Kamidana Statistics

Kenpō Nagasaki is a bimonthly kendo publication available to subscribers in Nagasaki prefecture. Each issue features shiai and seminar reports and articles by sensei on various topics.

Recently the magazine featured statistics about dojo in Nagasaki prefecture, including a survey on how many dojo have kamidana or Japanese flags at their shōmen. I have translated the statistics from this section of the survey here:

Area No. of dojo Kamidana only National Flag only Neither Both No Answer
Nagasaki City 34 4 10 16 4 0
Seihi Area 4 0 3 1 0 0
Isahaya City 17 2 13 1 1 0
Unzen City 5 3 1 1 0 0
Minami Shimabara City 9 2 2 1 1 3
Ōmura City 15 4 7 3 1 0
Higashi Sonogi Area 9 1 1 5 2 0
Saikai City 8 0 1 5 0 2
Sasebo City 20 5 1 11 3 0
Kitamatsu area 2 1 0 0 1 0
Hirado Area 13 1 5 5 0 2
Gotō City 8 5 2 1 0 0
Shin-Kamigotō City 10 2 1 5 0 2
Iki City 9 0 0 9 0 0
Tsushima City 18 2 0 15 0 1
Shimabara City 5 1 0 2 2 0
Matsuura City 9 4 1 3 1 0
Total 195 37 48 84 16 10

It is interesting to note that 43% of dojo have neither a flag nor a kamidana, and only 8% have both. This is in contrast not only to the western image of Japanese dojo, but the to general Japanese image of dojo as well. Continue reading Kamidana Statistics

The Student-Teacher Relationship, Seitei and "Traditional" Iai

Like many, my first step into the world of iai and traditional Japanese sword arts was through the Zen Ken seitei-gata and for several years my experiences there strongly colored how I viewed iai, koryu arts and budo in general. Now anyone who has spent any amount of time on online forums or interacting with senior practitioners in various iai and sword related arts, both in Japan and abroad, will know that the seitei-gata “system” (for lack of a better word) can be and is controversial in some circles. The usual arguments typically being along the lines of the kata, being assembled from bits and pieces of various traditional ryuha lack something in technical coherency and depth, or that the technical fundamentals taught by the seitei have a strong tendency to “pollute” whatever koryu the practitioner happens to also practice. In either case, the seitei “system” is seen as being not “traditional” and having some sort of negative influence on more traditional iai arts and people’s views of budo.

Continue reading The Student-Teacher Relationship, Seitei and "Traditional" Iai

Womens kendo in Japan: a survey

The following is a very brief synopsis of questionnaire results that were featured in an article by Kendo Nippon (Dec 2008) entitled “女性剣士の現状と「これから」” (The present condition of womens kendo and its future). I will list the questions and there results but will leave you to draw your own conclusions from there or to discuss in the comments. If you want to find out more then please buy the magazine!


Q1. Do you feel its necessary to have a “female quality” in kendo? (剣道において、「女性らしさ」の必要性を感じるか?)

Feel that it is: 66%
Feel that it isn’t: 22%
Other: 12%

Q2. Are there times when you feel that practising kendo as a woman is inconvenient? (女性は剣道を行なう上で、どのような時に不便を感じるか?)

12 respondents – Family doesn’t support me
9 respondents – Can’t ensure the Keiko time/place
7 respondents – No or few keiko partners
6 respondents – In the evening/holidays I can’t go to keiko
6 respondents – Its incompatible with my job
5 respondents – Feel a difference between the level of the mens keiko
4 respondents – Easily get sick
4 respondents – Period / period pains
3 respondents – Can’t take part in a shiai (can’t make a team)
2 respondents – I have other things that are more important
8 respondents – Others

Continue reading Womens kendo in Japan: a survey

Lose and cut

Recently I’ve had a few people telling me the same thing: I take it easy in ippon shoubu, and need to attack more. For most people who know me and how much I thoroughly hate losing, this might raise a chuckle. After all, how can I have produced the results I have to date by being lazy in ippon shoubu of all things? And one thing I love doing is the old barrage attack that overwhelms people into making mistakes.

