About four years ago I briefly introduced a kenshi who I have been interested in for a good while via a couple of small articles: Oshima Jikita. In one of those articles I wrote a brief bio, but today I want to look at his life in more detail. This more detailed article is based on the book “Modern kendo masters” by Ozawa Takashi (hanshi kyudan), himself a well renowned kendoka.
Jikita was born in Saga prefecture in 1889, the only son of an off-license shop owner. From a young age he was known as a friendly and out-going boy, one that was destined to something bigger than running the family sake shop.
When he was 10 years old, the first of a series of misfortunes would befall him: his father died suddenly. His mother found it difficult to run the shop by herself, and tried her hand at other things, unsuccessfully, for a while. After about three years, she finally managed to get herself back on her feet by renting out part of their house to lodgers.
Due to this situation, the intellectually precocious Jikita gave up his dream of attending a good school in the area, and instead entered a small private school when he was 14 (run by individuals and all but extinct now here in Japan, these type of private schools weren’t necessary the best educational choice at the time).
Next door to the private school was the Saga prefecture Butokukai branch dojo (built in 1900 it was destroyed in a typhoon in 1930. A new building was erected in 1931 and is still in use today by the Saga police force). During tuition, the sound of shinai hitting together would often drift in. One day, as he was heading home, the sound drew him in, and he went and had a peak inside the dojo.
Keiko was just ending, and most of the kendoka were sitting at the edge of the dojo watching two sensei face off against each other: Tsuji Shinpei (1849-1914, awarded hanshi in 1909), and Sasaki Masayoshi (1857-1922, awarded hanshi in 1918). The young Jikita watched the two highly experienced kenshi’s seme-ai with bated breath.
The next day, after study had finished, Jikita walked back in to the dojo and joined.
(Btw, a few years later, both Tsuji and Sasaki were involved in helping to create kendo kata.)
The young Jikita enjoyed kendo so much that he never took a rest. This constant practise and his love of kendo led to his progression being quick. Within a short time he was able to spar with and match boys a few years older than himself.
Sasaki sensei noticed and took notice of his passion and talent and said:
“You might not become the number one kenshi in Japan, but you have it in you to become a leading one. Of course, this requires a lot of effort.”
In effect, Sasaki was suggesting that Jikita become a kendo professional.
However, considering his family’s economic situation, and the fact that he had to give up going to a good school, he wondered if could actually achieve this. He had a strong desire to become a kendo professional, but his insecurity over his personal situation hampered him.
By luck, or by destiny, it just so happened that the Saga prefectural governor at that time – Kagawa Teru – was not only obsessed with kendo, but also routinely attended keiko at the Saga butokukai branch dojo, where he and Jikita sometimes sparred. Like Sasaki, he also noticed Jikita’s potential and, pulling some strings, wrote a letter of recommendation to the newly created Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo (forerunner to Busen) based at the Butokukai HQ in Kyoto.
Like this, Jikita joined the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo in 1906, as part of the second batch of students. His sempai were people like Saimura Goro, Shimatani Yasohachi, Nakano Sosuke, and his peers included Mochida Seiji and Hori Shohei (hanshi kyudan, taught kendo in schools and the navy). Ogawa Kinnosuke would arrive soon after. The head teacher was the famed Naito Takaharu, who was aided by other noted kenshi like Monna Tadashi (both of whom, as you can tell by the picture above, were acquaintances of Sasaki).
Jikita almost certainly didn’t realise it back then, but he had just landed right in the middle of the forefront of modern kendo development.
A mere four months after moving to Kyoto, Jikita made his mark.
Held in August, the 10th Butokukai Youth Embu Taikai took place in the Butokuden. There he took part in a “kachinuki” shiai (winner stays in), the most popular style of competition at the time.
Jikita defeated one opponent, then another; cutting and thrusting, he could not be stopped. His 21st opponent was Saimura Goro, who he defeated with a men. Mochida Seiji, his 22nd opponent, lost to a tsuki. The very last person standing was his yoseijo peer, Hori Shohei. Known as a tenacious fighter, even Hori couldn’t withstand Jikita that day. The shiai was finished: Jikita had defeated 23 kenshi in a row.
A year later, when Jikita was in his second year at the yoseijo, a sweating Hori came running in:
“Everyone! Nakayama Hakudo and Kawasaki Zenzaburo are practising at the Gojo police station!!!!”Mei-shobu: Oshima Jikita vs Nakayama Hakudo
I already wrote about what happened that day so please check it out!!
Jikita graduated the yoseijo quickly, at the age of 20. Instead of being sent out to a provincial area to teach at schools, Jikita stayed behind and became a teachers assistant at the Butokukai HQ.
The following years he spent in Kyoto were almost certainly the most important ones of his kendo career. During this time he not only helped develop up-and-coming students from all corners of the country, made long lasting friendships (and rivalries!) with made soon-to-be famous kenshi, but he was also fortunate to train directly under Naito and Monna for an extended period when they were at the peak of their abilities.
In 1916 there was a shake-up within the Butokukai due to a change in management positions and policy which (to make things brief…) saw some of Jikita’s friends move from Kyoto. In particular, Saimura, Nakano, and Mochida departed. Suddenly, the still under-30 Jikita was promoted to assistant instructor status.
It seems that at this time Jikita wasn’t quite sure what to do – to stay at the Butokukai – or go to Tokyo as Saimura had done? Hedging his bets, he decided to stay in Kyoto. Three years later, in 1919, his bet payed off: still a very young 31 years old, he was awarded kyoshi and promoted to a full instructor.
