In the short time I was there (I stayed five nights in Tokyo) I visited five different dojo, practised eight times, fought six hachidans, and visited the graves of four famous swordsmen (and a monument of another), as well as meeting some old friends and having the odd beer. It was a jam-packed few days!! There were many more places I wanted to practise at and more historical locations I wanted to visit, but I just didn’t have the time (or energy!) to arrange everything. Despite that, I think I spent my time in Tokyo quite fruitfully!
In this post I will briefly introduce the dojo to kenshi 24/7 readers (some of which you may have visited) and give contact information – where possible – so that you yourself can go sometime in the future. Dojo will be listed not in order visited, but in length of tradition.
Below that I will also introduce the famous swordsmen’s graves that I went to visit and pay my respects to. Although none of them are major tourist attractions they evoke – for me anyway – a much more… what’s the word… emotional response and cause me to reflect more about my own shugyo, none of which the usual tourist-traps offer.
I hope that this post will inspire your own Musha-Shugyo in the future!
Saineikan : budojo of the Japanese imperial guards
The original Saineikan was built in the grounds of the Imperial Palace in 1883 by order of the Emperor Meiji. The name “sainei” comes from a phrase in the Classic of Poetry traditionally ascribed to Confucius and refers to someone who is of fine and noble character (“kan” of course just means “hall”):
They shall be illustrious from age to age,
Zealously and reverently pursuing their plans.
Admirable are the many officers,
Born in this royal kingdom.
The royal kingdom is able to produce them, –
The supporters of [the House of] Zhou.
Numerous is the array of officers,
And by them king Wen enjoys his repose.
Over the years the building was subject to reconstruction and renewal, most significantly it suffered massive damage during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake causing a temporary dojo to be built in 1924. This temporary building was used for the first of the Showa tenran-jiai in 1929 (a competition in front of the Emperor himself) and a tairan-jiai in 1930 (a competition in front of an imperial family member). The building was completely reconstructed in 1933 and used for a tenran-jiai held in honour of the birth of an imperial son (the current Emperor) in 1934. This is the building that still stands today and that I visited last week.
Famous kendo people who have worked as teachers, studied kendo, or simple fought here include: Yamaoka Tesshu, Watanabe Noboru, Ueda Umenosuke, Matsuzaki Namijiro, Shimoe Hidetaro, Mihashi Kanichiro, Naito Takaharu, Takano Sasaburo, Nakayama Hakudo, Mochida Seiji, Saimura Goro, Haga Junichi, Nakakura Kiyoshi, Takizawa Kozo, etc. etc. Too many to mention!
Although I could have probably visited Saineikan anytime in the last few years I waited patiently for a gap in my schedule to appear where I could take part in keiko at this highly prestigious dojo. After suppling information about myself and going through a connection, I rolled up on the promised Monday morning and was checked into the imperial grounds (you cannot enter without permission – they were expecting me). I took part in a 40 minute keiko session with two of the current sensei and a bunch of the tokuren (full-time kendo professional imperial guards). Needless to say it was an awesome experience, and one of the highlights of my kendo career to-date.
Some of you might wonder why I didn’t add newer photos to this post… basically I was allowed to take pictures for private purposes but was asked not to share them online (for security purposes I assume).
Ogawa Kinnosuke sensei vs Saimura Goro sensei in the 1939 tenran-jiai held in Saineikan:
Eishinjuku Kobukan : kendojo run by Ozawa Hiroshi sensei
Eishinjuku Kobukan is a dojo in Nakano-ku led by Ozawa Hiroshi sensei, and is a dojo that I think many non-Japanese people have visited. However, few know much about its origins, or about the Hiroshi sensei’s grandfather (Aijiro) or father (Takashi). It’s not for me to expand on that fully, so I’ll just be brief here.
Aijiro sensei (1863-1950) was an accomplished swordsman who attained the highest levels of Ono-ha itto-ryu, Kyoshin-meichi-ryu, and Jikishinkage-ryu. He studied under such famous kenshi as Yamaoka Tesshu, Watanabe Noboru, and Sakakibara Kenkichi. He originally founded Kobukan in Saitama prefecture in 1891. He was also a successful politician, and was involved in ensuring kendo’s addition to the school system.
Aijiro sensei’s son, Takashi sensei (later hanshi kyudan), began to learn kendo whilst still a child, but it wasn’t until he went to study under Takano Sasaburo at Koto-shihan-gakko his serious study of kendo began. Takashi sensei would go on to have a long career as a kendo teacher at the high school and university level (and eventually in the police), and published many books related to kendo instruction in the education system.
