The traveling Aikidoka's guide to practice at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo

Aikikai Hombu Dojo ShomenI often receive emails from people seeking information about practising at the Hombu Dojo. Unfortunately, I don't always have as much time as I would like in order to answer each of them properly so I thought I would try to address these issues formally in an article. For many practitioners of Aikido it is a dream to one day, have the chance to train the Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo. Hopefully, this dream can eventually become a reality as more and more people travel each year to Japan in order to study at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo for a few days, weeks, or even months. While some might be lucky enough to travel with a Sensei or a Sempai who knows the ins and outs of the place and who can act as a guide, others might make the trip on their own and for them. The prospect can be a source of great challenge and excitation but it can also be the cause of a few worries. Some of the most frequently asked questions are: where am I going to stay? What should I bring? How much does training cost? Which classes can I attend? What are the rules that I should be aware of?

Please note that this is an on-going work and if you have any suggestion or remark to improve it, please feel free to comment at the bottom of the article. Training at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo is great fun and can be a life-changing experience (it certainly was for me) so I hope that this article will give you the answers to your questions or perhaps achieve to convince you to make the trip. So hopefully see you there on the tatami!

N.B.: I have made a map of all the main locations at the end of this article. For references, follow the icons that appear throughout the text.

What is the Aikikai Hombu Dojo?

The Aikikai Hombu Dojo Headquarters
the Aikikai hombu dojo building

The Aikikai Foundation (Aikido World Headquarters) (財団法人合気会 Zaidan Hōjin Aikikai) was created in 1940 by second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the son of O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba. The organization's goal to develop and propagate Aikido, both domestically and internationally, while also serving as a technical reference for its instructors worldwide. The Aikikai Hombu Dojo hosts the headquarters of the organisation and consists of a 5-story building built in 1967 to replace the original wooden structure. The total training area covers nearly 220 tatami and the main dojo represent half of this surface (105 tatami; 162 square meters). The second largest dojo (72 tatami; 112 square meters) serves as the training ground for beginners, children and women's classes while the third one (42 tatami; 65 square meters, see image) serves for special and private classes. Classes take place in the two main dojos, seven days per week, and they are led by an instructor staff consisting of 30 Japanese Sensei.

Accommodation in Tokyo

Tokyo by night viewed from Park Hyatt
Tokyo by night

Hombu Dojo does not have any facilities to provide accommodation to traveling Aikidoka and therefore, your place of residence will be your own responsibility. Accommodation in Tokyo can be very costly, especially in central areas such as Shinjuku, where the Hombu Dojo is located. There are however several options that can accommodate most wallets sizes. In this article, I will focus exclusively on options that are within walking distance to the Hombu Dojo. There are of course many other alternatives but they would be too tedious to describe here. Also keep in mind that transportation in itself can amount to a significant sum if one practice on mornings and evenings so what you save on rent by living further away might not necessarily be worth the hassle and cost of commuting. Personally, I am certainly a proponent of staying at a walking distance in order to easily pop in and out of the dojo and grab a bite, do my keikogi laundry, or take a nap between classes.

Hotels

Internet cafés

a cubicle in a mangakissacubicle in a mangakissa

Cybercafes (mangakissa) are rather different in Japan compared to what they are in the West. In fact, the housing market has been so tough lately that a whole fringe of the population, especially students, is known to spend their nights in these places when they cannot afford a normal rent. Once you are there, ¥1,000 will entitle you to a private cubicle fitted with a comfortable couch, a TV, a computer and other entertainment devices. You can of course spend your night sleeping rather than reading manga or playing games. There are toilets and even sometimes shower rooms in the premises. In fact, the formula has become so popular with youngsters that mangakissa now often offer weekly rentals. For the traveling Aikidoka, this might not be the ideal option but this is perhaps one to keep in mind if the money starts to be tight.

Capsule hotels

stacked rooms in a capsule hotel
capsule hotel

Capsule hotels are renowned for being extremely cheap and even rather comfortable but while they certainly are a good option for backpackers, they can sometimes be a bit too noisy for the serious practitioner who wishes to recover after a day of training. The district of Kabukicho contains its fair share of such hotels but again, the general atmosphere of the area might not be that suitable to rest.

