Last weekend I took some time out of my super busy schedule to visit a kendo friend in Iwate prefecture, in the north of Japan’s main island. I’d been promising to go for years, but with this and that, I’d never managed to quite find the time and make good my promise. Realising I’d probably never have a weekend when I wasn’t busy, I just picked a weekend that was good for my friend, booked my flight and hotel, and went. And I’m glad I did! In theory the weekend was mainly about hanging-out, but I ended up doing three keiko sessions over two days, and got in some good research about kendo-related places as well. There was also plenty of dai-ni-dojo time!
What follows is a brief rundown of kendo-related experiences that weekend. If you are interested in doing kendo in Iwate, please keep reading to the bottom. Cheers!
Shinmeikan, Hashi-ichi dojo
Shinmeikan is a dojo located in Iwate prefecture’s capitol town of Morioka. Built by Tanifuji Shinkichi (d.1999) in 1965, it was the first privately owned dojo in the prefecture. Although not particularly old, it does have an old feel to it, partly, I think, because of the colour of the wooden floors. It has, btw, a few planks of the original Noma dojo in the floor.
A large, spacious dojo, it’s not only beautiful, it is completely open for practise by anyone who comes along.
It would be easy to write more about this dojo, but I’d prefer if you were to go along and visit (see below) and ask about it’s history and experience the dojo yourself.
BTW, Shosho-ryu is a jujutsu-based koryu that is based in the dojo. Originally they had their own building (built in 1940 called Kobukan), but due to it being dismantled, they moved their practise to Shinmeikan in 1971. Check out the video below.
Also ->> this dojo is featured in the super-famous kendo manga “Musashi-no-ken….”
Local kendo club
My friend’s family is ALL KENDO: husband, wife, son, and daughter. All of them! On Saturday morning I attended a small super-local kids club a few minutes car ride from my friends place. His daughter and son both attend the same dojo…and what a dojo it was!!! Locals raised the money themselves about 30 years ago, and built this wonderful little building in the grounds of a local junior high school. I say little, but it’s actually quite a large size, as I’m sure you can see from the photos. It is also situated with rice-paddies all around it, which makes it a great environment to learn kendo. If I ever win the lottery, this is the type of dojo I’d build…
The picture at the top of this post is my friends daughters’ dou (l) next to my one (r).
Ok, so this is where things start to get interesting from a kendo researchers point of view.
When my friend told me there was a Hanamaki “Butokuden” a while back, my interest was immediately piqued. Hanamaki is a small town in Iwate prefecture, located outside of the capitol Morioka, and there never was a Butokukai Butokuden built there before the war, so why was there one now?
The Iwate prefecture Butokuden was built in Morioka city (the capitol of the prefecture) in 1908 and survived, against all odds, through WWII. It was used for kendo practise once it was reinstated but – this is where things go awry – it was demolished in 1982 for dubious reasons at best (see the next section below for more info). Upon hearing about it’s demolishing, a noted educator and judo proponent called Ito Sukebumi (d.1990), proposed the construction of a new building for local budo practise. A wealthy individual of Samurai stock, he donated about half of the construction costs for the new building (the rest coming from the city) and Hanamaki Butokden was built.
It’s important to note that Sukebumi’s father, Ito Jukan, had been the Hanamaki Castle bujutsu instructor before it was demolished (in 1891), which probably had a strong influence on him.
Morioka Butokuden -> Morioka Budokan
Morioka Butokuden was built in 1908, as one of the early Butokukai branch dojo. The first was the HQ Butokuden (there was also a Kyoto branch butokuden), followed by Nara, and Wakayama. As mentioned above, this beautiful building survived all the way up until 1982 as a working dojo, only to be dismantled for a crazy reason – it blocked the view of the old castle walls. Can you believe that!?!? I’m not completely sure that was the entire reason though, as according to a local it was a time when Japan – on the verge of mass wealth in the bubble era – was disposing of the remnants of the past. An old wooden dojo in the centre of the city used for some smelly old traditional martial art wasn’t at the top of the agenda I think.
Anyway, like it or not, the building is now gone. Parts of it, including bits and pieces that were inside, can be seen in the modern Morioka Budokan (an ugly concrete monstrosity).
Research is currently ongoing on this building, so there will be more added to this article as it develops.
( btw, Morioka Butokuden also appears in Musashi-no-ken )
Interested in practising in Iwate?
If you are interested in practising at Shinmeikan, Hanamaki Butokuden, or Morioka Budokan, then please get in touch with my friend Jon (originally from New Jersey).