In 1977, due to the wear-and-tear of the original dojo, Takashi sensei tore it down and rebuilt a new dojo in Tokyo, renaming it “Eishinjuku Kobukan.” This is the dojo that stands today and that I visited last week.
For more information on Kobukan check out their homepage here: http://koubukan-kendo.com/
Noma Dojo : a privately owned dojo
Pretty much the most famous dojo in the history of kendo, Noma dojo was built in 1925 by Noma Seiji, the founder of Japan’s biggest publishing company Kodansha. The dojo served as a hub for kendo in Tokyo, especially from the 1930s when Mochida Seiji was appointed the head kendo teacher. Another of its famed kenshi was Seiji’s son, Noma Hisashi.
Mochida sensei defeated Takano Shigeyoshi (below) to win the 1929 Tenran-jiai held in (the temporary) Saineikan and was recruited by Noma a couple of years later in 1931. Mochida sensei was renowned not only for his kendo, but his demeanour, and as such many people from different dojo flocked to Noma dojo to receive instruction (at that time it was common for people to practise only in their own dojo). After the war it continued its job as one of the country’s kendo centres.
Despite this – and against the voices of many kendoka (not to mention the spirit of Noma Seiji) – the dojo was unilaterally knocked down by Kodansha in 2007, ostensibly to build a tower block on the site. After the dojo was destroyed the surveyors found that the ground wasn’t strong enough for the original plan, and now a small 3-storey bank sits in the space the old dojo used to sit. This is – to my knowledge – one of the worst disasters in the history of modern kendo. Luckily, I visited the old dojo before it was destroyed (picture above).
In 2007 a new dojo was built on the 5th floor of a nearby building, and it’s this that continues the tradition of Noma and Mochida to this day. Although the original dojo is gone, the new one is quite impressive for a modern build. Still, it doesn’t match the original dojo at all in grandiose or tradition.
To my knowledge the dojo requires an introduction before you can attend. However, after keiko on the first day I attended, myself and a long-time member had coffee together: casually, during conversation, it was mentioned that if you wanted to attend all you need to do was email the website (i.e. you don’t need a personal introduction anymore). If this is true – even though the current dojo is a shadow of the former one – I highly recommend that you go.
Please note that although I suggested that the current physical dojo itself is a shadow of the former one, the membership includes some very accomplished people.
For more information on Noma dojo check out their homepage here: http://noma-dojo.my.coocan.jp/
Shinjuku Dojo : a public dojo in the centre of Tokyo
To tell you the truth I don’t know much about this dojo at all other than what’s written on the homepage: the group started in 1952. The dojo itself is in a public city ward facility and keiko sessions are available Tuesday through Saturday (evenings are Tue, Thu, Sat, and mornings are Wed and Fri).
I attended a morning session on Wednesday at the invite of an old kendo friend. Due to the time, most of the members were housewives, retirees, or people on shift work. Still, the warmup and kihon-geiko session in the stifling heat nearly killed me!!! A very friendly and open dojo worth a visit.
For more information on Shinjuku dojo check out their homepage here: http://shinjukukendo.com/
Seimeikan : a privately owned dojo
This is a completely privately owned dojo built in the basement of a private residence in 1993. Although lacking in tradition compared to the dojo mentioned above, it does have as it’s shihan a three-time All Japan Champion, which is something. Although small (similar in floor space to Kobukan above) the level of the members is very high. The post-keiko beer session in the dojo was great as well! After beating me down without breaking sweat, the sensei kept pouring beer into my glass and smiling.
Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki (1569-1628) and Tadatsune (1608-1666)
The story goes that when the famed swordsman Itto Ittosai, progenitor of the Itto-ryu style of kenjutsu and student of Chujo-ryu under Kanemaki Jisai, came to pass on his sword-style he had his two top students battle for the honour: Mikogami Tenzen and Zenki. Tenzen won, eventually changing his name to Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki, and becoming kenjutsu instructor to the Tokugakwa Shogunate. Tadaaki’s line of itto-ryu would pass to his third son Tadatsune, and eventually (due to it being passed through the Ono family) become to be known as Ono-ha Itto-ryu.
The picture above are the graves of Tadaaki (on the right) and Tadatsune (on the left).
Location: Yokoji temple (allegedly!)
