If you partied too hard over the holidays, or are just feeling like you’re ready to start working off the winter insulation, perhaps now is the ideal time to get back into shape for spring.
When it comes to fitness, there is a range of different options to choose from; however, how many of them incorporate traditional Japanese culture? Ukon Takafuji, a second generation practitioner of Takafuji-ryu, a creative style of traditional Japanese dance that Ukon’s family established in 1987, heads up fitness classes with the idea of doing just that – incorporating traditional Japanese dance into what he calls ‘Okuni Yoga’ and blending use of the Japanese samurai sword, into ‘Katana Exercise’.
He’s been involved in dance productions, script writing and directing and offers dances to places such as Nijo Castle and temples such as Daitokuji and Kodaiji. In addition to his work in Japan, he’s also successfully performed in overseas, including New York and Taiwan, and together with performing arts groups in China. Time Out Tokyo caught up with him to learn about his motivations behind working with traditional Japanese dances and the katana.
Why did you choose to run exercise classes that incorporate traditional Japanese dance and the katana?
UT: If I hadn’t been born into a family of dancers, I would probably have never come into contact with these two aspects of our culture. The beauty of Japanese dance and the fluid movements of the katana speak of their long histories. I thought it a shame that so few people have a chance to come into contact with these parts of our culture and wanted to find a way to allow people to enjoy them in a new form that’s easily accessible and has the potential to become an important part of their everyday lives. Through these classes, people like office ladies and housewives, who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to encounter these things, are able to realize their inner beauty through exercise – thereby furthering this style of Japanese dance into its own genre. My goal is to offer exercise classes where like-minded people can enjoy the Japanese sense of harmony together.
What kind of exercise is ‘Okuni Yoga’?
UT: It’s a form of yoga that incorporates aspects of traditional Japanese dance and teaches people how to move their bodies and muscles to create beautiful form and finesse. The name comes from Izumo-no-Okuni, the originator of Kabuki – whom I can’t help but admire. Together with her followers, Okuni set about creating new ideas to showcase the attractiveness of women; Okuni Yoga aims to do the same, to help women understand the beauty of their form.
What does ‘Katana Exercise’ involve?
UT: Katana Exercise is a form of aerobic exercise that combines iai (the art of drawing one’s sword, cutting down an opponent before immediately sheathing the sword again in one fluid movement) with the beat of House music – using lightweight katana so as not to strain the arm or wrist. Currently, we run three classes, ‘Katana Hyper Exercise’, ‘Katana Bics’ and ‘Katana Slow’, each having a different degree of difficulty and intensity. Katana Hyper follows an intense routine that involves various patterns that tone the whole body. Katana Bics involves repeating patterns that concentrate on specific areas of muscle. In Katana Slow, we work out to a more leisurely tempo. All of our classes are women only.
Your classes are for only for women, and on stage, you yourself have played the role of oyama (a man who plays female Kabuki roles). What do you find beautiful about the female form?
UT: I think women are made beautiful by their curves – with the s-shaped curve made by their waist and the curviness of their gestures working to make them all the more fascinating. On the other hand, men are made more attractive by their straight lines – by unwavering convictions that cut like the blade of a katana wielded with speed and agility. I think a man’s character should also be similar to this image.
You mentioned earlier that you’d like to help bring more people into contact with Japanese culture, what do find interesting about this aspect of Japan?
UT: Through experiencing our culture, I think we can better understand our past. Each aspect of Japanese culture has its own meaning and history. If you look into it, you’ll find that Japanese history is particularly diverse and exciting.
What’s your favourite part of Tokyo?
UT: Kagurazaka. It’s a place that’s calm yet full of emotion. Slightly removed from the working world, you can feel its history. In that respect I also like Asakusa; however, Asakusa can get really busy. As somewhere to relax and take things slowly, it has to be Kagurazaka.
I expect you look very fetching walking around Kagurazaka dressed in your kimono…
UT: I definitely get some looks. [Laughs]
- Katana Exercise
- Location: Studio Ikejiri
- Address: Kubo Building B1, 1-7-4 Ohashi, Meguro, Tokyo
- Telephone: (03)6415 8041
- Website: ameblo.jp/ukonsakon/
Note: To arrange a trial lesson send an email to the address below, mentioning your name, telephone number, email address and preferred day.
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Translated by Brin Wilson