Body of Art
Been in Japan a while
and still haven't taken up a Japanese art? Is the language barrier stopping you, or just
the summer heat? Taiko, shodo, dance, aikido - any one of these fascinating arts will not
only give you a lifelong practice, but help keep you in tip-top summer shape as well. Sasha
Smith muscles her way into the world of Japanese traditional arts and comes away
with a whole new understanding of Japan - plus some wicked abs to show for her troubles.
The Waraku Taiko group works
it out on Sado Island
(photo by Miyauchi Yukihiro)
Saturday morning. I
sit on the couch taking stock of my life in Japan and realize that I haven't reached any
of the simple goals I'd set for myself five years ago. Learn the language, study a
Japanese art. To make things worse, something about the position I'm in on the couch
brings to light the fact that my tummy protrudes a little more than it did five years
ago... Whoever said Japanese food is good for you obviously wasn't talking about the fried
goodies. It all adds up - and no amount of running to catch the train will counterbalance
the beers and yakitori that are packed away during the week.
Something had to be done, but what? How could I combine my new get fit goals with my old
learn something goals?
The solution - take a class where I could study a traditional art while getting exercise.
I was still intimidated by my pottery lesson experience where, deciding not to worry about
the language gap, I quickly discovered that I'd been left sweating over a lump of clay
while classmates turned out rice bowls and other non-lopsided objects by the thousands. I
decided to cop out and find teachers who spoke English. What I realized as I scoured the
city is that learning in English doesn't mean that I will learn only English. Plenty of
Japanese was thrown my way and it gave me a good opportunity to study Japanese in a
non-threatening, non-textbook environment. And lose a couple inches off that tummy...
1 equals sitting on the couch
10 equals running a marathon and then competing in a triathlon
Workout rating: 7
out of 10 overall
Come to taiko class ready to work out because what appears effortless on stage is rhythmic
muscle control. During a lesson not only are your arms swinging but there's a lot of
lunging and moving involved.
Waraku Taiko Group
Sensei profile: The Waraku Taiko Group, which consists mainly of
foreigners, is led by Miyauchi Yukihiro, who started a professional taiko group fifteen
years ago called Wakon. For Miyauchi, taiko was love at first listen. "The first time
I heard a professional group I got goose bumps. I thought, 'I want to play.'"
The workout: Thursday morning I enter what appears to be a mah-jongg
parlor by night and a taiko drumming practice center by day. The lesson begins with some
fairly simple rhythms, but as it progresses the patterns become increasingly difficult and
everyone's face is covered in sweat even though the huge air conditioner is on full blast.
Miyauchi's lesson is punctuated with his loud energetic cries of "Yeah, you got
it" and "Come on!" A student who is having trouble receives a one on one
lesson during the break. Miyauchi says, "I take that opportunity because learning
taiko is about the relationship of person to person. There's no sheet music. It must be
learned from another person."
Towards the end several of the sets require trickier steps which include drumstick flips.
The end of the lesson is marked with a moment of silence and a bow. Followed by an
impromptu speech about practicing. Miyauchi sensei says: "You want to become a good
player? Then just hitting more. Always more. Not ten times, a hundred times, a thousand
times, even a million, just more. Don't talk about it. Just do it."
The bottom line? Pay as you play, JY2000 per two-hour lesson. Class sizes
vary between 6 to 20 people and meet on Thur and Sunday mornings.
Contact: Miyauchi Yukihiro (043-254-7589).
Didn't realize there was life or nature outside of Tokyo? Or do you just want to get away
from the city noise? Try an excursion with Wanderlust Adventures, which combines outdoor
activities with the pounding of the taiko drum.
In the past Wanderlust Adventures has planned activities such as rock climbing, kayaking
and hiking, all in conjunction with taiko drumming lessons led by Taiko Master Miyauchi
Yukihiro. Cathy Bernatt, president of Wanderlust, says "One person asked me if we
actually played while we did the activity. I laughed. Of course, we do them separately.
Rock climbing and then play the drums. Actually some people go only to play the
drums." The next adventure, September 25 and 26, will be rock climbing and taiko.
