Shitsuden: Present-day look at past martial systems ~ Part 2

We continue our discussion on the term shitsuden and how it affects Japanese martial systems. In part 1, we learned that shitsuden indicates knowledge of technical skills or actual martial systems that have been discontinued based on one of multiple reasons, which labels them as “lost”. For part 2, we’ll explore the significance of shitsuden and how people not only study from shitsuden systems, but may try to revive them.

OBTAINING SHITSUDEN SYSTEMS

Individuals who study classical martial systems, or even modern ones with connects to older styles, may hear about specific martial schools or techniques that no longer exist. The word “exist” is a pretty vague one, but in simple terms it means they are no longer taught officially and/or being represented by a source that has licensing in them. For many this doesn’t affect their training at all, but for some, getting info regarding these, especially in the form of authentic documentation, is very enticing.

In Japan, documented martial systems that are shitsuden are treated in different ways depending on the value of the contexts. Some that are considered treasured works of cultural literature may be printed and sold in bookstores. Military-centric ones fall into this, such as Kōyō Gunkan (甲陽軍艦) and Kinetshu (訓閲集). Those that fit the above description, but possible from private collections and are in older condition may be donated to libraries and museums, where they can be kept and viewed by the public. Depending on instructions by donators, some of these documents are copied and, if permission granted, digitized and made available on particular libraries’ websites. If one is lucky, documents like this can actually be found at novelty 2nd hand bookstores that specialize in old & rare books.

20191117_074724558358048619162791.jpg

A snapshot of auction listings from <yahoo.co.jp>. Interestingly, a densho of Muhen Mukyoku ryu Sojutsu (無辺無極流槍術), which is a branch of Muhen ryu (無辺流), was sold for 7,751 yen (around 74 USD).

Not all documented discontinued martial systems are made easily accessible. There are those that are put up for sale at auctions. Thanks to the internet, there are many Japanese online auction sites that almost anyone can take part in¹. Of course, as one would expect, this can be very pricey as those interested in the same documents may bid highly for them. Other than high prices, authenticity and state of condition of these documents are always a risk.

STATE OF REVIVING DISCONTINUED KNOWLEDGE

Once knowledge of particular schools or techniques are deemed lost, does that mean they are inaccessible for good? This is a topic that can cause heated debates, as recovering lost knowledge stirs up concerns regarding proper understanding for an individual to do such a thing, as well as credibility for doing such a thing. In Japan, there are different classifications regarding martial systems and how much change (or no change) has affected them from when they originally started. This can also affect support from into specific culture-preservation organizations, such as “Nihon Kobudo Kyokai” (日本古武道協会).

Here’s a perspective to consider. Martial skills of antiquity tend to have the appearance of value, legitimacy, and a level of unique character. Those that have no break in terms of successorship and years of operation tend to be praised greatly. Katori Shintō ryū (香取神道流) and Kashima Shintō ryū (鹿島真當流) are 2 martial schools that fit such description. However, if there so happens to be a break in successorship, a certain period of inactivity, or lost contents that had to be reconstructed, this gives an indication that said martial system was revived, which tends to “lower” its image of value. Sometimes the break can be as short as one generation, other times it could be longer. Common words used for such a case in Japanese are “fukkō” (復興) and “fukugen” (復元).

Let’s use Hongaku Kokki ryū (本覚克己流派)², a martial system of known for its yawara (柔, techniques for grapples and throws), as an example. This system is going through the process of being restored, as it was discontinued after the last active successor, Ōzu Ikusuke, passed in the late 1900s without designating the next heir. Years later, through the efforts of a researcher by the name of Ota Takemitsu and those members of the bujutsu research group “Bujutsu Kenkyū Keikokai” (武術研究稽古会), the techniques of Hongaku Kokki ryu are being brought to the public once again. From cases like this, we see that words like “fukkō” and “fukugen” isn’t a bad thing or a negative label. Headmasters who are honest with their martial system’s history and their intentions for trying to revitalize a discontinued martial system will state the fact.

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A screen capture of one of the few vids of Hongaku Kokki ryu. For this particular one, you can access it through the link here.

Another example, I wrote an article a few years ago about a martial system called “Koden Koppo Taijutsu Genryu Tenshin ryu” (古伝骨法体術源流)³. Once considered a family style under a slightly different title, it was discontinued a few generations sometime during Edo period. It was later revived by a direct descendant, restructured to fit following headmasters’ needs, and is in full operation today. With such openness, it can be viewed that continual functionality is the main focus for martial schools as this. While continual transmission of a martial system is respectable, this doesn’t guarantee effectiveness or overall usefulness. It is really based on the student’s interest as a consumer.

Reviving an entire martial school from ground up is a tough feat, and one without scrutiny. Nakashima Atsumi and Kōno Yoshinori, 2 well-known scholars as well as specialists concerning Japanese martial arts, are headmasters of their own martial systems and techniques that were revived⁴. While the legitimacy of their systems is up for debate to some (i.e. how much of the original principles have be maintain, proper execution of techniques, etc.), this point has not hurt their careers, as they are quite famous even through their knowledge as researchers, and even sought after. On the other hand, in the case of Kurama ryu (鞍馬流)⁵, while it is recognized as a traditional martial system, it is viewed as a revived school that may not resemble its former glory. This is due in part of the main dojo along with official documents of legitimacy, training tools, and weapons of antiquity being lost to a severe fire in the mid 1900s. How much of the “lost” contents of the Kurama ryu was properly retained after being reconstructed cannot be verified due to no official documents to compare.

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A screenshot of Kōno Yoshinori demonstrating a jōjutsu (cane technique) called “Kagebumi” (影踏み). Due to his popularity, there are many vids of him online conducting interviews, performing technical demonstrations, and so on.

 

HANDLING LOST TECHNIQUES

There are instances where just certain parts of a martial system is considered shitsuden. Techniques for knowledge that are seen inapplicable for the times such as sōjutsu (槍術, spear techniques), eihō (泳法, situational swimming techniques), and kajutsu (火術, using fire-based weapons and strategies) tend to fall into this category for many older martial systems. Sometimes, it is not so cut & dry in terms of immediate usage, but could be based on internal politics between teachers and students, or said knowledge not being properly transmitted for several generations.

It is not uncommon for a headmaster to seek out a way to incorporate lost techniques. For starters, if said scrolls have adequate information, those individuals can spend time training & testing the contents, and at a later time begin teaching their students. If such method cannot be done in house, then there is another method which involves the knowledge being relearned from another branch of similar lineage. If relations are good between the different branches, that is, then this is possible; if there are any internal disagreements of any sorts, or no unity whatsoever, then they most likely won’t work with each other. An example of this is found amongst the different Shinkage ryū branches (新陰流の様々な分派), where certain older techniques and skillsets can be found in one branch, but not in another.

In other cases, certain skillsets that used to exist in a martial system may be relearned from the ground up. As an example, Hontai Yoshin ryū, once a sōgō bujutsu teaching various areas of weapons, primarily specializes in jūjutsu today, as well as bōjutsu and kodachijutsu. In the late 1900s, Inoue Munetoshi, the 18th headmaster at that time, established an iaijutsu curriculum using Toyama ryū Battōdō. This was for the sake of students having a better understanding of how to use the Japanese sword properly. While not considered part of the original transmission, usage of the sword through iaijutsu (and to a greater extent, kenjutsu) was something that most warriors a few centuries ago learned, even on a basic level, from other schools. Thus, there was no need to have a specialized sword system unique to Hontai Yōshin ryū. Since training in the sword is not common knowledge anymore due to how The Japanese society has modernized, newer generations need more in dept instructions without necessarily cross-training at a different school. This is one of the reasons why iaijutsu from Toyama ryū is available in Hontai Yōshin ryū, even if it is not considered part of the formal curriculum.

