Nippon Budokan, in Tokyo, is a revered center for budo, or Japanese martial arts. Steps away from some of the busiest avenues of the hyperkinetic city, a pedestrian road leads past the stone fortress walls and tree-lined moats of the Imperial Palace into the forests of Kitanomaru Park, a natural refuge first landscaped for the shoguns in the 17th century and only opened to the public in 1969. There, the Budokan, built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, hovers over the foliage like a postmodern pagoda: It was modeled on one of Japan’s most ancient and beloved Buddhist temples, the Hall of Dreams, and its octagonal roof, whose shape is intended to echo Mount Fuji, is topped with a golden onion-shaped giboshi, a traditional ornament believed to ward off evil spirits. But on a pre-Covid visit, the serenity dissolves the moment you enter the portals during a karate tournament
The corridors are teeming with sweaty karateka, or practitioners, in white uniforms and colored belts, while the cavernous arena resounds with the roar of some 10,000 spectators, cheering on six competitors as they spar simultaneously in three courts below enormous video screens, their dancelike steps mixed with the familiar kicking, punching and chopping.