Business hotelsbed-icon

front entrance of the Hotel Tateshina in Shinjuku SanchomeHotel Tateshina

There are a few «business» hotels in the immediate vicinity of the Hombu Dojo (see map). Business hotels offer moderately priced rooms for traveling professionals. They offer single, semi-double and double bedrooms. Three people can easily share one of the larger rooms which makes the overall price pretty reasonable. The closest business hotels to Hombu Dojo include:

I have traced on the map (green line) the easiest walking way to the Hombu Dojo from the hotels Tateshina, Listel and Business. On your way, you will pass a convenience store that has an ATM which accepts most foreign cards, a couple of coind launderettes, a supermarket, and many more shops even including a bakery! Talking about launderette, one of them is very conveniently located besides a sento (bath house) where you can go after training and relax while your keikogi is washing/drying!

Rentals

Whether you are going to stay for a while or whether you would like to keep to yourself and experience independent life in Tokyo, you might be interested in the possibility of renting your own apartment. There are some available at all prices and for all stay durations.

Weekly rentals

Monthly rentals

Getting around in Tokyo

Getting to Tokyo from Narita International Airport

Shinjuku station exit at the closing of office timeout of Shinjuku station

The Hombu Dojo is located in the very central district of Shinjuku. Depending on where your accommodation is, you might head there directly from the airport. There are two main ways to get there from Narita airport.

Taxis

I really don't recommend you to take a cab from the airport since it is located over 60 km away from the centre of Tokyo. Besides the fact that it could cost you an arm and a leg, it will also most likely take you more time to get there than with any of the other options.

Limousine Bus

Limousine Bus stop at Narita International Airport
limousine bus terminal

The limousine bus will get you from Narita airport to Shinjuku station in 85 to 145 minutes for about ¥3000. Limousine buses definitely offer the most pleasant view (that is, compared to the train alternative) and I would certainly recommend it for first time travelers to Tokyo as it offers a nice this first taste of the urban landscapes of the capital and its surroundings. It also make you measure the sheer size of the megalopolis. However, I would recommend you to take it if you are not on a tight time schedule as the length of the ride is very much dependant on traffic conditions. The same goes for going back to the airport, make sure that you allow enough time if you take you bus around rush hour (which is pretty much anytime here).

Narita Express

Close-up of the Narita ExpressNarita Express

The Narita Express (N'EX) train goes directly to Shinjuku station in about 83 minutes and the cost is ¥3,110 (¥4,600 for first class). This is the fastest and most reliable way to get to where you want even if scenery is not so nice. You will however appreciate the amount of leg space (even in economy class) and the food and drink service on the way. The Narita Express is clearly to me the least painstaking way to get to or from the airport.

Going to Hombu Dojo from Shinjuku stationstation-icon

From Shinjuku Station, the easiest way to get to Hombu Dojo is to take the Oedo line to Wakamatsu-kawada station (9 min). From there, you can walk to the Hombu Dojo (400m).

Getting to the hotel from Shinjuku stationbed-icon

If you chose to stay in one of the business hotels, you will want to get to Shinjuku Sanchome station. From Shinjuku station, you can either walk or take the Toei Shinjuku Line (1 stop). I have traced on the map the way (blue line) to the hotel from the exit C7 of Shinjuku Sanchome station.

Food concerns while staying in Tokyo

Update: Read my recent article on the current food safety situation regarding radioactive isotopes contamination in Tokyo.

Supermarkets and convenience storeskonbini-iconmarusho-icon

front entrance of a 7eleven combini
combini

A very handy thing is Japan is its countless combini (convenience stores) where, unlike in the west, you can actually find decent tasting and freshly made food. Between FamilyMart, am/pm, Daily Yamazaki, Lawson Bell, Sunkus, Mini Stop and 7eleven, you might want to opt for the latter as it offers the ATMs that accept the widest range of credit and debit cards, especially foreign issued cards. If you get to stay in Japan for a little longer, you will also discover that combini are really at the center of japanese life for the services that they offer such as payng bills, paying for concert and plane tickets etc. They are also pretty much all equiped with photocopiers, scanners and postage services that might come handy during your stay.

For more elaborate cooking, the Marusho supermarket offers a very broad range of fresh fruits, meats and vegetables as well as all the usual canned and packed products. It is almost accross the road from the Hombu Dojo on the way back to the main business hotels so you will probably find yourself visiting the place quite often.

