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Kendo art – a piece of kendo history

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote an article about a wonderful gift I received: a Ukiyo-e print of the first Gekken Kogyo event, held in Asakusa, Tokyo, in April 1873. Here’s a reminder of what it looks like:

Gekken Kogyo

This was one of three woodblock prints by Utagawa Kunitera the 2nd commissioned to commemorate the event. As mentioned in last years article, the other two prints I had barely seen mention of and knew almost nothing about. That was, until the end of August this year.

Completely by accident, I was on a business trip and had 15 minutes to kill in-between changing trains. I didn’t want to arrive at my destination to early, so I wandered past a few book stores. In the window of one, I spotted one of the other two prints. This one:

As it was a chance encounter, and because I was on the way to a meeting, I took a snap shot through the glass and continued on my way. On the train I started humming and hawing about purchasing it… mainly because it was rather expensive.

I waited a few days before deciding that – no matter the cost – I must acquire the piece. I went back to the shop and was annoyed to find it shut with a “emergency closure” message on the door. The ukiyo-e was still in the window.

Over the next two weeks I went to the shop 4 times. Eventually I found their website and emailed/called them. Nothing.

On my 5th visit I was starting to get annoyed. I walked in to the book shop next door (there are a few second hand book shops in the same area) and asked if they knew why their neighbour was closed. I was surprised at the answer: the owner had passed away. I asked what was happing to the stock, and the guy didn’t know. That’s that, I thought.

Just in case, I pointed out the ukiyo-e I wanted in the shop window next door, handed over my contact details, and left the result in the hands of the kendo gods. Just before leaving to go home I looked at the print again… as it was only maybe 50cm’s away through the window I pondered if I could smash the window, steal the print, and escape without getting captured! I had become desperate.

After a week or two of no contact, I gave up. It was not to be…

Then, without notice, an email arrived from another book shop in the area (not the one I had passed my details to): “We have the print, if you want it please come and buy it.” I didn’t care how they got my details – I immedietly took an hour off work, rushed up to the shop, and bought the print. Here it is:

Dai Nippon Gekken Kai (1873)
Dai Nippon Gekken Kai (1873)

Like my other Gekken ukiyo-e, the scene is actually divided into three separate pieces of paper, each of about B4 in size. The print itself is not in amazing condition due to insect damage. Still, kendo history nerd that I am, I think the money was well worth it.

Sakakibara and Nomi
Sakakibara and Nomi

People in the picture

The following is the result of some light research on the people in the picture. Based on a single well-researched source (see below). The banzuke that goes with the ukiyo-e and that provides ranks, job titles, and full names for all the participants looks like this:

Gekken Banzuke

I wish I could get my hands on at least a copy of this banzuke.

Anyway, here are the people shown (highlighted with name tags next to them) in the ukiyo-e, from right to left:

Okada Takeshige – special advisor. Shinto munen-ryu.
Yokoyama Toyomi – Looked after the area.
Izo Yoshinobu – 1st class kenshi. Student of Sakakibara.
Matsudaira Yasutoshi – 1st class kenshi. Student of Sakakibara. Taught kenjustu at the Bakufu-run Kobusho
Okada Matsuo (female) – Naginata.
Miura Takiyoshi – 1st class kenshi.
Satake Kanryusai – 1st class kenshi. Ryuko-ryu. Had a romantic fling with Namikawa Shige who is also in the picture (see below).
Doi Rohachi – Yobidashi. Renowned for his loose living!
Akamatsu Gundayu – 1st class kenshi. See prior article.
Sakakibara Kenkichi – Promoter. See prior article.
Nomi Teijiro – Manager and gyoji. See prior article.
Kato Kiyonosuke – 3rd class kenshi.
Satake Shige / Namikawa Shige (Female) – Naginata. Two names for the same person, the latter being maiden name (I think). Had a fling (and later married?) Satake Kanryusai above.
Ogawa Kiyotake – 1st class kenshi. See prior article.
Otani ShokoYobidashi.
Nose Shinkichi – 1st class kenshi.
Suzuki Shigeyoshi – 1st class kenshi.
Hosotani Toru (Female) – 3rd class kenshi, naginata.
Tamon Masafumi – special advisor. Tamiya-ryu/Kubota-ryu
Oda Masateru – 1st class kenshi. Student of Sakakibara. Taught kenjutsu at the Kobusho and later at Gakushuin.
Ozawa Tadasu – Manager and 1st class kenshi. Student of Sakakibara who was also his half-brother. Taught kenjustu at the Kobusho.
Tachibana Masahide – 2nd class kenshi.

Kenshi were split into two-sides, right and left (in ozumo it is East and West) and ranked from 1st (the best) to 3rd class (Gekken didn’t have time to evolve a complex ranking system like ozumo with Yokuzuno, Ozeki, etc.)

Participants and spectators

There is still a lot of research left to do on this ukiyo-e, but I thought I’d share my pictures and what information I have at the moment, even if partial, with kenshi 24/7 readers today.

I truly believe kendo is more than a physical pastime, that it has an important cultural element to it as well. As such, it is important that things like this ukiyo-e are both kept in the hand of kenshi and shared with others as well. Don’t you think so?



By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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5 replies on “Kendo art – a piece of kendo history”

Couldn’t agree more George! So glad you were able to secure the second of these. Only one left now…

Agree 100%! BuDŌ is culture, not just physical practice or a “sport”. And aesthetics are deeply tied in with the philosophy of its practice (thanks for the Baba books, by the way — great stuff!).

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