The political revolution that occurred in Japan across the entire second half of the 19th century brought in a slew of changes in all aspects of life for everyone in the country. The coup d’etat on the 3rd of January 1868 was the principal political event of the Meiji Restoration, but it took decades after that for the new nation to become a fully functioning modern industrialised country.
Kendo-wise, it is a super interesting period. Prior to the restoration event, there were professional kenjutsu instructors: some were samurai who taught bujutsu in their domains while others ran private dojo in cities and towns (and even taught commoners). After the restoration kenjutsu suffered badly (domains were dismantled in 1871), with most people giving it up completely. Sakikibara’s Gekken Kogyo, first held in 1873, was the spark that lit a new interest in kenjutsu, but it was Kawaji Toshiyoshi’s 1879 Gekken Saikoron, which led to kenjutsu instructors being employed in the fledgling Keishicho starting in 1881, which really saved things.
Although I had done articles in the past or talked about many of the “first batch” of modern kenshi, e.g. Naito Takaharu, Monna Tadashi, Takano Sasaburo, and the like (i.e. Butokukai/Busen and Koshi related; sons of samurai who taught at domains but who never did themselves), I’d like to expand on that by introducing, now-and-again, the generation before – those that were actually domain kenjutsu instructors during the upheavals, somehow weathered the process, and directly influenced people like Naito and Takano.
Today’s article is a brief bio of Takayama Minezaburo.
September the 3rd 1865 (or 67), about 4pm. Two students of Momoi Junzo’s Shigakukan, Takayama Minezaburo and Akiyama Takichiro, were out shopping for the dojo (live-in students had to clean the dojo and cook for themselves) when they spotted a commotion. Listening in, someone said:
“Momoi dojo’s Ueda-san cut someone down in Matsuda!!!!”
(Matsuda was the name in a restaurant in an area which is now Ginza)
They ran to restaurant as fast as they could only to be greeted with a lot of Shinchogumi guarding the vicinity, at least one of whom they knew:
“Don’t worry, Ueda-san is safe.”
On hearing the news Takayama ran back to the dojo to tell Momoi, who shook his head and said:
(Ueda Umanosuke killed two drunk samurai: one was cut in the head and died instantly, the second was impaled on the end of Ueda’s sword and died shortly after. He spent three years in the gaol for the incident but it didn’t hurt his future career as a top police kendo instructor at Keishicho).
Takayama Minezaburo was born in 1832 (or 35 depending on the source*) in Ozu domain, Ito province (now Ehime prefecture in Shikoku) to a samurai family who taught Confucian Studies. When he was seven years old his father was relocated to Edo and brought his son with him.
*(Note that it has been difficult to pin-point 100% accurate dates for this article, and some sources have been contradictory and/or confusing. I have tried my best to unravel things.)
At some point Takayama started to learn kenjutsu under Fujikawa Yajiro (Jikishinkage-ryu) before eventually studying with Kondo Yanosuke (Itto-ryu Chuya-ha), and finally with Momoi Junzo at Shigakukan (Kyoshin meichi-ryu; many famous Meiji-era kenshi would spend time at Shigakukan). The exact length of study and dates are unknown, but what we do know is that Takayama made the switch to Shigakukan at quite a late age – sometime in the early 1860s. He would’ve been around about 30, unmarried, and lived in the dojo – a rare combination for someone his age.
The politics of Japan at the time are very complex and those trying to make a living via swordsmanship faced tremendous difficulty, especially after the events of 1868, and things for Takayama were no different.
At some point after the event at Matsuda described above in 1868, Takayama relocated to Kyoto and started to instruct kenjutsu at Toda Ishinsai’s very large and very popular dojo in Kawaramachi. It is during this time that Takayama would make a connection that would shape his entire life.
Takayama was from the same province as Toda, as well as also being a Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman. As Toda was older and didn’t teach much anymore, he soon allocated the daily instruction role to Takayama, who by that time was a skilled fencer.
The dojo, based as it was in centre of Kyoto (which was still, for a time, the seat of the imperial court) was a mecca for kenshi from all corners of the country, many of whom were ronin and (soon to be ex-) samurai. There was much political talk going on, and not a little intrigue. Here a young ambitious samurai from Hirado province (now Nagasaki prefecture), Kuwata Gennojo, was sent to collect information (and gossip). He wasn’t the most committed of spies though.
