Farewell – the sad demise of local dojo さらば - 町道場の死滅

Coming to Japan to study kendo, the first thing you look for is a good dojo. In English as well as Japanese (nowadays) the word “dojo” also has the implied meaning of “group” or “club,” which goes beyond the mere physical location suggested by the word itself (see this article from 2011). Although there are many “dojo” in Japan that practise in school gyms or sports centres, I have always been lucky in that every group I belonged to have always had their own dojo (actually, one is owned by the prefecture and rented by the group – also not uncommon here in Japan).

Sadly, however, one group that I have been a member of for almost 15 years now, was forced out of it’s dojo in July of this year… which has inspired todays brief post.

Continue reading Farewell – the sad demise of local dojo さらば – 町道場の死滅

Eikenkai @ Wakayama Butokuden 第二回英剣会武徳際 in 和歌山武徳殿 (英剣会の特別版)

In August of 2015, my fiends and I got together and held one of my Eikenkai sessions at Nara Butokuden. After the main HQ Butokuden was built in Kyoto in 1899, the next to be constructed was this Nara one in 1903. Little did we know, however, that when we visited it in 2015 there was already plans to knock it down: this historical and beautiful dojo is scheduled to be demolished this very summer. The reason? Cost. It costs too much money to maintain and keep it up to anti-earthquake standards of the modern age. Such is the money-centric world we live in today.

Not having the resources to buy the land and the building, there’s nothing I can do but share some pictures and information about it. However, I am glad that I got to keiko there before it was destroyed (unlike the Shiga Butokuden, where I didn’t manage to practise, or the Kyoto branch Butokuden, which is now re-purposed). What a waste.

With this experience in mind, I decided that I would try and visit, practise in, and study about the Butokuden and older dojo that are within travelling distance from where I live here in Osaka. Which brings us to this recent Eikenkai keiko-kai, held in Wakayama Butokuden on the 30th of July 2017.


Wakayama Butokuden: a brief history

As mentioned above, Wakayama Butokuden was built in 1905 but, unlike most Butokuden, survived throughout the war years (when many buildings were lost to American bombs) and the 60’s and 70’s (a time when the old parts of the culture were being ignored or simply disposed of). The current building is located in a small park just south of Wakayama Castle, where it was relocated to in 1961. It was moved from it’s original location, just 1km to the east, due to the construction of a road. We are lucky that it wasn’t in it’s current position in 1945, for if it had been it would’ve been destroyed or burned down due to bombing along with Wakayama Castle.

Finding information about who taught and was active at the Wakayama Butokuden has been difficult, but let me tell you about an important character in the dojo’s history today (more to be added as research continues).

An old picture in the original location

Higashiyama Kennosuke sensei

Higashiyama Kennosuke was born in Wakayama city in 1893, and began keiko at Wakayama Butokuden. In 1913, at the age of 20, he went to the Butokukai HQ in Kyoto and became a koshusei (like a “part-time student”) at Busen, where he would have studied under Naito Takaharu sensei. Five years later, in 1916, he retuned the Wakayama Butokuden as a kendo instructor. He was awarded Seirensho in 1918, and Kyoshi in 1927. After this his status increased and he became the head kendo instructor for Wakayama Police Dept., the Butokukai Wakayama Branch (and thus, for the Wakayama Butokuden), as well as various other kendo and sports education roles.

In 1940 he was somehow involved in a train accident, causing the loss of one of his legs. Since his house and the Butokuden were next to each other, a corridor was built between them to allow him to move between both buildings with ease. It’s interesting to note that after the war (50s/60s) another one-legged kenshi – Gordon Warner – visited Higashiyama sensei and Wakayama Butokuden (I have a picture, but it’s not clear).

There is no information available about exactly who ensured the preservation of the dojo (by having it moved in 1961) but I think we can safely bet that Higashiyama sensei was involved.

Higashiyama sensei died in 1968 (he was hanshi 9th dan at the time).

Higashiyama sensei

Wakayama Butokuden today

Today, amazingly, the dojo is still actively used: iaido, aikido, and shorinji-kempo groups use it on a regular basis… but what about kendo? Unfortunately, it seems that kendo people stopped actively using it perhaps one or two decades ago, though we did meet someone who said they remember using it once about 15 years ago (but were unsure). Although I am glad that it is being used, I’m sad that it isn’t being used for kendo, which is what it was built for after all.

