’s living quarters as well. That includes all the antiques he has brought from the US over 30 years. It was a big job. I hope my visit provided some support, enthusiasm, and company. He seemed happy that I was there, and treated me well. He even let me help move boxes of antiques one day. It was a pleasure to help for a day, but some students are helping every weekend. The next time you see Joe Pielech, remember to thank him for all he has done to help Sensei with this move! During the move, Sensei said he was very very busy, too busy, packing boxes all day.

On the Saturday before I arrived, students helped move the tatami mats from the old dojo. They spread a lot of bubble wrap under the mats, and fit them into the plywood subfloor in the new dojo. There were still a few mats left in the old dojo, as the new one is a different shape and slightly smaller. My impression the first evening I practiced was that the new arrangement was somewhat softer and more giving than in the old dojo. By the end of the week I was not sure about this! The new dojo had not had its official opening yet, but practices continued.

The new dojo location has much potential. Nagakute is a suburb of Nagoya, to the northeast, which has been developed recently. Sensei chose the Nagakute area for many reasons:  low rents, near his daughter & grandson, near universities (potential to attract young students), very near the Linimo station, and fresh air. For the city students, only the more dedicated will come out here for regular practice. Sensei has encouraged some advanced students to start satellite dojo of their own in the city.

Among the students from Nagoya who come out to Nagakute, many drive, which takes an undetermined amount of time, depending on traffic jams. I took the subway and Linimo (an elevated maglev train built for the Nagoya World’s Fair) with Joe every day, from Chikusa (a neighborhood in Nagoya where my hotel was). The cost one-way was 260 yen on the subway, Higashiyama line, plus 220 yen on the Linimo, for a total of 480 yen (about $6.30 at the exchange rate I got, 76.45 yen/$, a painfully low dollar). It takes about two minutes from getting off the train to walk to the dojo. After exiting the train, go down stairs (Exit 1, I believe), turn right on the side street, and take the next left. By that time you should be able to see the dojo clearly.

If you know where to look, the dojo is easily visible from the windows on the left side of the Linimo just before it rounds a curve and stops at Irigaike Station, the second stop from the Linimo’s origin at Fujigaoka. It is a white warehouse, with a white roof (the best color for reflecting heat, to help stay cooler in summer), and the red Aikido Kokikai sign is clear. The outside back of the dojo also says “合氣道” (Aikido) and Sensei can look out his apartment window and see that. His apartment is on the top floor of a tall dark green apartment building nearby.

The dojo is near a huge store called Apita, which Sensei likened to Walmart (I don’t think so, but I’m not very familiar with Walmart). Apita has a Starbucks inside that Sensei frequents. It also has a giant, free parking garage, useful when the spaces in front of the dojo are full. On a nearby corner is a branch of a famous patisserie. Next to the dojo is a ping pong school. We heard that the neighbors complained about the noise of the ping pong balls when the place opened, so Sensei is quite concerned that our ukemi be quiet!

Sensei has chosen a new motto for his new dojo (not yet ready for export to the US):  akaruku kibishuku renshuu shite, soshite happii ni kaeru. As an unofficial translation, after discussion with Sensei, I offer, “Practice energetically with positive mind, throw each other intensely, and go home happy.” Those of you who have a way with words, please offer better English versions! He wants to leave behind the “kurai” (dark) image that martial arts have had in Japan. The dojo itself feels bright and airy, with its high ceiling and wide sliding doors and windows at the entrance. Other than the big entrance, there are not that many windows. There are two windows that face the ping pong school, and one window right in the middle of the shomen. It felt funny to lead exercises and bow to an open window!

I was fortunate to attend practices for one whole week. Monday, my first day, was very small, as the mats had only just been moved. Over the week the numbers built toward Sunday’s practice, where the dojo was full. It was great to practice with and see so many Japanese Aikido-ka, old friends and new. It was amazing to receive Sensei’s instruction over the whole week. At times I felt like I was trying to drink from a fire hose. It was a fantastic week. I can’t wait until Summer Camp to continue the inspiration!