The bottom line? Most trips range between JY30,000-JY40,000 depending on
the activity. Children are welcome.
Contact: Cathy Bernatt (0422-46-0734 or 090-4244-8559) or email email@example.com
Miyabi Arashi Taiko School
Full of energy, Beautiful Storm is an appropriate name for a group that can get everyone
in the crowd up on their feet begging for an encore.
Sensei profile: Igarashi Moko started Miyabi Arashi Taiko School in 1997
with the goal of expanding the understanding of Japanese culture and enhancing
communication between cultures through music. Igarashi believes that performance is an
important part of building her students' confidence, so she makes sure that her group is
able to perform several times a year.
The workout: Need more bonding time with the kids? Try a Kids and Adult
taiko class. Igarashi likes to keep her lessons relaxed. She says, "Each student has
his or her own ability and I can gear the lesson and performance towards that person's
For those who are tired of riding around on Tokyo's crowded public transit system, lessons
take place at various facilities around the city, so you should be able to find one
convenient to where you work or live.
The bottom line? JY25,000 for spring or winter session (10 weeks),
JY30,000 for fall session (12 weeks). One hour lesson once a week. Class sizes: About 10.
Contact: Igarashi Moko, 4-4-1-2106 Azabu Juban, Minato-ku 106 (tel/fax
03-5442-3368) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
|Feats of clay (Courtesy of JNTO)
Workout rating: 5
out of 10, arms, back, stomach
Struggling to memorize the 1900 kanji that every high school graduate knows? Learn shodo.
Study kanji and get your upper body in shape. While calligraphy may not seem like a sweaty
workout, it does take a certain amount of muscle control to master the correct posture to
hold the brush in order to make smooth strokes. It's yoga, not aerobics.
Sensei profile: Kaneko Sachiko has been licensed to teach shodo since
before she graduated high school. "I love shodo. I think the smell of the ink is a
kind of aromatherapy," she says. About her international students she comments,
"I think it's important to understand all of the different backgrounds that my
students have. If I understand a little about their culture, I can understand something
about their learning style. It helps me be a good teacher."
|A lust for wandering (Courtesy of
"I've learned that starting off with marker and shodo paper is less intimidating for
beginners. First I teach control. Once you understand control it's easier to make a nicely
balanced kanji." Kaneko believes learning how to master posture is most important.
"Once you understand that good posture makes nice kanji, the rest is easier."
The bottom line? JY3000 per hour for a private lesson. She teaches out of
her home and can travel to your office, home, etc. but transportation fees are added to
the cost. She is also a Japanese language instructor (JY3500 per hour for private
Contact: Sachiko Kaneko (090-3519-8657).
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL DANCE
Workout rating: 8
out of 10, overall
Ever wanted to join in a Bon-odori celebration, but haven't a clue about how the women
stay on the tips of their geta for ten hours? Don't know which steps are first
when the men start to do moves that resemble a chicken out scratching in the yard? Learn
how to groove Japanese style and next year you too can spend hours getting down and funky
in the hot summer streets of Tokyo.
Japan Dance Art
Sensei profile: Marika Watarovna Mutsumi has performed around the world.
She's interested in taking basic traditional Japanese dance and changing it to fit with
today's audience. For example, she took the basic dance steps seen at Bon-odori festivals,
added bells around the ankles of her dancers, and created a livelier tap step. "It's
more entertaining," she says.
The workout: Those of you with dreams of flouncing around a room swaddled
in silk kimono can forget it. Marika says, "Everyone comes to the first lesson
thinking that they'll get to wear a kimono. But it's not the best way." Students
start off learning the basics in tights and a leotard. "I teach some classical ballet
first. Or jazz moves. And once you've learned the basics you can quickly pick up Japanese
dance, since basic dance moves are similar around the world."
The bottom line? Hobby course: JY20,000 registration, 10 class tickets
JY19,000, 20 class tickets JY36,000. One class equals one ticket for group lessons, two
tickets for private. She also has packages available for more serious students.
