The Iwama Dōjō is a dojo built by the founder of aikido, O-sensei Ueshiba , who lived there from 1942 until his death in 1969. It is located in the former town of Iwama and became an important historical location for the development of aikido and "a Mecca to the aikido community." This dojo is also where Saito sensei , one of the founder's closest students, learned and taught aikido from 1946 until 2002 developing what is often referred to as the Iwama style .
Iwama was a small farming village in Japan , located 100 km north-east of Tokyo and at the centre of Ibaraki Prefecture . Iwama was annexed into the City of Kasama in 2006 (dissolving Nishiibaraki County, which had previously contained Iwama Town). The original Iwama aikido dojo, Aiki Shrine and the neighbouring Tanrenkan are now addressed in the Yoshioka district of Kasama city, Ibaraki.
The Ibaraki Branch Dojo (茨城支部道場 Ibaraki Shibu Dojo), also known as the Ibaraki Dojo or the Shibu Dojo, is a small aikido dojo .
The land on which the dojo and shrine were built was first purchased by O-sensei Ueshiba , the founder of aikido, in 1940. In 1943 he built the first part of the current Aiki Jinja and an "outdoor dojo" where he lived a life of "Buno Ichinyo" (the union of agriculture and Budo .This dojo was completed in 1945 and was originally called "The Aiki Shuren Dojo" (合気修練道場, lit. harmonising drill dojo). At first the dojo did not include tatami ( mats ), and students received training directly upon the wooden floor.Eventually 24 mats were installed. The dojo was later moved to the present day location and expanded to 60 mats. When the founder formally established the Aikikai for the promotion of aikido in 1948, the dojo served as the world headquarters for the art and remained so until the opening of the new Aikikai Hombu Dojo in 1956.
After the death of the aikido founder in 1969, Saito Morihiro sensei became the caretaker and chief instructor at the Iwama Dojo and caretaker of the Aiki Shrine and remained so for more than thirty years. After Saito Shihan's death in May 2002, The sandai doshu became the default Dojo Chief while Saito sensei's son, Saito Hitohira sensei , assumed the role of Acting Dojo Chief on behalf of the sandai doshu. However, in November 2003, Saito Hitohira sensei announced his departure from the Aikikai. Saito Hitohira sensei's organisation was formed following his formal separation from the Aikikai in November 2003. This created a split among students of Morihiro Saito sensei with some joining Saito Hitohira Sensei's new organisation
Aiki Jinja (合気神社) is the shrine built by O-sensei in Iwama in honor of the deities of aikido . ( Jinja is the Japanese term for a shrine.) The shrine grounds include the Ibaraki Branch dojo .
The 42 kami enshrined within the Aiki Jinja include O-sensei 's Guardian Gods, Saruta Hiko no Ookami, Kunitsu Ryuoh Kuzuryu, Daigongen, Tajikarao no mikoto, Amenomurakumo Kukisamuhara Ryuoh, Ketsumi Miko no Ookami, Wakumusubi no Mikoto, Ryuoh, Daigongen, Ootengu, Daibosatsu, and others.
The first part of the shrine building (the Honden or "Okuden" housing the deities of aikido) was completed in late autumn, 1943. The second bigger part (the Haiden ) was erected in front of the Honden in 1962. Both parts were renovated by care-taker Saito Morihiro shihan in 2001-2002 with the approval of san dai doshu . This renovation also included a fence set up around the compound, and a stone with the carvings "Aiki Jinja" designed by Abe Seiseki sensei , a master of both calligraphy and Aikido, who was also the calligraphy teacher of O-sensei . A large statue of the founder of aikido was erected in the shrine grounds and unveiled on 8 November 2009. Surplus material from this monument was used to make a bust of the founder which was unveiled at the newly rebuilt Iwama Station on 24 July 2012.
The Torii gate and Honden were damaged during the Great Tohoku earthquake . The relatively unscathed Haiden was used for aikido training while the dojo was unusable.
When O-sensei was alive, once a month he would preside over what was initially a small religious ceremony in the Aiki Jinja called Tsukinamisai (月並み祭), which lasted up to an hour. Food offerings of fruits, vegetables, and fish adorned the kamidana . Later, a small party with the uchi deshi (live-in students) was held inside the dojo. After O-sensei Ueshiba died, caretaker shihan Morihiro Saito took responsibility for hosting the ceremony every month on the 14th.
Every year on April 29 (the start of the Japanese Golden Week holiday, the annual shrine festival "Aiki Jinja Rei Taisai" (合気神社例大祭 "Grand Festival of the Aiki Shrine") is held by Oomoto priests in commemoration of O-sensei Ueshiba's death on April 26, 1969. Under former caretaker Saito Morihiro shihan , the event grew to become a very big day for the small town of Iwama. The festival has continued to attract hundreds of Aikido practitioners to the small dojo and shrine .
The Aiki Shrine Festival usually starts with a "shubatsu" (a Shinto ritual), "taisai-shukuji" (ritual felicitations) and "tama gushi -hoten" （offering of sacred sprigs） by the O-sensei Ueshiba family and representatives from the aikido world and local community. The attendees then take part in a ritual prayer and memorial service offered by the Ueshiba family and other dignitaries. A special Shinto prayer called the "Amatsu Norito" is recited before the current Doshu makes a speech and a ritual demonstration of Aikido called a "hōnō embu" (奉納演武) within the Haiden of the shrine. The festival usually closes with "naorai" (a celebratory meal) in the dojo and surrounding gardens, often with the azaleas in bloom.