I used the word “amazingly” above because the dojo is not a registered cultural asset and thus could easily be written off by the current owners, Wakayama City (which is what happened to the Nara Butokuden and many others). So, although kendo people aren’t using it, I’m happy that it is being used and kept for posterity.

However, a wooden building of this age isn’t particularly earthquake-proof, so perhaps it will only take one or two semi-large earthquakes to make the thing unsafe. As it is at the moment, the roof is sagging.

Standing in this beautiful dojo in a lull during keiko I wondered what it would take for me to buy it, dismantle it, and move it to Scotland ….

The pictures here are from a short reconnaissance mission to make sure we could hire it, and that the floor was useable.


Eikenkai keiko at the Wakayama Butokuden
(30th of July 2017)

So, we rented the building, called a deliberately small handful of friends, and gathered at 1pm on a sweltering hot Sunday afternoon. First thing was first: as it’s not used for kendo nowadays we had to lift the tatami up then clean and inspect the floor. The floor was not in a perfect state but, despite not being fumikomi-ed on for a decade or two, it was a proper kendo floor, unlike most modern builds.

Like all old Butokuden, the floor space itself wasn’t generous. In fact, most Butokuden had to expand over time as kendo became more popular during the 1920s and 30s, so it’s amazing that this one is still the original 1905 size. It made keiko a little bit awkward, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

For the session today I only called a handful of friends (because I knew floor space would be at a premium) plus their kids. It was stifling hot and super humid, so we did a shorter session than normal: 35 mins of kihon, 15 mins of waza, and about 45 mins of jigeiko spread over about 2.5 hours.

I must be totally honest with you: I totally love this building. Floorspace is limited, but what there is of it is great. The design, all the wood, the history … THIS is the kendo-jo of my dreams!!!

After keiko we cleaned the floor, put down the tatami, and tidied up the whole dojo. There is no doubt in my mind that we left the dojo in better/cleaner condition than what we found it in! I hope the people that use the building constantly do so with a little bit more … love!

I’m pretty certain I will do kendo in this dojo again in the future.

Weekend musha-shugyo and research trip 週末武者修行・研究旅

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.

Homepage: Shinmeikan, Hashi-ichi dojo
Related people: Yonai Mitsumasa | Suzuki Zenko | 八角三郎

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).


Hanamaki Butokuden

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.

Related links: Iwate prefecture kendo association | Ito Sukebumi



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).

Shiga Butokuden 滋賀県支部武徳殿

This time last summer I gathered a group of friends together for an Eikenkai session at the beautiful Nara Butokuden. A lovely little dojo with over 100 years of history, I was delighted to be able to do kendo in such a place. I felt even more happy in the knowledge that the dojo was being safely being kept for posterity and was looking forward to doing keiko there again someday. That was, until a friend told me recently that – despite it holding a special cultural status due to its architectural worth – it was going to be knocked down. The reason: it’s too expensive to earthquake-proof it to modern standards (translation: “It doesn’t make us money”). This is also the excuse given in regards to another Butokuden in the Kansai region, the Shiga Butokuden.

Built in 1937, the Shiga Butokuden was closed sometime between December 2008 and January 2009 for the exact same reasons mentioned above: worries about its ability to stand up to a large earthquake. It has been dormant since then and now the word is that the decision has been made to dismantle it, again, because the cost to bring it up to modern safety standards is too restrictive. The pessimist in me wonders whether the fact that the building is located in a large piece of prime real estate directly opposite the Shiga prefectural government building has something to do with it.

Note that it has been hard to find out accurate information about the building as well as find pictures of keiko, so if you have any information or any pictures you are willing to share, please get in touch. Cheers!


Background

The original 1901 dojo
The original 1901 dojo

The Dai-Nippon Butokukai was founded in 1895 and the original Butokuden was completed in Kyoto in 1899. Shiga prefectures Butokukai membership rose quickly, so in 1901 a request was made to build a branch dojo. The branch dojo was completed in October of that year and is pictured above. However, due to the increasing popularity of kendo over the following decades, the dojo was deemed to be too small, and plans were made to collect money and construct a more fitting building. A new, two storied building, much larger and more impressive than the original, was built in 1937, and it become the official Shiga prefecture branch Butokuden. It is this building that I visited for this article.

