kendo places #11: Musashi no sato

Nestled in the hills in the north of Okayama prefecture close to the border with Tottori prefecture is the small town of Mimasaka. It is here, around 1584, that the Miyamoto Musashi was said to have been born. From there Musashi embarked on his study of swordsmanship, with a narrative well known to all students of the Japanese sword arts: Kyoto and duels with the Yoshioka clan, Ganryu-jima and his famous fight with Sasaki Kojiro, and finally to a cave in Kumamoto called Reigando where he wrote his treatise on swordsmanship, the Gorin-no-sho.

The reality of Musashi’s life is clouded in mystery. Since his introduction to the Japanese public via Yoshikawa Eiji’s bestselling book (originally serialised in the Asahi Shinbun in the 1930s), truth-legend-fiction have all become wound into one. TV dramas, films, manga, anime, etc etc the popular “Miyamoto Musashi” of today is almost certainly a work of fiction rather than of reality. Its only been relatively recently that series research on him has been started, the conclusions of which seem far from concrete.

A few weeks ago I joined a 2-day gasshuku held in Okayama prefecture at Mimasaka, the supposed birthplace of the legend. I took some time out to wander around the sites and ponder about the man, probably the first time I had done so in years.

Things to see

Mimasaka town is very small. Apart from the Musashi-budokan (easily identifiable in the town as it sticks out like a sore thumb), all the Musashi related places are grouped together in a single area about 10mins walk from the station. Flags saying “Musashi no sato” in Japanese will guide you there from the station.

Musashi-no-haka (Musashi’s grave)

Next to Musashi-jinja (Musashi Temple) there is whats supposed to be the graves of Musashi and his parents. It was quiet and peaceful when I went there.

See the caveat below.

Miyamoto Musashi seika ato (The remains of Musashi’s parents home)

Not really anything to see here. Where the house was said to have been is long gone, and the current house on the property is private, so you cannot enter.

Musashi Shiryokan (Musashi archive)

The archive is a very small (one room!) museum with various artefacts related to Musashi or to the period he lived in. There are also a number of his paintings on view (not sure if they are the originals, but I doubt it).

A small place with no English information at all, I’m not sure its worth checking out unless you are a hardcore Musashi fan. Its also 500 yen to enter, which I think is a bit pricey.

Musashi dojo

It was here my gasshuku was held. Its a very nicely designed dojo, that you can enter and walk around in (when not in use). Its quite large and has a nice floor. On the walls are some pictures but apart from that, there is really nothing to see. It seems to be used mainly for Karate practise, with some niten-ichi-ryu group using it from time to time. I’m not sure about other groups use of the space.

What is great is that the dojo is not only hireable, but its dirt cheap: 700 yen/day!! If you want to stay overnight in the dojo, then its an extra 100 yen/person.

Musashi-no-sato resort

Behind the dojo there is a small “resort.” This is a small ryokan-type place where you can spend the night and eat. Next to it is a larger, more modern building where you can stay too. There is also at least a couple of public baths/onsen in the vicinity which you can use.

I didn’t see any izakaya or beer vending machines in the area however.

Miyamoto Musashi kensho, Musashi budokan

Built in 2000, this “Musashi Budokan” was built to honour Miyamoto Musashi. It is designed to look like the tsuba he used on his sword (Namakosukashi tsuba). Its main area can hold up to 6 full size kendo shiai-jo’s, and has a seating capacity of 838. It also has a budo-jo and various offices inside.


In the Go-rin-no-sho Musashi wrote* that he was born in a part of what is now Okayama prefecture. Where exactly he was born and spent his childhood is assumed to be Mimasaka town, but in reality there is scant evidence to prove it. This hasn’t stopped the town developing Musashi related businesses as they capitlise on his popularity. This has been ongoing since Yoshikawa Eiji spurred him into the popular light and I assumed has increased since the popular NHK year-long dram called “Musashi” was aired in 2003.

The biggest question mark in the area is Musashi’s grave. There are in fact 3 places in Japan that claim to have his remains. In all probability, its Kokura, in Kyushu, where Musashi lies, and not in Mimasaka.

* Its thought that he himself didn’t write the book, but that his student(s) did after his death, or at least compiled his teachings. Like everything to do with Musashi, there is little proof either way.

