Coordinates: Iwama is an important historical location from the development of Aikido. The former town has a famous dojo built by the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, who lived there from 1942 until his death in 1969. It has become "a Mecca to the aikido community." This dojo is also where Morihiro Saito, one of the founder's closest students, learned and taught aikido from 1946 until 2002. The lineage of aikido that has been passed on through Saito is highly acclaimed. It is often referred to as 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 Dojo
The land on which the dojo and shrine were built was first purchased by Morihei 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 Budō). 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, Morihiro Saito 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's death in May 2002, Moriteru Ueshiba became the default Dojo Chief while Saito's son, Hitohiro Saito, assumed the role of Acting Dojo Chief on behalf of the Doshu. However, in November 2003, Hitohiro announced his departure from the Aikikai. In December 2003, the dojo was renamed the Ibaraki Branch Dojo with Hiroshi Isoyama taking on the role of Acting Dojo Chief and Senior Instructor. Isoyama first began training in the Iwama dojo in 1949 at the age 12, as a direct student of the aikido founder. Isoyama's position was later taken over by Mitsuteru Ueshiba who then became the current Dojo Chief in place of his father in April 2015. Isoyama remains as chief instructor and Executive Advisor.
On 11 March 2011, the dojo was severely damaged by an earthquake and rendered unusable. Aikido practice continued in the Aiki Shrine from 14 March until 17 September 2011 when the newly repaired dojo reopened for training.
The Ibaraki Branch Dojo has nine regular local instructors, headed by Hiroshi Isoyama (8th dan), with the majority of the teaching (including the live-in student programme) being carried out by Shigemi Inagaki (8th Dan). Additionally, Dojo Chief Mitsuteru Ueshiba and Aikido Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays respectively to teach the general class. General classes are held every day of the week for regular students while live-in students (内弟子 uchi deshi ) practise three times per day in addition to carrying out other duties such as maintaining the dojo and shrine precincts.
Aiki Jinja (合気神社) is the shrine built by Morihei Ueshiba 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 (training hall).
The 42 kami enshrined within the Aiki Jinja include Morihei Ueshiba'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 Morihiro Saito in 2001-2002 with the approval of Dōshu Moriteru Ueshiba. This renovation also included a fence set up around the compound, and a stone with the carvings "Aiki Jinja" designed by Seiseki Abe, a master of both calligraphy and Aikido, who was also the calligraphy teacher of Morihei Ueshiba. A large statue of the founder of aikido was erected in the shrine grounds and unveiled on the 8th of 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 the 24th of July 2012.
When Morihei Ueshiba 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 Ueshiba died, caretaker Morihiro Saito took responsibility for hosting the ceremony every month on the 14th. This tradition is kept up by current Dōshu Moriteru Ueshiba.
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 Ueshiba's death on April 26, 1969. Under former caretaker Morihiro Saito, 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 under current Dojo Chief Moriteru Ueshiba.
The Aiki Shrine Festival usually starts with a "shubatsu" (a Shinto ritual), "taisai-shukuji" (ritual felicitations) and "tamagushi-hoten" （offering of sacred sprigs） by the 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 dignitries. A special Shinto prayer called the "Amatsu Norito" is recited before the current Dōshu 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.
Tanrenkan (鍛錬館, which means "Hardening Hall") is an aikido training hall run by Hitohiro Saito, who is the son of Morihiro Saito. It is the main dojo of the Iwama Shin-Shin Aiki Shuren-Kai organisation. The Tanrenkan was built in 2000 on Saito family land and exists independently of the original Iwama dojo.
Hitohiro's organisation was formed following his formal separation from the Aikikai in November 2003. This created a split among students of Morihiro Saito with some joining Hitohiro's new organisation and others (most notably the three that Saitō had promoted to 7th dan, William Witt,Paolo Corallini and Ulf Evenås) remaining affiliated with the Aikikai.
Other Iwama dojo
There are also other aikido dojos in former-Iwama:
- Shin-Shin Aiki Juku (神信合氣塾) is located 700 metres south-east from Tanrenkan. It is the old "Shin Dojo" built by Saito Morihiro Shihan. 
- Nisshinkan is a small dojo operated by Nemoto Hiroki (Aikikai 6th dan) next to his "Aiki House" student accommodation.
- There is also aikido at Iwama Budokan (Martial Arts Hall). It is located at Iwama Junior High School, 1.3 km north-east from the founder's dojo. It is used by Watahiki (Ibaraki Branch), Nemoto and ISSASK.
- Ibaraki branch dojo, main website. Contains a section describing the history and significance.
- Stanley Pranin, Iwama: Birthplace of Aikido, Aikido Journal. The full article also contains the phrase "Aikido Mecca".
- News from Iwama following the earthquake, Aikido Journal blog.
- Interview with Hiroshi Isoyama, Aikido Journal.
- Stanley Pranin, Iwama: Birthplace of Aikido, Aikido Journal 121. "As Ueshiba was ensconced in Iwama training with a small coterie of disciples and there was virtually no activity at the old Kobukan Dojo in Tokyo in the late 1940s, Iwama became the official headquarters of the Zaidan Hojin Aikikai when the foundation was set up in 1948. It would remain so until headquarters status was returned to Tokyo about 1956 by which time activity at the Shinjuku Dojo had fully revived."
- Ibaraki branch, Aikikai Foundation (official website).
- (Japanese) 笠間工芸の丘/合気道 Kasama, Ibaraki government
- A Day in the Life of the Founder Morihei Ueshiba, April 1968 By Gaku Homma Sensei
- Aikikai Foundation Ibaraki Branch Dojo
- Iwama Shin-Shin Aiki Shuren-kai official website
- Takemusu Aikido Kyokai official website.
- Nemoto Sensei, official website. See "Keiko" for locations.
- An Iwama aikido blog
- Iwama Aikido Children's Group, Iwama-Machi Aikido Supootsu Shonendan (岩間町合気道スポーツ少年団).
- 植芝盛平は神様か？ 日本敗戦の日に思う事 Nippon Kan