Yoga and Japan

In 1984 Tony Crisp went to teach in Japan, and in his evocative two-part report he gives his impression of the social and spiritual attitudes he found in Hong Kong and Kanazawa

In the middle of 1981 a letter arrived out of the blue inviting me to teach in Japan. It was from an American Dennis Hoerner who with an enthusiastic group of Japanese and some Europeans had started a Bioenergy Centre in Kanazawa.

I was asked to lead two or more Life Energy Groups”, or as we usually called them, Bioenergy Workshops. The description of these workshops in the leaflet sent me said All the Life energy Group workshops are rooted in the philosophical and practical concept, derived from the work of people like Wilhelm Reich, that ‘health’ means the harmony of the mental, physical and spiritual aspects of the human being. Each of our group leaders, although different in style of working, strives towards the goal of harmonious integration of body, mind, and soul.”

My immediate question was, how had I been so lucky? David Boadella had already held Bioenergy workshops in Kanazawa and had recommended me; David is one of England’s most authoritative and active writers and teachers on Reich and Bioenergy. He felt it important that my approach to modern psychotherapy from the standpoint of meditation, and through it the tapping of the self regulating (homeostatic), self healing forces active in each of us, needed representation.

So in November I found myself on a flight heading first for Hong Kong, where I would have a one day stay before continuing to Tokyo. I remember the flight for its good food, its real fruit drinks served on demand, and Mr Lee, a Hong Kong businessman who sat next to me smoking incessantly. But I was grateful for his easy friendliness and realised as he talked that he lived in a mental world which considered everything in terms of money, business and family. When I walked the streets of Kowloon and Hong Kong I understood his view. So many millions of people struggled to earn a living in such a small area of land, you either survived or went under. There is no social security or welfare benefits to ease the burden of business failure or loss of employment.

But despite the enormous differences between the rich and poor, Hong Kong is a very friendly place. The Chinese find it easy to come up and talk to you in the street. On one occasion I stood outside a bank early in the morning with my suitcases, waiting for it to open to get Hong Kong dollars. I wanted to take a taxi as my cases were too heavy to carry far, and had no local cash. As I waited two young women came up to me smiling and asked if I were lost, and I explained about the taxi and bank. Their response was, well, why not go by bus, it was only 15 cents. When I explained I didn’t even have 15 cents they thought it a huge joke. put the money in my hand, and walked off to work.

Because business is so competitive, to look casually in a shop window often means the proprietor may quickly be beside you strongly urging you inside. This occurred to me at a clothes shop. The Indian owner had an unfortunate skin condition which caused him to be piebald. He assured me I needed a suit, which he could make from any of the materials he showed me, and have it ready the next day. I explained I never wore a suit, but this didn’t deter him.

In between our wrangling and my trying not to stare at the snow white areas on his brown face, I noticed he had a picture of his Guru on a shelf in the shop. While trying to sell me a shirt, he also mentioned yoga, and said a class was being held nearby. The teacher was a Professor Po.

With him still calling down the street after me about suits and shirts I went in search of the Professor. The place was difficult to find because so many shops are crammed in such small space, or share a single doorway. The entrance was actually that of a restaurant, but a doorman assured me the Professor was on the third floor.

As I emerged from the lift two Chinese women tried to show me to a table to eat. When I asked for the Professor they asked if I wanted the strip show in the restaurant. Eventually, by demonstrating yoga postures, they understood, saying Ah, Professor Po, and pointing to the left. When I got there the place was full of tables and chairs. It was explained to me that the Professor only used the space in the mornings, early, before the restaurant opened. Space was so scarce; he had already gone.


My first evening in Hong Kong coincided with the time I was usually preparing to get up and have breakfast – when everyone around

me was getting ready to sleep. I felt as lively as a cricket. Feeling I ought to rest if I could, I went to bed at midnight and managed two hours sleep before it escaped me completely . The night air of I long Kong. even in November, was beautifully warm. I usually hate bathing. but now after an hour’s yoga postures I had great pleasure in taking a long hot shower at three in the morning. During the day. because of the scarcity. water is turned off during the day, so) I made the most of the dark hours.

Afterwards I stood on the balcony of my room looking across the harbour to the island of I bong Kong. The lights o)f many colours rose from sea level up the mountain. As the plane had landed the lights had looked like fine oriental jewellery made of finest gems shining with inner light, woven into towers of filigree. A taxi driver later told me it was known locally as Oriental Pearl.

As the dark hours passed I sat and wrote letters home. Gradually people began to throng in the streets again. Because the shops stay open till nine o)r eleven at night, they have a slow start in the morning. mostly opening at ten. But many people were about early, and at seven I decided once again to seek the inner life of the Chinese in what was left of my short stay.

On my map I found a Buddhist Temple marked near the YMCA where I was staying, just off Nathan Street. I found the road, which served as a vegetable market; great square lorries were parked waiting to be unloaded. Only a few people were about. At the kerb a barrow stall stood with varieties of joss sticks for sale. At the end of the road a new skyscraper rose looking as if it were still in its original wrapping with the scaffolding of bamboo covering its entire surface. But I could not find a Buddhist Temple. I asked someone, who didn’t know, but asked someone else – and there was the Buddhist Temple next to the joss stick stall.

How had I missed it? An ornate and colourful gate, small but attractive, stood before a neat row of pillars covered with plants. This turned to the right and before me stood a huge open fire boiler like a large whisky still, Wondering, I entered the door beyond the boiler, A large passage led to the left. A small cot bed, recently slept in stood in the space; beyond was an area with odd tables and bits of wood stored. I went back and out to check if I had entered the correct door. There weren’t any others. This was the temple. Going in, I saw a woman who appeared also to be using the area to sleep in. Beyond the market stall table affairs, something vaguely like an altar stood. Nobody spoke English there, so I couldn’t enquire, but it looked like the temple also served as a dormitory, and at present was more dormitory than temple to meditate in.