In Summary

Mimasaka is a small Japanese town like thousands of others all over the country. Its capitalised on its (perhaps dubious) Musashi connection to create a small “Musashi theme park” probably for financial benefit (this capitalising on historical figures, whether goes on all over Japan). If you are a die-hard Musashi fan, then perhaps its worth a day trip to check out, but not much more.

What is good, however, is the dojo facilities. If you are looking to hire a dojo for your group cheaply, and want to get away from the bustle of the city, then it might be worth considering.

How to get there

Getting there from anywhere in the Kansai region takes time, but is relatively simple.

– Take the shin-kaisoku (express) train heading to Banshu-ako from Osaka, Shin-Osaka, or
Kyoto station. (JR Rail Pass holders can take the shinkansen to Himeji then change to same shin- kaisoku above)

– At AIOI station change to the local train heading towards Okayama or Kamagori (this train will be waiting on the opposite side of the platform).

– At KAMAGORI get of the train and change to the CHIZU EXPRESS.

– The Chizu-express is a small one-carriage train that departs from Kamagori. Its not posted in English, but when you get of at Kamigori station, and pointing the same way as the train is heading, walk towards the end of the platform. There will be a small tunnel-like area that connects you with the station for the Chizu-express. They are no ticket machines here, but a manned gate. Simply hand over your ticket (or show your JR rail-pass) then buy a ticket to “Miyamoto Musashi.”

– Get on the train, relax, and enjoy the 50min ride into the country towards Miyamoto Musashi station.

Please note that Miyamoto Musashi station is unmanned. On your return journey, you must enter the train from the rear and pull a ticket from the machine. When you get off at Kamagori, hand this ticket to the train station employee and pay in cash. He/she will also give you a paper ticket that you can use to show the JR staff as evidence of which station you got on.

Musashi no sato “resort” :

Kendo no kata creators

In 1906 the Butokukai made its first research into making a set of standardised kata for teaching its students (standardised kata for teaching had already been made in Tokyo shihan-gakko – Takano Sasaburo‘s gogyo-no-kata – and Keishicho – keishi-ryu). 17 members were selected from various ryu-ha, and a set of 3 kata were created called the Butokukai kenjutsu kata (武徳会剣術型). The individual kata names were: TEN (天 heaven), CHI (地 earth), and JIN (人 human). For some unknown reason, the kata were not popular or were not implemented successfully, and they disappeared.

The photo below was taken on the 10th of August 1906 and shows the people involved in the creation of the kata. Names are given below.

Names of those involved are listed here (Note that the source is not 100% if all these names are accurate):

Front row from left-right: Negishi Shingoro, Abe, Sakabe, Shibue, Watanabe, Mitsuhashi, Tokuno, Naito Takaharu, Yano (all hanshi barring the last two). Back row from left-right: Ota, [unknown], Minabe, Nakayama Hakudo, Okuda, Yamada, Sayama, Yamazato.

A new impetus for kata standardisation occurred In 1911 when (after years of lobbying) kendo and judo were added to the school physical education syllabus. That same year the Butokukai restarted its kata standardisation programme with the aim of creating kata to teach in schools. There was a lot of information published about the sequence of events that led up to the final presentation of the kata in 1912, but some of the information in reports was abbreviated it seems, including the names of all the participants in the establishment of the kata.

Takizawa Kozo hanshi did research on the subject and the following is his compilation of the entire members of the kendo no kata standardisation board (剣道形制定委員氏名). This list will probably only interest those people that wish to research more into the formative stages of modern kendo, and those with an interest in koryu and its impact on kendo. At any rate, it is presented below.

– people with an * next to them are those that are usually credited with the creation of the dai nippon kendo no kata and are pictured above;
– those with a # were also on the board of the earlier Butokukai kenjutsu kata;
– first names in Japanese are notorious (even random) to read, so I’ve omitted them when I was unsure;
– a list attempting to do the same can be viewed online here.