Contact: Marika, 1F Studio, Sunny City BI, 2-1-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
160-0022 (tel 03-3225-3091, fax 03-3225-3092). Email email@example.com or see homepage
Workout rating: 8
out of 10, overall
Kendo, judo, aikido? With so many martial arts to choose from where to begin? If the idea
of swinging a sword around and pretending you're a samurai warrior has its appeal, try
kendo. Judo is perfect for those who like combative sports, while aikido is for those who
want to focus on defense rather than attack.
Aikido Shindo Dojo
There is a strong sense of community, sharing, and caring at Aikido Shindo Dojo. From the
moment I stepped foot inside the dojo I knew I'd found a special place in Tokyo. (And I
don't just think that's the curry rice dinner they fed me speaking.)
Sensei profile: Shindo sensei, sixth degree black belt, is the chief
instructor and owner of Aikido Shindo Dojo. Shindo sensei smiles a lot while she teaches
and everything she does looks effortless. Lisa Tomoleoni, fourth degree black belt, is an
instructor and designated successor to Shindo sensei. I had an opportunity to talk to Lisa
before class and she was able to give me a few good words of advice. "I was a
beginning student and I was struggling each lesson to be perfect. I would get upset and
cry. But one day a teacher asked me, 'Why do you think you're so special?' I said, 'What
do you mean?' He asked, 'Why do you think you should be able to do aikido perfectly when
we can't? Get rid of your ego.'" Lisa's words of advice would come back to haunt me
later in the lesson.
The workout: We start with introductions and a quick stretch routine.
After that everything gets faster, harder, and more exciting. (You can read exciting as
people getting thrown around.) Lisa explains what's going on in both English and Japanese,
but learning takes place by watching closely and practicing with a partner. Lisa says that
one of the important points for the dojo is the relationship between juniors and seniors.
Seniors take responsibility for the development of their juniors. "Shindo Dojo wants
to focus on more than just perfect form. We also want to focus on etiquette, the spirit of
aikido, which means taking care of and being respectful to each other," explains
Lisa. In the spirit of the dojo, my partners kindly take me step by step through the
basics. I grimace a lot while looking absolutely clumsy, but remember the advice I'd
received and ergo forget my ego.
The bottom line? JY10,500 entrance fee. Monthly fees: JY8400 regular
class for men and women, JY5250 children's class K-6, JY6000 women's course, JY21,000
private Mon, Wed, Fri classes.
Contact: Aikido Shindo Dojo, Higashisuna 2-3-2, Koto-ku 136-0074 (tel
03-3645-5847, fax 03-5690-4821). Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Workout rating: 6
out of 10, arms, fingers, legs (if you use a non-electric wheel)
Do your arms have that schoolteacher swing? You know, that loose piece of flesh that
wobbles around as the teacher writes on the board. Never fear! Pottery is here. Although
pottery may not seem like a good workout, it takes more muscle than you'd think to pound
out bubbles, fold, twist and contort the clay into an objet d'art. Even on those
electric wheels where it looks as if a bowl magically springs up out of a chunk of clay,
it takes muscle to produce results.
(Courtesy of JNTO)
Can't have guests over because you're short on rice bowls and tea cups? In just twelve
lessons JIC will remedy that problem since the curriculum for beginners consists of tea
cups, tea bowls, vases, sake cups, sake bottles, tea pots, and more.
Sensei profile: Kato Isoko is the director of JIC. She studied at Tokyo
University of Arts and Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Beaux-Arts, so she speaks French as
well as English. Her main advice for students is to come regularly, especially if you're a
The workout: Kato gives instructions and demonstrates one on one with the
student, so everything you learn is hands-on. She's patient and explains each step
clearly. JIC holds student exhibitions once a year. This autumn it will start a ceramics
painting course for those who aren't interested in the building process.
The bottom line: JY10,000 registration fee; JY30,000 for 12 lessons/to be
completed within three months; extra fees to cover firing, materials, glaze. Two-hour
lessons. Classes in English are on Tue, Thur, Fri, Sat, anytime from 10am-8pm.
Contact: JIC Ceramic Studio, 2-9-4 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku (03-3461-8902).