A western Tokyo neighborhood with an unusual name is reaching into its distant past to revitalize its businesses and attract more visitors.
A junction between the Shuto and Tomei expressways, Setagaya Ward's Yoga neighborhood is a vibrant section of Tokyo with skyscrapers, residences, shopping complexes and the nearby greenery of Kinuta Park.
Yoga acquired its name from the Sanskrit "yuga," which means yoga. From the late Heian Period (794-1185) to the early Kamakura Period (1192-1333), the area was home to a training center for "yuga," a discipline of the esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism practiced by monks.
Nowadays, the Yoga shopping street promotion association has come up with a new, pun-like catchphrase: "Yoga de Yoga," meaning "Yoga in Yoga," which has led to the opening of a yoga school.
Although around 270 shops on the main shopping street are association members, their numbers had been declining until around four years ago because aging owners had no one to inherit their businesses.
Then, some of them became interested in the origin of the area's name. The idea: "We could attract people with a catchy phrase like 'Yoga de Yoga.'"
The yoga discipline teaches, among other things, how to meditate while sitting in a cross-legged position. Yoga means to "connect," and this led to the idea of opening a yoga school to "build bridges" between the shopping street and the local community.
The yoga school is sponsored by Yoga Machidukuri Inc.
"We can add some life to the area if we can get people to go shopping on the street after a refreshing lesson at the school," says a Yoga Machidukuri representative. "We hope more people will learn about the shopping street because of the 'Yoga de Yoga' phrase."
The classes, which are held in a hall at Yogajinja shrine, a five-minute walk from Yoga Station, draw 10 to 15 students each session, most of them local residents. They stretch their bodies and sit cross-legged according to the instructor's directions.
A 71-year-old woman in the class said: "I thought it was a joke, so I was surprised to hear the area's name is actually related to yoga. Anyway, it's nice to move my body around and feel good doing yoga."
Classes are normally held every Thursday and Saturday. A one-time trial lesson costs 500 yen ($6.4). The basic monthly fee is 4,000 yen for four classes, but this varies depending on how many times the student attends the class in a given month.
In addition to the yoga school, Yoga Machidukuri also makes products depicting the shopping street's mascot and puts on events for people to study the history of the Yoga area. Those interested can call the company for more details at 03-3708-5741.
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