Restaurants near hombu Dojorestaurant-iconcoffee-iconfastfood-icon

chef preparing a tonkatsu dishtonkatsu

I have marked the map at the bottom of this article with a few places where I recommend you to go to for inexpensive meals or coffees. Many fellow aikidoka frequent these places and therefore, you might get to do a bit of socialising.

One nice thing about Japan is that cheap, tasty and somewhat healthy food is available absolutely everywhere which will make your life a lot easier when you spend most of your time training and washing your keikogi and do not want to spend unnecessary time cooking for yourself. I won't bother indicating more places here as discovering for yourself what Tokyo has to offer in terms of food so enjoy exploring and don't hesitate to report here if you stumble upon a nice place!

What to do once you are at the Aikikai Hombu Dojosport-iconaikikai-logo

Watching a class

It is possible to come and watch both Regular and Beginner's classes at any time although I could not encourage you enough to train instead of just watching. Make sure you arrive early enough before the beginning of class in order to sign in at the front desk. Someone from the office will usually escort you upstairs.

People watching the class should sit at the back of the dojo (on the wooden floor) and should not interfere with the participants. The correct seating position is either seiza (kneeling) or agura (sitting cross-legged). You might observe seasoned practitioners (often because of injury) coming to watch the class (mitori-geiko) switching from lotus to kneeling during the initial and final bow as well as when the teacher is demonstrating techniques. Unless you get special permission from the Sensei, it is not permitted to take pictures of videos during the class.

Entrée du Hombu Dojo

Attending classes

Aikikai membership card

First of all, in order to train at Hombu Dojo, you must be a member of the Aikikai Foundation. Holders of Aikikai-recognized Yudansha grades are registered de facto since their Shodan, others since registration at their respective dojo. Either way, you should present your Aikikai membership card upon which figures your membership number. Do not worry if you are not already a member of the Aikikai Foundation, you can register on the spot (the office hours are: Monday-Saturday 6:00-19:30, Sunday 8:30-11:30) before your first training session by filling a form and paying a ¥8,400 fee which will grant you a lifetime membership. You will have to present your membership card before every training session. Two types of cards exist, one is for beginners and travelers and the other is for regular members (training for several months and taking grading at the Hombu Dojo). Depending on the length of your stay, you might want to inquire further about one or the other.


Aikikai monthly receipt

Visitors can participate to either regular or beginner classes but not to special classes. Regarding women's classes however, although the morning ones (F3) require a special membership, the ones in the evenings (F2) are accessible to women who paid the basic fee. This basic fee is a daily ¥1,575 that will allow you to attend as many of these classes as you wish on that day (see timetable below for teachers and times). If you are going to spend a few weeks or more in Tokyo, you might want to opt for the monthly fee (¥10,500 Monday to Saturday; ¥13,650 Monday to Sunday). Please note that this fee starts and ends at the beginning and end of each month, it is NOT good for 30 days since registration. Many people make the mistake of assuming the latter is true and they often end up having to pay at an unexpected time so please remember this when registering in order to avoid causing an awkward situation for the office staff downstairs.

Classes schedule

This is the official and most up to date Aikikai Hombu Dojo schedule for both the regular and beginner's classes. Please note that instructors are sometimes away and their absences have to be covered. This information is usually made available on a day to day basis by the Aikikai. Regular Hombu Dojo practitioners therefore commonly check the "Instructors for each class" page on the Aikikai website in order to stay informed on who's teaching when.

Table 1: Aikikai Hombu Dojo beginner's classes schedule
 

07:00-08:00

09:30-10:30

17:30-18:30

18:00-19:00

19:00-20:00

Monday

Ueshiba

 

Sugawara

 

Sugawara

Tuesday

Fujimaki

 

 

Women's class

K. Suzuki

Wednesday

Miyamoto

 

Sakurai

 

Sakurai

Thursday

Kanazawa

 

 

Women's class

Fujimaki

Friday

Ueshiba

 

Osawa

 

Osawa

Saturday

Irie

Sasaki

 

 

 

Sunday

 

Irie

 

 

 

Table 2: Aikikai Hombu Dojo regular classes schedule
 

06:30-07:30

08:00-09:00

09:00-10:00

10:30-11:30

15:00-16:00

17:30-18:30

19:00-20:00

Monday

Doshu

Kobayashi

 

 

