Kanō shihan calligraphy on the power of education – The Kanō Chronicles Oct 2022

Examples of the calligraphy of Kanō shihan are abundant. Beyond a number of apparent fakes available (some pretty accurate simulations of a number of his different writing styles), Kanō offered to and did brush any number of calligraphy 掛け軸 kakejiku hanging scrolls and other materials for jūdō dōjō opening ceremonies, decorations for established dōjō and individuals (most often when overseas), and for other occasions. The overseas calligraphies of Kanō are notable in that most lack the red-inked seals he normally used while creating calligraphy at home in Japan.

I find one in particular very striking. In it Kanō shihan speaks of the importance of education and its ability to affect a “thousand far generations”.


The difficulty of roughly dating Kanō’s calligraphy, as they are seldom dated, is considerably eased by his use of pen names, names he changed over time at significant ages. On this calligraphy, Kanō shihan’s pen name is written by the three small vertical characters on the far left of the scroll, 進乎斎 followed below by two seals stamped in read ink.

The three pen names Kanō shihan used were: 「甲南」・「進乎斎」・「帰一斎」. This is marked with the second, which is a reference to a tale 2500 years old……

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The Kano Chronicles® – Kano shihan in fact and fiction Part I – Kano battles Dracula (⁉️)

Athough he kept an English diary for decades that has been carefully kept from the public, Kano shihan apparently never wrote an autobiography. What he did provide was a long series of interviews with frequent Sakkô contributor / journalist / judoka Ochiai Torahei covering his personal life, his career as an educator and experience as a judoka. This material has been available in Japanese for many years – first published in a series of twenty-four long articles from Jan 1927 to May 1929 in the Kodokan Culture Council monthly magazine Sakkô (‘Arousal’), there have been various extracts and versions reprinted in several postwar collections of Kanō shihan’s writings.

There is an English version of the Sakkô serialized interviews that covers around 200 pages of dense text and is the single best book available in English to date on Kanō shihan’s life. The meticulously translated Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano by judoka and long term Japan resident Brian N. Watson is a unique contribution to make judo history accessible in English. Brian’s book is an indispensable reference for any serious judoka and a fascinating read that took years of knowledgeable effort to complete; I recommend it unreservedly.

In the Sakkô memoirs Kanō shihan describes his life, career, and judo in his own words, in his late 60s, after his retirement from the Ministry of Education, and after his Imperial nomination to the Japan’s Upper House, where he won election in 1922 and then sat as the equivalent of a member of the UK House of Lords or as a US Senator until his death in 1938. (Spoiler alert: Kanō shihan’s version of events in certain places is biased towards him, with all that entails. Some very serious judo history researchers have noted there are no independent supporting contemporaneous accountants of some episodes that have since become core to the legends of judo. Cf. the legendary ‘Police judo matches’ of the 1890s, EN1.)

In addition, there are scores if not hundreds of contemporary and later Japanese and foreign language profiles and mini-biographies of Kanō, starting in the late 1890s in magazines, newspapers, academic journals and books.

But unknown to most folks are the works of fiction in which Kano appears.

Perhaps the most intriguing is the novel “The Tale of Meiji Dracula: The Apparition Appears in the Imperial Capital” 『明治ドラキュラ伝: 妖魔, 帝都に現る』 by Kikuchi Hideyuki, published in 2004. Kikuchi was the author of numerous Japanese vampire novels. In this one, set in the 1880s in Meiji Tokyo, a twenty-something Kano teams with his (real world) favorite judo deshi Saigo Shiro and the fictional 17 year old swordmaster Minazuki Daigo to battle Dracula, who appears in Japan to complete a centuries old mission that I leave for the reader to discover.

Interestingly, this novel was translated into English as Dark Wars: The Tale of Meiji Dracula in 2008. (I don’t have a copy; if anyone reads it, I’d welcome more information.)

Next, we’ll look at the fictional version of young Kano Jigoro when he fights not just Dracula but nearly everyone.

EN1: An anonymous scholar acquaintance spent hours looking for evidence of the famous ‘police jujutsu competitions’ and told me he came up empty-handed, which in turn spurred me to look, too. Neither of us uncovered any contemporaneous articles in newspapers of the day, which we thought very strange; such activities by the police were normally very carefully covered by the press. Only 20-30 years later do the tales appear of the great police jujutsu tournament in which the Kodokan judoka were victorious and were hired as police jujutsu its allies, but only from Kano shihan and his supporters.. While it is entirely possible there was such an event, it seems more likely that if it did exist, it was a relatively small affair. Certainly some Kodokan judoka were hired as Tokyo Metropolitan Police jujutsu instructors around that time, but so were instructors from a number of other, different jujutsu schools; the public records of this are clear. The entire affair may be a combination of some (ahem…..) exaggeration on the part of Kanō shihan and his hagiographers and most definitely misunderstanding of the complex relationship of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police with martial arts, particularly kenjutsu (sword) and jujutsu (grappling).

To be continued…..

Lance Gatling
Author / Lecturer
The Kanō Chronicles
Tokyo, Japan
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