The Kanō Chronicles® – Viscount Shinagawa Yajirō and the Fujimichō Kōdōkan

Among the many locations of the Kodokan in its early days (1882-1900) was one that Kanō shihan (master) explains in some detail: the Fujimi-chō dōjō (literally, ‘place of the way’, originally a Buddhism term denoting a place of austere study, adopted by Japanese martial arts to indicate a place of practice and austere study).

In his early 20s, from the early to mid 1880s, Kanō became acquainted with key Chōshū samurai who variously fought with or led Chōshū military units fighting in the Satsuma – Chōshū led coup that seized control of Japan in what is termed the Meiji Restoration. This long series of events led to Kanō’s relationship with a young Chōshū samurai named Murata Genzō, who studied English under Kanō. (Satsuma and Chōshū were only two of the around 260 han domains of old Japan, but two of the most powerful and most in tension with the bakufu. Sited in today’s Kagoshima and Yamaguchi prefectures respectively, these powerful han existed about as far as you could get from Tokyo and still be part of the country, and were jealous and suspicious of the Tokugawa bakufu military dictatorship / administration and protective of their own prerogatives. In alliance with lesser allies the senior samurai of these two han led the Restoration, the overthrow of the over 260 year old Tokugawa regime and the establishment of a new government with the Emperor as its titular leader, advised, of course, by his new Imperial supporters.)

Murata told Kanō that he wanted to travel and study overseas but could not afford to do so. Through Murata, Kanō met Viscount Shinagawa Yajirō (1843-1900), a senior Chōshū samurai colleague of Murata and one of the rising stars in the new Meiji government. Kanō consulted with Shinagawa and Shinagawa’s own senior colleague and patron, then Count (but later designated a non-hereditary Prince under the new Meiji peerage system) Yamagata Aritomo about how they could support Murata. In the end, Yamagata asked the young Kanō to lead a private subscription drive to support Murata. Kanō agreed and eventually successfully collected enough money from other senior Chōshū samurai and his own merchant commoner friends to underwrite Murata’s subsequent overseas study trip.

Viscount Shinagawa Yajirō (1843-1890) Wiki Commons pic

Shinagawa was born a low level samurai in the Hagi sub clan of the Chōshū han in today’s Hagi City, Yamagata Prefecture. As a young man Shinagawa and many of the other key Chōshū men of the new government studied at the Shōka Sonjuku (literally: Under the Pines / Village Academy) private academy of famed anti-bakufu warrior-scholar samurai Yoshida Shōin (1830-1859).

For fomenting rebellion and participating in assassination plots the firebrand Yoshida was one of many bakufu enemies rounded up, imprisoned, tried, convicted, and executed during the Ansei Purge, a last gasp attempt of the bakufu to control the rising tide of sedition fomented by Imperial extremists. Yoshida was condemned to death as a common criminal because he had intentionally defied his superiors by leaving his han without permission and was removed from the samurai class in punishment. As a commoner, much to the disgust of his students and supporters Yoshida was not allowed to commit seppuku, the traditional honorable self-disembowelment ritual suicide of the samurai class, but rather was beheaded by a samurai executioner on the Kozukappara execution grounds in Edō, the site of tens of thousands of executions.

The story of Yoshida’s Meiji era rehabilitation from attempted assassin and executed criminal to ultranationalist martyr is long and involves many of Kanō’s acquaintances and colleagues, but must wait for another time.

