Screencast: Focus on History — “The Old Aikikai Hombu Dojo: Inside and Out,” by Stanley Pranin


“Enter inside the old Aikikai Hombu Dojo and prepare to train!” In this screencast, Stanley Pranin presents a detailed layout of the old Aikikai Hombu Dojo as drawn by Mariye Takahashi. Also, shown are several fascinating photos from the 1950s and 60s taken inside the dojo. In this episode, you will actually have a chance […]

“Enter inside the old Aikikai Hombu Dojo and prepare to train!”

In this screencast, Stanley Pranin presents a detailed layout of the old Aikikai Hombu Dojo as drawn by Mariye Takahashi. Also, shown are several fascinating photos from the 1950s and 60s taken inside the dojo. In this episode, you will actually have a chance to enter the dojo and prepare for training. We will guide you every step of the way!

Duration: 8:14 minutes
Access: Free

Transcript of screencast

Hi, I’m Stanley Pranin, and welcome to another episode of “Focus on History”

I first arrived in Japan in June of 1969. By that time, the old Hombu Dojo–also known as the Kobukan Dojo in the prewar period–was no more. It was of course this first dojo in which much of early aikido history unfolded.

I have seen a large number of photos of the interior of this legendary dojo, especially taken after the war. Sadateru Arikawa, the late 9th dan sensei, even took the trouble to draw a rough sketch of the layout of Morihei’s old dojo and the Ueshiba family residence. This sketch, which we published a few weeks ago, gives only an approximation of the relative sizes and locations of the dojo and the interior rooms, and I still had trouble visualizing the actual layout.

Fortunately for all of us, my long-time friend, Mariye Takahashi, has at last created a drawing which brings the old dojo back to life in bold relief. Look at what she has drawn… entirely from memory! Mariye was a student at the old dojo from 1961 to 1963. Although she commuted to the Hombu Dojo while a university student, she was very regular in her attendance, and knew the Ueshiba family and the uchideshi of the time very well. Mariye also had a fair amount of contact with Morihei Ueshiba, experiences which she treasures to this day.

Based on her drawing, I started searching out old photographs and could finally imagine quite clearly what the dojo looked and felt like. “Oh, there is the tokonoma in the dojo, there are the fusuma (sliding doors), the windows, the weapons rack, the dressing room, the water closets, the wash basins, etc.” Suddenly, the interior of the dojo took on a familiar look. It’s very exciting, after all these years, to have a clear vision of the look and layout of this historic dojo. I would like to share this with you in this episode.

So now, permit me to take you on a quick tour of the old Aikikai Hombu Dojo using Mariye’s detailed drawing as our guide.

First of all, we’ll enter from the gate where we’re greeted by a vertical sign affixed to a stone pillar that reads “Aikido So Hombu – Ueshiba Dojo,” and another smaller sign to the right that says, “Zaidan Hojin Aikikai.”

Let me show you a picture to give you a clear idea. Here you see a very young Moriteru Ueshiba, the present Doshu, and Fukiko Sunadomari, one of the pillars of the Hombu Dojo in the early years. (This photo was taken around 1955; in subsequent years, the sign at the gate would read simply, “Aikido Hombu Dojo.”)

In front of us, we see the family entrance to the residence. From here, since we are going to train inside the dojo, we turn to our left, walk a few steps, and enter through a sliding door. There, we remove our shoes and place them neatly in the shoe rack to the left. We take out our membership cards and leave them in a tray on the desk for attendance purposes.

From here, we can see into the dojo. We walk on the slatted platform in our socks, take one step up and enter into the dojo.

Now I’ll show you a photo looking into the office from inside the dojo where you can see where you enter and bow in. Don’t mind O-Sensei. He’s in the middle of a private lesson now!

So, we sit in seiza and bow in the direction of the shomen where the tokonoma is. It’s the inset area at the left in this photo. We are now inside the Hombu Dojo. It consists of 80 tatami mats, 10 rows deep by eight long, all laid in parallel. You’ll also notice the weapons rack over in the corner with the jo and bokken.

From here, we walk toward the back wall over on this side to the opposite end of the dojo, and step down into the dressing room . In early years, this dressing room was exposed to the dojo. Later, in the 1960s, it was hidden behind a wooden paneling. Here we change into our keikogi.

Here’s another photo showing the opposite end of the dojo where you can catch a glimpse of the dressing room on the left. You’ll notice that a special occasion is in progress where O-Sensei is giving a demonstration.

Continuing with our tour, if we need to use the toilet, we use the door on the left along the front wall of the dojo. Next to the toilet are a row of small sinks that we can use to wash up. It is separated from the hallway where you enter the dojo by a curtain.

We then return to the dojo, line up in seiza, and wait for class to begin. We are facing the tokonoma which is about 18-20 feet wide and slightly to the right of center in the dojo. This is a recessed area that serves as the dojo shomen, which is two rows of tatami deep.

I’ll show you another photo where you can get a good look at the tokonoma. You can say hi to O-Sensei and Mariye who are sitting in front of it!

Inside is a photo of O-Sensei which doesn’t show in this photo because it’s higher up on the wall. Also, there is a hanging scroll with the kanji for “Aikido” drawn in simple characters by Morihei, probably in the 1950s. He would later develop his calligraphic skills under Seiseki Abe, a famous master, who was one of his students. For special occasions, the tokonoma would have beautiful brushed panels on display as you can see here.

Well, that about ends our brief tour of the inside of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. If we could roll back the clock 50 years into the past, we’d be ready to train about now. And if we were lucky, O-Sensei would be in Tokyo, and we could learn directly from the Founder of Aikido and experience the magic of his presence!

I hope this gives you a feel for what it was like to attend a class at the old Aikikai Hombu Dojo in the late 1950s and 60s. There’s a great deal more to be said about the Hombu Dojo, and the large, attached Ueshiba family residence. We will revisit this topic in the very near future.

Again, the purpose of these presentations is to bring aikido’s fascinating history to life, and make it relevant to your training and study in the present.

Thanks for joining me on another episode of “Focus on History!”


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