Kendo places #5: Kodokan (弘道館)


The Mito-han was a highly influential domain during the entire Edo-period. As a senior branch of the Tokugawa clan their prestige was immense. Mito-han became one of the leading intellectual centers in Japan, and its daimyo and scholars became more and more vocal in challenging the central authority of the shogunate, eventually being instrumental in its dissolution. During the turbulent years leading up to civil war and the Emperors restoration, the domain school that produced these young intellectuals was Kodokan.

The following introductory text is taken from the English leaflet called “Kodokan” (I have slightly reworded sections of it). I will add my own thoughts at the end.

Kodokan: the biggest domain school in Japan

Kodokan was built by Tokugawa Nariaki (1800-1860), the ninth daimyo of the Mito-han in 1841. In those days the Mito-han was facing the fear of the baku-han system crumbling (centralised Shogunate relationship with the provincial clans/domains) and threat from foreign colonial powers. Nariaki initiated a reform of the han administration. As a part of this, he aimed at to introduce higher education for his clansmen. Kodokan was built to achieve this.

At the outset, the school site occupied 1800,000m squared, and its curricula included kangaku (Chinese studies), kokugaku (national learning), military arts, music, astronomy, geography, mathematics, and medicine. Both the size and the scope indicate how great an importance the Mito clan attached to education.

The mottos of Kodokan, described in the Kodokan-ki (the Chronicle of Kodokan), were the harmony of Shinto and Confucianism, and the concurrence of scholastic and military arts. There new concepts, which could be applied to creating a national unity under the rule of the Emperor, greatly influenced not only the Mito clansmen, but also many loyalists of the restoration period which were in other provinces.

Kodokan, once with its thundering reputation as the stronghold of Mitogaku and having exerted a great influence on the Meiji Restoration of 1868, was largely destroyed by fire during the restoration period. After turning out its last class, its 32 years of life came to an end. The remaining buildings are reminiscent of the spirit of the academic tradition of the Mito clan.

End of leaflet introduction

Bujutsu training at Kodokan

Kodokan had three dojo and a Taishijou (対試場) on its premises. The three dojo now no longer exist, but what was taught there was:

Gekkiken-jo: Hokushin itto-ryu, Suifuryu (水府流), Shintomunen-ryu (and presumably Gekkiken, i.e. kendo)
Sojutsu-jo: Hozoin-ryu, Saburi-ryu
Keiko-jo: Iai, Jujutsu, Naginata, etc

The Taishijou was for actual practise maches to be held, sometimes in the presence of officials. Even today kendo and Hokushin-itto ryu embu are held on it.

Hokushin itto-ryu was taught by Chiba Shusaku while he was a retainer of Nariaki (from 1835). Ozawa Torakichi studied Hokushin itto-ryu in Chiba’s dojo in Edo, Genbukan, before coming back to teach it at Kodokan. I think its fair to surmise that both these men also taught gekkiken here as well.

Three years after Kodokan was closed (1871) Ozawa opened Tobukan, a dojo from whom many influential kenshi graduated from (and that will be the subject of my next article).

Kodokan Today

Kodokan is just a short walk from Mito station and you could easily just stop of in Mito for an hour and see it. Mito is quite a small city, so there shouldn’t be large crowds. I went on a weekday morning in August and there was nobody there! It was quite relaxing and you could easily feel the places history.

Although the English leaflet says that it “was largely destroyed by fire during the restoration period” the main building is still intact and its definitely worth a visit.

Getting there

Access: 10 mins walk from Mito station.
Open: 9am – 5pm or 4:30pm.
Cost: adults 190 yen.
English leaflet: yes.
Home page: Mito Kodokan.

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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3 replies on “Kendo places #5: Kodokan (弘道館)”

Well I hope it doesn’t become a UNESCO world heritage site, like they are pushing for. While that will guarantee it’s preservation (by the looks of it I don’t really think that is a problem) it will almost certainly ruin it as a nice quiet place to visit.

Maurizio, its a really nice place with a lot of interesting history, not too mention Chiba Shusaku was a teacher there.

Leiv -> when I was there it was empty… and I was glad of it!! Japan places too much emphasis on the World Heritage stuff… guess its desperate for tourists!

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