About the Shubukan
In 1786, a sake brewer named Konishi Choha established a private dojo as a means of self-defense for Itami, which was a bustling sake manufacturing town. This training center would later become the Shubukan.
Japan’s samurai culture disappeared under the Meiji Restoration. Konishi Gyomo, the eleventh head of the Konishi family, was worried that martial arts were gone as well. He could not bear to see it go, so in 1885 he gave the private dojo the name Shubukan and became its first dojo head.
Origins of the Shubukan
The Konishi family established sake brewing as their primary business in Itami in 1612, when Japan was under the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
By the time Konishi Soha took over the Konishi family as its fourth head, Itami was well on its way to prosperity. It had not only become renowned as the production site for sake, but was also developing as a culturally rich town that frequently drew in artists and intellectuals from all over Japan.
It is said that Konishi Soha even developed friendships with Ihara Saikaku, Matsuo Basho, and Chikamatsu Monzaemon.
Itami and the eleven villages surrounding it became collectively known as Itami-Gocho.
A soshukuro seido, or “chief vassals system”, was established in Itami-Gocho in 1697, with Konishi Soha appointed as one of the chief vassals. His successors followed suit, and by the time the seventh head of the family, Konishi Munenaga, took up the position, he was the only chief vassal running the Itami-Gocho area.
Konishi Munenaga believed that Itami-Gocho, a thriving sake town, needed to work not only towards having an excellent economy and government—it also needed steps to keep its citizens safe and peaceful. In 1786, with Japan under the rule of Tokugawa Ieharu, Munenaga petitioned the Konoe family, lords of Itami, to set up a private dojo that would offer training session open to masterless ronin samurai and anyone who wanted to learn swordsmanship.
Stability and order in the community
Itami-Gocho was a territory of the Imperial Court—not the samurai government. The Shubukan therefore came about as a way for the community to protect itself.
Succession and name changes
In 1869, during the time of the Meiji Restoration, the Konishi family opened the dojo to the public and brought in master instructors as a way to continue developing the dojo.
Japan’s samurai lost their stipends with the abolishment of the han system in 1871. This was the same year that the order was passed that allowed them to cut their topknots.
In 1873, Sakakibara Kenkichi, a practitioner of Jikishinkage-ryu, submitted a petition to get official permission, as one of the former direct retainers of the shogun, to create the Gekkenkai sword group.
Sakakibara complained of the poverty and loss, which is also outlined in the history pages on the Shubukan website.
“As it is no longer permitted to wear a sword, the art of swordsmanship is now rapidly disappearing. The lives of the great sword masters are also falling into ruin.”
“The Meiji Restoration has led to a decline in the martial arts, and the masters who taught for so many years have now fallen into poverty. Partially in an effort to support these great men, I set up the Yobukai in 1874, inviting experts in judo, naginata, jodo, swimming, and Chinese classics along with swordsmen to take on students from the general public.”
Sword performances were later held in Tokyo as well in various other parts of Japan, including Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyushu (Kurume), and Shikoku (Kochi)
Then, in 1876, the order was passed officially prohibiting the wearing of swords.
It was a time when even the sound of bamboo swords clashing became taboo.
Kenjutsu was outright banned in Kyoto, where the mayor proclaimed that anyone found training in sword would be suspected of crimes against the state.
It was during this time that the Konishi family in Itami openly invited masters of various martial arts to train. Having been reduced to living in poverty, many flocked to the family’s tenement houses. Some stayed only a month, but most established themselves for longer periods of time in order to continue training.
It was 1885, and the dojo was under the eleventh head of the Konishi family, Konishi Shinemon Gyomo. Gyomo was not content with simply encouraging people to train in both the martial and literary arts—he himself was accomplished in both areas. His establishment of the Yobukai and the construction of tenement houses show that he was seen as the most passionate promoter of the martial arts of all the Konishi family heads.
It was also Gyomo who changed the name of the Yobukai to the Shubukan and became its first dojo head.
The Shubukan through the generations
Many years later, in 1940, the Shubukan originally conceived by Konishi Shinemon Gyosei was reorganized as a foundation.
“We have decided to become a foundation in order to preserve the heritage of the Shubukan. Though this would be an unnecessary step if every successive generation of the Konishi family chose to train in the martial arts, it is likely that they will eventually turn to tennis or baseball instead, threatening the continued existence of the dojo.”
These words are testament to just how dearly Gyosei loved the martial arts and the Shubukan, which officially became a public incorporated foundation in 1942. It was at this time, too, that Hidenosuke Koshikawa, the sword master for the members of the Osaka police department, was invited to teach at the dojo.
Japan then entered the Pacific War, however. As conditions at home worsened, the Itami area was soon threatened by air raids.
Knowing that once the large residential areas were raided with firebombs there would be no way of stopping the spread of the flames, the old dojo was demolished in 1944 as a firebreak.
Though the war ended soon after, martial arts had suffered greatly. In November 1950, however, the Shubukan was rebuilt.
At the time, however, it was uncommon for kendo training to be resumed in Japan, and people said that it was the first dojo to be rebuilt after the war. In the end, the traditions of the Shubukan were preserved, saving its two hundred years of history from extinction. And the dojo still stands proudly today.
Ishigami, Takuma ed. Kiki Kaki Kendo-shi [An oral and written history of Kendo].
“How the 200-year-old Shubukan in Itami remains to this day: A Conversation with the late Konishi, Shizuko (late chairwoman of the All Japan Naginata Federation)” [Japanese only] (retrieved May 9, 2011)
Shirayuki no Meiji Taisho Showa Vol. 10 “Seikatsu-soku Budo wo Jissen ni Utsusu” [Bringing Budo Training into Every Aspect of Life] (in Japanese)