ENDING

We come to a close on this discussion regarding martial systems that are considered as shitsuden. Curiosity naturally attracts us to things that appear unique & exclusive. For others, studying from the past may have value worth sharing to others. While there’s many martial systems of Japan that have ceased, they may not stay buried in the past as long as people can uncover them and decipher their instructions.


1) For many, if not all, you would need to have an account that vouches you have a physical address in Japan. Along with this, a Japanese bank account or similar financial funding method that is established in Japan.

2) This is a martial system of former Hirosaki District (present day Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture), known to have been widely trained in by various warriors in the past. Creator was Soeda Gizaemon Sadatoshi (添田儀左衛門貞俊).

3) More on Koden Koppo Taijutsu Genryu Tenshin ryu can be read in an older post here

4) To be more specific, Nakashima Atsumi and Kōno Yoshinori are both martial artists and researchers on Japanese historical texts. Mr. Nakashima is the owner of several systems, including Katayama Hōki ryū Jūjutsu (片山伯耆流柔術). This particularly is regarded as a shitsuden system that was revived, at least in more lighter conversations.

On the other hand, Mr. Kōno runs his own group where he teaches his unique martial system which has a great focus on using efficient body mechanics according to older methods from Japan’s past. While his experience began with aikidō (合気道) and Kashima Shin ryū (鹿島神流), a great deal of his system consists of techniques and teachings revived from older texts he spends a great deal of his time researching.

5) More on Kurama ryū can be read in an older post here

Hayashizaki Shigenobu: Pioneer of Sword-Drawing

For over half a year, we have been working on the basic skills and finer qualities of battōjutsu, as taught in Chikushin Martial & Cultural Training Group. Having a great interest in battōjutsu early in my martial arts career, I’ve personally been training in this based on different instructions received alongside with kenjutsu. For those curious, battōjutsu (抜刀術) is a systematic approach to drawing out a sheathed Japanese sword to cut, often labeled as “sword-drawing” and “draw-cutting”¹. Generally the techniques for sword-drawing are widely recognized by a more modern title, “iaidō²” (iai for short), although there are certain martial schools that still use the term battōjutsu (battō for short)³.

For today’s article, we’ll take a look into the origins of battō (iai), which is tied to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu, the founder of this unique sword system. Sources used in writing this include (but not limited to) the following:

 

THE BEGINNING

The origins of battō/iai as we know it today takes place around the mid 1500s by a young man named Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu (林崎甚助源重信). While many martial schools give credit to his extraordinary development of techniques for fast “draw-cutting”, the reasoning for him even creating such a sword style was under grim conditions. To understand this, we’ll look further into the family he was born into.

Pic of a statue of Hayashizaki Shigenobu, which is housed in Hayashizaki Iaijinja. From the book “Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden”.

While Shigenobu is widely known under the surname “Hayashizaki”, he was originally from the Asano family. He’s the son of Asano Kazuma Minamoto Shigeharu (浅野数馬源重治) and Sugano (菅野). Shigeharu, Shigenobu’s father, was once a guard acting as lead inspector of the northern section of the Imperial palace. From 1538 he was employed as an officer to serve Mogami Inaba-no-Kami Mitsuhide (最上因幡守満英), who was the 6th lord of Tateoka castle in Dewa Country (present day Murayama City, Yamagata Prefecture). Sugano⁴, Shigenobu’s mother, was from the Takagi family of Tateoka, Dewa Country. Shigeharu and Sugano would get married in 1540, and later have Shigenobu in Tateoka in 1542. Upon his birth, Shigenobu was given the name “Tamijimaru” (民治丸).

In the Asano family, their ancestral deity⁵ was “Kumano Myōjin” (熊野明神), whom they prayed to. Kumano Myōjin (also referred to as “Hayashizaki Myōjin” in some sources) was housed in a 3-room shrine within “Arayato no Ji” (荒宿の地), an area located in the northeast section of Hayashizaki grounds of Ōkura forest (present day Hayashizaki, Murayama City, Yamagata Prefecture). Shigeharu continued with these customs and paid his respects with his family when they had the chance to visit Kumano Myōjin shrine.

 

REASON FOR VENGEANCE

Sometime in 1547, Asano Shigeharu went to go play a game of Go⁶ with a priest at the Kumano Myōjin shrine. After spending his day doing so, he was returning home late in the night. On his way home, Shigeharu was targeted by a warrior named Sakaichi Unsai (坂一雲斎)⁷, who apparently harbored ill intentions against him. Using the night as a cover, Unsai ambushed Shigeharu and murders him. Later Shigeharu’s death is notified to his family members, as well as the identity of the murderer. Fueled with anguish, Sugano and her son plotted to get revenge against Sakaichi Unsai.

Shigenobu and his mother would remain in Tateoka, where he began receiving training in kenjutsu at the age of 8 from Higashine Keibu Tayu (東根刑部太夫)⁸, who was a warrior of Tateoka castle. In 1554, Shigenobu, at the age of 13, would periodically stay at Kumano Myōjin shrine to pray not only for protection and success in extracting vengeance to his family’s ancestral deity, but to receive further instructions to perfect his use with the sword. Armed with his late father’s family sword called Nobukuni (信國), he trained in the methods of kenjutsu, and worked hard in developing a style that would prove effective against his target. Instead of just merely practicing how to swing a sword in a duel-like fashion, Shigenobu focused on techniques that evolved around drawing the sword out of its sheath to deliver unpredictable cuts. The family sword he trained with was a rather long one, measuring to 3 shaku 2 sun⁹. Possibly made for use on the battlefield, this sword gave him exceptional reach. To effectively use it for fast-draw cutting purposes, especially against someone who used a shorter sword, Shigenobu would need to develop methods for drawing this long sword out with speed.

 

BIRTH OF BATTŌJUTSU AND HAYASHIZAKI SHIGENOBU

It is said that in 1556, Shigenobu underwent a special ritual called “Hyakunichi no Sanrō¹⁰”, where he spent 100 days at the shrine devoting himself to prayer for guidance in perfecting his ability in battō. Sometime during the evening of the 100th day, Shigenobu witnessed a divine vision. While sleeping, he was visited by Kumano Myōjin in his dreams, who demonstrated to him a secret technique called “Manji Nuki¹¹”. In learning this, Shigenobu became enlightened to the inner secrets of sword-drawing. With this revelation, he decided to call his sword system “Shinmyō Hijutsu no Junsui Battō¹²”, and set off to train further to a master-like level with the sword.

An insert from ”Jinrin Kinmō Zui, vol. #7″ (人倫訓蒙図彙7巻) from year 1690. Entitled “Iai Torite” (いあいとりて), it depicts a swordsman using methods of iai (sword-drawing method) to defeat 2 opponents. From Wikipedia.

Reaching the age of 18 in 1559, Shigenobu changed his name from “Asano Tamijimaru” to “Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu”¹³. This was to identify his growth, as well as paying homage to the grounds where he was nurtured into a swordsman, Hayashizaki. In recognition of this growth, his sword system today is respectively called “Hayashizaki Musō ryū¹⁴”,  as this title reflects how he was divinely enlightened in the secret methods of battō.