Toriumi

Yokota

Tuesday

Doshu

Yasuno

 

Special women's class

Kobayashi

Osawa

Wednesday

Doshu

Masuda

 

 

Endo

Miyamoto

Thursday

Ueshiba

Osawa

 

 

Fujimaki

Seki

Friday

Doshu

Irie

 

Special women's class

Kuribayashi

Miyamoto

Doshu

Saturday

Doshu

Mori

 

Kobayashi

Yokota

Sugawara

Sunday

 

 

Kanazawa

Doshu

 

 

 

Uniforms

my kekikogi with my name embroidered in katakana
keikogi

Another thing to keep in mind is that all practitioners, even absolute beginners must wear keikogi, no tracksuits allowed. Keikogi can be purchased at the entrance desk. Rules in various dojos differ but at the Hombu Dojo, the hakama is only worn by men from Shodan and above while women wear it from 3rd kyu. While nobody will correct you if you don't follow these rules, you might want to blend in as much as possible when you arrive and you know the proverb: "when in Rome, do as the Romans"...

Hombu Dojo does not have a laundry facility but there are numerous 24h/24h laundries nearby that will make your life a lot easier. Make sure that you keep your keikogi reasonably clean as it considered as a mark of respect towards fellow practitioners to wear immaculate and odourless training gear. Although you can get away with wearing the same keikogi two classes in a row in winter, expect to have to change guy at every class in summer. Also, the climate being very humid, your gear might not be dry from one day to the other so make sure you obring enough keikogi with you or that you make intensive use of dryer facilities.

drying area at the top floor of the Hombu Dojo
keikogi drying

The changing rooms are suited with ¥100 coin lockers. Everything should be put in these lockers, do not leave your bag outside so as not to clutter the restricted space. Also, you should not leave anything in these lockers between classes or overnight. The third floor of the building has a cloth drying area where you can hang your keikogi between classes. You can leave your gear overnight but make sure you take it home before the dojo cleaning in order not to add extra workload on the volunteers performing it.

The keikogi worn at Hombu Dojo are almost exclusively made out of heavy cotton, not the karate-type. People very often wear their names on their hakama and their keikogi. Japanese use kanji and foreigners, katakana. It comes handy to have your name on your stuff for a variety of reasons. First, it helps you easily identify your gear if you leave it to dry upstairs. Secondly, it is useful for the teacher to know your name, particularly if he sees you for the first time. Regarding zori (sandals), while I would certainly recommend having a pair handy while in Japan, don't bother bringing it at the Hombu Dojo for the practitioners and the Sensei walk around bare footed.

floor F2 of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo floor F3 of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo
Beginner's classes dojo at the first floor Regular classes dojo at the second floor

Etiquette guidelines generally followed at the Hombu Dojo

While etiquette is not particularly strictly enforced at the Hombu Dojo, you might want to become familiar with the following considerations before you go in order to make sure that you blend in as much as possible and to avoid being scolded by one of the senior practitioners.

Entering the Aikikai building

Picture of O Sensei in the staircase leading to the dojospicture of O Sensei at the Aikikai

When you enter the building, you should stop by the reception desk to deposit your Aikikai membership card. Don't forget to greet the staff by saying "konichiwa" or "konbanwa" depending what time it is. Then take out your shoes and place them in the storing spaces on the left side. Then walk up to the changing rooms, the one at the first floor (floor F2 in Japan) is for women, and second floor (F3) is for men. As you walk in, you should to bow the pictures of O Sensei and Kisshomaru Ueshiba that are in the staircases. Greeting the people in the changing room is also good practice.

The beginner's dojo is on the first floor (F2) and the regular classes take place at the second (F3). There are different entrances for males and females at each floor so make sure you use the correct one (see floor plan below). At the appropriate entrance of the dojo (beginners: E1 for males and females - regular: E2 for females and E3 for males; see floor map), practitioners and visitors should adopt a seiza position in the doorway and perform a bow aimed towards the kamiza, followed by another one aimed towards the centre of the dojo.