Kuwata (Shingyoto-ryu, later Muto-ryu) loved kenjutsu so much that it was almost as if his mission was forgotten – he went to the dojo daily and practiced with earnest. He was especially inspired by Takayama, who was tall and lean – Kuwata was small and stout – and at least five years his senior. Kuwata’s kenjutsu was no match for Takayama’s either and the relationship (despite Kuwata already having a Menkyo-kaiden in Shingyoto-ryu) was very much a teacher-student one.
Takayama’s renown as a kenshi grew and in 1868 he was called on to instruct kenjutsu at Matsue domain (now Shimane prefecture) by the domain chief, which Takayama duly accepted. He stayed there until 1871 when, by order of the new Meiji government, domains were replaced by a new prefectural system. Takayama was now jobless and, to a certain extent, status-less.
He attempted to stay in Matsue and teach kenjutsu to his old students, but times being as they were he was unable to make a living and, after a short time, decided to try his chances elsewhere.
The new governor of Nara, Kaieda Nobuyoshi (between 1870-71), was a fan of budo, and attempted to incorporate kenjutsu in to the new government system. He had a dojo made (Bunbu-jo) and recruited about 40 kenshi, giving them jobs as “policemen” (note that this was way ahead of Keishicho). Takayama was one of this 40. However, the job held the lowest of all the police ranks and Takayama – unsurprisingly for someone who had been a top kenjutsu domain instructor – wasn’t happy. He eventually quit and took some sort of job in the Kyoto judicial courts, though it’s unclear what it could’ve been or for how long he did it (being of ex-samurai stock, and from a family of Confucian scholars, he was well educated).
The new governor in Kyoto (Makimura, 1875-1881) banned kenjutsu outright (punishment was jail!!!), Toda Ishinsai was dead (1872) and his dojo shuttered. Takayama was about 40 years old, and it seemed like nothing was going his way.
A second meeting
It was now sometime between 1877-1880 (I tend to think it was probably mid-1879), and Takayama had floated between Matsue, Nara, and Kyoto since 1871, when domains were replaced by prefectures. His exact movements, dates, and time frames are unknown.
At any rate, by chance or by fate, one day he was randomly hailed by someone passing in a rickshaw:
“Is that Takayama sensei I see?”
It was Kuwata Gennojo, the kenjutsu loving wannabe-spy he practiced with when he was teaching at Toda dojo in the late 1860s. However, in the ten-or-so intervening years since they last met, a lot had changed.
Kuwata, who was now going by the name of Koteda Yasusada, had successfully taken advantage of the rapid changes in Japanese society: he joined the fledgling civil service straight away in 1868 working in the judiciary before making a rapid climb to Shiga prefectural magistrate in 1875 and governor in 1878.
The social position between Takayama and Koteda had reversed. Sitting on his rickshaw listening to the – still standing – Takayama’s straits Koteda said:
“The governor here in Kyoto hates kenjutsu and your skills go unrecognised. Maybe if you came to Shiga…?”
These were still very early days in the new Meiji government, so individual magistrates/governors had far more power to influence things than they do today. And just like that, Takayama was hired as a police officer in Shiga prefecture.
btw, Koteda would soon be nicknamed the “Gekken Governor” for the zeal he had for kenjutsu.
In April 1880 Koteda opened a police dojo in Otsu (the capital of Shiga). Initially it was just simply named the “police gekken dojo” but it was re-named as “Yoyukan” by Yamaoka Tesshu that July (Koteda would later become a student of Yamaoka and receive a Menkyo-kaiden in Muto-ryu). Takayama was appointed the head instructor of the dojo in May (Yano Katsujiro, a future prominent Butokukai kenshi, started to travel here from Kyoto for keiko at this time to study under Takayama).
Koteda’s zeal for kenjutsu was so much that he forced many of his subordinates to practice kenjutsu, and came to the dojo most days for keiko. When there he would often monopolise Takayama for himself.
Alluded to above, the relationship between Takayama and Koteda began to change. Koteda stopped using the honorific “sensei” and Takayama began to address Koteda as a superior. Perhaps Koteda was starting to see Takayama as a “possession” of sorts…
In 1881 the kenjutsu-hating governor of Kyoto, Makimura, was replaced by the budo-loving Kitagaki. A public dojo was built in Kyoto (Kyoto Taiiku-jo) and people were hired to teach kenjutsu (some from Nara Bunbu-jo, which Takayama had been at for a short time), kyujutsu, and jujutsu. A police dojo was also constructed with Ozeki Norimichi as chief instructor (Ozeki had been jailed on Nijo castle for six months for practicing kenjutsu; his son, Norimasa, will appear towards the end of this article). For kenjutsu, things were looking up.
