Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences
Most of the people I have trained with in Japan disliked their experience in hombu dojo as well. They generally liked one of two of the teachers but often found it just as tedious and pretentious as you are describing.
However, not switching partners for the whole class is normal to them; so I can see why it was not considered a special rule to them that they would know to make you aware of. I'd say make peace with that one and let it go.
But, to your point, there is something about the old saying about form in absence of substance. I think they are going for more of a zen experience. But, in my opinion, that much "form" basically screams insecurities about what you are teaching.
Personally, I wouldn't particularly care if someone left the mat, took a big bite of their sandwich, and came back onto the mat chewing as long as they don't get food on the mat. But, to some of the new people who want a bit more of the mystique-type of experience it would ruin it for them a bit - so I can see both sides a bit.
There is something about the mythological journey, of going off to a strange place, having an experience, and coming back a changed person. It's not terrible to have the dojo be that mythological strange place - as long as you don't come back "strange" yourself.