[ Shogo. Prefecture/Representing. Name. Style. ]
Hanshi. Tokyo. Negishi Shingoro. Shinto munen-ryu #*
Hanshi. Tokyo. Shingai Tadatsu. Tamiya-ryu/Shinken-ryu
Hanshi. Saga. Tsuji Junpei. Shingyoto-jikishinkage-ryu *
Hanshi. Kumamoto. Wada. Shinkage-ryu
Hanshi. Nagasaki. Shibue. Shinto munen-ryu #
Kyoshi. Butokukai. Naito Takaharu. Hokushin itto-ryu #*
Kyoshi. Butokukai. Mona Tadashi. Suifu-ryu (+Hokushin itto-ryu) *
Kyoshi. Butokukai. Minatobe Kuniharu. Yamaguchi-ryu #
Kyoshi. Tokyo shihan gakko. Takano Sasaburo. Itto-ryu *
Kyoshi. Tokyo shihan gakko. Kimura. Jikishinkage-ryu
Kyoshi. Kyoto. Ota. Jikishinkage-ryu #
Kyoshi. Kyoto. Yano. Jikishinage-ryu #
Kyoshi. Tokyo. Shibata. Kurama-ryu
Kyoshi. Tokyo. Nakayama Hakudo. Shinto munen-ryu #*
Kyoshi. Hyogo. Takahashi. Mugai-ryu
Kyoshi. Aiichi. Tanaka. Hokushin itto-ryu
Kyoshi. Ibaragi. Ozawa Ichiro. Hokushin itto-ryu
Kyoshi. Saitama. Hoshino. Itto-ryu
Kyoshi. Yamagata. Koseki. Muto-ryu
Kyoshi. Nigata. Uemura. Kishin-ryu (貴心流).
Kyoshi. Yamaguchi. Ninomiya. Shinkage-ryu
Kyoshi. Kochi. Kawasaki Zensaburo. Mugai-ryu
Kyoshi. Kagoshima. Sasaki. Suifu-ryu
Kyoshi. Fukuoka. Asano. Asayama ichiden-ryu
Kyoshi. Taipei. Toyoyama. Shingyoto-ryu

6 members: Itto-ryu (closely related variants).
3 members: Jikishinkage-ryu, Shinto-munen-ryu.
2 members: Mugai-ryu, Suifu-ryu, Shingyoto-ryu.
1 member: Asayama ichiden-ryu, Kurama-ryu, Tamiya-ryu
Shinkage-ryu, Yamaguchi-ryu, Shingyoto-jikishinkage-ryu, Shin-ken-ryu, Kishin-ryu.


This is mostly based on an article found in 思斉館滝澤道場 創立30周年記念誌(非商品) which in turn is built of the following references:

剣道五十年。 庄宗光。時事通信社。

Other sources:

Takano Sasaburo (1862-1950) 高野佐三郎

The following is a bio of the person that can be considered one of the fathers (if not the father) of kendo as it exists today. I spend a lot of my time either reading his books, or reading books of others that trained under him or were influenced him in one way or another. I think if most people trace their kendo history back a couple of generations they will find a Takano connection. Despite this, there is almost no information about him nor his writing available in English… save on! Hopefully, over time, we can help spread more information about him and his influence.

Early life

Takano Mitsumasa

Takano Sasaburo was born in 1862 in what is now called Chichibu city, in Saitama prefecture. His family worked as local silk inspectors (i.e. duties and tax) and also provided lodgings for travellers. It was his grandfather Mitsumasa (Sakichiro) who would have the greatest influence on his life.

Mitsumasa was born in 1802 and became a top Ono-ha itto-ryu student of Nakanishi Chubei Tanemasa, who had been a direct disciple of the 4th Ono-ha soke, Ono Tadaichi. He received a menkyo in the style and worked as han kenjutsu instructor in a military encampment (Musashinokuni, Oshihan) for an unknown period of time. He also had a small dojo in his home, near Chichibu Shrine.

(Please note – at the time Nakanishi Chubei, Takano Mitsumasa, and Sasaburo, would refer to their kenjutsu as “itto-ryu” or “Ono-ha itto-ryu,” but at some point over the years the official designation of the style of Ono-ha passed through the Nakanishi family via Takano Mitsumasa/Sasaburo has come to be called “Nakanishi-ha itto-ryu.”)

As soon as Mitsumasa found out that his daughter (Sasaburo’s mother) was pregnant, he ordered her to come and watch practise at his dojo. Thus it could be said that Sasaburo’s training began at zero. Mitsumasa’s enthusiasm never faltered, and he began to train Sasaburo’s himself from the age of 3, often coaxing the young child into kata practise by offering sweets.

