Of the three great private dojo in Japan (日本の３大私塾道場) – Honma Dojo (Chiba), Shubukan (Hyogo), and Tobukan (Ibaraki) – two remain extant at the time of writing this article: Shubukan and Tobukan. Having been to Shubukan, I decided to take sometime out of my schedule and go to practise at the legendary Tobukan in Mito city, Ibaraki prefecture, and learn more about this influential dojo.
Tobukan was founded on the 1st of January 1874, just three years after the abolition of the domain system in Japan and creation of the modern prefectural system. Mito-han had been an extremely influential domain and was the home of many radical thinkers centered around the domain school Kodokan.
The founder of Tobukan was one Kozawa Torakichi, a Mito-han clansman who had been a kenjutsu instructor at Kodokan along with Chiba Shusaku (the founder of Hokushin-itto-ryu, and an extremely influential figure in kendo’s history). Before taking the post he studied Hokushin itto-ryu at Chiba’s dojo in Edo – Genbukan.
Tobukan turned out many famous kenshi over the years with the most influential being perhaps Naito Takaharu – keishicho gekkiken shihan, and later Busen shihan (Budo Senmon Gakko). He helped develop kendo no kata and counts amongst his students Saimura Goro, Mochida Moriji, and Ogawa Kinnosuke (none of whom need an introduction), to name a few. Famous kenshi that came out of Tobukan at the same time were Mona Tadashi (taught at Keishicho and Busen, took part in 2 tenran shiai (one as competitor, another as shimpan), and helped develop kendo no kata ) and Sasaki Masanobu (taught at Keishicho and Butokukai, as well as other prefectures like Saga and Kagoshima).
I think its safe to say that what was studied by these kenshi as boys and young men in Tobukan probably had an impact on their kendo and their teaching later on in life, and influenced their students too . This impact and its mark on the development of modern kendo cannot, of course, be quantified, but it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to guess that it possibly could have been large.
Private ownership of Tobukan has continued to be passed down through the Kozawa family, and the tradition of practising kendo, iaido, and Hokushin itto-ryu is still alive 135 years after its founding (being a direct spiritual descendant of Kodokan you could cheekily add another 30 years to that!).
Keiko at Tobukan
Currently kendo, iaido, naginata, Hokushin itto-ryu, and Shin-Tamiya ryu are practised at Tokbukan. There are at least two kendo hachidans, two iaido hachidans, and two naginata kyoshi’s.
Tobukan is open to anyone who wishes to practise. Simply get in touch before hand (via email or phone) and explain when you are planning to go. In the five days I was in Mito I managed to get to keiko three times with little fuss.
Tobukan is soaked with history. Now that the old Noma dojo was dismantled there are few places that are open to the public where you can practise kendo in a more traditional surrounding. I mentioned Noma Dojo, but Tobukan was built half a century earlier than that, when Samurai still existed and walked around carrying swords. Its a different feeling practising in this dojo compared with modern ones, and one that all serious kenshi should endevour to experience, at least once in their lives.
Tobukan is an easy 10 minute walk from Mito station – even with your bogu bag.
For up to date schedule/contact information please visit their website: http://www.toubukan.or.jp/.
Since visiting Tobukan in 2009 they dojo and the traditions passed down their have been deemed intangible cultural assets and given protected status. Partly because of this, and also due to a section of the dojo jutting out into the nearby road, the entire building was carefully dismantled piece by piece and moved to a new location during 2015. Getting a new floor, the dojo re-opened in 2016. Check out the re-opening ceremony videos below: