Kendo Places #4: Butokuden 武徳殿

Founding of the Butokuden

in 1895 on the 1,100 year anniversary of the transferring of the Japanese capitol to Kyoto (Heian-kyo), and as part of the building of Heian-jingu, the Butokuden construction began. It was originally meant as a demonstration platform for the Butokukai. It was completed in 1899 on the north-west side of the Heian-jingu complex. If was then also designated as a school for training Martial Arts teachers (later it would become the Budo Senmon Gakko).

At that time it was said “in the east there is Kodokan (built 1841), and in the west the Butokuden” such was its place in the center of Japanese budo circles.

Changing times

After the war GHQ dissolved the Butokukai, closed the Budo Senmon Gakko, and the occupying troups confiscated the building. In 1951 Kyoto City bought the Butokuden and it was used by Kyoto Police academy from 1952 until it was closed in 1956. From then on the building was used by the Kyoto City University of Arts music club.

Nowadays

In 1980, after the Kyoto City University Arts music club was closed down, Kyoto City wondered what to do with the now unused Butokuden. The All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR) and the Kyoto Kendo Federation made an appeal to the city, the result of which was that the Butokuden would be saved for future generations. In 1983 the building was appraised as a great example of a large wooden structure from the Meiji period and was designated a Kyoto City Tangible Cultural Property. Furthermore, in 1996 is was designated a Japanese Important Cultural Property.

It was in this manner that the Butokuden has been passed down to our generation today and still serves as a place to demonstrate and practise budo.

Every May, from the 2nd-5th, the Butokuden serves as the focus for the Zen Nippon Embu Taikai (also popularly known as the Kyoto Taikai). About 3,000 people (minimum grade is Renshi 6dan) come from all over Japan, and from various countries all over the world, to display the results of their kendo training in the past year.

Links:
Butokuden (Kyoto Budo Centre)
Kyoto Kendo Renmei
606-8323, Kyoto-shi , Saikyo-ku, Shougoin Entomi-cho 46-2


Personal note: When I first came to Japan (summer 2000) I literally stumbled across the Butokuden. I had been visiting the garden in the rear of Heian-jingu when I heard loud kiai and the sound of bamboo. I peered through the cracks in the wooden fence and spotted people dressed in hakama and keikogi; I rushed out of the garden, round the corner, and into the building. I wasn’t sure whether I could watch keiko or not so asked some random old guy in bogu and he said it was ok. Watching kendo in the sweltering heat of a Japanese August I was profoundly moved, and even more so when I later discovered what the building was and its place in the history of kendo. If you come to Japan I urge you to do your best to watch or – if you can – take part in practise at the Butokuden. You won’t regret it!

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Published by

George

I’m the founder and chief editor of kenshi247.net.

Amongst other things I am a high school kendo club coach, an avid practitioner of classical swordsmanship, a history student, and a vegetarian.

16 thoughts on “Kendo Places #4: Butokuden 武徳殿

  1. Is the minimum rank rokudan renshi, or is it just renshi? Not that the difference matters for anyone but a very few people.

    But it is an awesome building.

  2. I remember the first time I was in Kyoto and practiced there. On some nights Kendo practice is in the new modern hall. Since I didn’t know on which days I asked a guy who dared to speak English. He also told me that many people preferred the new hall because of the better accomodations. When I told him that I liked the old hall because of the history and the atmosphere he looked at me as if I was insane.

  3. I’ve been fortunate to have practiced in the old dojo on two different visits to Japan. Both times were extraordinary experiences. On my last visit, the second night I went to practice was rainy and cold ( was late January 2007) and there were only about 15 or so people at keiko. One of them happened to be Inoue Sensei and I actually was able to line up and have keiko with him twice in one night. I was speechless.
    It still remains my very favorite dojo to practice in and I am humbled and awed every time I enter it.

    Jim

  4. George — can I just show up at the Butokuden to join in the Keiko? From the official website (http://kyoto-kenren.or.jp/event/night/index.html), it seems like I just need to review the schedule, show up with my bogu, pay the non-member fees and practice with all. Is that how it works? I just was not sure if I need to make pre-arrangements with the dojo or need to have someone introduce me to the sensei’s at the dojo.

  5. Chris — yeah thats correct, just roll up, write your name+pay the nominal fee and you are good to go. I’d turn up a little early just to be safe.

    btw the keiko goes between the Butokuden and the Budo Centre (the modern sports hall) in the rear …. so be sure you go on the right day.

    Cheers, and enjoy !

  6. Thank you, George. Just wanted to make sure that I do not violate any of the explicit or implicit rules that the dojo (and the Japanese society in general) might have. Also wanted to say a quick thanks for this site — love reading about your observations and perspectives as a foreigner living in Japan (I also did the same — lived in Tokyo for a couple of years, which is when I started Kendo).

  7. Hi George McCall Sensei,
    I’m from Vietnam.
    I’m planning to come to Japan in the end of next January (2017) and may stay in Osaka and Kyoto in 2 or 3 days.
    Could I ask your a few questions?
    #1:Abour practicing at Butokuden, as I read the comment, just come at the right time, show my bogu, pay the nominal fee and join the Keiko. Are they possible to talk by English?
    #2: I’ve read your book (Kendo Coaching, Tips and Drills) and is it possible to join a Keiko Session at your Dojo. Or would you mind guiding me some others Dojo in Osaka where I can join the practice.
    Thank you so much and looking forward to hearing your reply.

  8. Hi Ken,

    Thanks for picking up a copy of one of my books! I hope you liked it.

    #1 Butokuden – just roll up. Depending on the night keiko might be in the Budo Centre next door, so check with the Kyoto kendo renmei webpage. English – you don’t really need to speak anything to manage the keiko,

    #2 If you want to keiko in Osaka please read this article. I no longer have the time to help random people I’m afraid:
    http://kenshi247.net/blog/2015/04/16/keiko-in-osaka/

    Hope this helps!

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