The writings and lectures of Kanō shihan – known, unknown and lost

Probably less than 10% of Kanō shihan’s numerous writings have been translated into any Western language, or even extracted or summarized.

His first known articles, on philosophy, were published in the mid-1880s while Kanō shihan was in his 20s. Over 50 years he contributed scores of articles to multiple publications on topics ranging from physical education, ethics, education, the Olympics, international geopolitics, China, politics, physical and moral courage, death, his incessant theme of 精力善用自他共栄 Seiryoku Zen’yô Jita Kyôei, even a commentary on a poem by the Meiji Emperor, who granted Kanō multiple audiences. Kanō shihan also contributed scores of forwards for the books of friends and acquaintances on topics from kobudô 古武道 to 武士道 bushidô to 神道 Shintô to ethics and morality; in one he admitted he hadn’t even read the book, but supported the author, his personal student.

He lectured widely and at great length – he loved to talk. While many of his impromptu lectures went unrecorded, some key lectures were prepared or transcribed. A number of his transcribed speeches must run over 30 minutes. A single question on education policy during an early 1930s Diet Upper House 貴族院 interpellation he posed to the Minister of Education took around 20 minutes; thankfully the Minister’s answer was mercifully terse.

In one private school New Year’s celebration as one of a small number of dignitaries given three minutes to provide short greetings, he ended by apologizing for talking nearly 20 instead, providing a long allegory criticizing the Second Sino-Japanese War. At one formal group dinner in Tokyo he talked for nearly 45 minutes nonstop after drinks and dinner then apologized – he had gone so far over the allotted time he had to leave immediately, and had no time for questions or comments, but instead asked a member of the head table to provide his car so he could depart from Tokyo Station.

The tale of the dinner address made me wonder how many people it put to sleep, as the recollections of his high school students sometimes commented on how long and boring his lectures could be. One European account detailing his address of an International Olympic Committee working dinner leaves no doubt; he started by extolling the advantages of Tokyo as an Olympic Games venue at length then departed on a tangent on judo that went on and on and on. The description of the result is not vague – many of the attending IOC members, many from far lands, late at night, well fed, some tipsy, and most probably at a loss to understand the importance or pertinence of judo, some not understanding English well, simply fell sleep.

And certainly he wrote on judo. He produced stacks of judo lectures, articles, essays, interviews, etc. Often repetitive and nearly formulaic, some include gems of new information and insights.

While traveling, he wrote newsy, factual and analytical letters and sent telegrams on important topics. He gave interviews to print media and live radio programs around the world to support his personal and policy objectives, primarily in English, but apparently a few times in less than fluent French and German.

A member of the International Olympic Committee from 1909 until his death, he corresponded with the leadership and staff in English. Kano shihan primarily wrote in Japanese and English, but occasionally in French and not infrequently in early Meiji in 漢文 kanbun, the ancient Sino-Japanese script of pre-Meiji Japan. His later writing in modern Japanese evolved in style over the decades for multiple reasons, but he was seldom concise and direct in his explorations of anything, much less complex topics.

Kanō most often wrote alone, but he did collaborate with others. One of his frequent collaborators was Watari Shôsaburô, an ethics instructor and kendoka at the Tokyo Higher Normal School where Kano was the principal.

For over 20 years I’ve collected his writings and transcriptions of his addresses, an uncounted total but surely hundreds to date. I suspect there are at least scores more. In the search I’ve found many surprises in the development of his thoughts, the range of his acquaintances, his plans for education, the Olympics (the current topic in Japan), and his true plan for judo. Only infrequently does his own character emerge; he wrote briefly, poignantly of the loss of family members in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 but then noted his gratitude, as his own home was not severely damaged, while so many others had lost so much, some losing everything.

His most striking writing is arguably is one of his last messages, unknown until very recently. It was recently discovered in a friend’s private library, actually delivered after Kanō shihan departed for the 1938 Cairo IOC meeting in February 1938; the missive provides striking new, private insight into the mind of a man obsessed with accomplishing his last critical mission for Japan, securing the 1940 Olympics Games for Tokyo. He departed for Cairo when he was almost 78 and in marginal health from decades of chronic disease. It was a long, arduous trip encircling the planet, one he insisted on taking alone, one that sapped his strength and one from which he would not return alive.

Two major questions regarding his writings remain today –

  1. Did he publish articles under one penname or another? There are a number of articles to topics dear to him that were clearly written under assumed names or clear pennames that read like the work of Kano shihan.
  2. Where are his lost texts? There are at least two instances where Kano shihan very specifically mentions important extended texts he prepared but they were apparently never printed.

And so the hunt continues.


Lance Gatling
Author / Lecturer
The Kanō Chronicles
Tokyo, Japan – please send a note to request signup for automatic updates or give us feedback.
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©Copyright 2019 – Lance Gatling, The Kanō Chronicles


6 thoughts on “The writings and lectures of Kanō shihan – known, unknown and lost

  1. It seems that if Kano were alive today he would be a major user of Instagram and Twitter! You have left some very tantalising hints eg “The true plan for Judo”. Please map it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s funny – never thought of it, but you might be right.

      He was normally calm, at least at first, but I think the informality and trolls would drive him to snapping back.

      As far as mapping it out, I will include an overview of Kanō shihan’s writings on a wide range of issues. And he had lots to say, as he was very opinionated and did not at all mind telling people his opinion. (One colleague called him ‘the most stubborn man in Japan’.) So, while much of his writing and speeches on judo, the Olympics, and education, I also have his opinion and analysis on issues such at:
      family life
      the role and education of women
      … and more

      Some of this should prove a big surprise to most who think they know Kanō.

      So, stay tuned, there’s much more to come.

      Lance Gatling
      Author / Lecturer
      The Kanō Chronicles®
      Tokyo, Japan


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