So this got me thinking, what am I supposed to think about or do with advice like this? Inevitably, it’s when I am practicing with older people. Since coming to Japan I’ve heard it or it’s equivalent four times, and all from people who are either considerably older than me (ie a good twenty years) or from people watching my keiko with higher grades. Upon thinking about it I remember one consistent point between each keiko. I knew that if I moved, I was going to get hit, so instead of simply using my reach and speed (I’m always being encouraged to think past reach and speed), I tried to think around it and create a better or proper opportunity to allow me to attack freely. Weather I managed it or not is a different question, but the comments that came afterwards, from either the person I was practicing with or the busy body watching was that I should attack more against older people, or much higher grades.

Continue reading Lose and cut

Yagyu no sato 柳生の里

Yagyu no sato (柳生の里) is a small village in Nara prefecture, Japan. Passing through it in a car or by very infrequent bus, you would probably notice nothing particularly different to any other sleepy rural Japanese town. However, this town was the center of Yagyu-han, the ancestral home of the Yagyu family, the masters of one of the most famous schools of Japanese swordsmanship.

Yagyu Sekishusai Muneyoshi (sometimes Munetoshi) was already a renowned bugeisha (martial artist) when – via the skilled spear-wielding monk Hōzōin In’ei – he was introduced to one of the legends of Japanese swordsmanship – Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Nobutsuna. Following a legendary duel in which Sekishusai lost to one of Kamiizumi’s students armed with a fukuro-shinai, Sekishusai himself became a follower of Kamiizumi, eventually reaching the depths of his system of swordsmanship. Sekishusai’s fifth son, Munenori, went on to become an official sword instructor for the Tokugawa Bakufu (shogunate) and taught three successive Shogun. In his lifetime his stipend and position considerably rose, assuring both his families success and their notoriety.

The Yagyu family would continue to teach swordsmanship to the Tokugawa and their officials right up until the end of the feudal period (in fact, I personally practised Shinkage-ryu with a descendant of the Tokugawa Shoguns in Tokyo in 2001), and members of the family continue to practise and pass on the tradition to this very day.

The Yagyu family do not own the current village, of-course, but there are plenty of things for the discerning kendo tourist to see.

* Hotokuji (芳徳寺): the family temple was built in 1638 and houses statues of Sekishusai, Munenori, and also Takuan Soho. Inside there is a small museum and you can look Yagyu related historical items (all information in Japanese though). Around the back is the family graveyard: an amazing place to come if you are interested in Japanese swordsmanship.

* Itto seki (一刀石): This is a giant rock that his been split in two.. allegedly by the sword work of Sekishusai. He had been walking through the woods when he thought he was being attacked by Tengu. He dextrously turned around and cut down through what he thought was the enemy. Instead, it was the rock. Its hard to imagine how big the rock is until you actually go there!

* Former Yagyu-han chief retainers mansion (旧柳生藩家老屋敷): This is a museum with some Yagyu related articles. You can also buy tenugui here!

* Yagyu Mazakizaka Kenzen Dojo (柳生正木坂剣禅道場): A modern kendo dojo with the frontage of an old temple from Kyoto. It has nothing to do with the Yagyu family per-se but sits just outside Hotokuji and provides and amazing place to practise budo. You can hire this place out as for keiko and gasshuku.

There are more things to see in the town, but not that much. The location is pretty remote, but it IS well worth visiting it as it is a sort of pilgrimage site. If you are going by bus you have to be very careful to time it just right — leave Nara city as early as you can, and come back in the afternoon. Its too far to take a taxi (you have been warned!).

I’ve been there only once (at the time of writing back in 2008.. since then I’ve been scored of times), but I have promised myself to go down there and visit it again at least once a year. If you live in Japan then I highly recommend that you go at least once. If you are a visitor to the area that is serious about kendo and swordsmanship then I’d say it’s worth the effort to make the visit. If you don’t you will probably regret it.


Pictures

Some of the pictures below date from 2005.

Please check out some more pictures of Masakizaka kenzen dojo from Aussie ex-pat Andy who visited there in late 2013.


Videos about Yagyu Shinkage-ryu

Yagyu Koichi sensei, the headmaster of the orthodox branch of Yagyu shinkage ryu:

A demonstration of the art from 2014 in the Nippon Budokan:


Getting there

Yahoo Map: here (Japanese)
Tourist Map: here (with English)
Address: Nara-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture
Phone number: 0742-94-0002.
Access: There is very limited bus access, but it can be done. Check the tourist offices in Nara city.
Times: No idea. To be safe go in the early morning/afternoon.
Cost: Most things have a nominal entrance fee. Parking should be easily found.


Links

* yagyu.com (check out the fantastic pictures)
* Shinkage-ryu Hyoho