I’ve been practicing kendo for, what, about 30 years now. Or nearly that, I’m not exactly sure. In that space of time I have collected so many kendo-related bits and bobs that I have lost count. Well, after moving to Japan that is – before that (20 years+ ago) there wasn’t really anything kendo-related to collect. In the beginning it was small trinkets – badges, pins, tenugui, and so on – but now I find my self in possession of some large and expensive and/or rare objects. I did limit myself somewhat until about 2 years or so ago, until the pandemic struck, then I guess and the ability to DO keiko plummeted (and it still hasn’t returned to pre-corona levels), so now I find myself with loads of things that I probably don’t need.
It will be impossible today for me to list everything I posses, so I will select some of my most interesting (historical) things to introduce – briefly – here today. Some of these objects I’d like to introduce in more detail in the future.
Japanese (old) art provides a window into the kendo experience prior to the advent of photography. As a (an amateur) historian the older the better. Kenshi 24/7 readers know that I own a couple of really nice and historical important kendo-related Ukiyo-e, but I am also in possession of, for example, a beautiful copy of Watanabe Kazan’s (1783-1841) Isso Hyakutai-zu, a collection of paintings detailing daily life in Edo (now Tokyo) during that period. In amongst the diverse artwork are a few budo related paintings, including one at a kenjutsu dojo. You can clearly see shinai, men, kote on the people sparring, as well as different types of spears on the walls. The people enthusiastically watching are enjoying tea (or sake…).
I have of course a book of Hokusai Manga (1760-1849) detailing similar things at around about the same period. A copy of this is easy to get your hands on however.
Another piece of artwork I have is a one-off though: a painting of bamboo by Ono Jussei (1896-1974), hanshi kyudan and Itto-ryu exponent. This hangs in my bedroom next to the Saimura Goro calligraphy shown in the next section.
I’ve chatted now and then about the calligraphy work that I have, but perhaps I haven’t quite mentioned everything. For example, I’m lucky to have something by Saimura Goro (hanshi judan, 1887-1969) as well as a couple of pre-war folding fans from the Butokukai (provenance unknown).
Also included in this section is Makimono (scrolls). Now, budo-wise these can cost a lot of money if the person who wrote the scroll is well known, therefore fakes are not uncommon. Also, as the content of most ryu-ha (including their secret scrolls) is now in the public domain, there is little or no point in owning old budo scrolls. Still, I have one anyway!!! I own a fairly common, entry level Itto-ryu scroll written by Takano Sasaburo (which is why I bought it) in 1908. I don’t know if it was actually written by him, but his hanko is on it. I also don’t know if it is a copy per se…. though the style and wordage seems to fit with other scrolls known to have been written by him. Anyway, I was happy to get it and am delighted to own it even now.
Here are a couple of other calligraphy related past pictures/posts.
Postcards (photography, often posed)
When I first started to look at postcards as a source of historical information (photography) I wasn’t sure if I’d surface anything particularly useful. To my surprise, I managed to stumble on a some postcards that, while they didn’t teach me anything new, they did let me “see” stuff that existed only in my imagination. As such, they have been an invaluable source. Nowadays I make it a habit to flick through any trays of postcards that are to be found in second hand book shops.
Vintage Butokukai postcards (circa April 1912)
This set of 14 postcards (kendo 5; butokukai kenjutsu kata 4 (featuring Naito and Monna); naginata vs kendo 1; judo 4) I stumbled on by accident and I am glad I did! At the time of writing this article they are over 111 years old.
First of all, it is rare to find pictures of the now-extinct Butokukai Kenjutsu Kata, so to get my hands on a set was indeed a surprise. The kata are being executed by Naito Takaharu and Monna Tadashi, the most senior teachers at the Butokukai at the time, just outside of the east entrance of the Butokuden. I am not sure why the pictures were taken outside rather than inside, unless it was some sort of lighting issue. Looking at the pictures closely you can see that there is some sort of spear/naginata practice happening behind them in the dojo, maybe some sort of research group? Anyway, I plan to release all the pictures in the future.
The kendo pictures were taken at the front of the Butokuden to the south (which is now a coin-car parking area…). Of interest to me was that looking at the pictures I realised there are two smaller doors open at each side of the (usually used) large doors. The first time I went to the Butokuden after getting my hands on these postcards I realised that there are indeed two doors, though nowadays there are large shoe-boxes blocking them and the remain closed. All these years I travelled to the Butokden and I never noticed this!