Assuming his new name and role as a swordsman, Shigenobu set out to fulfill his family’s desire for revenge on his father’s murderer, Sakaichi Unsai. This doesn’t happen overnight, however, as time was needed to possibly track down his target. This finally becomes a reality, for in 1561 Shigenobu was able to locate Sakaichi Unsai at his home in the capitol city Kyō (present day Kyōto, Japan). Details of the confrontation varies depending on the source which tells it, so no concrete info on how it transpired. What all sources agree on is that Shigenobu was able to cut down Sakaichi and successfully extract revenge. With his mission completed, he then returned back to his hometown, and paid his respects at Kumano Myōjin shrine. He also offered the Nobukuni sword to the shrine.

 

SPREADING THE KNOWLEDGE OF SWORD-DRAWING

Upon returning home, Shigenobu was caring for his sick mother. However, a year after successfully carrying out revenge, Shiguno passed away in 1562. With no other responsibilities at hand, Shigenobu left Hayashizaki to travel around Japan and further refine his martial skills. He crossed into a few areas well known for their martial combat. For example, it is said that in 1563 he went to Kashima and received tutelage from Tsukahara Bokuden¹⁵ (塚原卜傳), founder of Kashima Shintō ryū¹⁶. Shigenobu was able to learn the secret method of Kashima Shintō ryū’s highest technique, called “Ichi no Tachi¹⁷”. It is also mentioned that he studied Tenshin Shoden Katori Shintō ryū¹⁸. Outside of kenjutsu training, Shigenobu studied “Onmyō Kaigō¹⁹ during his stay at Ichi-no-Miya (present day Omiya)²⁰ in Owari Country (present day Aichi Prefecture). The philosophy from Onmyō Kaigō was also incorporated into his sword-drawing style.

Outside of his own personal kenjutsu training, Shigenobu took the role of instructor for his own sword system. For example, in 1563 he resided in Yonezawa, Aizu (Fukushima Prefecture) for some time. During this, he was actively instructing his style of battōjutsu to those in Akai Village, Wakamatsu (Fukushima Prefecture). During the course of his journey Shigenobu gained other students. Notable names that developed their own sword drawing style based on Shigenobu’s teaching include the following:

  • Tōshimo Tsuke-no-Kami Motoharu²¹ (founder of Shinmei Musō Tō ryū²²)
  • Tamiya Heibē Shigemasa²³ (founder of Tamiya ryū²⁴)
  • Katayama Hōki-no-Kami Hisayasu²⁵ (founder of Hōki ryū²⁶)
  • Takamatsu Kanbē Nobukatsu²⁷ (founder of Ichi-no-Miya ryū²⁸)

 

A pic of Hayashizaki Iaijinja. From Wikipedia.

In his later years, Shigenobu stayed for about a year in the residence of his student, Takamatsu Kanbē Nobukatsu in Kawagoe, Bushū (present day Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture). In 1617, he received permission to leave on a short trip to Ōu (north-eastern section of Japan). However, during the same year he later became very ill in the middle of his travel, and passed away. Although he passed in an untimely manner, his name and his system of sword-drawing lives on. In recognition to his life, the Kumano Myōjin shrine was renamed to “Iaijinja” (居合神社).

 

ENDING

This concludes the history of Hayashizaki Shigenobu, and how he developed the martial system of sword-drawing. I hope this was a good and informative read for everyone.


1) Other older names used for the system of draw-cutting includes “saya no uchi” (鞘の内), “iai” (different from the modern naming convention, these are written as either 居相 or 坐合), “bakken” (抜剣), and “nukiawase” (抜合).

2) 居合道. Iaidō is the modern, non-violent approach to sword-drawing, which stems from the older version “iaijutsu” (居合術).

3) There have been many debates regarding the differences between the names “battō” and “iai”. Some points made range from one specializing only in seated forms to one incorporating practices such as test cutting. The truth is, there are no real differences, for they both mean the same thing.

The use of either battō or iai throughout history lies on certain factors. One example falls on which naming convention was popular at given time. Another, depended on current headmaster of specific school and what principles & philosophies that were intended to be expressed. We also have to keep in mind that as Japan moved more to periods of less wars and conflicts, some surviving schools changed their curriculum from being combat-oriented to self-development. Iaidō is a prime example of this.

All in all, while the various sword-drawing styles of today may focus on specializing in certain traits, the underlining meaning between the words battō and iai are the same.

4) Sugano is unusual as a given name. On top of this, she is also associated with another name that is written as “志我井”. This could possibly be her given name, but pronunciation is obscure.

5) Known as “soshin” (祖神)

6) 碁. Go is a Japanese board game where players try to dominate the territory of their opponent.

7) Some sources also indicate that he was known by the name “Sakagami Shūzen” (坂上主膳).

8) “Tayu” is not his given name, as it indicates his position or rank. Why is his given name not revealed is unknown.

9) 3 shaku 2 sun = 96.96 cm or 38.2 in.

10) 百日参籠

11) 卍抜. Another way it is written is “Manjiken” (万字剣).

12) 神妙秘術の純粋抜刀

13) This is done in a ceremony when a boy reaches his coming of age, which is called Genpuku (元服).

14) 林崎夢想流. Also known as “Shin Musō Hayashizaki ryū” (神夢想林崎流). Take note that Hayashizaki Shigenobu himself did not name his sword system this, but later generations did in remembrance of his contribution.

15) There is an article about Tsukahara Bokuden, which can be read here.

16) In Japanese sources, this is mentioned in a vague manner, as it is stated alongside with Shigenobu’s travel to Kashima to study under Tsukahara Bokuden. Under who and exactly where he studied Katori Shintō ryū is not made clear. While historically Bokuden learned Katori Shintō ryū at a young age, as an adult he started his own martial system.

17) The full title of what Shigenobu is said to have been taught is “Kashima Shintō ryū Saikō Hiden Tenka Dai Ichi no Ken” (鹿島新当流最高秘伝天下第一之剣).

18) 鹿島新当流

19) 陰陽開合. While the exact details are not described, this is related to rhythmic exercises, which is found in specific martial systems such as Taikyokuken (太極拳).

20) Old name is 一宮, new name is 大宮

21) 東下野守元治

22) 神明夢想東流

23) 田宮平兵衛重正

24) 田宮流

25) 片山伯耆守久安

26) 伯耆流

27) 高松勘兵衛信勝

28) 一宮流

Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 2

This is part 2 of the discussion on Kyūsen no Michi. Here, we narrow our focus more on the components that defined how this militaristic system worked to craft those into warriors according to how battles were engaged and played out. Whereas the usage of the word “kyūsen”, along with militaristic history of Japanese archery was covered in part 1, for part 2 we will go over the known different groups & styles of archery, as well as a few recognized innovators concerning the bow & arrow. This discussion will also include some categorizing within the world of kyūsen, along with some comparing and contrasting, will be in order.

A good number of handy sources were used for this discussion, including the following:

Take note that part 2 became much bigger than intended in order to give a proper insight of Japan’s archery. Despite it’s size, it does not give a 100% definitive overview, as there are some information not added, lest it grows into something on the level of a research paper. Still, part 2 should provide enough insight on how significant and respected Kyūsen no Michi was to the point that many warriors invested their lives into it.

KORYŪ VS SHINRYŪ

In order to properly cover the specifics that make up Kyūsen no Michi, it is important to know that, on a technical and cultural level in relations to combat purposes, there are two types of archery (kyūjutsu in Japanese). The first is called Koryū kyūjutsu (古流弓術, Old-style archery), while the second is called Shinryū kyūjutsu (新流弓術, New-style archery). The categorization of these are both based on time period, equipment, and technique:

  • Koryū – Ancient times, with notable structuring from Heian period until early 1400s period
  • Shinryū – Around late 1400s onward until the abolishment of the warrior class in late 1800s

MANY SCHOOLS OF ARCHERY

Due to how integral kyūjutsu was in a warrior’s career, many groups specialized in it. Some groups preserved the lessons on archery as their own family styles, while others would learn that particular style and represent it usually indicating that they are a branch of it. Below are lists of some of the well known archery styles throughout Japan’s history, along with the founder and the time they were alive.

