I never thought I’d open my own yoga studio, let alone one in a foreign country. Years ago, while I was meditating at a yoga retreat in Haiku, Hawaii, a voice had said, “You must move to Japan and open a yoga studio in Tokyo.” Was it my inner voice? The voice of island’s Goddess Pele? It didn’t matter. I didn’t listen.
I had no intention of returning to Tokyo, where I’d lived once before. I loved California; there was no going back. Until one day in 2003 when my Japanese husband said he needed to return to Japan take care of his elderly father. And oh, was I coming with him?
I didn’t really want to go back to Tokyo, the busy life, the pollution, the stress. But I loved my husband, and wanted to be with him. And I knew that a good marriage was partly based on compromise—even sacrifice. After all, the root of the word sacrifice is sacred. In the highest sense, to make a sacrifice is to do something completely for someone else, with no personal gain. As an independent American woman, that idea took some getting used to.
And what would I do in Tokyo? I’d lived there for four years during the Bubble Years, where I wrote for newspapers and magazines, taught English, and worked as a copywriter for a cosmetics company. It was a fun life, a fast life, a life that was great for someone in her twenties. But California had made mush of me, and I loved my slow-pace, my friends and my yoga.
Suddenly, I remembered the message about opening up a yoga studio in Tokyo.
“Do you think I can do that?” I asked Shogo.
“Anything’s possible,” he said.
Like the fish who can’t see the water, the Japanese were surrounded by the spirit of calm, unity with nature, and an appreciation of the impermanent and imperfect. But somehow, in the rush to modernization and progress, they’d largely abandoned it. And so had I.
I Googled “yoga studios in Tokyo.” Only two came up, so maybe it was a good time to try.
“A yoga studio in Japan? Isn’t that like selling ice to the Eskimos or coals to Newcastle?” friends warned. I broke down this old saw. So-called “Eskimos” have ice all around; their culture is built on it. And Newcastle once depended on coal for survival. What if the ice disappears? What if the coal runs out? Japanese culture is built around nature, but people are stressed out, especially in the cities. Maybe yoga is just the thing they need—we all need.
I decided not to listen. I decided to stay with Shogo, to go where he went. So we packed our bags and prepared to move back to Japan.
Before we left, my sister Rachel gave me a box full of baby clothes her son had outgrown.
“For yours,” she said, hugging me.
I took a deep breath in, stacked the box up with the others. My son wasn’t here. It was not for lack of trying. I held onto the dream, though my body did not cooperate.
I’d been waiting too long for too many things in life, like starting a family. I’d heard the voice of my child calling me for a decade, but I was still waiting for that child to arrive.
I set my intention. I’d open a studio in Tokyo and surrender to the rest. If my yoga had taught me anything, it was that there was freedom in commitment. And in Japan, there was nobility in failure. If you’d tried your best, you could keep your head held high.
There was no going back.
While we flew over the Pacific Ocean, thirty yoga bolsters and sandbags are sailing to Japan. I knew I’d have to offer Restorative Yoga in Tokyo, it had saved my life almost daily, and I knew what a fast pace that city operated on, that it could help others, too.
I didn’t have anywhere to put them, so I knew I’d need to rent a studio. Soon.
We found a small, airy room. It was on the market because no one wanted its large built-in credenza. We signed the lease.
In Tokyo, there’s not much green outside a cup of tea. I wanted to make a calm oasis with a moon window, so we brought some bamboo from my husband’s family garden into the space, bringing the outside in. I too, was an outsider in a closed society. Would there be room for me and California-style yoga here?
When we’re ready to open, but there’s a hitch. Turns out Customs has to check every prop for drugs, and the props are held up. When they finally arrive, they fit perfectly into the credenza. The deal breaker for everyone else was perfect for us.
So I opened my studio. And guess what? No one came. I tried to hold myself together, not to fall apart, to trust that voice that had guided me here. After all, it was in Haiku that I’d heard it. Japan’s the birthplace of haiku, so the gods had to be happy, right?
Then one day, I got it: I was waiting for others to come, but I hadn’t yet fully arrived myself. So I rolled out my mat and began my own practice. Day after day, I embodied the space, embraced it. I practiced alone in the quiet, calm space, embracing the nobility of failure. I felt like a samurai. And then, amazingly, my first student came, followed by others.
I offered Community classes for charity, though I had been warned they wouldn’t fly in status-conscious Japan. I didn’t listen. I offered Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, partner yoga. Everyone said Japanese people will never touch strangers. Again, I didn’t listen. I knew that what had broken down the barriers for me and so many others was universal. If you’re lonely, reach out to someone else. Our yoga teaches us to surrender to everything—even our long-cherished notions of being singular. Soon we had a sangha, and I had a new home.
Then, after a decade of trying to start a family, it was time to get serious. To understand that the child was not going to come from my womb. It was going to come fro my heart.
After all, I’d been hearing a child calling to me for years.
We apply to adopt, even though Japan is notoriously difficult to adopt in, and even though by that time I am 44 and my husband is 48. The voice just won’t go away. I will have to fight for this child, like I’ve fought for everything in my life.
But so what? I am not a victim. I am a yogini. I am a warrior of surrender and acceptance.
And if I get to the end of the road and my child doesn’t come, I will find other ways to be a mother. I will embrace the quest as another practice. A practice of finding the balance between will and surrender.
The next time I went to my mat, instead of waiting for my child’s voice to come to me, I spoke directly to him.
I sent my voice out into the world. To my child, who I knew out there somewhere, waiting. Just like me.
“Hold on,” I said, “we’re coming.”
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