Farewell – the sad demise of local dojo さらば - 町道場の死滅

Coming to Japan to study kendo, the first thing you look for is a good dojo. In English as well as Japanese (nowadays) the word “dojo” also has the implied meaning of “group” or “club,” which goes beyond the mere physical location suggested by the word itself (see this article from 2011). Although there are many “dojo” in Japan that practise in school gyms or sports centres, I have always been lucky in that every group I belonged to have always had their own dojo (actually, one is owned by the prefecture and rented by the group – also not uncommon here in Japan).

Sadly, however, one group that I have been a member of for almost 15 years now, was forced out of it’s dojo in July of this year… which has inspired todays brief post.

Continue reading Farewell – the sad demise of local dojo さらば – 町道場の死滅

Eikenkai @ Wakayama Butokuden 第二回英剣会武徳際 in 和歌山武徳殿 (英剣会の特別版)

In August of 2015, my fiends and I got together and held one of my Eikenkai sessions at Nara Butokuden. After the main HQ Butokuden was built in Kyoto in 1899, the next to be constructed was this Nara one in 1903. Little did we know, however, that when we visited it in 2015 there was already plans to knock it down: this historical and beautiful dojo is scheduled to be demolished this very summer. The reason? Cost. It costs too much money to maintain and keep it up to anti-earthquake standards of the modern age. Such is the money-centric world we live in today.

Continue reading Eikenkai @ Wakayama Butokuden 第二回英剣会武徳際 in 和歌山武徳殿 (英剣会の特別版)

Weekend musha-shugyo and research trip 週末武者修行・研究旅

Last weekend I took some time out of my super busy schedule to visit a kendo friend in Iwate prefecture, in the north of Japan’s main island. I’d been promising to go for years, but with this and that, I’d never managed to quite find the time and make good my promise. Realising I’d probably never have a weekend when I wasn’t busy, I just picked a weekend that was good for my friend, booked my flight and hotel, and went. And I’m glad I did! In theory the weekend was mainly about hanging-out, but I ended up doing three keiko sessions over two days, and got in some good research about kendo-related places as well. There was also plenty of dai-ni-dojo time!

What follows is a brief rundown of kendo-related experiences that weekend. If you are interested in doing kendo in Iwate, please keep reading to the bottom. Cheers!

Continue reading Weekend musha-shugyo and research trip 週末武者修行・研究旅

Shiga Butokuden 滋賀県支部武徳殿

This time last summer I gathered a group of friends together for an Eikenkai session at the beautiful Nara Butokuden. A lovely little dojo with over 100 years of history, I was delighted to be able to do kendo in such a place. I felt even more happy in the knowledge that the dojo was being safely being kept for posterity and was looking forward to doing keiko there again someday. That was, until a friend told me recently that – despite it holding a special cultural status due to its architectural worth – it was going to be knocked down. The reason: it’s too expensive to earthquake-proof it to modern standards (translation: “It doesn’t make us money”). This is also the excuse given in regards to another Butokuden in the Kansai region, the Shiga Butokuden.

Built in 1937, the Shiga Butokuden was closed sometime between December 2008 and January 2009 for the exact same reasons mentioned above: worries about its ability to stand up to a large earthquake. It has been dormant since then and now the word is that the decision has been made to dismantle it, again, because the cost to bring it up to modern safety standards is too restrictive. The pessimist in me wonders whether the fact that the building is located in a large piece of prime real estate directly opposite the Shiga prefectural government building has something to do with it.

Note that it has been hard to find out accurate information about the building as well as find pictures of keiko, so if you have any information or any pictures you are willing to share, please get in touch. Cheers!


Background

The original 1901 dojo
The original 1901 dojo

The Dai-Nippon Butokukai was founded in 1895 and the original Butokuden was completed in Kyoto in 1899. Shiga prefectures Butokukai membership rose quickly, so in 1901 a request was made to build a branch dojo. The branch dojo was completed in October of that year and is pictured above. However, due to the increasing popularity of kendo over the following decades, the dojo was deemed to be too small, and plans were made to collect money and construct a more fitting building. A new, two storied building, much larger and more impressive than the original, was built in 1937, and it become the official Shiga prefecture branch Butokuden. It is this building that I visited for this article.