However, good things can’t always last forever. As a kind of extension of the 1916 shake-up, a new domineering figure appeared in the Butokukai senior ranks in 1918/19: Nishikubo Hiromichi.
(A very complicated figure, we don’t have time to discuss him here today. However, I will say it was him that, influenced by the ideas of Kano Jigaro and Yamaoka Tesshu, basically forced the change from -jutsu to -do appellation that is widely used today, in all arts, not just kendo.)
Nishikubo, in his authority as a senior ranking Butokukai member, as well as the principle of Busen, suddenly issued a command to Jikita that he move to and teach in the provinces. Knowing Jikita’s desire to stay in Kyoto, and taking in to account his current position, this was tantamount to exile. Of course, Nishikubo’s aim was Jikita’s resignation, which he duly received.
From despair to where?
Faced with unexpected joblessness, Jikita didn’t know what to do. Until now, he had basically sailed easily through the process of being a kendo pro, never knowing any real hardships. Now, however, we wasn’t sure what to do or where to go, and never expecting to lose his job, he hadn’t prepared savings nor cultivated any backup positions. In amongst all of this upheaval, his wife died through complications due to childbirth. He was in the depths of despair.
It was at this time he reached out to his friend Saimura, who had made his way to Tokyo a few years earlier in 1917 (Saimura was the first of Naito’s yoseijo/busen students to go to Tokyo, where he would be instrumental in implanting the busen style). Saimura said he had three choices:
1. Come to Tokyo as soon as you can to look for a position. However, you have to be prepared to live without money for a while (it took me three years to settle down in Tokyo, but the situation is different now and I reckon you could find your footing in about a year).
2. Move to the provinces for a bit and wait for the right time to come to Tokyo. This is the safest option, but it will delay you coming here.
3. Forget coming to Tokyo and instead look for a place where you couple potentially do well in the provinces.
Saimura’s advice continued:
Other than these three options, you have none. In my personal opinion I think you should pick option one. It won’t be easy, but I will help.
In early summer 1920, he put his young baby into foster care, left his two other young children with his mother in Saga, and went to Tokyo in search of work.
New beginnings and success
The situation wasn’t as bad as it had been for Saimura a few years earlier, and quickly Jikita found work via connections teaching at the highly prestigious Tokyo Imperial University (forerunner to Tokyo University) and the First Higher School. However, compared with his high status position as a teacher of future kendo professionals at the locus of the kendo community, it was a massive step down. It was a start however, and it would lead on to greater things.
By 1927 things had progressed quite well, so much so that he was able to build his own dojo, called Kenbukan, in northern Tokyo. By 1936 there was said to have been over 2000 students that attended (or were attending).
Over the years he built up a wide variety of teaching positions, sometimes practising 5 or 6 times a day: kenbukan in the morning and evening, police (keishicho, imperial guards) and military (Toyama military school, officer training school) keiko during the day, school and university keiko (Tokyo Imperial, First Higher, etc) in the afternoons. All in all, he seemed to do very well for himself.
It seems that at some point, due to his success, his mother and two sons came and joined him in Tokyo, though I haven’t discovered what happened to the baby he left in foster care.
There were three large “tenran-jiai” or “shiai before the Emperor” in the Showa period: 1929, 1934, and 1940. Jikita was selected to take part the first two (he died before the third one).
In the first one he narrowly lost to his yoseijo peer Mochida (then a police kendo instructor in Korea), who would go on to win the competition (winning this competition cemented Mochida’s place in the kendo community, which led him to come back to Tokyo and teach at various places, including Noma). Prior to the competition, both Mochida and Jikita were strongly tipped to win.
In the second of the three tenran-jiai Jikita, who had by now been awarded hanshi, was selected as a shinpan, also did a demonstration match against the famous Ueda Heitaro from Kagawa prefecture.
As an interesting note, right before the finals of the professional kenshi competition in 1934, there was a kakarigeiko demonstration by a four youths specially selected for their skill. Jikita not only acted as the motodachi, but the youngest of the youths – 13 year old Masaki – was his son.
On the morning of the 9th of February 1939, he woke up feeling tired. He was still only 50 years old, but was still very active and had no reason to believe he was ill in anyway. He got up and, after his usual morning sake, he immediately felt much better.
After morning keiko at kenbukan he went out to teach – keishicho in the morning, Yokosuka police station in the afternoon – before returning back to kenbukan for evening keiko. The young students had already gathered and were anxious for keiko to start by the time Jikita arrived.
Stepping into the his private changing area he suddenly felt a little bit dizzy and a pain in his chest. However, he continued to change and stepped into the dojo. After exchanging greetings with the waiting students he took a few steps before collapsing. He slipped into unconsciousness and, the next morning, he passed away.
There is actually a lot more to Oshima Jikita’s story but that I haven’t gone into here: details of his shobu with rivals Mochida Seiji and Miyazaki Mosaburo (another kenshi who I love reading about but haven’t expanded on yet), his legendary drinking habits, and the fact that he would’ve almost certainly been made judan with his fellow yoseijo colleagues had he lived. Articles for another day maybe.
For me, personally, it is in the stories of past kenshi where I find inspiration for my own shugyo, and that keeps me in the dojo 24/7.
I hope you enjoyed today’s article. It is mostly a highly abridged / loosely translated piece based (mainly, but not exclusively) on the single source mentioned below. You might also note that, if you cross-compare with other articles referencing Oshima Jikita on this sit you might find the odd date or age miss-match. It is what it is!