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Ode to: Toyoshima and Sapporo Chuo Taikukan

This blog is an old one, but on my morning walk this morning there must have been a flavour in the air, or a sound that vibrated just right to bring my mind back to this moment from nearly five years ago. I often say that Kachalka, in Kyiv Ukraine, is my favourite gym in the world, and it is. However, to be clear, my favourite Lifting Temple is in Sapporo, Japan.


Enjoy.


The last 5 or 6 days were shit. I had the flu and had to travel from Osaka to Sapporo. Ugh, it was miserable, chills, fever, and the like. At one point I also accidentally took 3 Imodium instead of 3 painkillers, so ya. I've been killin’ it. When I am super sick, I am always reminded of a theory of evil that is tossed around in the philosophical world which postulates that without pain, suffering, and evil, we wouldn’t be able to recognize pleasure, joy, or peace. I am not sure I totally agree, but most people can relate to the feeling of sheer joy when their symptoms finally lift. That first day without a fever is biblical.

Today was that day for me. I woke up, and felt super-human. I decided I had rested enough and headed for a gym that I found deep in the ex-pat forums for Hokkaido. It appeared that there was a community gym with a room dedicated to weightlifting, and even a sand sumo-ring. Sold! And it was only a 2.5km walk which would give me an opportunity to warm up my legs and comb the alleys for graffiti.

On the way there, I felt like I was in a viagra commercial or something. Lights were turning green for me, my shoes were gripping the snow while other people were slipping, the snow was pretty, sun was shining etc. At one point a taxi had tried to do a u-turn but got stuck in the snow near the sidewalk I was on. Since I was clearly super-human for surviving the flu, I decided to give him a couple pushes and set him free. The car even felt light (just kidding… but seriously).

I arrived at the gym after stopping at a 711 for an espresso (gas station coffees in Japan are 10/10). Sapporo Chuo Taikukan, which I think means something like Sapporo City Gymnasium, looked more like an old communist building than a gym. I bought my tickets for 6 visits and paid 1950 Yen, which is like 25 bucks Canadian, or equal to being allowed to look inside a Crossfit gym in Japan for five minutes (drop ins are 25-50$).

As I opened the door, my heart fluttered as if a pretty lady just walked by. The lights weren’t on yet, as no one was inside, and it looked as if I had travelled back in time and landed in a 1980’s training hall. This, I thought, must be how christians feel when they enter the church before anyone else on a Sunday.


This may be the closest to an old-school olympic lifting training hall I’ll ever get as an amateur lifter from Canada. There were two large platforms made of wood covered in battle scars which just made you think about all the lifts that had taken place in here over the many years this temple has stood.

There was a chalkboard for recording, and someone had recently done a mock competition and went 5/6 coming out with 110kg in the Snatch and 140kg in the Clean and Jerk. These are very impressive numbers and heightened the vibration of the space for me.

I had the space to myself for about twenty minutes. I selected my favourite bar from the rack, looked at all the old plates, chalked my hands, and just enjoyed the atmosphere. There were even brushes here to clean the bar. This was truly a temple. Its orderliness was unlike anything I had seen in a gym.

Eventually a silver-haired man walked in who looked old enough to be my Grandpa, but also looked like he was there to do the same thing I was. Curious. My excitement grew. I watched this man warm-up and it was eerily similar to my own. He clearly had accumulated some injuries over the years, but as he kept moving, he kept getting more limber, and after about ten minutes he looked more mobile than most of the 18 year old hockey players I train back home.

After his warmup he took out some burly knee sleeves, and laced up his old wood-heeled lifting shoes. After that, he walked to the platform and lined up all the stacks of plates. I too prefer an orderly lifting environment, which was another eerily similar trait we shared. I watched in rapture as he began his training session with some back-squats.


I later found out that this man was 72 years old. He squatted below parallel, and was hitting about 70kg for reps. I found this to be one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. We eventually got to speak a little bit with his limited english and my complete lack of Japanese. In between his sets of deadlifts at almost 225#, he showed me a huge scar on his back from what looked like a recent spine surgery. His name was Toyoshima, and this was clearly his gym, his happy place, and his turf. I couldn't have been more thankful to spend time in his temple. I think, or at least hope, he could tell how humbled and appreciative I was. We shared the same Religion of Iron and I felt there was an unspoken connection.

As I was leaving, Toyoshima turned to me and bowed. Once again my heart fluttered. I reciprocated with the utmost reverence.


Thank-you for reading.

Myles Jeffers Seneca Strength

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