Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Scourge of Keishicho

Over at Kenshi 24/7, there was a fascinating article on a period of kendo history. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

The political revolution that occurred in Japan across the entire second half of the 19th century brought in a slew of changes in all aspects of life for everyone in the country. The coup d’etat on the 3rd of January 1868 was the principal political event of the Meiji Restoration, but it took decades after that for the new nation to become a fully functioning modern industrialised country.

Kendo-wise, it is a super interesting period. Prior to the restoration event, there were professional kenjutsu instructors: some were samurai who taught bujutsu in their domains while others ran private dojo in cities and towns (and even taught commoners). After the restoration kenjutsu suffered badly (domains were dismantled in 1871), with most people giving it up completely. Sakikibara’s Gekken Kogyo, first held in 1873, was the spark that lit a new interest in kenjutsu, but it was Kawaji Toshiyoshi’s 1879 Gekken Saikoron, which led to kenjutsu instructors being employed in the fledgling Keishicho starting in 1881, which really saved things. 

Although I had done articles in the past or talked about many of the “first batch” of modern kenshi, e.g. Naito Takaharu, Monna Tadashi, Takano Sasaburo, and the like (i.e. Butokukai/Busen and Koshi related; sons of samurai who taught at domains but who never did themselves), I’d like to expand on that by introducing, now-and-again, the generation before – those that were actually domain kenjutsu instructors during the upheavals, somehow weathered the process, and directly influenced people like Naito and Takano. 

Today’s article is a brief bio of Takayama Minezaburo

September the 3rd 1865 (or 67), about 4pm. Two students of Momoi Junzo’s Shigakukan, Takayama Minezaburo and Akiyama Takichiro, were out shopping for the dojo (live-in students had to clean the dojo and cook for themselves) when they spotted a commotion. Listening in, someone said:

“Momoi dojo’s Ueda-san cut someone down in Matsuda!!!!” 

(Matsuda was the name in a restaurant in an area which is now Ginza)

They ran to restaurant as fast as they could only to be greeted with a lot of Shinchogumi guarding the vicinity, at least one of whom they knew:

“Don’t worry, Ueda-san is safe.”

On hearing the news Takayama ran back to the dojo to tell Momoi, who shook his head and said:

“What?! Again?”

(Ueda Umanosuke killed two drunk samurai: one was cut in the head and died instantly, the second was impaled on the end of Ueda’s sword and died shortly after. He spent three years in the gaol for the incident but it didn’t hurt his future career as a top police kendo instructor at Keishicho).

Takayama Minezaburo 

Takayama Minezaburo was born in 1832 (or 35 depending on the source*) in Ozu domain, Ito province (now Ehime prefecture in Shikoku) to a samurai family who taught Confucian Studies. When he was seven years old his father was relocated to Edo and brought his son with him. 

*(Note that it has been difficult to pin-point 100% accurate dates for this article, and some sources have been contradictory and/or confusing. I have tried my best to unravel things.)

At some point Takayama started to learn kenjutsu under Fujikawa Yajiro (Jikishinkage-ryu) before eventually studying with Kondo Yanosuke (Itto-ryu Chuya-ha), and finally with Momoi Junzo at Shigakukan (Kyoshin meichi-ryu; many famous Meiji-era kenshi would spend time at Shigakukan). The exact length of study and dates are unknown, but what we do know is that Takayama made the switch to Shigakukan at quite a late age – sometime in the early 1860s. He would’ve been around about 30, unmarried, and lived in the dojo – a rare combination for someone his age. 

The politics of Japan at the time are very complex and those trying to make a living via swordsmanship faced tremendous difficulty, especially after the events of 1868, and things for Takayama were no different. 

At some point after the event at Matsuda described above in 1868, Takayama relocated to Kyoto and started to instruct kenjutsu at Toda Ishinsai’s very large and very popular dojo in Kawaramachi. It is during this time that Takayama would make a connection that would shape his entire life. 


Takayama was from the same province as Toda, as well as also being a Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman. As Toda was older and didn’t teach much anymore, he soon allocated the daily instruction role to Takayama, who by that time was a skilled fencer. 

The dojo, based as it was in centre of Kyoto (which was still, for a time, the seat of the imperial court) was a mecca for kenshi from all corners of the country, many of whom were ronin and (soon to be ex-) samurai. There was much political talk going on, and not a little intrigue. Here a young ambitious samurai from Hirado province (now Nagasaki prefecture), Kuwata Gennojo, was sent to collect information (and gossip). He wasn’t the most committed of spies though. 

Kuwata (Shingyoto-ryu, later Muto-ryu) loved kenjutsu so much that it was almost as if his mission was forgotten – he went to the dojo daily and practiced with earnest. He was especially inspired by Takayama, who was tall and lean – Kuwata was small and stout – and at least five years his senior. Kuwata’s kenjutsu was no match for Takayama’s either and the relationship (despite Kuwata already having a Menkyo-kaiden in Shingyoto-ryu) was very much a teacher-student one. 



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