F2 floor map of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo F3 floor map of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo
Aikikai Hombu Dojo floors map

Start of the Aikido class and greetings

  • mens changing rooms at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo
    men's changing rooms
    Practitioners line up in seiza about 5 minutes before the class. There is no particular seating arrangement or rank order and in fact, unless you know people well enough to ask them personally, it will be pretty hard to know someone's grade. Although there is no sitting arrangement, do make sure that you do not sit too close to the back door so as not to prevent people from entering or bowing.
  • The Sensei usually arrives sharp on time and enter via the door closest to the kamiza (E2). He sits at the centre, between the kamiza and the students, and both parties perform the first bow (rei) towards the pictures of O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba and his son Kisshomaru Ueshiba.
  • Sensei then rotates towards the practitioners and all perform the second rei and say "onegaishimasu", meaning something like "please let me train with you".

Start of the practice

  • After a series of individual warm-up exercizes, students go kneel down at the back of the dojo and the teacher demonstrates the first technique.
  • Students then bow to the Sensei and choose a training partner, usually the closest one next to them. This pair usually stays together for the whole duration of the class although this tends to be changing a bit lately. Unless you hear the Sensei say "aite kaete" after demonstrating, you should keep the same partner. During beginners classes however, the pairs change at each technique.

During practice

  • Philippe Gouttard, 6th Dan Aikikai sweeping the tatami at the end of the classPhilippe Gouttard sweeping the mat
    There should be absolutely no talking on the tatami, don't exchange comments or names during the practice. The only thing that you will say to your partner for the whole hour is likely to be "onegaishimasu" and "arigato gozaimashita".
  • When the sensei starts demonstrating a new technique to the class and everyone goes back sitting in seiza around the mat, make sure you don't sit in front of the kamiza.
  • People often kneel down around Sensei when he is showing a technique to a pair of students. I personally don't automatically do it unless my partner and I are clueless or unless I am clearly getting in the way of the Sensei. If you are going to sit, do not sit between the Sensei and the kamiza.
  • If the Sensei is showing your partner something, you should be sitting in seiza no matter how quick the explanation may be.

    End of the practice

    • At the end of the class, everyone lines up and bows again to the kamiza, and to each other like at the beginning but this time, saying "arigato gozaimashita".
    • The Sensei then exits the dojo, kneeling and bowing from the entrance door, followed by a bow from the student as he leaves.
    • Everyone then bows to their training partner(s) saying "domo arigato gozaimashita".
    • People use brooms to sweep the mat or wet cloths to clean the wooden surfaces, feel free to participate anytime.
    • You will then see people chatting away, practising informally or folding their hakama. You should make sure that you fold your hakama facing the kamiza at the back of the dojo in order not to disturb practitioners, also, try to stay away from the doors.
    • If you are going to sit down, make sure you never sit in a way where the back of your feet are facing the kamiza.
    • Exit the training area through the same door as the one you used to enter, performing both bows exactly as before.

    With these rules in mind, you should blend in quite easily and feel quite comfortable when you make your first entrance at the Hombu Dojo. But remember, the Hombu Dojo is a learning place and nobody will expect you to be perfect. You will probably be reminded a few of these rules and probably some others during your stay and it is all part of the experience. Enjoy your stay in Tokyo and train hard!

    A little introduction video on Hombu Dojo

      aikikai-logo Aikikai Hombu Dojo konbini-icon Convenience store launderette Launderette marusho-icon Supermarket
      sento-icon Bath house fastfood-icon Fast food restaurant-icon Restaurant station-icon Train station
      coffee-icon Coffee shop bed-icon Hotel sport-icon Sport centre

      Other useful information:
      • AIKIKAI FOUNDATION Aikido World Headquarters 17-18 Wakamatsu Cho, Shinjuku-ku 162-0056, Tokyo, Japan
      • Phone: (+81) 3-3203-9236
      • Fax: (+81) 3-3204-8145
      • Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
      • Website:

      Acknowledgements:

      • Many thanks to Camille Tanaka-Pouant, Jordy Delage and Sébastien Bertolo for the corrections.
      About the author
      Guillaume Erard
      Author: Guillaume ErardWebsite: http://www.guillaumeerard.com
      Biography
      Founder of the site in 2007, Guillaume has a passion for Japanese culture and martial arts. After having practiced Judo during childhood, he started studying Aikido in 1996, and Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu in 2008. He currently holds the ranks of 4th Dan in Aikido (Aikikai) and 1st Dan in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu (Takumakai). Guillaume is also passionate about science and education and he holds a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology since 2010. He currently lives in Tokyo and works as a consultant for medical research. > View Full Profile

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