kendo kyototaikai

Kyoto Taikai 2015

The Kyoto Taikai is Japan’s premier kendo event, this year being the 111th time it has been held (it’s only stopped a few times over the years, either due to war or because a tenran-jiai – competition in front of the Emperor – took precedence). Although this year was my 13th time (I think!) I still haven’t lost my appreciation or fascination of the event… I love it! There is literally so much going on it’s hard to explain online – not only the tachiai itself, but various keikokai, drinking events, koryu embu, etc etc. Rather than attempt to spell everything out, I’d like to share some pictures that I took over the course of the 4 days.

Day 1 (May 2nd)

The first part of the the first day of the taikai is reserved for demonstrations of the older budo and is one of the highlights of the entire 4 day event. Participating groups change every year, but what you usually end up seeing is sojutsu, a variety of kenjutsu styles, and a mix of jodo-related arts. Sadly, due to the dearth of groups nowadays, this part of the event finishes quite quickly before moving on to lots and lots of naginata and jodo demonstrations. Once the jodo is over (usually by mid/late morning depending) the entire rest of the day moves onto iaido.

In theory, everyone participating on the first day must hold renshi 6dan in one of the three arts run by the All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR), i.e. kendo, iaido, or jodo, but it’s not always necessary.

Day 2 (May 3rd)

The final 3 days of the taikai is for kendo demonstrations only. Day 2 starts with a demonstration of kendo-no-kata before the kendo starts properly. Participants start at renshi and move up through kyoshi.

The iaido and jodo 8dan exams are held in the Budo Center next door.

Day 3 (May 4th)

The demonstrations on day 3 are all kyoshi. This tends to be one of the busiest days for keiko as the Budo Center is open for free use all day. Many groups gather and hold sessions, and some people just roll up and improvise. This year I joined one official 2 hour session in the morning, and then just improvised for an hour or so in the afternoon. It was great !!!!!

btw, today I shot pictures only in black and white because my friend Andy Rogers couldn’t make it – he runs the new website If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out (his pictures blow mine away) !

Day 4 (May 5th)

The final day is the big one: the 8dan’s. They go through kyoshi up until the final (and small group) of hanshi (which, by the way, included a pair of hanshi 7dan – which is more senior than kyoshi 8dan). The hanshi embu are slightly different than the other one’s as there are no shinpan (just a sensei to say start and finish) and ippon are not scored. This is traditionally how all the matches at the Kyoto Taikai would’ve been run.

As you can imagine, this day usually sees the most amount of spectators. Finding a good place to view the action can sometimes be very difficult.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures! If want to help support us please consider picking up one of our publications or sharing our facebook page — your help is appreciated !!!

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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7 replies on “Kyoto Taikai 2015”

I agree. Title shot for “Sports Picture 2015 Award”!!

Fantastic photography! And thank you for the event report, it gives the viewer a much appreciated inside view. Fantastic work.

Wonderful narrative of the Kyoto Taikai! Is the event open to anyone to observe and is it always the 1st week in May? Thank you for this article.

Yeah, seriously. That lead photo is one of the best Kendo shots I’ve seen. Nice grab indeed.

I think only those that do Kendo though would understand the significance of how that shinai came to be flying in the air. Wowza.

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