With kenjutsu loving governors in Shiga and Kyoto prefectures, it was decided to hold the first large taikai in the area. In mid-July 1882, at the Kyoto Taiiku-jo, 200 participants gathered from around the Kansai area for the regions first large shiai.
Koteda, as you may have gathered, was ambitious, plus he was obsessed with kenjutsu, to the point that he would not only practice a lot himself and force his subordinates to practice, he often only hired people for government positions that were practitioners. In particular, he desired to make Shiga some sort of kenjutsu mecca, so he was annoyed by the fact that most of the strongest kenshi tended to flock towards Tokyo and Keishicho. After the success of the 1882 taikai, he started to plot about using his most prized possession as a weapon to not only attract more kenshi to Shiga, but to increase his own prestige.
After a hard keiko one day he called Takayama over:
“With you on the form you are now, I wonder if any of the Keishicho mob could handle you? I have to go up to Tokyo soon, maybe I’ll take you and some others with me and see how good they actually are.”
“That sounds good to me.”
“You must defeat them. If you do, your fame will spread and strong kenshi will want to work for me.”
“I am sure there will be no problem. If we give them the opportunity to be more arrogant or they belittle me in any way, I will never forgive you.”
In the early 1880s Keishicho kenjutsu was booming. There were something like 30 or so dojo spaces (not necessarily dojo per-se) in Tokyo, and numerous practitioners in the ranks. Gekken-kai (what we would call shiai today or renshujiai) between police stations were quite common. In 1882 a large shiai was held Mukogaoka Yayoi shrine (there is a cemetery there for police personnel – Keishicho, Imperial Guards, and police that died taking part in battle, e.g. the Satsuma Rebellion; Kawaji Toshiyoshi is buried here). This shiai was the first large-scale shiai that had been held and was by all accounts very successful. The following year, in 1883, a second shiai was planned, this time including kenshi from prefectures around about Tokyo.
Koteda, the Gekken Governor, was, after the success of his own Kansai-region taikai, was eager to take his prize attack dog – Takayama – to Tokyo and claim dominance.
In the middle of November 1883 a large conference of governors and senior local politicians was being held in Tokyo. Koteda of course had to attend, but he had something more important on his mind. He gathered the ten strongest kenshi in the Kansai region (with Takayama being the leader) and went to Tokyo early. He led them around various dojo (in particular to Yamaoka’s Shumpukan) and had them take part in various shiai …. all in preparation for a final showdown against Keishicho (btw Koteda himself took part in some shiai as well).
On three days, the 4th-6th of December 1883, the Kansai kenshi fought Keishicho. For Takayama, however, the event would be double edged.
In the first two days Takayama defeated outright all challengers. Keishicho kenshi were in fear – if Takayama was to defeat everybody they could no longer claim dominance. They resorted to another plan: on day three they chose two kenshi who were good grapplers, thinking that they could tire him out and then beat him. Against the first guy, sensing what was at hand, Takayama managed to grab his opponents tsuka, trapped it, and pushed him out of the area. “What is this, sumo?!” he shouted. When the second guy appeared Takayama turned to the shinpan (then called kensho) and said “Ume-san, surely this isn’t game?”
The “Ume-san” in question was Ueda Umenosuke, his sempai from Shigakukan who cut down two drunk samurai about 20 years earlier. He was now a senior instructor at Keishicho. Ueda blushed in embarrassment.
Watching, Koteda and Watanabe Noboru (later a very senior Butokukai figure), turned to Kabayama Sukenori (in another source it is Mishima Michitsune, but I think this is an error – if Mishima was there, it was in a different position), the then superintendent general of Keishicho, and chortled. Kabayama, being unable to bear it, motioned to a subordinate and said, before standing up and leaving:
“Call me when Henmi comes out”
In the three days Takayama had defeated 36 of Keishicho’s top kenshi, including Shinkai, Mitsuhashi, Tokuno, Kakimoto, and others (this number 36 seems quite large). The only one left that could possible take him on was Henmi Sosuke.
Briefly, Henmi Sosuke was born in 1843 in Sakura domain (Chiba prefecture, Sakura). His father was the 17th headmaster of Tatsumi-ryu, which he too would master. In 1861 he spent a year studying under Momoi Junzo at Shigakukan, having left before Takayama arrived there. Back in Sakura he taught kenjutsu (at some point he began to study under Ueda Umanosuke) until the domain system collapsed, after which he worked in a land development job of some sort. He joined Keishicho in 1879, probably via Ueda Umenosuke’s recommendation.