Address: 286-0022, Chiba-ken, Narita-shi, Teradai 574
Nearest station(s): Narita-shi or Keisei-Narita
How to get there: Yokoji temple is a short 20 minute walk from the station area. However, don’t do what I did and go to the temple itself… the graves are not located in the temple per-se or its immediate precincts. Rather, when you walk past the high school take an immediate left turn and walk up the steep hill at the side of the school. About 1/2 way up you’ll see a narrow set of stairs heading up to a wooded hill. The graves are up the stairs on the top of the hill.
Chiba Shusaku (1793-1856)
Chiba Shusaku is a legendary figure in the annals of kendo history. He studied Ono-ha Itto-ryu at the Nakanishi dojo, a dojo which at the time was at the forefront of the new shinai-centric (rather than kata-centric) “shinai-uchikomi” revolution. Other students of that dojo included Terada Muneari, Shirai Toru, and Takano Mitsumasa (Takano Sasaburo’s grandfather). Eventually Chiba went his own separate way and created his own style called Hokushin Itto-ryu. In 1822 he built and started teaching his style at what was to become one of the most popular dojo in Edo: Genbukan.
Reasons that Genbukan was so popular include: 1) it focussed mainly on the more exciting shinai-uchikomi rather than the slower paced kata-centric keiko; 2) it was much easier and faster to progress to the top levels than in a more traditional dojo (remember also that it was a business); 3) Seemingly Chiba taught shinai-uchikomi in more logical manner than some other places. On point number 3, Chiba made what was maybe the first list of shinai-kendo techniques known, and a modified sub-set of these were later used by Takano Sasaburo when he published what was to be (and remains today) one of the most important references in early modern kendo’s history.
Check out Hokushin Itto-ryu as passed directly by Shusaku and his sons to swordsmen in Mito-han at Kodokan and then down through Tobukan where it is still taught today. Tobukan is of course the home dojo of that giant of kendo history, Naito Takaharu.
Location: Honmyoji temple
Address: Sugamo-ku, Tokyo
Nearest station(s): Shin-koshinzuka (tram)
How to get there: Basically a 20 minute walk from the tram station. It’s a bit awkward to find so you’ll probably need to use google maps. Once you get to the temple there will be no instructions in English at all… so good luck!
Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888)
There’s a vast amount that could be said about Yamaoka Tesshu. Here I’ll just briefly mention his budo background and skip his political life.
Yamaoka Tesshu, born Ono Tetsutaro, was born into a Samurai family in Edo in 1836. He studied swordsmanship from a young age (Jikishinkage-ryu and Ono-ha itto-ryu), and was recognised as having a precocious talent (at calligraphy too). In 1855 (at 19 years old) he entered the Kobusho, a government-run military training facility for the sons and dependants of senior samurai. There he studied many types of weapons including, it is said, kenjutsu under Chiba Shusaku (i.e. shinai-uchikomi rather than kata based practise). He became a junior helper at the facility before moving on and taking up a role as a direct Shogunate retainer.
In the early 1860s his swordsmanship shugyo took a sharp turn after meeting the renowned Itto-ryu kenshi Asari Matashiro. Accepting the young Yamaoka’s request for a match Asari went into gedan no kamae and Yamaoka took jodan. Asari’s strong pressure pushed Yamaoka back and back, eventually to the wall of the dojo (other sources say that he was pushed out of the dojo and Asari shut the door on him!). Defeated, Yamaoka became Asari’s student.
Probably the most pivotal point for Yamaoka was in around 1881 when, suddenly during meditation, Yamaoka had a spiritual awakening. Heading to the dojo he asked his sensei, Asari, for a match. Taking up kamae Asari immediately sensed something different: “You are enlightened.”
In 1883 he founded a temple to honour those that had sacrificed themselves during the Meiji restoration. This temple – Zenshoan – is the one where Yamaoka is buried and that I visited. It was in this year that he started teaching kenjutsu from his own dojo, Shumpukan. Many famous swordsmen would practise here including Takano Sasaburo (though it’s unknown to what extent Takano learned directly from Yamaoka). Also in 1883 Yamaoka was amongst the first ten martial arts instructors appointed to the newly built Saineikan.
In 1885 he inherited Ono-ha itto-ryu with which he combined his knowledge and experience of the other branches of swordsmanship he had mastered (not forgetting his enlightened state), and created something he believed closer to the original essence of the art: Itto-shoden Muto-ryu.
He passed away in 1888 of stomach cancer whilst, it is said, sitting either in seiza or the lotus position (depending on the source), facing the direction of the imperial palace.
