[This is part of our series Practicing Mysore-Style Ashtanga in a Large Metropolitan Area. The previous installment is this site's 6th most popular post as of August 2007, Practicing Mysore-Style Ashtanga in New York . Let me know if you want to write about Los Angeles, London or anywhere else where there are 3 or more established Mysore-Style classes - Ed.]
I was fortunate to travel to Tokyo recently, and as I always do when visiting far away lands, I went to try out the Mysore-Style studios there. Let me add that I love Japan, having lived there for two years before I had discovered Ashtanga Yoga. After reading on AshtangaNews.com about how popular this style of yoga had become there (here, here and here), I was eager to see for myself.
I found that there are 3 (Update 8/23, now 4!) main studios in Tokyo where Mysore-Style is taught:
- Ken’s place in Ogikubo
- Tarik at YoggiStudio in Shibuya
- Chama at Yoga Tokyo also in Shibuya
- Barry Silver in Yoyogi Uehara
I heard of a fifth place opening in Shinjuku, in the West part of the city. If you know about this please let me know so that I can update this list.
Tokyo is by far the largest metropolitan area I have ever been to (35 million people), and Ashtanga is booming there. My first practice was at Chama’s place in Shibuya. It’s a small space fitting maybe 12 students at a time, but very intimate and friendly. Jane, an Australian who has lived in Japan many years, was kind enough to meet me at the station and take me to the studio.
Quick aside – having the address of a place in Japan does not guarantee you will be able to find it. Even taxi driver frequently get lost. Always try to have the map to a place with you. From Wikipedia:
Street names are not used in postal addresses (except for Kyoto and some HokkaidÅ cities such as Sapporo), and most Japanese streets do not have names. [...] It is for this reason when giving directions to a location, most people will offer cross streets, visual landmarks and subway stations such as “at ChÅ«Å-dori and Matsuya-dori across the street from Matsuya and Ginza station,” for the Apple Store in Tokyo. In fact, many small businesses have maps on their literature and business cards. In addition, signs attached to utility poles often specify the city district name and block number, and detailed block maps of the immediate area are sometimes posted near bus stops and train station exits.
Chama often posts photos of the practice room on the studio’s blog. Here’s one:
The practice room is small and cosy. If you want a lot of attention, this would be a good place to go to. The books for sale in the lobby included translations of two classics of Ashtanga Yoga literature, Ashtanga Yoga for Women and John Scott’s book. He is a superstar in Japan, and his workshops are always packed to the gills when he visits.
We had a friendly coffee afterwards with Zen, Jane and Chama.
The first studio in Japan to offer Mysore-Style was Ken Harakuma’s and Basia Lipska’s Ashtanga Yoga Japan in Ogikubo, close to Shinjuku (but outside the Yamanote-sen, Tokyo’s Circle Line). When I visited the studio Ken and Basia were traveling to Mysore, so Barry Silver (from AYNY) was subbing. I had met him before so it was a pleasant surprise. At a soba noodle lunch afterwards he told me that he loved being in Japan, and as gaijin almost invariably do we shared our impressions of the country.
The studio itself is very close to the train station and at the top of a small building, quite spacious by Japanese standards. Space is really at a premium there, as evidenced by this poster on the right.
There were a lot of advanced practitioners and you could see Guruji’s influence in the photos, posters and practices. I had a sense of a place with a long history (by modern yoga standards!).
Tarik teaches in Shibuya like Chama, but a little closer to the station. The area around Shibuya station itself is one of the wonders of modern Japan. About 2.3 million people go through it every day, and the giant screens on the buildings make Time Square’s look amateurish.
The studio is on the fifth floor of a building in the midst of this modern whirl, with windows overlooking Shibuya square. Again, many advanced practitioners and probably more gaijin than at the other studios. I finally got to meet Tarik too, after having heard much about him. He is very tall but very gentle, which makes for an ideal combination for adjustments. When is not doing or teaching yoga, he is very busy learning Japanese. Gambatte!
There seems to be a boom in all things yoga in Japan. On the subway, there are a lot of posters selling healthy and stress-relieving products with models doing yoga poses. There are also a lot of yoga studios opening everywhere. Ashtanga yoga especially seems appealing to the culture, with its forms which are reminiscent of martial art katas.
All in all, Tokyo has a vibrant and growing Mysore-Style community. With so many people starting to get an interest in yoga and especially Ashtanga, it feels like it’s only the beginning. I wonder what it will be like ten years from now.