Saitama: Physical therapist invents Shibusawa-style exercise

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Seiichi Odaka, forefront, practices his Eiichi Shibusawa-style exercise with participants of his class in Fukaya, Saitama Prefecture, on April 1.

SAITAMA — A physical therapist in Fukaya, Saitama Prefecture, has invented an exercise method associated with Eiichi Shibusawa, an industrialist dubbed “the father of Japanese capitalism.”

Seiichi Odaka, 46, devised Shibusawa Eiichi Taiso by incorporating Sakamoto Kusshindo, a health exercise created by jujutsu martial arts practitioner Kingo Sakamoto and practiced by Shibusawa in his later years to maintain good health.

Interest in the achievements and personality of Shibusawa, who lived to be 91, is growing primarily due to the broadcast of an NHK period drama featuring Shibusawa.

“I hope people will become healthy both physically and mentally by learning Shibusawa’s teachings,” Odaka said.

One day, about 20 participants gathered to practice at Seien Park in Fukaya. They listened to Odaka’s instructions as he led through a two-hour program.

“This is the exercise Shibusawa actually practiced. Exhale slowly and lean over,” Odaka said to them.

Sakamoto Kusshindo is an exercise in which a person bends and straightens the body with both hands on the knees while sitting straight.

It is said to be effective for activating respiratory and internal organs. Sakamoto is believed to have come up with the method from the Taisho era (1912-1926) to the early Showa (1926-1989) era.

According to the Shibusawa Memorial Museum in Kita Ward, Tokyo, Shibusawa began practicing Sakamoto Kusshindo when he was in his 80s. Suffering from asthma and other health problems, he adopted it as part of his daily routine. He sometimes invited Sakamoto to his home. In volume 49 of “Shibusawa Eiichi Denki Shiryo” (Biographical data of Eiichi Shibusawa), Shibusawa writes, “I get up at 6:30 in the morning, wash my face and sometimes do Mr. Sakamoto’s bending and stretching exercise.”

Shibusawa Eiichi Taiso also includes “Seiten wo tsukisasu senobi,” or stretching one’s back with both arms outstretching over the head toward the blue sky. The word “seiten” (blue sky) in the exercise’s name is derived from a Chinese poem written by the young Shibusawa. It is also in the title of the NHK series, “Seiten wo Tsuke” (Hit the blue sky).

“When you put your hands together, imagine that you are holding the Analects with your left hand and an abacus with your right hand. The Analects teaches morality, and the abacus economy. If you put your hands together, you will have a unified theory of morality and economics,” said Odaka, inviting smiles from exercise participants.

A woman in her 70s from Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, said she can both listen to Shibusawa’s teachings and enjoy the exercise in the program.

Odaka used to teach exercise at a community center in Fukaya. He said he came up with the idea for an exercise incorporating Shibusawa’s teachings around December last year, when Shibusawa began attracting attention because of the NHK series and the use of his portrait on the new ¥10,000 note. Since the community center became unavailable due to the declaration of a state of emergency following the spread of the novel coronavirus, Odaka started leading the Shibusawa-style exercise at the park in February.

Odaka said: “Now that Shibusawa is in the spotlight, there must be many people who are interested in his teachings. I hope many people will join the exercise program.”

The exercise session is held every Monday from 10 a.m. at Seien Park’s Fureai-no Hiroba. There is no participation fee, but masks must be worn.