Location: Zenshoan temple
Address: 5 Chome-4-7 Yanaka, Taito, Tokyo 110-0001
Nearest station(s): Sendagi or Nippori stations
How to get there: An easy 7 minute walk from Sendagi station. Zenshoan is signposted in English, as is information about Yakamoka Tesshu.
Takano Shigeyoshi (1877-1957)
Takano Shigeyoshi was born in Mito in 1877 (family name Chigusa). When he was 14 he enrolled in Tobukan and began to study kendo under Ozawa Torakichi. His father, himself a renowned swordsman, died the same year and Shigeyoshi ended up being looked after by the dojo. Eventually he was given some money and, with a pat on the back, told to go to Tokyo to continue his pursuit of kendo. This led him to Takano Sasaburo whose student he became in 1895.
In 1900 Shigeyoshi was adopted by Sasaburo and took over the teaching and running duties of Urawa Meishinkan. In 1914 he accepted a kendo teaching position in Manchuria where he remained until after WW2. He took part in the 1929 and 1934 Tenran shiai, as a competitor in the kendo specialists section of the former (he lost the final to Mochida Seiji), and shinpan and special-shiai embusha in the latter (his partner was Nakayama Hakudo). He died in 1957.
What I visited last week is not Shigeyoshi’s grave, but a eulogy monument erected near the graves of Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki and Tadatsune.
It’s in the same location as Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki and Tadatsune’s graves above.
No Musha-Shugyo would be complete without making an effort to read and study about kendo as well. This time I brought Alex Bennet’s new book “Kendo: Culture of the Sword” with me, and picked up a couple of super old Kendo Jidai magazines from a second-hand book shop in Jimbocho.
I devoured Alex’s book pretty quickly because a lot of the information I knew and many of the conclusions reached were similar to mine, so it was a sort of affirmation in a way for me if you will. There were, however, parts of the book that tackled areas that I’m only very vaguely familiar with (in particular the workings of and connections between the government and the Butokukai during the war and the machinations of SCAP in regards to budo after the war) which was an eye-opener.
The best part of this book for me is that Alex puts kendo in its wider cultural context, something that is missing in most people’s comprehension of how modern kendo formed, what it is today, and where it might possibly go. A close second is that he dares to condemn (although gently) the accepted idea that kendo is some sort of ancient tradition that is possessed – and can only be understood by – Japanese people. This thorny subject is something I’ve touched on lightly here before (and in my publications) and everyone who lives and practises in Japan for a long time realises. Needless to say the book is highly recommended, so please check it out.
The two old kendo-jidai magazines were picked from a pile basically at random, and are awesome! I will probably translate something from them, or post pictures from them in the near future.
Whew, what a long post… I think it took me almost as long to write as I spent in Tokyo!
Although seemingly random, a lot of the places I visited are in some way or another connected: Saineikan (Yamaoka and Mochida) and the tenran-jiai (Mochida, Takano), Kobukan (Ozawa Aijiro and Takano), Noma dojo (Mochida and everyone!), Ono Tadaaki and Tadatsune (Itto-ryu: Chiba, Yamaoka, Ozawa Aijiro, Takano), Chiba and Yamaoka, Yamaoka and Takano, Takano and Mochida… etc. etc. There are in fact too many connections to mention! I was actually planning to go to two other dojo as well, which would’ve made the already complex web of connections even more spaghetti-like. I’m pretty sure that if we trace our kendo roots back far enough, most of us will find that we are in fact connected to some of the same teachers and even some of the same dojo. Isn’t that a nice image!
For me, this Musha-shugyo was partly about visiting some places I’ve wanted to go to for a long time, but it was also partly about going out and facing random people in an unfamiliar environment. I guess it was an extension of my change in kendo mode I discussed a few months ago. You know, mixing things up.
I think that doing a Musha-shugyo in the same style as I did is probably unrealistic for many kenshi 24/7 readers (I live in Japan after all), but I do think that most people will in fact come to Japan for that purpose at some point in their kendo careers. But saying that, I don’t believe you have to come to Japan to change your kendo mode or to mix things up.
Anyway, I hope that this post can, in some way at least, inspire people to embark on their own Musha-shugyo (whether in Japan or not), and perhaps even gave some suggestions as to what dojo to visit and historical swordsmen to meet. Cheers!
p.s. Remember and check out kenshi 24/7’s publications at http://kendo-book.com/