Feeling somewhat disillusioned I walked across the road and found the entrance to Kowloon Park. It was about 7.15. As I got further into the park I noticed more and more people. Then, as I came to the main area of the park. I realised my discovery. All around men and women, very young and gnarled old, were practising Tai Chi Chuan,

Alone, in groups, in circles around trees, under cover, in the open, people were happily exercising. talking. laughing, gracefully moving. Some of them used wooden swords in a form of Tai chi Chuan I had not seen before. But here in the open air, in the early morning I had found the happy temple of the Chinese. It was so beautiful to see the very old exercising just as happily as the young. Completely without shyness they stood anywhere in the park, many alone, doing traditional Tai Chi Chuan, or whatever movements they enjoyed. What a happy people they looked, and with such lovely traditions, which took them out so early too share the morning with each other exercising.

Later I found a Taoist Temple, small but attractive. To reach it I had walked through a street market near the Airport. Many strange creatures were on sale for food live frogs and turtles, chicks hatching there in the road – some shops specialised entirely in joss sticks and the aromatic wood they are made from could be seen being ground. Chinese I Health Clinics were also right there in the midst of the market , exuding strong smells of camphorated oils, and people being treated in view, with the enormous variety of herbs, seeds. and substances standing visible. But the Temple stood beyond the noise . many joss sticks burning outside and drums beating within. A ceremony was in swing when I arrived. To sky and earth, incense smoke and prayers were offered.

As I sat and watched . sharing veneration with them, I could feel within me understanding and contact with these ancient Gods. I Here in the worship was evident the collected wisdom and love of the people I had seen in the market. (Out of their collective struggle against illness poverty, and death – from their shared pleasure and pain, this attitude too nature, , its energies and the cosmos, had arisen. It was older and wider than any individual, and the goods themselves perhaps were made out of human longing, loving, and transcendence. I felt respect.)


My first workshops were too be held in Kanazawa, a university town, and centre of ancient crafts. The great Zen teacher Suzuki was born and studied in this town.

I arrived in darkness very tired,. and my first impressions came as I stepped out of the car which had driven me from the local airport, for I had flown from “Tokyo. The quiet after the engine noise revealed the sounds of cicadas calling in the night. Across from where I was going to stay a typical modern Japanese bungalow greeted me. The front garden. a few feet wide and one foot deep. held in it the beauty of the shaped trees I was too meet everywhere. And going into Dennis’s house . I had my first social lesson; take your shoes off. It became to me a symbol of Japan, the shoes removed and left just outside the front door. Even in large civic buildings one still removes shoes. But large amounts of slippers are supplied, and to the toilet yet another type of slipper are there to change into.

Dennis has a Japanese wife, Tomoko. Their home mixed East and West for me. That night I slept on the futon. the Japanese folding mattress used on the floor. It is comfortable and practical because it Is so easy to use or store. I insisted on going for a walk before sleep, though. and my hosts were worried I would get lost. Kanazawa’s streets are designed to confuse invading soldiers, like a maze. I didn’t get lost, but it did start to rain, and on my way back I saw Tomoko coming to meet me with an umbrella. That was my next social lesson. Japanese, next to the slipper rack, have lots of umbrellas. Japanese couldn’t grasp the idea that I didn’t mind getting wet.

The next morning Dennis introduced me to Kanazawa. There are so many new impressions I could mention, but some of my delights were seeing men sweeping a river clean and, with brush and dustpan, cleaning leaves from it. The leaves weren’t blocking it. just untidy. I stow women digging roads along with the men and working in the municipal gardens. Trees were being tied up for winter to protect them from the snow. Japanese love trees. When one main road was built in Kanazawa the lovely old firs were left standing. and they jut right out into the road. Many people in Kanazawa wore gauze face masks. In England the general idea is that the Japanese did this because of the smog in cities, but the air of Kanazawa felt clean. The masks were worn because the wearer had a cold, and thus would protect others from their infection.


That afternoon I worked with three women individually. It was my first real contact with the oriental soul in a Therapy session. My work is based on two main principles. One is the practical use of awareness meditation techniques to help individuals become conscious themselves of what they are doing in and with their life to create problems. The other is teaching individuals how to release their own self regulatory healing and growth forces.

I was amazed and somewhat bewildered by the time the three sessions had ended. Each of them load exhibited exactly the same life situation – lack of emotional pleasure and warmth in their marriage. Obviously I had met this in European men and women, but never so stereotyped. one after the other. In one woman’s face I felt I saw not just her struggle and misery, but that of the collective soul of Japanese women. So much hunger for contact and love. I had also expected rather passive, reticent women; instead I found a degree of directness, frankness. and daring seldom found in European women. They were directly willing to explore emotions and physical contact with me, to see what they were doing in a relationship.

I found them not at all neurotic but painfully locked in accepted social attitudes, just ready to energetically change these when they understood how. Two of the women went home and used what had been learnt, and both husbands agreed to attend future workshops.

Yet another difference between East and West. Mostly it is women in the West who wish to improve the quality of their life in the emotional sense.

Later one of the women wrote to me. The letter is an example of the directness and honesty.

Thank you very much for embracing me warmly. I can now find what is lacking in my life. First time I met you I was expecting sexual satisfaction very much, but our being together was very comfortable and cosy. I gradually find my irritation that I am not fully satisfied by my husband owes almost to my attitude to him. That’s to say, I don’t see him as a living creature who is also eager to be warmed by me. By my change to him, we find each other that we are a better partner than we think we are. Thank you for being kind to me. I’ll remember you every time I find myself happy.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved