On the rare occasion I actually get some time to myself I like to engage in my hobby… no, not kendo, but rummaging around second-hand book shops for kendo and kendo related books. In particular I enjoy getting my hands on pre-WW2 books/manuals, or autobiographies/first-hand biographies of kenshi that lived during that period.
Over the last few years libraries and universities across Japan have started to slowly digitise their old catalogue, so you can actually find many older books online for free. Personally however, I much prefer to get my hands on a physical copy – preferably an original rather than a modern re-print. Sometimes they are signed, have notes in the corners, or perhaps have key sections underlined… that’s part of the charm I guess!!!
The reason I prefer older books is a combination of simply liking old things plus the realisation that most kendo books produced in Japan since the 60/70s have, in fact, pretty much the same content: there isn’t much originality of thought, and they all seem to repeat each other (even more so nowadays). There are a few excellent academic history of kendo available which are highly worth picking up, but manuals and general discourse (unless it’s personal experience they are recounting) tend not to be so interesting… at least to me.
Yesterday I went to a book market and picked up a nice little manual for 400 yen (post WW2 but written by a sensei I am interested in) which inspired me to root through my books this afternoon. This post is simply a rummage through part of my kendo book collection!
There are many Meiji (1868-1912) or pre-Meiji period books available in online university or library sites, but originals are obviously extremely hard to come by. Like most people I rely on these digital versions plus modern re-prints.
The Taisho period (1912-26) period was when kendo became a school subject for boys, and can probably said to be the time when the development of modern kendo began in earnest. Due to this there are a number of highly interesting books floating around that can be picked up dealing with the emerging theme of kendo pedagogy. Getting physical copies can be hard, however, but not impossible. The second picture is a hand-made scroll showing Takano Sasaburo and Nakayama Hakudo performing Teikoku-kendo-no-kata.
btw, the tsuba keeping the page down in the picture below is hand made by Tom from Leather Tsuba (highly recommended).
It is the Showa period (start 1925/6) when the amount of kendo books suddenly proliferate. It seems that hundreds of titles were produced and millions of books distributed throughout the expanding Japanese empire. There are probably four main reasons for this: the expansion of kendo teaching in schools, the maturation of the new batch of teachers, the increase of the popularity of kendo itself (brought on especially by the Tenran-jiai, starting in 1929), and the increasing militarisation of Japan herself. I am particularly interested in titles up to the end of WW2 (1926-1945).
Due to kendo’s popularity and the production of so many books, it’s relatively easy to get your hands on original copies of books from this time period.
Books produced in the immediate couple of decades after WW2 tend to be of three kinds:
1. Historical overviews of kendo;
2. Discussion/instruction of the new kendo-as-sport pedagogy;
3. Biographies of famous kenshi that have passed away or semi-auto-biographical recollections by older, senior sensei (some lamenting the loss of “traditional” kendo).
I have a lot of the number 2 type books above but, in all honestly, they are all pretty much the same and are quite boring really. I much prefer number 1 and 3 type books!
There are a couple of books I have that, although post-war, require a special mention. Both are beautifully illustrated coffee-table sized books that can easily be found and – this is why they get a special mention – can be understood without Japanese ability (with language ability is preferred of course!)
* Zusetsu Kendo Jiten, 1970, Mochida, Nakano, Tsuboi (pictured top) : a comprehensive overview of kendo with lots of pictures and diagrams.
* Nihon Kendo Kata, 1977, Shigeoka (bottom) : an authoritative and highly detailed pictorial guide to kendo kata. This book is the foundation of the modern version of the kata we practise today.
Last but not least, I have to of course mention the English translations of pre-WW2 Showa era books that kenshi 24/7 publish. These are the only translations (in to any language) of pre-war kendo books that I know of.
* Teikoku Kendo Kyohon – The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan (1932, republished 1937).
* Kendo Tokuhon – The Kendo Reader (published posthumously in 1939).
I really love handling and reading these old books, and perhaps I will translate another one in the future… but not for the time being.
Basically, I wrote this post because I found myself with a rare free afternoon! As I was sitting on the floor going through some of my books I suddenly thought why not show kenshi 24/7 readers where a lot of the site content and inspiration for content comes from? I have a many more books in my catalogue, and am quite passionate about my collection. Soon I’ll need a bigger house though… !!
kenshi 24/7 publications can be found at kendo-book.com, please check it out!