The first one is for those that fall under the Koryū kyūjutsu category:

Kyusen List01

The next list shows the styles that fall under the Shinryū category:

Kyusen List02

Along with this, are the different branches related to Heki ryū:

Kyusen List03

While the records pertaining to archery found in manuals & documents list these mentioned above and many more, take note that a lot of them are no longer in existance. The styles that are still active include Ogasawara ryū, Honda ryū, Takeda ryū, and Heki ryū Insai ha.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OLD & NEW

Here are some general descriptions between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu. Note that this is more in reference to how they were conducted before the warrior class was abolished as a whole.

A listing of archers of Taishi ryū, by rank. From Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū Kyūjutsu

  • Generally categorized as reisha (礼射), or “ceremonial-centric archery”, due to the emphasis on etiquette, customary practices, and focus on displaying shooting prowess.
  • During battles, archery was primarily use, both from long range to close range
  • Off the battlefield, archers demonstrated great focus and control while shooting targets at various distances.
  • Engaged in outing activities requiring feats of shooting while on horseback, such as hunting, and special target courses classified under Kisha Mitsumono (騎射三物)
  • Unison between rider and horse, called “jinba ittai” (人馬一体) in Japanese, was important
  • Considered a developing practice since ancient times, ceremonial practices within archery slowed abit due to power struggles from Heian period to early Muromachi period, as archers in battle was of necessary use
  • Once the ways of Koryū kyūjutsu was seen non-viable in combat during Muromachi period (around start of 1400s), it was revitalized and preserved in Ogasawara ryu through restructuring.

NOTES

  • Despite being considered reisha due to its high focus in shooting ability and ritualistic customs, Koryū kyūjutsu had fighting elements and was indeed acceptable training for combat
  • While much of the skillset emphasized on shooting from horseback, archers did also practice shooting while on foot
  • On foot, the bow was held at an angle when shooting arrows.
  • Although some existing styles such as Ogasawara ryū Reihō (小笠原流礼法) practice solely reisha, few groups such as Bushido Shinkōkai and Dai Nihon Kyūbakai preserve the fighting element of Koryū kyūjutsu not only with the bow & arrow, but with the tachi and naginata.

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Generally labeled as busha (武射), or “military-centric archery”, as this was designed specifically for use on the battlefield according to the new direction wars were approached.
  • Developed during Muromachi period between mid to late 1400s, when the tactics of war switched to large infantry, formations, and close range skirmishes
  • For the sake of combat efficiency, archers primarily performed on foot, but also had knowledge on how to shoot while on horseback
  • Archers were trained to coordinate together using group tactics
  • Trained to work under all types of conditions, including wet/bad weather, at night, on a boat, in a tower, and when the need to switch to close range fighting arised
  • Used barricades, such as tate (楯), as defense against long range attacks, as well as fenced areas as protection against flankers/disrupters
  • Contested with firearms (i.e. rifles, cannons) from mid-ending 1500s.
  • From Edo period (1603~1868) onward, once firearms took precedence in how wars were conducted, groups such as the Shimazu clan retained the effectiveness of archery by studying & incorporating rifle formations.

NOTES

  • Shinryū kyūjutsu isn’t completely unique and different. It was built off of koryū kyūjutsu, inherited certain aspects, then redefined specifically for combat purposes, thus why it’s called “the new style of archery”
  • Yoshida Shigeharu (吉田重春) is credited for implementing customary practices to Heki ryū starting in the mid 1600s. However, as it is not the same as reisha of Ogasawara ryū, Heki ryū’s is called taihai (体拝).
  • Today, existing Shinryū kyūjutsu styles such as Heki ryū retain busha, as well as practice taihai.

DIFFERENCES IN TECHNIQUES/EQUIPMENT

Here’s a short comparison between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu.

A mokuroku (list of techniques) of Ban Dōsetsu ryū kyūjutsu. Fron Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū kyūjutsu

  • Archers used larger bows, such as fusedakeyumi (伏竹弓, made out of wood and bamboo) and marukiyumi (丸木弓, curved wooden bow)
  • During the Heian period, wore large box-like armor called ōyoroi for added protection
  • Smaller draw due to technical issues such as mobility limitations while on horseback, large kabuto (helmet), etc.
  • Archery done by cavalry was called kisha (騎射)
  • Closing the range while on horseback increase accuracy to vulnerable areas
  • Wore tomo (lefthand glove) to prevent string from injuring hand on return
  • Carried tachi on left side

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Used smaller bows
  • Archery done while walking was called hosha (歩射)
  • From the Muromachi period onward, archers wore revised, slim fitting armor, which allowed less restrictions in drawing skills and mobility while on foot
  • Used larger draw and other techniques to increase an arrow’s power and penetration capabilities (i.e. allowing the bow to turn ccw in the hand)
  • Carried uchigatana (slightly shorter battlefield sword for upclose fighting) and unique equipment to adapt to certain situations, such as uchine (打根), spear point on top of bow, etc.

DISTINGUISHED INDIVIDUALS

Below are a few renown archers that are pioneers in Japan’s history of archery.

Ogasawara Sadamune / 小笠原貞宗

Picture of Ogasawara Sadamune. From Shūko Jisshu (集古十種). From Wikipedia.

 

  • Born in 1292, Sadamune was a warrior from Matsuo, Shinano Province (present day Ida City, Nagano Prefecture)
  • As a member of the established Ogasawara clan, he worked for the Kamakura Bakufu through Hōjō Sadatoki
  • Made a name for himself in Heian Kyō (Imperial capital, present day Kyōto) during the early-mid 1300s, as he participated in many battles such as the campaigns against the Mongol invasions, assault on Emperor Go-Daigo, the attack on Kusunoki Masanari’s Akasaka castle, and the battle of Kamakura
  • Sadamune earned merits for his efforts, was named “Shinano Shuei” (信濃守衛, Protector of Shinano), and established his residence in Shinshū prefecture.
  • Known for his involvement in zen, and was a worshiper of Marishiten, the “God of War” (武の神, Bu no Kami)
  • Sadamune created “Ogasawara ryu Reihō”, which features the rituals, etiquette, and customs practiced by high-ranking warrior families
  • Ogasawara ryū Reihō contains reisha, the preservation of Koryū kyūjutsu, which includes ceremonial practices, expert level with the bow & arrow, and feats of archery while on horseback
  • Sadamune established the principles of “sha – go – rei” (射・御・礼), which are the standard for reisha
  • His contributions inspired others to learn and add this to further their worth as warriors

Heki Danjo Masatsugu / 日置弾正正次

A picture of Heki Danjo Masatsugu. from the collection of the Toda household of the Bishu-Chikurin branch. From Wikipedia.