Out of all the postcards the naginata vs kendo one is clearly out of place. First of all, it is the only one that has a title – it reads “Kyoto Butokukai shiai, women’s division.” As far as I am aware naginata (that is, as a sparring activity with bogu on for young women) wasn’t something that the Butokukai was involved in until the late 30s. Also, I am pretty sure there was no females division within the organisation until the same time (I’d need to look that up). Is this postcard from a period than the others? The stamp on the front of this postcard seems to be the style as the others, but due to its position the date is undecipherable (I tried to look at it with the magnifier on my iPhone). Also, although the material of the postcard and general look and feel of it are the same as the others, the font used on the back is different. Also, although all the kendo/judo pictures are taken at or near the Butokuden, the location of this one is unknown (it could still be in the grounds somewhere). The attire – dogi and bogu – doesn’t look any different though. I wonder if this is just a posed photograph for tourists? Hmmm…
Emperor Hirohito’s 60 year-reign commemorative postcard sets
Last year I managed to get my hands on two kendo related postcard collections were published in 1986 to mark the 60th year of Emperor Hirohito’s reign as emperor.
Set one: Showa Tenran jiai (green envelope, 12 postcards)
This set of 12 postcards span the three large Tenran shiai of the Showa period: 1929 (2 postcards), 1934 (6), and 1940 (4). The two shown in the picture are from the 1934 shiai.
The bottom picture is the final of the non-professional section, and shows Noma Hisashi vs Fujimoto Kaoru (nito-ryu, facing the camera). Noma Hisashi is well known to most serious kendo people due to his posthumous book being available in English, and Fujimoto Kaoru (a student of Ueda Heitaro) is someone I introduced to the English speaking kendo community a long time ago. Unfortunately, both died young (one by cancer, the other war).
The second picture shows Nakayama Hakudo demonstrating Hasegawa eishin ryu in front of not only Hirohito, but heads of the armed forces and the most senior kendoka in the country at that time.
Set two: Showa no kensei – the five kendo judan (yellow envelope, 13 postcards)
This random selection of postcards span a range from 1914 until sometime in the 60s maybe featuring all 5 of kendo’s judan. Most are pictures that have been floating about for a long time whilst others – like the group shot shown (the participants of the first Kinki region Kendo Kata seminar in 1912) – are quite rare. The other postcard shown is of Ogawa Kinnosuke, and is the picture I used for the cover of my translation of his book. I didn’t have such a good quality version of the picture to work with when creating the cover though!
Butokukai members badge
The Butokukai’s membership was massive. Within a few years of being established in 1886 it had already become far more successful than perhaps planned. One benefit of membership, from the start, were pin badges. Millions were issued and they are relatively easy to find and purchase, usually very cheaply. I bought one because, I guess, it makes me feel closer to a part of kendo history as it is something you can actually touch and perhaps wear.
Kendo kata poster
A long time ago (maybe 10 years ago?) a friend gave me a seemingly hand-made scroll showing Takano Sasaburo and Nakayama Hakudo performing kendo kata. A curious object, I was never sure what the date of it was nor why the pictures were cut and pasted onto a long scroll. Also, why was there only odachi kata and no kodachi…. was there something missing?
Years later I discovered that it was indeed hand-made: the pictures had been cut out and re-arranged in scroll format from a poster sold with a magazine (I assume from the Taisho period). The poster itself had kata 1-4 on the front, and 5-7 on the back, no kodachi. The scroll must have been made from two copies of the original poster. I guess it was easier to carry and study in scroll format.
I assume the kodachi kata were also photographed during the same session, but where the negatives of those pictures are remains a mystery.
I have so many old books now that I am running out of storage space. Over the past two or three years I’ve really gone crazy with purchasing them, so many that it is hard to actually get through them. It might take years. Anyway, today I’ll just mention one gem: a book about the life of Takahashi Kyutaro (1859-1940).
Takahashi was a highly influential kenshi who was active in the Meiji and Taisho periods. A peer of famed kenshi such as Takano Sasaburo, Naito Takaharu, and Kawazaki Zensaburo, he is generally only mentioned nowadays in passing as one of the five senior members of the kendo-kata committee. With this book, I will introduce him to the English speaking kendo community (when I get round to reading and digesting it). The book itself is a not-for-sale item that comes boxed and seems to be bound by glue and string (hand-made?). It was released only months after Takahashi’s death and so it was probably put together with his blessing and help (the pictures inside attest to that).
Bonus: other random modern things… just for fun
Actually, most of the small bits and bobs I’ve gotten over the years I’ve slowly given away. I don’t know why I still own some of the stuff that I do. Here are some random pics of stuff I had on instagram.
Some of the items introduced here I picked up with the aim of putting them in my dojo when I built it (which would’ve included a library) … but since I built a house here in Japan I think my dojo dream is dead, sadly. I am left with items with no place to hang or display them, and nobody to see them, which is a bit sad. I should probably offload them, or at least make an effort to photograph and share them with kenshi 24/7 readers (which is partly my goal today).
(BTW, just a quick shout-out of thanks to my patrons for feeding my kendo addiction!)