The Kano Chronicles® – The Firebombing of the Kodokan 1945

On the night of Apr 13, 1945*, 550 B-29s struck Tokyo in the biggest fire bombing of the war to date.
About 1145pm on that spring Friday night, an incendiary bomblet struck the roof of the Kodokan just to the east of Kano shin’s seat in the Dai Dojo. It was probably an M65, a 6 pound (2.7 kg) napalm bomblet released from a 500 pound (228 kg) cluster bomb, one of scores dropped by a B29 Superfortress heavy bomber from about 2500 ft altitude, and the bomblet probably penetrated partway through the roof.  The previous high altitude bombing campaign against Japan had been considered ineffective, and the bombers were ordered to fly at very low altitudes to deploy the new fire bombs, despite much heavier losses to Japanese antiaircraft fire and interceptor fighter attacks.

M69 incendiary bomb

Above is a sketch of the M69 Incendiary Bomb – similar to the smaller M65 used more often in the European theater.

1-3 seconds after impact with the roof the bomblet fuzed a phosphorous bursting charge that threw flaming napalm over the Kodokan exterior

Some of the burning jellied gasoline napalm burned through the roof, setting fire to the large, elaborate 神棚 kamidana Shinto ‘god shelf’ that Kano shihan had installed on the front wall of the Dai Dojo. Fire reached the tatami below, burning around 70 mats; soon the fire outside the building burned together with the fire inside to threaten the entire structure.
A fire truck team arrived but low water pressure hampered their efforts. Then, the night watch and local couples cheered on the local ‘tonari gumi’ neighborhood association, which used Kodokan hoses and buckets and assisted the fire truck, putting the Kodokan fire out, but much of the neighborhood was destroyed. Almost 3500 people died and over 170,000 buildings were destroyed that single night.

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 17.48.49(The map of Tokyo above was adopted from the US Army Air Corps Strategic Bombing Survey, a huge postwar study of the effectiveness of the bombing campaign against Japan. )

Kodokan head Rear Admiral Nango Jiro, Kano shihan’s nephew, was determined not to lose a single day of training. He put local refugees in the Dai Dojo, and had the walls of the rooms near the third floor research dojo knocked down to enlarge it; practice resumed on the 16th.


Imperial Navy Rear Admiral (Retired) Nangō Jirō,

the second Kodokan kanchō (institute head)

(Photo above from Wiki Commons, probably taken from an interview with               Admiral Nango on the death of his second son in World War II. Story to be related later.)

The Dai Dojo was repaired by the end of 1945 and was used for 寒稽古 kangeiko ‘cold weather training’ traditional training in the new year of 1946.

* Zenjūren 全柔連 (a contraction of the formal name 全日本柔道連盟 Zen Nihon Jūdō Renmei All Japan Judo Federation history cites Mar 13, 1945, which does not match US Army Air records of the raid dates; this history uses US military record dates when available.  )

Lance Gatling
Author / Lecturer

The Kano Chronicles® – The Untold Story of Modern Japan

The Kano Chronicles: The Untold History of Modern Japan® (嘉納歴代史:知らず近代日本史®) is the result of over 15 years of research into the life and times of Kanô Jigorô, 嘉納治五郎 (1860-1938), the founder of jûdô 柔道. In traditional judo texts and by today’s jûdôka 柔道家 (judo practitioners) he is normally addressed as ‘Kano shihan’ 師範 (Master Kano).*

No English or Japanese language biographies of Kano shihan capture the complexity of the man and his times. Even the best Japanese biographies are often narrow, typically focused on Kano’s judo, education, sports, or Olympic activities, or some combination thereof. There are exceptions, but they are rare and difficult to digest, even for native Japanese, and have escaped the attention of Western researchers.

Context is important, and detailed historical context is not part of Western biographies of Kano. One example can be seen below, in a rare English explanation by Kano shihan of the ‘True Spirit of Judo’.

When I was still young, I learned various types of “jujitsu”.** However, I found it difficult to discover the fundamental principles that decide as to which is the correct method because the teaching of each type was different. Thereupon, in order that I might find out the fundamental principle somehow or other, I began to study seriously. And, in the course of time, I was able to succeed in discovering it. What is this fundamental principle? It is to let our spirit and bodies work most effectively in order to accomplish our purpose, whenever we wish to throw others down, or cut, push, or kick others.

— Kano Jigoro, ‘True Spirit of Judo’, 1938

Rather than the ‘true spirit of judo’, a more complete context of the article reveals this to be only the lowest, simplest definition of judo espoused by Kano shihan, meant only as the beginning of a much more complex discussion. As the rest of his discussion is thought not pertinent to today’s sports judo, it is typically discarded, thus lost to generations of judoka who are left with the notion that the epitome of Kano shihan’s philosophy is physically controlling your opponent effectively.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Kano Chronicles™ provides the history of Kano shihan in the context of his times. He lived in a unique period of history, namely the development of Japan from an isolated, feudal backwater to one of the largest empires in history. His patrons, peers, and pupils included princes, prime ministers, politicians, philosophers, prophets, priests, political puppet masters, puppeteers, paupers, oligarchs, generals, admirals, academics, assassins, the assassinated, mandarins, revolutionaries, counterrevolutionaries, reactionaries, samurai, spies, spy masters, sumotori, strike breakers, chancellors, commoners, Christians, Chinese, Confucianists, Communists, women and Class A war criminals.

Kano shihan personally participated in the initial formation and subsequent reforms of Japan’s education, language, sports, ethics, teacher and moral training, indeed the development and dissemination of its very culture. He thus left an indelible mark on the nation, indeed much of the Empire through the education of thousands of teachers, judoka and their millions of students.


* In keeping with the tradition, Japanese names are given in the order LastName FirstName. Note that in the era under study, Japanese often changed their first / given names in recognition of phases or changes in their lives; becoming an adult, reaching 60 years of age, or at any age to designate some eventful political or personal event.  Sometimes, frequently; sometimes, in accordance with the stages of life, or simply whimsically.  Some phases were chronological: 50, 60, 70, or 80 years old. Nicknames or pen names if known are given in single quotes, ala ‘Konan’, Kano shihan’s penname for calligraphy until his 60th birthday.

** The transliteration of Japanese into Western characters has changed over more than 100 years of use to settle on the current system. This site and associated works use older, nonstandard terms such as jujitsu, jiujutsu, jiudo, Kodokwan, etc. only in direct quotations. Today the rendering of these Japanese terms in Roman letters is unequivocal and universal; judo, jujutsu, Kodokan, etc. It omits macrons after the initial introduction of the word (i.e., jûdô => judo), hence first jûdô then thereafter judo.

Lance Gatling
Author / Lecturer