dojo history kendo

Shiga Butokuden

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!


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.


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.


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.


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:

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4 replies on “Shiga Butokuden”

Without knowing the specific circumstances of this butokuden, I think it may be worth considering possible factors of unintended consequences.

Generally speaking, an old building is exempt from updates to building codes, construction regulation and zoning, a phenomenon often called “grandfathering”. The same holds true of Japan. Therefore if the Shiga Butokuden were under private ownership, there is generally no legal obligation to strengthen for earthquake if it is not deemed to pose an immediate danger (e.g. will definitely fall over in the near future). A concrete and iron structure built in the early 20th Century would not be up to today’s seismic requirements but is unlikely to be deemed an immediate danger. Every time there is a large earthquake, seismic science gains new information and construction regulations get major amendments (cases in point are amendments following the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the Great Tohoku Earthquake).

It is entirely possible that Shiga Butokuden is under ownership of a public authority such as Shiga Prefectural government or the local municipal government. If this were the case, these public bodies MAY (I can’t say for sure) be under legal obligation to upgrade buildings to current seismic standards. Given the current vogue in Japanese bureaucracy for “compliance” this would not surprise me if it were the case. If they are under legal obligation to upgrade the building they would have the choice of 1) upgrading 2) mothballing or 3) disposal.

So upgrading MAY be our preferred option as kendoists interested in preservation (I say “may” because the bracings may be quite ugly). But this would require that the public owner have the funds for this. Given the pressure public purses experience, you can bet no budget goes to this kind of thing. I don’t know about Kansai, but Kanto has difficulties funding things like nursery schools, etc.

Mothballing is what is currently happening. Even then, there may be public treasury pressures to put an end to this since this is a “non-performing asset” to use business speak.

Disposal could mean A) demolition B) building something “performing” or C) selling off. For selling off, there would almost certainly be public procurement rules that again, severely restrict options that we who prefer preservation would like to see, such as selling cheaply or giving away to a preservation trust. Then again, there may be rules favoring transfer to a different public body.

Japan is not set up for preserving buildings. Tax laws are written to favor a constant cycle of building, demolishing and rebuilding. It’s a form of indirect subsidy of the very large and very powerful construction industry (which you may have heard involves shady segments of Japanese society). Take out a mortgage for a home here in Japan and the before the ink has dried on your signature for the loan, you are in negative equity already (meaning you owe more than what the property is valued on the market).

So these are possible unintended consequences of legal obligations imposed on public bodies. The public doesn’t want to see public funds wasted and so these kinds of conditions arise. The rules tend not to recognize intangible benefits and those things tend to get left to political discourse, of which there is very little in Japan. To be sure, there are also unintended consequences from rules in the private domain. During the 2007-2008 Great Financial Crisis for example, a lot of the owners of the toxic subprime mortgage backed bonds were pension funds (both public and private). These funds often have rules such as investing only in AAA top-rated bonds (which the toxic assets were through complex manipulation) and also to dispose of less than top rated bonds. This amplified both the bubble in these toxic assets (they were under rules driven pressure to buy them) as well as accelerated their eventual crash (again, rules driven obligation to sell).

So can anything be done?

It is entirely possible that an argument can be made that upgrading the current “asset” and re-purpose it be better “performing” is economically sound and within the rules. This would entail lot of work and requires strong political will, including a backer within the public authorities who has some influence on the bureaucracy. Anyone who has had to go down to a shiyakusho to hand in resident registration, etc. will know the good folks in the bureaucratic machinery won’t be bothered. In anycase, any repurposing would unlikely be for kendo use in terms of economic justification (not impossible, just not the strongest case). If the building can continue on, even without kendo, it is entirely possible it could return to kendo use one day, as was the case with the Kaohsiung Butokuden, which spent decades after the war as a school, before being purchased back by the city of Kaohsiung for kendo and other cultural use.

Those of us who live long enough in Japan will know that nothing happens in Japanese affairs without some degree of “nemawashi” (negotiating in the background rather than openly). Challenging out of the ordinary things like preserving an old building only a handful of kendoists see value in requires even more of this… and a strong well connected champion. This was also the case with Kaohsiung Butokuden, which found a champion in a local businessman/senior kendoist.

By the way, the Tainan Butokuden (Taiwan) is architecturally similar to the Shiga Butokuden.

Edit: A public body owner could also be the Shiga Prefectural Police, which may still be the owner. They would for sure also have their own legal obligations with regards to “asset management” that may put them under pressure to dispose of the butokuden. If this were the case, “nemawashi” within police kendo circles (since senior kendo instructors often have some political clout within the police bureaucracy) may be the best bet to get this building preserved.

As always Dillion, you are a great addition to the discussion!

As far as my research goes, the Shiga Butokuden belongs to the prefectural police, so it was obliged to be earthquake-proofed to modern standards (my work gym which was only built as recently as 1989 or so was forced over the last 2-3 years to have work done to it, in particular the roof) . The quote for this (about 10 years ago?) was something between 3-4 OKU yen for the bracings, which was deemed too much.

I can’t see anything happening to the building except it being pulled down, even if some wealthy individual or private organisation stepped forward with the money.

JPY 200-300million 10 years ago would be roughly JPY 300-400million today due to rise in construction costs since then. Perhaps it would be even higher now as seismic requirements have since increased again so specifications would be more onerous now (due to amendments from the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake).

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