By the age of 5 Sasaburo was able to demonstrate all of the basic 50 itto-ryu kata in front of the domain chief when he came around on a tour of inspection.

Mitsumasa’s training of Sasaburo continued over the years, often with some unusual methods – putting beans on the dojo floor, practising on slopes, in the water, or at night, etc. Mitsumasa also demanded that Sasaburo face towards the sun in the morning and open his mouth widely so as to be able to drink in the heavens, believing that the power/spirit of space and the gods would soak into their bodies.

By the time Sasaburo was 10 years old he was able to beat older boys of 15 and 16, and by the age of 17/18 his ability saw him nicknamed “Chichibu no kotengu” (a literal translation of 秩父の小天狗 is impossible, but they basically called him the strongest youth in the area. Tengu were mythical creatures with supposed powers in swordsmanship).

The turning point

In 1879, at the age of 17/18, he took part in a kenjutsu shiai (as they were often called at the time) in his grandfathers place, and faced the 31 year old Okada Sadagoro. Okada was a renowned kenshi and had trained in both Araki-ryu and Hokushin itto-ryu, and currently served as a kenjutsu/gekkiken instructor in what is now Gunma prefecture. Sasaburo used his favoured 4.5 shinai (at that time there were no rules for shinai weight or length) and fought in one handed jodan.

By his own account, Sasaburo didn’t fear Okada, and attacked him many times. However Okada would never accept being struck and used every opportunity he could to tsuki Sasaburo again and again. Eventually Sasaburo’s hakama was covered in blood and the match was stopped. Many of the onlookers sympathised with Sasaburo so the match was declared a draw. However Sasaburo saw this as a humiliating defeat. By the time the young man got home he had decided on a course of action: go to Tokyo, train hard, then get his revenge on Okada.

After being in the capital for a short time, Sasaburo was introduced to and ended up training in Yamaoka Tesshu’s dojo, Shumpukan. After about 2 months of training Tesshu approached him and said:

“Well, you are a mysterious young man. Normally people who come to train here from the countryside don’t even manage to last a week. There must be something of significance bothering you. Spit it out.”

Takano replied:

“Its not that; I am just here for the strict keiko.”

Tesshu had lunch with Takano and the young boy explained the story in full. Tesshu told him that Okada was no longer his enemy (i.e. Takano’s skill now surpassed Okita), and he should seek his revenge immediately. Sasaburo called on Okada but was surprised to have his adamant demand of a rematch turned down politely. Try as he might there would be no rematch, and he returned to Shumpukan unavenged. This result was exactly as Tesshu expected.

Although Sasaburo only trained at Shumpukan for around 3 months, the whole episode proved to be a turning point in Takano’s life – had he acted out his revenge perhaps things would have gone from bad to worse. His meeting with Tesshu set the wheels for his future in motion.

(There is a slight break in the narrative here, as I can’t uncover information as to what Takano was doing in between this time (1879) and his grandfather Mitsumasa’s death in 1884. Sasaburo would have been around 18-25 during this time. Upon his grandfathers death Sasaburo took over Mitsumasa’s business (and presumably his dojo as well) and ran it until 1886).


In 1886 – by the recommendation of Tesshu – the then 24 year old Sasaburo became a gekkiken (kendo) instructor for the fledgling keishicho, and was stationed at at Motomachi police station. This station master at Motomachi loved gekkiken and made all of the 180 officers practise. They would be split into two groups of 90 each and made to practise in rotation everyday. Members at this time included kenshi who had been involved in the Bakamatsu period disturbances, and had fought in the Satsuma rebellion, i.e. kenshi that had been involved in real sword fighting. Keiko was therefore severe. Sasaburo would remark “it was rare to go to asageiko and be able to eat lunch” (i.e. the training was so violent that you physically couldn’t eat).

Once a month all the police stations in Tokyo would get together and compete (gekkikenkai). Sasaburo not only made a name for himself during these shiai, but also won competitions in front of the Emperor (Tenran Shiai). Due to his success at these competitions Sasaburo would rise to become one of the foremost kenshi in keishicho.

In 1888 he was ordered to work in Saitama police HQ and moved to Urawa city with his family. The next year he began to teach kendo in a police training institute.