 

  • Birthdate is uncertain, although some sources say around 1444
  • Believed to have been born in either Yamato Province (present day Nara Prefecture) or Iga (present day Mie Prefecture)
  • Originally studied Henmi ryū, Masatsugu participated in many battles in the northern parts of Japan, such as Ōnin War (1467~1477)
  • While serving as a warrior, Masatsugu had opportunities on the field to utilize the bow & arrow according to how it would prove useful
  • Main focus on the redivision of archery was on militaristic usage, both in and outside of the battlefield.
  • Established the principles of “kan – chū – kyū” (貫・中・久¹) as the highest level of Heki ryū kyūjutsu
  • After a life of battles, Masatsugu traveled around Japan to test his methods. It is from this time he meets Yoshida Shigekata.
  • After choosing his successor (Yoshida Shigekata), Masatsugu retired by living in one of the temples within the mountainous region called Kōyasan located in Kishu (present day Wakayama Prefecture)
  • Some of the titles he used includes “Rurikōbō” (瑠璃光坊) “Dōi” (道以) , and “Itoku” (威徳)
  • Masatsugu is known as the “pioneer who revitalized the archery of Japan”, as he brought attention to the new ways the bow & arrow could be used in battle during a time where many viewed them as obsolete.
  • Despite his fame through the effectiveness of Heki ryū, much mysteries surround his existence, to the point where some researchers speculate that Masatsugu could be a fabrication

Yoshida Shigekata / 吉田重賢

  • Born 1463, Shigekata came from Gamō County, Ōmi Province (present day Ryūō Town, Gamō County, Shiga Prefecture)
  • Was a retainer of Rokkaku Sazaki in Ōmi Province (present day Shiga prefecture)
  • Shigekata was a skilled archer, studied different archery styles such as Ogasawara ryū, Takeda ryū, and Henmi ryū
  • When Heki Danjō Masatsugu came to visit the Rokkaku clan, he encountered Shigekata and tested him on his archery abilities. Yoshida was able to pass the test, which from there Masatsugu instructed him on the highest levels of Heki ryu before passing successorship to him.
  • Discerned the effectiveness of Heki ryū according to the times by organizing the lessons
  • Shigekata is recognized for passing down the teachings of Heki ryū to others through his family style “Heki Yoshida ryū”, which held the highest teachings of this style of archery.
  • Not much info on him, despite his legitimate family line
  • Due to the lack of info, some researchers speculate if he and Heki Danjō Masatsugu were the same person

CONCLUSION

We’ve come to the conclusion of Kyūsen no Michi. This is just a small sample of the large amount of information found in Japan’s archery history, especially when dealing with the technical side of things. Stay tuned, as we will move on to a different phase pertaining to how Japan’s methodology to combat changed and developed.


1) There is another version, which is “hi – chū – kan” (飛・貫・中). They are not 100% the same. Here’s a quick explanation.

  • kan – chū – kyū = Penetrate the target, always hit the target, and last long enough to keep doing the first two points
  • hi – chū – kan = Shoot from long range to hit the target, always hit the target, and penetrate the target

They are both associated with Heki ryū. The difference may be between the different branches and the methodology that was passed down in each one.

On another note, there are other modernized 3-point principles, but they pertain to kyūdo and are geared more towards one’s shooting form.

Tales of Bravery: Nasu no Yoichi

In my previous post I spoke about Kyūba no Michi as a systematized martial system used during the Heian period to Kamakura period. There are many stories and tales of warriors who represent this, some displaying remarkable skills against unfavorable odds, or impeccable judgment during critical moments to change the tide in their favor.

An example of this is “Heike Monogatari¹”, which is a written account of the conflicts between the Taira clan and Minamoto clan as they struggled for power to rule over Japan. In it is the heroic tale of a young warrior named Nasu no Yoichi² and his display of archery prowess. The setting takes place at the end of a battle at Yashima³ in 1185, where the Taira had moved out into the sea, and hid then 8-year old emperor Antoku on board of one of 8 boats attached together. These boats were positioned a good distance in the sea away from the shore, where the army of the Minamoto stood out of reach. As a form of a taunt, a crimson red fan with a circle drawn in the center was placed on a pole of a boat many yards away from the shore where the Minamoto army watched from, daring them to shoot it down.

Nasu no Yoichi, an individual known to possess exceptional archery skills within the ranks of the Minamoto army, was chosen among his peers to shoot the fan down. Riding his horse out into the turbulent sea, Yoichi’s fate, along with the pride of the Minamoto army, will be determined by a single arrow.

23ed28de-da39-4eab-bce4-7ec50b017567

Drawing of Nasu no Yoichi on a kakejiku (hanging scroll). Yoichi is shown drawing his bow, in preparation to take a shot at a fan.

In the original source, this tale is told entirely in 2 chapters, which are “Ōgi no Mato⁴”, and the other called “Yuminagashi⁵”. Here is the original Japanese text, along with an English translation done by myself, of this critical moment.

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矢の射度距離には少し遠かったので、海へ一段(約十一メートル)ほど(馬を)乗り入れたけれども、さらに扇との間は、七段ほどはあろうかと見えた。

時筋は二月十八日の午後六時頃のことであったが、ちょうどその時、北風が激しくて、磯を打つ波も高かった。船は揺れ下がり、揺れ下がり漂うので、扇も竿先で不安定にひらめいていた。沖には平家が船を一面に並べて見物する。陸では源氏が(馬の)轡を並べてこれを見る。どちらも、どちらも、晴れれがましくないということはない。

Yoichi rode his horse into the sea around 21 meters, as the shooting distance was too far from the shore. Even then, the distance of the fan appeared to be at a distance around 147 meters.

The time was around 6 pm, evening, of the 28th day of the 2nd month. Yet, at the time the wind from the north was blowing strongly, and the waves that crashed upon the shore were tall. As the boat bobs up and down, the fan also waves around on the pole troublesomely. Out in the sea, members of the Taira gather to one side of their boat as they look on. At the shore, Yoshitsune looks on while straightening the bit of his horse. There is no one, absolutely no one, who would not say this moment is grand.

与一は、目を塞いで、

「南無八幡大菩薩、我が下野国の神、日光権現、宇都宮、那須の湯泉大明神、どうかあの扇の真ん中を射させてくださいませ。これを射損じるものならば、弓を切り折り、自害して、人に再び顔を向けないつもりです。もう一度、本国へ向かわせようとお思いならば、この矢を外させなさるな」

と心の中で祈念して、目を開いたところ、風も少し吹き方が弱まり、扇も射やすそうになってきた。

As Yoichi closed his eyes, he prays in his heart, “Praise to bodhisattva Hachiman, god of Shimotsuke Province’s Nikko Gongen⁶ in Utsunomiya. Oh, great god of the Nasu family’s Yuizumi shrine, please allow me to shoot straight into the center of the fan. If I am disgraced by my shooting, I will not face my people again, as I will split my bow, and kill myself. Please, let this arrow not miss its mark, as I want to be able to return to my home country.”

Opening his eyes, he notices the wind blowing in his direction started to die down, while the fan appeared easier to aim at.

sub014-那須与一-平家の舟の扇の的-透かし

Ehagaki (postcard) showing a depiction of Nasu no Yoichi shooting the fan off of the pole on one of the Taira’s boats.

与一は、鏑矢を取って、(弓に)つがえ、引きしぼって、びゅんと放つ。小兵とはいうものの、十二束三伏の(長さの矢を射る)弓は強い。浦に響くほど長く鳴って、狙いを外さず扇の要の端から一寸ほどをおいて、ひゅんと射切った。鏑矢は海へ入ったところ、扇空へ上がった。しばらく虚空にひらめいたが、春風に一もみニもみもまれて、海へさっと散ってしまった。

Taking his whistling arrow and nocking it on his bow, Yoichi draws the string back, and lets the arrow fly. While appearing small in frame, he is a very strong archer who can group 12 arrows while pulling a long bow. The screech from the whistling went on for a long time, as it echos off the waves. The arrow did not miss its mark, as it propels straight through the center of the circle just a bit away from the outer edge. As the whistling arrow sailed into the sea, the fan rose skyward. It flutters around in the air for a bit, then is tossed around once, then twice by a spring breeze. Finally, the fan crumbles into the sea.