Yoshida Shōin (1830-1859)
Master of Shōka Sonjuku
Revolutionary Imperialist theorist, attempted assassin, teacher, and beloved martyr of the Meiji ultranationalists

Shinagawa, along with many of his fellow students of Yoshida, became an active participant in the son’ō jōi (an Imperialist battle cry translated as ‘Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians!’) movement which sought to replace the bakufu under the pretense of ‘restoring’ the Emperor to his rightful place of active command (of course, supported by the right advisors – themselves) and repelling all encroachments by foreign powers. He followed a typical path for many of his coup contemporaries, first as an activist discussing and arguing, then participating in covert operations as an arsonist cum assassin. In the start of the Restoration war, Shinagawa commanded a commoner militia unit during the historically significant yet tactically minor street battle of the Kinmon Incident in Kyoto. These street battles in the ancient Imperial capital between Imperialists intent to destroy the bakufu versus a mixed bag of bakufu loyalist han clan forces and cutthroat mercenaries lit a firestorm that led to battles throughout Japan. In the conventional battles that followed, Shinagawa became a staff officer in the expanded Chōshū commoner military units drilled in modern fashion; these units outperformed the traditional samurai battle formations of the more traditional Tokugawa loyalist han.

In 1870 after the Meiji Restoration Shinagawa was dispatched abroad as an observer of the Franco-Prussian War, one of the first involving many modern weapons, mass mobilizations, and professional armies. Then he remained in Europe, studying in London, France and Germany before returning to the new capital of Tokyo, where he used his new knowledge in several positions of increasing responsibility in the Meiji government.

In 1886 he was appointed ambassador plenipotentiary to become the new nation of Japan’s envoy to the new nation of Germany. Before he left for his extended overseas assignment, knowing that the 25 year old bachelor Kanō’s juku private academy at Eishoji in Ueno was almost 7 kilometers away from his dojo in nearby Kami Nibanchō, Shinagawa proposed that Kanō act as caretaker for his new house, a quasi-Western style structure in Fujimi-chō near Kami Nibanchō. As Shinagawa didn’t want to rent the prestigious house to a stranger he offered its use to Kanō for free, even offering to let Kanō live there along with his handful of resident jukusei academy students, which would bring Kano’s extracurricular activities and residence much closer to his duty position at the Gakushūin Peer’s School. But according to Kanō near 30 years later he declined what he construed to be a gratuity.

After some discussion, the face saving solution was that Shinagawa agreed for Kanō to pay the same rent for Shinagawa’s entire spacious house and estate of over 4000 square meters (over 2400 tatami) that Kanō paid Eishoji for a study room / dojo of only 12 tatami (about 18.5 square meters), a transparently symbolic payment given the difference in the value of the house. In February 1886 Kanō moved to Fujimicho along with his live-in shusei houseboy students and jukusei academy students.

According to his recollections, Kanō initially had reservations about the arrangement but apparently grew to appreciate his new accommodations. He soon made arrangements for the new 40 mat Kodokan dojo (incidentally the exact size of the author’s dojo at the US Embassy Tokyo he had built earlier in Kami Nibanchō about 2 kilometers away to be dismantled and reassembled in the garden of the Fujimichō compound.

The house also boasted a modern kitchen (and we will see later that young master Kanō certainly liked to eat, so that was important!), and was much more accessible and in a far more prestigious location in central Tokyo than an ancient Buddhist temple sited with scores others on the fringes of Ueno. Finally, Fujimichō was also 4 kilometers closer than Eishoji to the Gakushūin, the Peer’s School where Kanō served as the Imperial appointed vice principal as a member of the Imperial Household Agency. These factors almost certainly contributed to the success of the Kanō juku and the Kodokan, along with Kanō’s hard work, as the number of students in both increased. Kanō later also claimed that during these three years at Fujimi-chō he and his key instructors resolved many of the technical fundamentals of judo; decades later Kanō would claim that by 1889 judo was fully established in its final form (we will examine this claim in other segments).

Fujimicho dojo.jpg
The Fujimi-chō Kōdōkan ©Kodokan (between 1886-1889)
• Kanō shihan in kimono seated on raised dias
• Keikōgi (practice ‘gi’) are still short sleeves and pants
• Many of the practitioners wear black belts, indicating yūdansha (dan grade holders), an innovation introduced around 1887
• Observers seated either in anza (cross-legged) or seiza (formal kneeling)
• Primarily practicing standing techniques, the early focus of judo
• This was the first purpose built Kodokan dojo, with an area of 40 mat training area and a raised dais, first built in Kami Nibanchō, then disassembled, moved to Fujimi-chō and reassembled

But beyond its convenience, this was an unusual neighborhood.