“There are lots of swordsmen, but only Henmi is a real one.”– Yamoka Tesshu
At the time of our story he was 40 years old, and one of the leaders of Keishicho kenjutsu.
Mei-shobu: Takayama vs Henmi
Henmi (164cm) usually used a shorter 3.6 shinai but decided that against the larger Takayama (176cm) he needed a longer one. Both men were well-built. Takayama often used his larger and more powerful physique to overcome opponents, whereas Henmi tended to rely mostly on technique.
From sonkyo Henmi immediately assumed jodan. Takayama stayed in chudan. Suddenly Henmi moved and cut dou from jodan. Takayama pushed him away and called out “too light.” The two kenshi moved out of distance and Henmi took jodan again.
Takayama was known to push down on opponents shinai suppressing both their shinai and the opponents hand movement, before cutting men or tsuki-ing. Henmi’s choice of jodan was probably a counter to this.
From jodan Henmi shot out a katate-kote and struck Takayama’s kote firmly. Supporting cheers rung out from the Keishicho side.
With that the pair sonkyo-ed and bowed to each other. Henmi had managed to stop Takayama utterly defeating Keishicho.
Takayama, who had defeated so many of the top kenshi in the country, must have been satisfied with his performance. Losing to a good kote strike from a skilled fencer as Henmi was nothing to be ashamed of either. Why would it be? As he sat down and removed his men he was aware of someone staring directly at him, eyes blazing furiously: Koteda.
About a year later, in November 1884, Keishicho held its third shiai at Mukogaoka Yayoi shrine, this time allowing kenshi from all over the country to join (the first “All Japan” kendo competition). In the interval between taikai Koteda’s position had changed: he had become a member of the legislative assembly and moved from Shiga to Tokyo. Under the new governor of Shiga Takayama had, for the best part of a year, been left to his own devices which, considering the pressure had been subjected to under the intense scrutiny of Koteda, would’ve been a nice change. His keiko partners commented on how relaxed he had become.
Takayama, then, joined the 1884 shiai of his own volition (rather than being compelled by Koteda). However, heading to Tokyo about a month before the shiai began, he and the other non-Keishicho kenshi ended up being at least partly looked after by Koteda some of the time (not necessarily through choice it seems).
Takayama, like the year before, performed amazingly well, defeating everyone he met (except for a draw with Kanematsu Naoyuki who had been, along with Ueda Umanosuke, one of the top kenshi at Momoi Junzo’s Shigakukan). Amongst those he defeated was Henmi Sosuke. There is no descriptive source for the bout this time, only that he won 2-1.
One of the reasons Keishicho held the shiai was to prove that their kenjutsu was the best in the country, but Takayama’s success – and that of Okumura Sakonta from Okayama – showed that they were not yet unassailable.
In September 1885, Koteda became the new governor of Shimane prefecture and, as usual, immediately started to build a dojo and recruit instructors. In February 1886 – on the way to a governors meeting in Tokyo – Koteda detoured to Shiga and dropped in at the current governors office:
“I want Takayama.”
It is unknown whether Takayama was consulted on the matter.
In March 1886 Takayama moved back to Shimane (remember, between 1868-71 he had been the domain kenjutsu instructor there) and again started to work under Koteda. We don’t know if Takayama was compelled to move or he did so due to a sense of obligation, though I suspect the latter. Koteda feelings, as we shall soon see, were not so reciprocal.
(btw it is important to note here that Koteda payed Takayama well for his services compared to a normal policeman’s job, both in Shiga as well as Shimane.)
For a handful of years Takayama, under Koteda, worked to promote kenjutsu and instruct young kenshi in Shimane and the surrounding prefectures.
In 1891 Koteda became the governor of Niigata prefecture. However, this time he didn’t take Takayama with him… or perhaps Takayama didn’t want to go? Why he stayed, we don’t know exactly – perhaps Takayama was finally getting tired of being ordered around? Another theory was that the incoming Shimane governor asked him to stay. Takayama was in his late 50s by this point, so maybe he just wanted to settle down.
In March 1893 (or as early as 1890 in some sources) Takayama retired his position in Shimane and, by June, had started to work in the Osaka police department (this may have been because the Shimane governor changed again).
