Like every year, I am meeting my colleagues and friends from the Hombu Dojo at Ueno station on a warm morning of April in order to take the train that will lead us to the town of Iwama in the Ibaraki prefecture. It is there that the annual celebration of the Aiki Jinja Tai Sai is taking place, which is the ceremony in memory of the founder of Aikido Morihei Ueshiba and his son, the second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba.
This year, upon arriving at the Iwama station, I am surprised to see that it has been extensively renovated and that a new exit has been built in order to let travelers exit on both sides of the track, which saves us having to cross the rails. This is not my last surprise because just outside of the station, I come face to face with a massive, newly built bust of Ueshiba Morihei. He almost seems if he is here to greet us off the train and about to take us to his dojo.
Bust of O Sensei outside of Iwama Station
Along the road that leads us to the dojo, several stone information points were built to display some information about the history of the founder as well as some archive pictures. Once I get to the shrine, I deliver my donation to the Aikikai staff and I head to the picnic area to drop off my bento [traditional Japanese lunch box]. Members of the Hombu Dojo have already prepared the area and installed a large plastic sheet at the center of the field. They kindly suggest me to deposit my stuff right there. This simple gesture makes me very happy because after four years spent living in Japan, I am starting to be considered as a full member (that is to say permanent) of the dojo. This may sound silly but for someone living in Japan and attempting to settle there, these small gestures are welcome displays of affection and integration.
I then promptly return near the shrine that was built by O Sensei to set myself up in good conditions for taking pictures. Of course, my friend Jordy Delage is already there, right at the front, with his camera and tripod in order to shoot and post the video on his YouTube channel. When we are not cooperating for the covering of an event such as the Kagamibiraki or the Tokyo Budokan reopening, Jordy and I have a tendency to compete for who will make the best video and who will post it first. Slightly childish indeed but in the end, it is you the readers who end up winners of our little games!
Visitors in front of the Aiki-Jinja
The festivities start with the shubatsu, the purification ritual performed by Shinto priests before the celebrations, and continue with the shukuji, the introductory speech by Doshu [guardian of the way] Ueshiba Moriteru. Then, the ceremony itself begins with some recitations by priests, some times said in unison with the congregation (well, those who can read kanji or furigana). Several key members of the Aikikai, as well as the Ueshiba family, come up one by one for the tamagushi-Hoten, the offering of a coniferous branches to kami [gods]. The whole assembly then performs the kamigoto [final prayer].
Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba
Tada Sensei reciting the Kamigoto
The ceremony ends with the traditional demonstration by Doshu and Waka-Sensei [young master], the latter performing the suwari-waza [kneeling techniques] and hanmihandachi-waza [kneeling techniques against a standing opponent]. Despite the narrowness of the practice space, they both offer very dynamic and virtuoso demonstrations that all appreciate. I am personally amazed by the ease of Waka-Sensei with suwari-waza.
Demonstration of the Doshu and Waka-Sensei
Waka-Sensei Mitsuteru Ueshiba
Once the demonstration is over, I am heading once more to the picnic area to rejoin with my friends of the Hombu Dojo. Sake [rice wine] is offered by the Aikikai and I am stocking up some Asahi beer in order to start the meal in decent conditions. The atmosphere is like the weather, pleasant and warm. After the general kampai, we begin to eat and drink heartily. Many visitors came from all over Japan as well as from oversees, and the meal is punctuated with lively discussions and laughter.
The Hombu Dojo group
The Ueshiba family then comes to join us to take a picture together. Note that this year, a well-known French visitor can be spotted on the photo, it is no other than Paul Muller, who was recently awarded the rank of 7th Dan Aikikai by Doshu during the last Kagamibiraki.
Hombu Dojo members with the Ueshiba family
It is then time to clean-up and to head back to the station, direction Tokyo. The next event of the season will be the All Japan Aikido Demonstration held at the Budokan on May 25. Obviously, you can count on me (and Jordy!) to report to you the best moments of the event on video as soon as possible!