Makoto Seiichiro
Shimizu Seiichiro

As a side note, my research into who were the teachers at the dojo during it’s early years are still ongoing, but I did discover that Busen graduate Shimizu Seiichiro was awarded the head teaching position in 1929. All I know about him is that he went to Busen in 1915, became a school kendo teacher in 1923, and was awarded kyoshi in 1932. Who were the teachers before him and whether he taught in the new, larger building featured in this article is still a mystery.


The new building
The original design
The original design

Rare for this type of building, it was constructed mainly in concrete and steel, with the more traditional wood being used only in parts. Despite using more Western design elements, it still looks Japanese in construction. It is also two-storied: 1st floor, changing rooms, reception area, office; 2nd floor, dojo space (usually split between kendo and a tatami-area for judo).

Directly after the war budo was banned by the occupying American forces so the building was renamed a “culture centre” and used for non-budo purposes. It didn’t take long for it to revert to it’s original purpose: it was used for judo as early as 1946, and by 1953 Shiga police department was practising kendo there. Three years later in 1956 the entire building was taken over for use by the police and again renamed, this time as a “physical eduction and cultural centre.” In 1964 money was collected to re-contruct the original kyudo-jo as well, though were it was originally located and where it went in the meantime is a mystery.

At some point over the years (in the 1960s I think), although still the property of the police department, the building was opened for use to the general public, with a local kendo club using it regularly. Various shiai (kendo, judo, karate, etc.) were held there over the years as well.


Goodbye?

At least I got to touch it!
At least I got to touch it!

I have no idea what the schedule is for demolition, or whether there will be some last ditch effort to save it (looking at the state it is in at the moment I reckon there has been no serious effort made), but I hope that something can be done somehow. It would be such a waste to see yet another Butokuden disappear.

BTW, as I mentioned at the end of the introduction, I don’t really have many concrete details. I intend to do some more research and update this post with any more information as I get it. I am also planning to ask for permission to go inside and take photographs. I’ll let you know of any updates if/when I post them.



Gallery

I couldn’t get inside the grounds or the building itself as it was fenced off and locked… actually, I probably could’ve easily climbed over the fence and roamed around inside the grounds, and perhaps even managed to get into the dojo itself, but it was broad daylight and I value my job! Anyway, here are some pictures I took from my visit for you to check out. The last three pictures are not mine, one shows a small ariel picture from 1963, and the other two are from an online pamphlet about the building. Enjoy.


Video

I took some rough video of the outside with my iPhone and uploaded to YouTube:

Here is some footage (not by me) from 2011 showing the inside and the floor:

Eikenkai April 2016 英剣会

Today’s Eikenkai session was held in what is almost certainly the oldest kendo related dojo by tradition in the Kansai area: Shubukan (older buildings include both the Nara and Kyoto Butokuden). The dojo started birth in 1786 as a place for studying kenjutsu and has been through a couple of name changes and rebuilds over the years since, the last being in 1962. Throughout this time it has always been owned by the same family/company. It was known for being once of the top three “civilian dojo” since the 1860s, the other two being Noma dojo and Tobukan. The dojo is nice and wide, beautiful inside, and has an amazingly soft and springy floor. I love the place!

About 35 people turned up for today’s keiko, mostly from around about the Kansai area, but also a couple of guests that came all the way from Kanto. After the usual 40 minutes of kihon and 30 minutes of waza practise, we did tachi-ai keiko for people sitting their 6th, 7th, and 8th dans in Kyoto at the end of the month, before moving on to about 45 minutes of jigeiko. I think everyone had a great time !!!

For more information about the kenshi 24/7 led Eikenkai sessions, please go here.


Shubukan today

Kendo, iaido, and naginata are still taught at Shubukan during weekdays to a very high level. Since changing it’s status to a not-for-profit foundation last year it has become available for hire to the public at large, which is why we decided to use it for today’s session.

For more information please check out their website (in Japanese) here: http://syubukan.info/