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Yoichi’s miraculous deed is an example of Kyūba no Michi, and how the importance placed upon the bow could near decide victory or defeat. Look out for more tales as such, as I will be adding those that correspond with the different phases of Japan’s martial systems.


1) 平家物語

2) 那須与一. In some sources, such as “Nasu no Yoichi no Katari” (那須与市語), the name is also written as “那須与市”.

3) Known as “Yashima no Tatakai” (屋島の戦い) in Japanese.

4) 扇的

5) 弓流

6) This is a shrine, presently known as Nikkō Futaarasan Jinja (日光二荒山神社) , located in Nikkō City, Tochigi Prefecture.

Reiwa no Hajimari: Enthronement of the New Emperor

On May 1st, from around 10:30 am¹ the official ceremony where now Emperor Naruhito ascended upon the throne and became the 126 Emperor of Japan commenced. This took place at the Imperial Palace located in Tokyo Prefecture. The ceremony, entitled “Shin-Tennō Heika Sokui” (新天皇陛下即位), was televised and almost 2 hours long! Of course, this included waiting time, as well as departure time of both Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.

Emperor Naruhito (2nd from right) and Empress Masako (right) stand in front of their guests during the enthronement ceremony.

To summarize, the live broadcast of the ceremony consisted of several segments, a few more significant than others:

1) The arrival of new Emperor Naruhito & guests to the palace (即位の儀式へ)

2) Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (剣璽等承継の儀²)

3) Arrival of new Empress Masako (皇后雅子さまが皇居へ出発)

4) Invitees taking audience before the new Emperor & Empress (即位後朝見の儀³)

5) First speech by the new Emperor (初おことば⁴)

Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (sword, mirror, and jewels) to Emperor Naruhito.

Some segments were much shorter than others. Still, it was a momentous occasion for many who were able to watch the ceremony.

Final moments of the ceremony. Click on each pic for a short description.

From here on, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako represent the Imperial family. May 1 is also the start of the new era Reiwa, which also marks their time of reign.


1) Japan is 13 hours ahead of where I live, so the ceremony has long past from the time of writing this post.

2) Pronounced “Kenji tō Shōkei no Gi”

3) Pronounced “Sokui go Chōken no Gi”

4) Pronounced “Hatsu Okotoba”.

Extra Details about Chiba Sana

Here’s the continuation of my previous post on Chiba Sana. This time around, some extra tidbits regarding Sana and her family that are not usually mentioned, or not even known in English, will be covered here.

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HOW TO WRITE SANA’S NAME

There are 2 ways to write the name Sana. In a Hokushin Ittō ryū mokuroku (list of technique names) given to Sakamoto Ryōma, it is written in kanji as 佐那. Honorary monuments and signs use this one today as well. However, in a mortuary tablet it is written as 佐奈. The difference in writing the 2nd character is unknown, but it is possible that for the mortuary tablet it was not known which kanji was used. In any event, both ways of writing are used to identify Sana.

For the name Sanako, apparently this is what was written on her grave at Seiunji in Kōfu City, Yamanashi. It is written as “さな子”, with the 1st 2 characters written in hiragana.

TALENTS

From a letter that Ryōma sent to his older sister Otome in 1863, we learn about the other talents Sana was adept in. Other than martial arts and healing practices, Sana was well versed in other areas such as horseback riding, drawing pictures, and playing the koto (Japanese 13-stringed instrument). There may have been more, but this is all that has been uncovered so far.

NO PORTRAITS?

There are a few popular portraits that float around the web said to be Sana. Actually, they are not. Interestingly, there are no photos taken of her while she was alive. This is not an unusual case. Researchers have yet to come across an official photo of Sana from her family.

Below are 2 common ones that are mistaken to be her.

Satō Kichi, from Wikipedia.

This is actually a picture taken of Satō Kichi, a performer and hair stylist during the 1800s. She also bears the nickname “Tōji Okichi” (唐人お吉). Kichi had this picture take when she was 19.

Kusumoto Takako, from Wikipedia.

This pic is of a girl named Takako, who was the daughter of a Kusumoto Ine, the 1st Japanese woman to specialize in Western medicine. This was taken in 1868, when Takako was 16 years old.

While the 2 women’s bios are official in Japan, and almost all Japanese websites do not reference them to Sana anymore, it is unfortunate that some websites outside of Japan still do. I hope that this post can bring awareness about the matter, and prevent further accidental use of these 2 photos.

GEKIKEN COMPETITION AND THE MYSTERIOUS WOODBLOCK PRINT

In a document put out by the present Hokushin Ittō ryu Honbu, Sana is stated as assisting in starting the Chiba Gekikenkai. This establishment was significant, for it not only helped in bringing popularity back to gekiken, but to reinvigorate interest in martial arts. As Japan entered Meiji period (1862~1912), much changed in terms of government and direction of lifestyle of the people. As times were becoming much peaceful, people were focusing on progressive means of living, including work.

Interest in bujutsu was fading drastically, as most schools taught techniques styled for combat on the battlefield. Many people did not want to get involved in such practices anymore due to the violent events that had taken place towards the late-mid 1800s, which ushered in the new Meiji period. A great number of dojos closed their doors, family styles were being forgotten, and the warrior class was becoming obsolete. The Chiba Gekikenkai, on the other hand, gave way to a new direction for applying the martial spirit in a competitive environment.

There is a famous woodblock print of a female utilizing a naginata against a male using a shinai. This is an artistic scene of how gekiken took place at the Chiba Dojo. For the longest this female is said to be Chiba Sana, yet has not been proven 100% yet. One of the issues is that the name next to the woman is different.

A snapshot of the newspaper article about Chiba Sana and the woodblock print. Original source is here.

On February 13th 2010, an article was published in Asahi Newspaper where researchers detailed their search into the matter of the woodblock print. The label next to the woman reads “Chiba Tei – woman” (千葉貞女), with woman as an indicator of her gender. One rumor is that this is Chiba Tei, the grandchild of Chiba Shūsaku, Sadakichi’s older brother and 1st headmaster of Genbukan Dojo. However, the article states that there are no records of any women from Shūsaku’s family line ever participating in gekiken competition. Another point mentioned is that there were only about 3 women who took part in the Chiba Gekikenkai, and Sana is believed to be one of them. Furthermore, there appears to be no records of any women bearing the name of “Chiba Tei”.

Why label Sana as “Chiba Tei”? It is possible that, from my personal assumption, that the label wasn’t stating a name, but is actually a complement — most likely towards Sana. If you look at the Japanese characters “千葉貞女” again, and read 貞 (tei) and 女 (onna) together, they make up the word “virtuous woman”. So it is quite possible that the label is stating “the virtuous woman of the Chiba family”. Why “Sana” was omitted is a mystery to me, but there are numerous cases where individuals’ names are omitted from historical or artistic works, especially for women.

OTHER FEMALE WARRIORS OF THE CHIBA HOUSEHOLD?

In Ryōma’s Hokushin Ittō ryu mokuroku, it has the names of those members of the Chiba family who not only trained with him, but as proof of his training within this martial system. The names are the following:

千葉周作 – Chiba Shūsaku

千葉定吉 – Chiba Sadakichi

千葉重太郎 – Chiba Jūtarō

千葉佐那 – Chiba Sana

千葉里幾 – Chiba Riki

千葉幾久 – Chiba Kiku

Names as written in the mokuroku. They are indicated in the red box. It is read from right to left, from top to bottom. Note that for Sana and her sisters’ names, the character 女 (onna) is written after each one to indicate that they are females.

