Public places in the crowded streets of Shinjuku in Tokyo are usually filled with movement, talking and the sounds emanating from shops. Whilst walking through West Shinjuku, I was minding my business walking to my destination. I stopped when I saw a sea of people standing outside Yodabashi camera. There...>>
This is a recording made in Yoko Okamoto Sensei’s aikido dojo in Kyoto during a morning ‘weapons’ class taught by Yoko’s American husband, Chris (pictured above). The dojo is in Kamigyo-ku, in an area of tiny residential streets and laneways. This neighbourhood of Kyoto was famous for the weaving of ‘Nishijin’ silk, and hence Yoko Sensei named her dojo ‘Nishijin dojo’. The practice was a ‘blending exercise’ in pairs practicing with the bokken (wooden sword). You can hear the sound of the wood sliding and sometimes colliding against wood. At the beginning of the recording you can hear Chris making sounds that accompany each absorbing movement with the sword as he demonstrates. Then there is a sound of people’s footsteps moving quickly towards a window that opens to a tiny lane outside (pictured below), in order to shut it. The voice of Chris says, in a mix of English and Japanese – ‘no… urusakunai yo (it's not noisy)... it’s not so noisy’ and people return to their training. As an observer and visitor in the dojo that day I assumed this was about keeping the noise of the training from bothering any public outside, but later found out that there is one difficult neighbour – a man who complains about noise. I was told later: ‘Before Sensei got this dojo two years ago, the place was full of sewing machines that would have made lots more noise. We’re not sure why he’s so upset…’ The sound of bokken, then, is ‘noise’ when it leaves the space of the dojo, while it is ‘sound’ within its walls; sound that is recognised by senior practitioners to have tonality and depth when produced from a ‘true cut’ with ‘good contact’ between partners.
Text, photo and recording by Tamara Kohn.