Interview with Ms. Hiroku Tai
Off Time No. 9
by Kenta Shimizu
Today’s interview takes place with Ms. Hiroku Tai, who practices Aikido enthusiastically since her university days and who presently works for Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs. In general it looks as if in the world of Aikido and within government offices we very often have the impression to live in a male society. And aren’t we confronted frequently with the question, what women feel about that? Furthermore we learned a lot about the face of culture and about her thoughts regarding Japan’s future. Ladies, this is a required reading!
How did all start when you entered the Tendokan?
Actually the begin was the introduction to a colleague at the working place. At my working place there are colleagues, who practice at the Tendokan, and when they learned that I had practiced Aikido, they addressed me. On this occasion I entered the Tendokan. Shimizu Sensei’s techniques were exciting, and the mood in the Dojo and the mood of the other students were excellent.
How did you come across Aikido?
All started, when I borrowed a Bujutsu Manga from some friends at the Junior High School (laughing). I was touched by traditional things and especially by Budo, and at the Senior High School I looked for a local Dojo in the city and began to practice. After going to the university the club activities of Aikido group were thriving, too, and after joining the club Aikido really became a very important part of my university life. In this year among 15 participants there were only 3 women, so we were actually only a minority.
In your environment there are mostly men, are you sometimes bewildered?
When I started with Aikido I was relatively tall compared with other women, und when I practiced with men, I used a lot of physical strength. I think that I practiced with a face showing that I did not want to loose against the men. But of course there is a difference to men regarding physical strength, and I was troubled quickly. In the same year at the university was a small built girl among the students, who of course was no physical match for the much taller men, and she simply practiced her way. One day she made sudden progress. In Aikido you do not collide with the frontal power of an attack, but it is a Budo art, where you ward off an attack, and react using natural movements. This girl very quickly became aware that she was not able to perform the techniques using physical strength, and she used this knowledge to her advantage. She was fully aware of her abilities and practiced an Aikido with a lively body. When I watched this girl, I thought that this was the way to turn your own weakness into forte.
How could you make use of Aikido in your daily life?
By Aikido I learned that you should not compete with a frontal attack, instead it is very important keeping a natural posture and avoiding unnecessary movements. With regard to my job it is still a society, where men prevail, although the number of women at my working place increased and more women are employed. It is not the point to worry about behaving like men, but if we actively express our opinion and our way of thinking, the feeling of discrimination and disability will disappear, and we will be able to perform our work with a lively self. In addition, by the intention to show a stronger self I want to become a human with a strong heart, who generates a pleasant atmosphere by keeping a natural posture. The natural posture is something, what we learn in Aikido, and I think, conversely it is a way to progress in Aikido, if we are able to move naturally. It is good, if there are synergies, isn’t it?
What about the share of women at your working place?
Within the Agency for Cultural Affairs there are fields with relatively many women, in my department one third are women. Depending of the department there are differences, and there are few women in higher positions as the employment of women was extremely low in the past, but now women are employed increasingly.
What are the tasks of the Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs?
My department is called Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs – department for cultural assets – section traditional culture. We are responsible for Japan’s most important cultural assets and as well for historical landmarks. The main task of the department for cultural assets is to protect cultural assets ongoing depending of the support by subsidies. We are not talking only about material cultural assets, but we are also responsible for the so-called immaterial cultural assets as the traditional public entertainment from Kabuki to Bunraku and as the traditional industrial arts from dying and weaving to ceramics. We are also responsible for the personifications of these arts, the so-called human national treasures, whom we support as well.
What were the reasons to decide for your present work?
Since long ago I was interested in art galleries and museums. Additionally since my childhood I am interested in the local folk entertainment called O-Kagura (ancient Shinto music and dance). I was very impressed that on those days, when the O-Kagura took place, we children as well were permitted to stay in bed until late in the morning (laughing). The various regions of the country represent such traditional arts, and I am interested in these arts, and that was the main reason for choosing my working place.
Which activities do you plan in the agency for cultural affairs in future?
I have the feeling that nowadays the traditional culture has gone far away from people’s life. To ensure the survival of the agency of cultural affairs, the government supports her through taxes. Therefore I think that it is necessary that even more people understand the fascination, why traditional culture is so important. And for that purpose it is necessary to create an environment, where traditional culture could be sensed directly. I think that the areas of daily life should contain much more culture.
In Europe, for example, you can find historical structures everywhere in the cities.
People say frequently that in present Japan all cities seem to be uniform, wherever you may go, but that should not be like that. Our agency for cultural affairs would like to support by the design of a region, to make sure that every region is able to use her culture and resources. Of course, that isn’t easy, but we want to go towards that direction.
The problem is not that the younger generation is not interested in Japanese culture. The problem is that they simply do not know Japanese culture.
Yes, that might be true. If we are living in an environment, where nature and things like Japanese culture from a child touch us, an intensive thinking about culture may result. And excellent culture moves the hearts of people, I think.
I think, Aikido as well is a special cultural asset, which Japan can be proud of. Additionally I hope that many people learn more about Aikido. Thank you very much for today. Now I have a last request. What message do you have for those people, who are interested in Aikido?
First of all I would advise to make personal experience in Aikido. Meeting with Aikido might influence your whole life positively.
Thank for today’s conversation.
The homepage of the agency for cultural affairs is
© translated by Ichiro Murata and Peter Nawrot, November 2007