Along with Sana, the names of her younger sisters Riki and Kiku are written as well. This is a good indication that they too studied Hokushin Ittō ryu. On what skill level did they reach and how long they trained is not mentioned. Still, this indicates that Sana was not the only female of the Chiba family who trains. This also includes her older sister Umeo (梅尾), whom she learned naginatajutsu from.

SANA’S MARTIAL ARTS PERFORMANCE?

On the website, “Hokushin Ittõ ryū~Chibake“, it is mentioned that Sana did a form of martial arts performance that earned her much acclaim. Found in a documentation related to the Chiba family, it is stated that when she was 16, Sana displayed her martial prowess before the wife of the lord of Takamatsu Domain. There is not enough information, however, on the particulars of this.

20190315_1743333338050608556022110.jpg

A snapshot of the page. The line stating Sana’s martial performance is underlined in red.

For example, there is a Takamatsu Domain located in Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku (southern part of Japan), which is pretty far of a journey to make from Edo (present day Tokyo). While there was a villa established in Edo by the 1st Takamatsu Domain lord Matsudaira Yorishige (originally from old Hitachi Province, a section of present day Ibaragi Prefecture) for him to reside in 1664, it is not known whether later successors utilized the same villa. Also, what type of performance Sana took part in (whether demonstration of techniques or 1 vs 1 match) is not explained. This all has to be taken with a grain of salt.

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That’s all I have regarding Chiba Sana. An individual quite active up until her last days, Sana lived a life with many impactful events, which should have better documentation. Hope all find this and the previous post informative and enjoyable.

Chiba Sana: A Warrior and Healer

*3/15/2019 – A small update on the name of Sana’s youngest sister, as well as on the text for the pic “Chiba Gekikenkai”.

For the last few months I spent a lot of time researching on a female historical figure named Chiba Sana¹. Sana is renown as both skilled in bujutsu, as well as possessed a beauty few others could rival during somewhat peaceful times in Japan. Those who train in Classical Japanese martial arts, especially in her family’s martial system, probably have heard references of her. She has appeared in several Japanese novels, as well as received big exposure in the historical drama called “Ryōmaden” a few years back in Japan. For today’s post, I will attempt to do a concise coverage on Chiba Sana’s life story, and events that she took part in.

In reality, Chiba Sana’s history is not well documented, for there is not just one source that covers the entirety of her life in one sitting. Outside of novels, much of her story is relayed in different Japanese websites, albeit in bits and pieces. Visiting websites such as “Bakumatsushin Shinsengumi“, “Sakamatsu Ryōma, Sono Yukari to Tochi to Hitobito“, “Kōfushi Kankōcho“, and “Hokushin Ittō ryu Honbu Kōshiki Site” provide good insight about Sana and significant events that took place in her life. The only troubling point out of all this is the differences in dates some resources provide. This is due in part with how dates were recorded based on the varying calendar systems Japan had implemented at different points. I’ve done my best to determine the correct date based on certain factors, for example Sana and others’ ages that were mentioned for specific events.

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EARLY YEARS

Born in 1838, Sana (千葉佐那) was the 3rd child & 2nd oldest daughter to the Chiba family. Her original name was Otome², but changed to Sana at some point. Her parents were Sadakichi, her father, and Taki³, her mother. Her siblings include an older brother named Jūtarō, older sister named Umeo, and several younger sisters named, Riki, Kiku, and Hama.

chibatei

A small section from the 3-panel woodblock print called “Chiba Gekikenkai” (千葉撃剣会) by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The woman shown here is often said to be Chiba Sana. Visit here to see the entire print.

She and her family grew up in Oke Town of Yae Province, Edo (present day Tokyo). Her father opened Okemachi Chiba Dojo⁴ in the same location. Sadakichi was headmaster of the Hokushin Ittō ryū taught there, and his dojo was one half of this family style, with the other being the Genbukan dojo run by his older brother, Chiba Shūsaku. While well known for its specialty in kenjutsu, this system was also unique as the Okemachi Chiba Dojo’s doors were open for all to train in, including common folks. This openness made the Chiba’s dojo popular & sought by many the train at, including those from different dojos. Due to this and Sadakichi being employed as a retainer (samurai) to the Ikeda family, lords over Tottori Domain, Sana’s family was considered wealthy and elite.

Sana studied Hokushin Ittō ryū at a young age along with her siblings. She had great interest in bujutsu as she learned many things, such as kenjutsu. It is recorded that Sana was especially skilled in using the kodachi (short sword), that she received menkyo kaiden (mastery level) in kodachijutsu at the age of fourteen. Her older sister taught her naginatajutsu, which was quite renown due to Sadakichi’s efforts of developing it; he especially took the time to refine the techniques of the naginata while employed under Uwajima District, as well as testing it against different opponents while on a training trip in Takamatsu District. Thus, the effectiveness of this naginatajutsu is also reflected in Sana’s ability to utilize it. During her active time as a bujutsuka (practitioner of the warrior arts), Sana assumed the role as kenjutsu shihan (sword teacher) and naginata shihan (naginata teacher) and taught others her family style’s martial system.

Along with her famed talent in bujutsu, Sana is also recorded as being admired for her beauty. Bearing such a combination, she had nicknames such as “beautiful devil of the Chiba family” and “little Miss Beauty Chiba”⁵. One event that displays both qualities is mentioned in a book written by Date Munenari entitled “Kōhon Ranzankōki”⁶. When Sana was 19, she went to Uwajima Domain as a kenjutsu instructor for the Date family to train their daughter named Mako (正姫). During her time there, she had a sparring match with the soon-to-be 9th domain head, Date Munē (age 27), and was able to win against him. Other than physically losing, Munē was also defeated by her looks, as he also deemed her beauty surpassing others. In the aforementioned book it is written of him saying, “Sana is a lady of beauty that surpasses all in both noble establishments (of the Date family)⁷”.

MEETING RYŌMA

Possibly the most famous aspect of Sana’s life is her relationship with the imperial loyalist named Sakamoto Ryōma. In 1853, Ryōma, a country samurai from Tosa Domain in Kōchi Prefecture, traveled to the Okemachi Chiba dojo to further his martial arts training. Taken in as a student, he would learn Hokushin Ittō ryū. With Sana and her siblings as his seniors, he trained with them, studying kenjutsu and naginatajutsu.

Sakamoto_Ryōma.jpg

A picture of Sakamoto Ryōma. From Wikipedia.

Within a few years⁸, Sana and Ryōma would get close during their short time knowing each other. At some point, Ryōma requested from his teacher Sadakichi permission to marry Sana. He was granted this permission, and preparations were made for an engagement through a wedding ceremony. Ryōma had no gift from his family to offer. Instead, Ryōma had a montsuke (clothing that featured his family’s crest) made, which he wore to represent the bonding of 2 families. From Sana, a tantō was given to Ryōma as a gift. From there they became engaged.

In 1858, some time after the engagement, Ryōma ended his training at the Okemachi Chiba Dojo and quickly returned back to Tosa Domain to further study at a few other locations. Despite the engagement, Sana would lose communication with him for several years. Sana would see him again in 1862, when Ryōma visited the Chiba Dojo as a safe haven after running away from his hometown. While there, it is said that Sadakichi encouraged a full show of commitment to Sana from him. With nothing else at hand, Ryōma gave to her a sleeve that had his family’s crest on it. Through this gesture, Sana and Ryōma would be considered as marriage couples.