Makoto Seiichiro
Shimizu Seiichiro

As a side note, my research into who were the teachers at the dojo during it’s early years are still ongoing, but I did discover that Busen graduate Shimizu Seiichiro was awarded the head teaching position in 1929. All I know about him is that he went to Busen in 1915, became a school kendo teacher in 1923, and was awarded kyoshi in 1932. Who were the teachers before him and whether he taught in the new, larger building featured in this article is still a mystery.


The new building
The original design
The original design

Rare for this type of building, it was constructed mainly in concrete and steel, with the more traditional wood being used only in parts. Despite using more Western design elements, it still looks Japanese in construction. It is also two-storied: 1st floor, changing rooms, reception area, office; 2nd floor, dojo space (usually split between kendo and a tatami-area for judo).

Directly after the war budo was banned by the occupying American forces so the building was renamed a “culture centre” and used for non-budo purposes. It didn’t take long for it to revert to it’s original purpose: it was used for judo as early as 1946, and by 1953 Shiga police department was practising kendo there. Three years later in 1956 the entire building was taken over for use by the police and again renamed, this time as a “physical eduction and cultural centre.” In 1964 money was collected to re-contruct the original kyudo-jo as well, though were it was originally located and where it went in the meantime is a mystery.

At some point over the years (in the 1960s I think), although still the property of the police department, the building was opened for use to the general public, with a local kendo club using it regularly. Various shiai (kendo, judo, karate, etc.) were held there over the years as well.


Goodbye?

At least I got to touch it!
At least I got to touch it!

I have no idea what the schedule is for demolition, or whether there will be some last ditch effort to save it (looking at the state it is in at the moment I reckon there has been no serious effort made), but I hope that something can be done somehow. It would be such a waste to see yet another Butokuden disappear.

BTW, as I mentioned at the end of the introduction, I don’t really have many concrete details. I intend to do some more research and update this post with any more information as I get it. I am also planning to ask for permission to go inside and take photographs. I’ll let you know of any updates if/when I post them.



Gallery

I couldn’t get inside the grounds or the building itself as it was fenced off and locked… actually, I probably could’ve easily climbed over the fence and roamed around inside the grounds, and perhaps even managed to get into the dojo itself, but it was broad daylight and I value my job! Anyway, here are some pictures I took from my visit for you to check out. The last three pictures are not mine, one shows a small ariel picture from 1963, and the other two are from an online pamphlet about the building. Enjoy.


Video

I took some rough video of the outside with my iPhone and uploaded to YouTube:

Here is some footage (not by me) from 2011 showing the inside and the floor:

Eikenkai April 2016 英剣会

Today’s Eikenkai session was held in what is almost certainly the oldest kendo related dojo by tradition in the Kansai area: Shubukan (older buildings include both the Nara and Kyoto Butokuden). The dojo started birth in 1786 as a place for studying kenjutsu and has been through a couple of name changes and rebuilds over the years since, the last being in 1962. Throughout this time it has always been owned by the same family/company. It was known for being once of the top three “civilian dojo” since the 1860s, the other two being Noma dojo and Tobukan. The dojo is nice and wide, beautiful inside, and has an amazingly soft and springy floor. I love the place!

About 35 people turned up for today’s keiko, mostly from around about the Kansai area, but also a couple of guests that came all the way from Kanto. After the usual 40 minutes of kihon and 30 minutes of waza practise, we did tachi-ai keiko for people sitting their 6th, 7th, and 8th dans in Kyoto at the end of the month, before moving on to about 45 minutes of jigeiko. I think everyone had a great time !!!

For more information about the kenshi 24/7 led Eikenkai sessions, please go here.


Shubukan today

Kendo, iaido, and naginata are still taught at Shubukan during weekdays to a very high level. Since changing it’s status to a not-for-profit foundation last year it has become available for hire to the public at large, which is why we decided to use it for today’s session.

For more information please check out their website (in Japanese) here: http://syubukan.info/