Founding of the Butokuden
in 1895 on the 1,100 year anniversary of the transferring of the Japanese capitol to Kyoto (Heian-kyo), and as part of the building of Heian-jingu, the Butokuden construction began. It was originally meant as a demonstration platform for the Butokukai. It was completed in 1899 on the north-west side of the Heian-jingu complex. If was then also designated as a school for training Martial Arts teachers (later it would become the Budo Senmon Gakko).
At that time it was said “in the east there is Kodokan (built 1841), and in the west the Butokuden” such was its place in the center of Japanese budo circles.
After the war GHQ dissolved the Butokukai, closed the Budo Senmon Gakko, and the occupying troups confiscated the building. In 1951 Kyoto City bought the Butokuden and it was used by Kyoto Police academy from 1952 until it was closed in 1956. From then on the building was used by the Kyoto City University of Arts music club.
In 1980, after the Kyoto City University Arts music club was closed down, Kyoto City wondered what to do with the now unused Butokuden. The All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR) and the Kyoto Kendo Federation made an appeal to the city, the result of which was that the Butokuden would be saved for future generations. In 1983 the building was appraised as a great example of a large wooden structure from the Meiji period and was designated a Kyoto City Tangible Cultural Property. Furthermore, in 1996 is was designated a Japanese Important Cultural Property.
It was in this manner that the Butokuden has been passed down to our generation today and still serves as a place to demonstrate and practise budo.
Every May, from the 2nd-5th, the Butokuden serves as the focus for the Zen Nippon Embu Taikai (also popularly known as the Kyoto Taikai). About 3,000 people (minimum grade is Renshi 6dan) come from all over Japan, and from various countries all over the world, to display the results of their kendo training in the past year.
Personal note: When I first came to Japan (summer 2000) I literally stumbled across the Butokuden. I had been visiting the garden in the rear of Heian-jingu when I heard loud kiai and the sound of bamboo. I peered through the cracks in the wooden fence and spotted people dressed in hakama and keikogi; I rushed out of the garden, round the corner, and into the building. I wasn’t sure whether I could watch keiko or not so asked some random old guy in bogu and he said it was ok. Watching kendo in the sweltering heat of a Japanese August I was profoundly moved, and even more so when I later discovered what the building was and its place in the history of kendo. If you come to Japan I urge you to do your best to watch or – if you can – take part in practise at the Butokuden. You won’t regret it!