This was short lived, as Ryōma would leave with Sana’s older brother, Jūtarō, and head to Edo, where he later gets involved in stirring political movements against the Bakufu and certain political figures. In 1864, he would meet another woman by the name of Narasaki Ryō, or generally called Oryō. The 2 would get officially married in 1866.

It is said that during his absence, Sana held on to the belief that she was his wife, and was unaware that Ryōma had married another woman. However, she would learn in 1868 about his untimely death at the hands of assassins. She attempted to commit suicide, but was stopped by her father. She would keep his single sleeve as a memento and proof of their union.

MANY BUSINESS VENTURES

In 1871, things changed for the Chiba family. Sana’s father would retire as head of their household. Jūtarō, who was the 2nd successor by blood, went to work as a sword instructor for Tottori Domain. In his place, his adopted son Tochiro would become the 3rd successor, and have permission to run the Chiba Dojo. Soon afterwards, Sana and Tochiro, alongside with Chiba Shūnosuke from the Genbukan Dojo, started the Chiba Gekikenkai. Gekiken, an older form of today’s kendo, became popular for the sake of competition, and drew lots of attention. Many sword practitioners of different styles participated in the Chiba Gekikenkai, as well as those students of the Chiba Dojo. As a whole, the number of students in the Chiba Dojo grew tremendously, and the Chiba Dojo flourished for many years.

At some point, Sana would leave home and purchased an old apartment complex in Yokohama⁹. As a business venture, she acted as a land lord and earned revenue. In 1873, she got involved with a man named Yamaguchi Kikujirō, who was also residing in Yokohama. Sana and Kikujirō got married in 1874, and their union would last until 1876, where they separated due to personal issues. At the same token, she gave up the apartment complex and left Yokohama. Needing to relocate, she made contact with Tokubei, an individual who had worked for the Chiba family years ago, and stayed in his residence in Kawasaki.

While in Kawasaki, Sana began working her hand at moxibustion therapy¹⁰. This is something she learned from her father at some point while growing up. Reaffirming that she can perform what she was taught correctly, Sana put this into practice and began treating people, and was greeted with successful results.

In 1883, Sana accompanied her elder brother Jūtarō as they both went to Edo for work. While Jūtarō continued his occupation as a sword instructor, Sana gained employment as a school dormitory dean at Kazoku Jogakkō (Kazoku Women’s School)¹¹. It is said that she revealed to the graduating class her relationship with the late Sakamoto Ryōma, and showed to them the keepsake sleeve that she received as proof of their bond. On her spare time, it is said that she continued to perform moxibustion therapy, which helped to maintain her skills in this.

LONELY LIFE AS A HEALER

In 1885, Jūtarō passes away at the age of 61. Sana continued with her position as dormitory dean for a few more years until finally retiring from Kazoku Jogakkō in 1888. She made no effort returning to her hometown, for there was too much internal strife; many of her relatives struggled amongst themselves for successor-ship of the Chiba household. Instead, in an effort to make use of her talent for healing, she would rent a small building, and started the “Chiba Moxibustion Therapy Clinic”¹² in Senju, a town in Adachi District, Edo. Her business did very well, as many people would visit her clinic for treatment. Although her clinic would have to relocate at one point due to the construction of a government office, her business progressed smoothly.

Word got around about Sana’s treatment, which attracted those from far away. Itagaki Taisuke, a statesman who was also from the same hometown as Sakamoto Ryōma, paid her clinic a visit. Getting familiar with Sana and her practice, he requested that she treated an acquaintance of his who was ill. Later, following Taisuke’s recommendation, his friend Otagiri Genmei and his wife¹³ made their way to Sana’s clinic. While receiving treatment, Sana and the Otagiri couple made a meaningful connection, primarily due to Sana not having any immediate family members living with her. Genmei’s wife offered at one point that when she passed, that she’d have her body sent to be buried in the Otagiri family’s personal temple Hōdaiji located in Seiunji Temple in Kōfu City, Yamanashi. That way, her grave would be tended to regulary, and she would not be alone in the next world. Sana agreed to this, and the Otagiri couple made sure that preparations were made.

While she didn’t have children of her own, Sana did adopt Yūtaro, her nephew, as her own in 1892. Yuutaro was the oldest son of Sana’s younger sister, Kiku, who had passed away in an accident. Yūtaro lived with Sana up until 1895, where he passed away at the age of 26 due to ailing health. Although she lived alone most of the later portion of her life, she had good relations with her siblings, and kept in contact with her grandchilddren.

1280px-grave_of_chiba-sanako3346133870048123627.jpg

Chiba Sana’s grave at Seiunji. From Wikipedia.

Sana lived up to the age of 58, where she would pass away in 1896. Her body was moved into the burial site of Seiunji as arranged. Interestingly, the Chiba Moxibustion Therapy Clinic was maintained as a family business, and was run by the remaining Chiba members well into the 1900s.

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We’ve reached the end of Chiba Sana’s story. Sana started her early childhood in bujutsu and was reputed as a strong female warrior, while in her later years she switched to healing arts to help those in need. There will be a follow up post later this week that continues with this post. It will feature some extra details that gives a little more information about specific aspects to Sana and those around her, as well as debunks some information that are even inaccurate in Japan.


1) 千葉佐奈. She is also referred to as Sanako (さなこ).

2) 乙女

3) Also called “Takiko” (瀧子)in some sources.

4) Also known as the “Ko-Chiba” (小千葉), as it was originally one part of the Genbukan Dojo, or “Oo-Chiba Dojo” (大千葉道場) located in Nihonbashi Muro Town in Edo. Genbukan Dojo was opened by Shūsaku, Sadakichi’s older brother. Since Shūsaku was older and started his dojo first, his was considered the main, while Sadakichi’s was considered the minor. This meant that admittance into the Genbukan was exclusive to more advanced, higher-skilled individuals, while those of lower skill level were sent to Okemachi Chiba Dojo.

5) Original nicknames in Japanese are “千葉の⿁⼩町” (Chiba no oni komachi) and “⼩千葉⼩町” (Ko-Chiba komachi).

6) 稿本藍山公記.

7) The orginal is written as so in Japanese, as shown on Wikipedia:

「左那ハ、容色モ、両御殿中、第一ニテ」

There is a note that explains it further:

佐那は2つの伊達江戸屋敷に出入りする女性の中で一番美人である

This refers to the women in the 2 households of the Date family, and how Munē feels that Sana surpasses them all.

8) Ryōma trained twice at the Okemachi Chiba Dojo. Starting in 1853, he would end his training briefly and return back to Tosa Domain in 1854. During his absence the Chiba family’s dojo suffered severe fire damages due to an earthquake, and had to relocate to another location not too far away. The new dojo was back up and running again, and in time for Ryōma’s return in 1856.

9) There are several theories as to why Sana moved to Yokohama, but no concrete evidence to back them up. For example, one theory is that one of Sana’s younger sistsers was living in that complex, which is why Sana was able to purchase it.

10) This is known as Tokugawa Nariaki Jikiden (徳川斉昭直伝). This a moxibustion treatment passed within the Chiba family. This method was that of Tokugawa Nariaki, land owner of Mito Domain. Sadakichi learned it from his older brother, Shūsaku, and would then pass it down to Sana and Jūtarō.

11) 華族女学校. The name has been changed shortly after its conception to Gakushūin (学習院). It is presently known as Gyakushin Girl’s Junior & Senior High School.

12) 千葉灸治院, pronounced “Chiba Kyūji-In”

13) 小田切謙明. Genmei was pioneer in the movement for freedom and people’s rights in Japan during the Meiji period.

Genmei’s wife’s name is written as “豊次”. From what can be told, the correct pronunciation is unknown because this is not a common female name.