400 years ago today, on April the 13th 1612, the most famous duel in the history of Japanese swordsmanship took place between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro*. Its so well-known that there is no point in adding any information here, as every single kendo, iaido, or probably practitioner of any Japanese budo knows the story! If you need a recap click here.
The duel took place on a very small deserted island in between Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi prefecture, and Kyushu called Funashima, later renamed to ‘Ganryu-jima’ allegedly in honour of the slain Sasaki Kojiro (his sword style was called ‘gan-ryu’).
*Allegedly. This is the current ‘official’ date but – as with almost every aspect of Musashi’s life – there are many theories. Discrepancies range as much as 10 years.
What is there to see?
Well, not much! There is a statue of the swordsmen fighting, and a couple of plinths in the area. There is also a man-made beach with a boat placed strategically on it, as if Musashi himself had just jumped out of it waiving a newly carved oar/bokuto.
The value of going there is not to see the tourist-aimed statues, or to buy the trinkets on sale, but more to celebrate a piece of Japanese swordsmanship history. Its cool to just sit down and relax, pondering your own kendo/iaido/etc journey.
I’ve visited the island twice. Once when I first visited Fukuoka in 2004, and another time I took some kendo friend there in 2008. Although out of the way, its not so difficult to get to if you are heading down to Kyushu from the mainland and you have 3 or 4 hours to spare.
Assuming that you are taking a train there get off at JR Shimonoseki station (this is a regular train stop and a Shinkansen stop). From there you can walk to the pier or take a bus. Its not really obvious which way you should go, so its best to ask someone at the station ‘Ganryu-jima?’ and they will point you in the right direction.
At the pier there are two companies that run boats to and from the island with return tickets being 800 yen. You can buy tickets and check times in the small cabins by the pier. The boats run pretty frequently. Make sure you can get on the last boat back to the mainland otherwise you will need to swim.
Click on the image to see it bigger.