In 1890 he built his dojo, Meishinkan, on the grounds of his fathers business and left the police. The Urawa Meishinkan would serve to be the HQ dojo for a network of branch dojos in the prefecture.

(Note that I found two dates quoted for the building of the first (Urawa) Meishinkan: 1888 and 1890. I think the latter is probably correct. I read a figure of between 39-41 Meishinkan branches, and student numbers ranging from 6-10,000 (including school/university students and police), though I am not sure how accurate these figures are.)

In 1895 the Butokukai was founded and Sasaburo entered the first Butokusai (Kyoto Taikai) as a Tokyo representative. He fought and won 2 shiai against Izawa (Kyoto) and Takagi (Tokushima). The following year he beat Asano (Fukuoka) and Koseki (Shiga), and was awarded Seirensho, a mark of his ability (only 15 people had the honour).

In 1897 he used a substitute school building and opened the “Kendo kyojuho kenkyujo Meishinkan honbu” (Kendo pedagogy and research institute, Meishinkan HQ). The first keiko took place on the 16th of October 1897. Keishicho gekkiken instructors Horikawa and Tokuno started by demonstrating some kata, after which 10 bouts of demonstration matches were held before keiko began.


In the 1902 Butokusai Sasaburo’s performance was so good he was awarded a famous katana. 100 kenshi were selected to take part in a large All-Japan Bujutsu Taikai the next year in Osaka, and here Sasaburo was elected MVP, earning a gold medal and bogu from the emperor. His fame was spreading.

In November 1907 it was finally decided that judo and gekkiken (kendo) would become a school subject. There was a distinct lack of teachers of both at this point, so there was a need to train more quicker. At this time, Tokyo Shihan Gakko’s principle Jigoro Kano (the inventor of Judo) asked the gekkiken department boss – Minegishi – to find an instructor for the school (“shihan gakko” or “higher normal schools” were schools that educated male school teachers). Minegishi sat down and wrote a list of the top kenshi in the country, and invited each to the school to fence the gekkiken students. If they passed this physical test, they would be invited to sit a more formal interview. Sasaburo came to the school on the 19th of March 1908 and was selected almost immediately 3 days later on the 21st (an indication of the impression he made). At the time Sasaburo was 47 years old and kyoshi.

Due to the popularity of kendo in universities and schools at this time Sasaburo would also go on to teach at other places, including becoming the shihan of Waseda University in 1910. It was around this time that he began his research into creating a kendo curriculum to be used in schools and universities. The culmination of his research would be be published in two books, “Kendo” (1915) then “Kendo Kyohan” (1930). His impact on kendo teaching pedagogy cannot be rivalled in the history of kendo.

In 1911, after working hard on it for 10 years, Saitama Butokuden was finally completed behind Saitama prefectural office. The same year he was selected to be part of the committee to begin research on creating a standard kendo kata (the kata was unveiled in 1917).

In 1913, at the age of 52, he was awarded HANSHI from the butokukai. This was normally restricted to those over 60 but occasionally exceptions were made for those with talent (e.g. Naito Takaharu).

In 1915 Sasaburo became the department head of the kendo section of Tokyo Shihan Gakko, and would become a professor the following year. In 1916 he was the only “normal school kendo speciality professor” in the entire country.

In 1918 he built the first Shudogakuin, a kendo institute that would spawn branches around the country and where many influential kendoka would pass through (Nyui Yoshihiro, Mochida Moriji, Takizawa Kozo, etc). He chose the name Shudogakuin (修道学院) as it reflected his desire to train people in “Bun bu ryodo” (文武両道), or physically and mentally. i.e. his aim was not just to create strong kenshi, but good/educated people too. Secretly, it is said that his ideal was Saito Yakuro’s Renpeikan (a bakumatsu period dojo in Edo).

Sasaburo continued to work at Tokyo Shihan Gakko until 1936 (75 years old). Even after he quit being a professor there, and despite his age, he kept teaching kendo at the school’s dojo until forced to stop by impending war.

Sasaburo died on the 31st of December 1950. He was 89 years old.


高野佐三郎剣道遺稿集 (剣道日本プレミアム) 。堂本 昭彦 (著)。


Please remember I am not a professional translator, nor have studied Japanese at university nor in an institution. Any errors in fact, misunderstandings in the reading of the text, errors in translations, etc, are all my own. I can but apologise in advance.