For one, Shinagawa’s mansion was next door to that of his primary patron, war colleague, fellow Chōshū samurai, and fellow Shōka Sonjuku student Count (later Prince) Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922). Both men were born into low level samurai families – the older Yamagata was the son of an ashigaru foot soldier, the lowest rank of samurai – but rose in prominence during the war and through their bureaucratic capabilities afterward (and longevity as many of their elder Chōshū superiors in the new Meiji government died after the Restoration). Both warriors knew Kanō before he moved to Fujimi-chō through mutual acquaintances like Murata, and some of the Chōshū former samurai were sending their children to the elite Gakushuin. Both men had trained in kenjutsu and jūjujtsu as a matter of course as samurai, so they basically knew what Kanō was doing; Yamagata was a Kodokan supporter throughout his long life. Also, Yamagata’s wife was the eldest daughter of Dr. Kato Hiroyuki, President of Tokyo University and a close colleague of Kanō’s from his earliest student days at Tokyo University; the educators continued a close professional and personal relationship for decades as they became two of the most senior members of the Ministry of Education and provided key leadership for an array of educational organizations.

Field Marshall three time Prime Minister Prince Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922)
in full formal court attire

When Kanō moved to Fujimi-chō in 1886, his next door neighbor Count Yamagata was an active duty Imperial Army Lieutenant General in the early days of his long position as Home Minister from 1885 to 1890 (he also served as such several years more in a later cabinet). In the powerful position as Minister of the Naimushō Home Ministry he controlled the nation’s entire police operations and training (including martial arts), the assignment of metropolitan and prefectural governors, oversight of local administration, management of public works and government lands, organizing and executing elections, and the collection of information on and monitoring of the people through police and other intelligence networks. Through his personal connections in the government and the Imperial court Yamagata inserted himself in an even wider array of issues facing the new government, including ethics and moral education for students, an interest he shared with the young Kanō.

By outmaneuvering (and outliving) his political opponents eventually Yamagata became undisputed the most powerful man in the country for decades. He was an Imperial Army Field Marshal, would become the key Chōshū figure in the Satsuma-Chōshū alliance that for decades controlled the highest Imperial Army and Navy general officer assignments, served as Japan’s first three times Prime Minister, and headed the Emperor’s influential Privy Council for an unprecedented 17 years. Throughout he remained a deadly enemy of uncontrolled democracy and party politics until his death. In a word, Yamagata became Japan’s kingmaker, the power broker behind the throne, particularly as the Imperial Army held much more influence over domestic affairs than did the Navy. Many parallels have been drawn between Yamagata and Germany’s Bismark.

Another unusual feature of the address was that both mansions were literally adjacent to the Imperial Palace. Shinagawa’s house was in Fujimi-chō 1chōme Ichibanchi, Kōjimachi-ku, which was then one of Tokyo’s only 15 ku wards. (After multiple changes, today Tokyo has 23 wards; the old Kōjimachi-ku was eliminated and Fujimi-chō was absorbed into the new Chiyoda-ku. ‘Fujimi-chō’ means ‘Fuji view block’; even today there are other Tokyo area neighborhoods with views of Mount Fuji with similar names.) Today the address of Yamagata’s house is Kudan Minami 2-chome 2-11 Chiyoda-ku, the Indian Embassy chancellery.

But what else made this neighborhood unique?

In 1657 a fire flamed out of control by the winds of an oncoming typhoon burned up to 60-70% of the entire city of Edō. The conflagration even jumped the moats to damage Edo castle itself, so in the aftermath the bakufu enacted new fire prevention rules. One effect was that the daimyo estates and other facilities built adjacent to the Palace moats were forced to retreat to provide protective fire breaks called hiyokechi 火除地 ‘fire prevention lands’ under direct bakufu control. These firebreaks were sometimes fenced off, usually bare parade grounds used for entertainment and ceremonies such as parades, fireworks and kite flying. Structures or tall vegetation were strictly banned.

