When I arrived in Japan permanently in late July 2003 (of course, that wasn’t the plan at that time…) it was to a small island in Hiroshima prefecture. Before arriving I knew that there was a shonen kendo club based in the local junior high school, but I didn’t really know what to expect. I was about to find out.
By “shonen” I mean a club catering to primary and junior high school age-range (6-11 and 12-15 respectively).
The moment I arrived it was obvious that – as an adult – I was automatically, whether I liked it or not, a teacher as well. For the next two years (until I moved to Osaka) I was the second in command of a large kids dojo, which meant that I had to (the main teacher was a school P.E. instructor and often late) run keiko itself as well as take the kids to shiai and be their kantoku, or manager. I also did a lot of shinpan. Shiai happened about every other week and took up a lot of time. Needless to say, not speaking Japanese very well at that point it was stressful at times and, if I am being honest, it was not my best kendo experience (at the time).
After leaving Hiroshima and heading to Osaka, for two and half years I also (not by choice) taught a junior high school kendo club and did (reluctantly) concomitant shinpan duty. I wasn’t as committed to this club as I had been the last, but it still ate up my weekends. Again, while doing all this, I sometimes failed to see the long-term benefit this gave me in terms of instruction, working-shiai knowledge, and first-hand experience of real kendo “life” in Japan.
By the time I managed to get out of shonen kendo and into high school kendo I was somewhat shell-shocked from the amount of shiai I had attended as well as shinpan-ing I had done over the five years prior. From the get-go, when asked to help at high school shiai as a shinpan or what-not, I always refused.
Fast-forward to September 2022 and, in all honestly, my attitude hasn’t changed, especially when it comes to shonen kendo. However, one of my favourite sempai asked me directly to help out at a large kids shiai that was being held in Osaka and, in a moment of weakness, I agreed.
On the 18th of September 2022, for the first time in three years, the All Japan inter-prefectural competition (kids) was held in Osaka. This is an intra-prefecture team competition (started in 2006) that aims to find the best primary school and junior high school aged team in the country (slots in a given prefectural team are usually awarded based on shiai record, so competitors come from a mix of different schools and dojo) .
Shonen kendo still mixes boys and girls in shiai, and this one is no different: the primary school team is a free mix of boys and girls, whereas the junior high school team has two girls (sempo and jiho) followed by three boys.
Here in Japan, spectators are either not allowed or restricted and this shiai was the same. As such, the competition was to be, for the first time, streamed live to YouTube. The ZNKR already started doing this a few year ago with the shiai that they run (I helped out a bit at the one of the first trials back in 2015) but this particular shiai is mainly run by the Osaka kendo federation, who had never done this type of thing before. As such, they hired some professionals to do the job, but they still wanted some kendo people with them to help out in case of trouble, which is where I came in.
Basically: the team on the right coordinated and streamed the video feeds and me sitting on the left of them checked that the online captions were correct (my group look after four of the eight courts). This ended up being a pretty simple job – except for when we got out of the pools and shiai proceeded rapidly (and especially when daihyosen started happening) – which allowed me to mostly sit back, enjoy the shiai, and take some pictures.
The following is a gallery of random pics (primary and junior high school are mixed) I took in-between things. For comments on the shiai itself, please check the section after the pictures.
First of, the level of kids kendo at today’s shiai was amazing. Some of the older primary school kids as well as many junior high school kids (especially the boys) are massive. This meant that they could easily swing around and manipulate their light shinai easily. Looking at some of the “kids” though, I wondered if their parents or sensei had been feeding them steroids… at any rate, as would be expected for this level, their kendo was far more mature than an average kendo kids. I was impressed.
My daughter will turn five soon and there is a kendo club about eight minutes walk away (the best shonen kendo club in the prefecture is about a 15 min bike ride away, so that’s an option too). I have been hesitant to take her there, but I may just do so soon. Just for a look of course.
The experience of helping out at the shiai was a good one too. Although I didn’t have to do so much because I was dealing with professionals, I felt confident that I could communicate the flow of kendo shiai clearly and simply to those that didn’t have any knowledge of it. When they had a question or were or not sure what was happening, I had an answer. Maybe I will help out again soon.
The final of the junior high school can be seen here (from about the 5hr 22min mark):
The final of the primary school kids is here (from about 5hr 20min):