One of the most important yearly Aikido memorial events is the Aiki Jinja Tai Sai Festival that occurs on the 29th of April at the Aikido shrine in Iwama in the province of Ibaraki. The Aiki Jinja is a Shinto shrine built by Morihei Ueshiba himself in the aim of receiving the "spirit of Aikido".
It takes about 1h40 by train to get to Iwama from Shinjuku station. As we head towards the sanctuary after a pleasant quarter of an hour walk from the station, our eyes meet a large stone carved with the four Ai-ki Jin-ja kanji placed in front of a large Tori (gate) which symbolizes the entry on a sacred Shinto ground. The shrine itself is a small wooden building composed of two parts, the honden which will host the religious ceremony and the Dohsu's demonstration, and the okuden, the more sacred, less accessible area behind the honden.
The Iwama Dojo
The religious ceremony starts at 11 am sharp with some prayers and an introversion in honor of the founder of Aikido Morihei Ueshiba. Several personalities are attending the event including the president of the national Japanese Aikido Association, the current leader of the Omoto Kyo sect and Hiroshi Tada Sensei, the highest ranked Aikikai Honbu Dojo instructor. The demonstration of the Doshu takes place just after the prayers. This year, Moriteru Ueshiba was injured and therefore, his son Mitsuteru took his place for the suwari waza partat the beginning of the demonstration. This was his very first demonstration in the sanctuary.
The interior of the Iwama Dojo
Nearby the sanctuary is located the famous Iwama dojo where O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba developed and perfected his craft. The Dojo is absolutely magnificent, entirely built in wood in the traditional manner. One can't help but feel very emotional on the first visit at this historic place for Aikido. One of the best feature is the splendid wooden Kamiza, very different to the one of the Tokyo Honbu Dojo. One can even see the wooden weapons used by O Sensei himself before his passing away.
The Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba
After the demonstration, we setup lunch nearby the Dojo. It consists of a bento and a glass of nihonshu (sake) kindly offered by the Aikikai. This picnic is yet another privileged moment of communication and acquaintance with other practitioners. Groups naturally form, sometimes around a Sensei, sometimes between friends, or sometimes with perfect strangers coming from abroad. These social events are really important for the practitioners in order to bound, especially given the great diversity and the sheer number of students practicing or traveling to Japan in a year.