Hiyokechi ‘fire control land’ scene from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,
a series of ukiyo-e prints begun and largely completed
by famous Japanese artist Hiroshige (1797–1858)
Wiki Commons

NOTE: While the term hiyokechi today is an anachronism, another fire fighting measure’s name survives in place names today. Hirokōji ‘wide streets’ were broad avenues carved through congested urban areas to link up vital points with strict easement rules to control encroachment on the avenue / fire break and to facilitate official and fire fighting traffic in an emergency.

The Fujimicho hiyokechi are the three purple areas aligned vertically west of the northwest Palace moat, which is called Chidorigafuchi.
(due north is straight up. blue is the castle moat, purple are bakufu lands)
The upper third became Shinagawa’s estate, the middle Yamagata’s, the southernmost the young Prince Kan’in Kotohiro’s.
The wide yellow areas are hirokōji wide firebreak boulevards.
Incidentally, the top of the eastern / right hand white area inside the Palace grounds is the location of today’s Nihon Budokan martial arts exhibition and training center; in the Edo era they were compounds for close Tokugawa relatives.
Statute of Viscount Shingawa Yajirō just west of 田安門 Tayasumon, the north Imperial Palace gate, about 200 meters from his former residence, on the grounds of the former hirokōji broad firebreak street (see map above for Tayasumon; the statue stands just to the left). The statue was built with subscriptions from Shinagawa’s friends and admirers, including Kanō Jigorō, who once described Shinagawa as ‘the last true samurai’. It is uphill from today’s Kudanzaka Station near Yasukuni Shrine.

Perhaps pulling strings with their comrades in their new government, as all bakufu and daimyo lands reverted to the new Imperial Meiji government after Restoration, including Tokyo’s hiyokechi and hirokōji, Shinagawa’s and Yamagata’s new estates were built hiyokechi fire break land along the Imperial Palace Chidorigafuchi moat, between Hanzon-mon (‘Hanzo’s gate’, named after the ninja master retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu tasked to provide the guard force for that gate) and Tayasu-mon the northernmost palace gate near today’s Kita no Maru park and Yasukuni Shrine. (Shinagawa’s house was where the Indian Embassy stands today. The large empty lot to the south was Shinagawa’s garden.) Yamagata died in 1922 and his residence burned in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. It was restored later only to burn again in a WWII fire raid. Today only the garden remains, the house replaced by a mixed modern and traditional style multifunction government meeting hall.

The next estate south along the former hiyokechi on the grounds of today’s Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery 千鳥ヶ淵戦没者墓地 was that of Prince Kanin Haruhiro (1865 – 1945), eventually the highest ranking military member of the Imperial families. Only then in his early 20s living in the large estate he would eventually will to his eldest son, he was 5 years younger than Kanō. Prince Kanin eventually rose through the officer ranks to become an Imperial Army Field Marshal and long serving Army Chief of Staff.

Kanō’s activities at Shinagawa’s house and the nearby Fujimi-chō dojo did not go unnoticed by neighbors and passersby. Viscount Shinagawa was a key Chōshū civilian member of the powerful Satsuma Chōshū alliance that essentially controlled the Meiji government and military. He himself was an up and coming political protege of the powerful Home Minister General Yamagata, who decided to make the move from military service to politics and depended upon the advice of the much more politically astute Shinagawa. Both men were not only military heroes of the Restoration (and Yamagata the hero of the Seinan War, commander of the field forces that hunted down and destroyed Saigō Takamori’s rebel army), both were arch conservative Imperialists and staunch opponents of party politics when politics was often a full contact sport. Kanō’s odd practice of jūjutsu – as even Kanō termed judo at the time – was growing at a time when most martial arts in Japan were greatly scattered and very sparsely attended. His jukusei academy students numbered up to 60 during the Fujimichō period; each boy was required to practice judo daily, and they were joined by outside judo students after their own academic school or work. These included the famous Hirose Takeō, who at the time was a student at the Naval Academy, which was still in Tokyo at Tsukiji before its move to Etajima. Coupled with the rough nature of some of Kanō’s shusei houseboy students and the extracurricular hobby of some to practice their jūjutsu against entertainment district thugs and drunks, these strange antics caused some of the locals to wonder if Kanō was in fact training political muscle for the new Chōshū oligarchs, who were famously not adverse to extreme political violence.