Information about his life in Osaka is totally absent. The next we hear about him really is in 1895 when the Dai Nippon Butokukai was founded and the first Butokusai (now called the “Kyoto Taikai”) was held. Takayama took part and was amongst the first group to be awarded Seirensho.
In 1896 Koteda returned to Shiga as governor. To celebrate he – as was his habit – held a gekken-kai and invited well known kenshi to join. Amongst others Takayama came from Osaka, Okamura from Okayama, Kagawa Zenjiro from Mie (another Yamaoka disciple), Takahashi Kyutaro from Hyogo, and Ozeki Norimichi from Kyoto.
The day before the shiai Takayama called in at Koteda’s office. Takayama was about 62 years old and had lived his entire life by the sword. Kodeta was about five years younger, a Shingyo-ryu Menkyo Kaiden, a senior student of Yamoka Tesshu, and a high successful politician. They had known each other for about 30 years, much of which Takayama had literally fought for Kodeta. Takayama asked:
“It is my wish that I would like to work under you one last time.”
Koteda’s countenance changed abruptly:
“Well, when I moved to Niigata you stayed in Shimane. Since then I’ve been putting all my effort into raising Ozeki Norimasa (Ozeki Norimichi’s son) to be a stronger swordsman than you.”
Takayama was silent.
“He’s risen up to the challenge more than I hoped, his prowess increasing so much that you have no chance of defeating him. Anyway, I’ll ensure that you and he are matched in tomorrows shiai… if you somehow manage to defeat him I’ll consider your wish.”
Dumbfounded, Takayama stood up and walked out.
Ozeki Norimasa had been trained from a young age by his father Norimichi, and was already known as a strong fencer. Coming under Koteda’s wing was a boon for someone still only 25 or 26 years old (Norimasa would go on to have a long and prosperous kendo life – I will write about him at a later date).
Takayama hit the sake bottle… hard. Perhaps it was in anger or maybe because he felt betrayed. It could even have been in sadness: contemplating as he may have been his many years under Koteda serving as his attack dog. What had it all been for? He had been replaced by another, and in tomorrows shiai the new dog would inevitably chew up and spit out the old one.
The next day went as you might imagine: the still drunk Takayama faced Ozeki Norimasa twice, both times being soundly defeated. In the second encounter Norimasa tsuki-ed Takayama fiercely then shoved him hard in to the dojo corner. From there Takayama couldn’t get out, and Norimasa beat him repeatedly. Takayama’s kenjutsu career was, for all intents and purposes, over.
In February 1899 Takayama passed away at the age of 65 in Osaka. Koteda, who had risen to the rank of baron, died a month later. In September of the same year Ozeki Norimasa was appointed as a kendo instructor for the Butokukai (his time in this post would be short lived). His skill in defeating Takayama a couple of years earlier was quoted as one of the reasons for being selected.
The old guard, it seems, was changing.
The inspiration for this article was actually a single line, mentioned in passing, in one of the source books listed below. It said “Takayama is buried in the Osaka police section of the Osaka Abeno cemetery.” When I read that I immediately knew I had to go and find him.
Looking on google maps I realised I had passed the cemetery on numerous occasions over the almost two decades I have lived here in Osaka but had never set foot in the place. On a quiet work day a few weeks ago I took some time off, jumped on the subway, and away I went.
The cemetery is not so large, and I was able to locate the police section easily. The problem was that the section was locked. The police section was quite small so I skirted around the fence and was happily surprised to find the grave really quickly as it was close to the fence itself, so near in fact that I could easily take a good picture with my phone.
Standing there, looking at one of the most renowned kenshi of the Meiji period, I felt a sense of connection. I also felt sadness or, maybe, inevitability. I too shall age.
大日本剣道史。森正平。1958年。 明治剣客伝。戸部新十郎。1994年。 剣道事典。中村民雄。1994年。 明治撃剣家：風にごとく発す。堂本昭彦。2000年
Enjoy this article?
I hope you did! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the source material and going on a field trip to find Takayama’s grave (luckily a short trip and an easy find this time). This article did take a crazy amount of time to put together though – the writing alone took perhaps 50 hours spread over three weeks or so. This doesn’t count editing (which I do myself), putting things in wordpress, choosing pictures, etc. etc. Articles like this simple can’t happen without source material, some of which can be quite expensive. Even when it isn’t, sourcing lots of books does add up. So what I want to say is …. remember kenshi 24/7 has a Patreon page. Cheers!