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Kendo art – another piece of kendo history

In 2017 I (very happily) shared the news that I was given a ukiyo-e (nishiki-e) of a famous (and extremely historical) kendo scene from 1873. Almost exactly a year after, I detailed my totally random find of another ukiyo-e from the same period and the trials and tribulation I went through to get my hands on it. In today’s post (four years since the first) I want to introduce yet another ukiyo-e I recently acquired! It is by the same artist and from the exact same time period. First, have a look:

Gekken Kogyo (1873)

(I suggest your re-read the articles linked above to remind yourself of the history.)

I am guessing that there is possibly some kenshi 24/7 readers that have may have seen this picture before, but in general I guess that most people have never set eyes on it before. I am not sure why that is exactly, perhaps it was produced in fewer numbers. The fact that my copy is quite brittle compared to the other two I have (which are also very rare) might be testament to that. This is pure conjecture of course. It could just be the fact that main Gekken kogyo sponsor – the then super famous Sakakibara Kenkichi – is not in the illustration itself, and thus it was never as popular. 

Anyway, like I did in the last two articles introducing the ukiyo-e, I would like to briefly introduce you to the people in the picture. 

The combatants 

Satake Kanryusai (right side, kenshi in the centre)

A Ryugo-ryu kenshi (a ryu-ha based on Shingyoto-ryu which – rare for the time – struck the legs), he happened to be staying in lodging owned by Nomi Tetsujiro (with Sakakibara Kenichi, one of the people who came up with and ran Gekken-kogyo when the whole phenomena  began. As such he fortuitously was able to take part in quite a few Gekken-kai, became involved with a lot of Jikishinkage-ryu kenshi, and possibly studied under Sakakibara himself. 

He had a romantic fling with Namikawa Shige – a female naginata exponent who took part in various Gekken-kai. Later they would marry and (seemingly) created a brand new naginata-ryu called Jikishin-yanagi-kage-ryu (some sort of combination of Jikishinkage-ryu and Ryugo-ryu; the kanji for “yanagi” was taken from the “ryu” of “RYUgo-ryu”).

[ Historically, things get a bit suspicious here as Jikishinkage-ryu has no naginata, and it’s possible that the enterprise was simply an economic one. One of their students – the renowned naginata expert Sonobe Hideo – possibly re-branded and re-imagined what she had been taught (or perhaps Satake and his wife did that themselves). At any rate, because this “old” school had been accepted in Japanese koryu circles in the Meiji period (mainly because of Sonobe’s career as an educator as well as her record in shiai) even with the information we have access to nowadays, the lineage is mostly accepted, despite the paucity of evidence .]

btw the Ryugo-ryu that Satake studied is now no longer extant. But, as mentioned above, it was based heavily on Shingyo-ryu which is alive and well. 

Matsudaira Yasutoshi (kenshi on the left)

Born in 1848, Matsudaira was a Jikishinkage-ryu student of Sakakibara he had been employed as a deputy kenjutsu instructor at the bakufu’s Kobusho at some point (a short-lived training facility for the sons of samurai, it existed between the mid-1850s to the mid-1860s). The assumption is that Matsudaira helped out at the tail-end of the Kobusho’s existence, when he was in his late teens. 

In 1875 (two years after this ukiyo-e) Matsudaira held a Gekken-kai in the neighbouring Saitama prefecture without Sakakibara’s permission (although he used the “Sakakibara” name for promoting it). Sakakibara’s father seemed to have been involved somewhat so Sakakibara kept quiet until his father died in 1881, at which point he expelled Matsudaira from his dojo in retaliation for going behind his back.  

Shinpan (judges) and Gyoji (referee)

As in sumo kogyo (which gekken kogyo was modelled after) there is a Gyoji in the dohyo with the combatants who makes calls. The shinpan (usually shown inside the dohyo) are there to basically ensure that the gyoji’s decisions are correct.

Ozawa Tadasu (seated on the right)

Ozawa was Sakakibara’s younger step-brother (different mother; later he was adopted-off to another family hence the different name). Between 1864-1866 (when the facility ended) he was a deputy kenjutsu instructor at the Kobusho. After the Meiji restoration he was employed in the police system in some manner (actually, this was before a modern police system was created, so it was more of a “public security force” if you will). In 1872, due to reforms of the system, Ozawa lost his position. 

Suzuki Shigedomo (seated on the left)

No information (as yet) except he was allegedly a gekken instructor at the Kobusho at some point. I think it is safe to assume he was a student of Sakakibara’s as well.

Nishimura Kenpachiro (standing on the right)

An ex-retainer of the Shogun, and Shogitai member (an elite samurai infantry unit formed in 1868) he took part in the in the battle of Ueno (1868). On the losing side, he retreated with what was left of the Shoguns force. It wasn’t until 1870, after he received an official pardon, when he was able to return to Tokyo. 

He also – with the other Sakakibara students mentioned above – worked as a kenjutsu teacher at the Kobusho. 

Dai Nippon Gekken Kai (1873)

Sharing this kendo history

One thing that has been bothering me for while now is that I think it is a waste for these pieces to simply sit on my wall for me to look at. I must admit I do get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I have acquired original pieces, but I am also aware that there are people that would like to own them as well. Blogging, of course, is one way of sharing my good luck.

As far as things stand at the moment I have done a mini-test where I scanned and created a couple of real-world articles, in particular I made a poster for a friend from part of one of the pictures (he was happily surprised!). Due to the aspect ratio of the originals however, and the fact that they don’t necessarily fit together *exactly* I am unsure about exactly how to proceed. At the moment I am considering making some (in low-numbers) tenugui because the aspect ratio is somewhat similar (thought they’d be pretty expensive). Hmmm… if you are interested, or have any other ideas/advice about how to proceed, feel free to get in touch or comment here or on FB.

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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