After a year or so in Berlin Shinagawa fell ill and spent some time convalescing there; because he did not recover fully he was recalled in 1887. Arriving he was bemused to find the 27 year old Kanō living with around 30 student boarders in his house, with around another 30 boarding at a nearby house Kanō rented. These students ranged from the sons of rich kazoku nobility who wanted to provide their offspring with the best possible preparation to pass the all-important Gakushuin entrance exams to the Peers’ School where Kanō was the vice principal to near homeless street urchin shusei live-in houseboy students who traded their labor and performed errands around the house and dojo at Kanō’s bidding for room, board, education, and judo. Always judo. Judo for everyone.

Kanō very careful recorded the name, date of entry, and the social class of every single Kodokan student in notebooks on display in the Kodokan museum today. In the first five students in 1882 he noted two kazoku brothers named Arima. Kanō set up his juku specifically at the request of kazoku families to prepare their sons for those exams; presumably because he would know what to expect on the entrance exams, he could prepare them. As a result he was entrusted with the education of some of the cream of Japanese society. Preparing for all important entrance examinations by studying in juku ‘cram schools’ became a practice that continues in Japan today as cram school teachers, often public school teachers working part-time, teach the tests in evening classes.

Shinagawa did not move back into his now crowded house with the dojo in the garden. Instead he had a new residence built on another large estate, the former Edō residence of a middle level daimyo in Dangōzaka, Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku, which he sold to a businessman named Sudo in 1889; while the Dangozaka estate was divided up over the intervening 120 years into numerous blocks of residential plots, the Shinagawa estate garden remains today as Bunkyo-ku’s Sudo Park. (Apparently being on the winning side of the Restoration coup was good business for a young budding Chōshū oligarch, as that estate was over 3300 square meters, around 8 acres, of prime land. Today the park is covered by massive ancient camphor trees and a pond of crawfish angled out on spring days by locals.)

Kanō moved the Kodokan in the spring of 1889, first briefly to Hongo Masago-cho, near the University of Tokyo, renting an unused Army warehouse in a deal facilitated by Shinagawa, then back to Kami Niban-cho near today’s Hanzomon Station. In the early days Kanō usually lived near or co-located with the Kodokan; more than once it was in his backyard until he built his large final family home further out from downtown Tokyo (a story for later).

Sudo Park, Sendagi 3chome, Bunkyo-ku,
garden of former daimyo compound owned by Shinagawa.
Photo ©2020 The Kanō Chronicles®
Excerpt of Edo era map of the Dangozaka estate of
Shinagawa Yajirō overlaid on modern map,
Sudo Park location in green text and block lower left. Rotated for reading; north is to the right.
Notation indicates the Edo era user before Shinagawa got the land:
‘Kaga Taishōji han (Ishikawa) 10,000 tsubo (area = 3300 sq m)
Matsudaira Hidanokuni Toshika (Maeda)
100,000 koku’ (large barrels of rice per year stipend)

After convalescing for another year or so after returning to Japan, Shinagawa recovered enough to begin a series of assignments as an advisor to the Privy Council and to the Emperor. In 1891 he became the powerful Home Minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Matsukata Masayoshi, a Satsuma samurai and another Kanō acquaintance.

Around then Kanō found himself at odds with the president of the Gakushūin and, rather than be fired outright, managed to get himself assigned to study European educational systems for a year on behalf of the Emperor, which he managed to stretch into nearly a year and a half.

After Kanō returned from Europe, Kanō and Shinagawa meet again under strange circumstances. Both are topics for the future.

Lance Gatling
Tokyo, Japan
The Kanō Chronicles®


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