Iai is one of Japan’s traditional martial arts. It’s the reverse of tachiai, which is a face-off between two swordsmen, standing opposite each other with weapons in hand, ready for crucial combat. Unlike tachiai, iai is sudden or accidental confrontation between swordsmen — seating near each other, colliding with each other, or just staying nearby — that turns into an immediate fight. Kata (forms) of iai have been created for such potential conflicts — such as “when a man standing on the left attempts to slash your body” or “when your sword is grabbed from behind” — and incorporated into kenjutsu swordsmanship and taijutsu full-body combat skills. The origin of iai can be traced back to Japan’s Civil War Era, when Jinsuke Hayashizaki, a Mogami Family retainer in the mid-16th century, reportedly played a crucial role in restoring the traditions of this nearly lost martial art. After the renewal, iai developed into various schools and many kata patterns during the Edo Era (17th century).
One contemporary iaijutsu-ka, Isao Machii, a successor and master of iai tradition, believes that “Kata is not a guide to fighting back against sudden attacks but a way of training us how to use the body with a katana (sword) as a partner.” He says, “In our kata-geiko (form training), we deliberately do not resist the force of an adversary who tries to grab our arms or legs, but rather we absorb this force in our body maneuvers. What’s important is to continue taking advantage of the central axis of the body while preventing imbalance. If you do so, your attacker loses balance so that you can dominate the situation. As we practice kata and learn authentic ways of using the body, iai provides hints through kata that let us imagine why kata forms were created and how training was intended by ancient swordsmen. How wonderful this martial art is.”
Born in 1973, Isao Machii is an iaijutsu-ka (iai technique master), the founder of Shushin-ryu Iaijutu Heiho (Shushin School of Iai Technique Strategy). He pursues iai as an ancient martial art (ko-bujutu) that focuses on body maneuvers. Mr. Machii continues his own study while teaching skills to his pupils. He has also set six iai- and sword-related records in The Guinness Book of Records including “fastest 1,000 martial arts (iaido) sword cuts” and “most sword cuts to straw mats in three minutes”, gaining the nickname “Heisei no Samurai” (Samurai of the Heisei period). Today, Shushin-ryu school founded by Mr. Machii operates dojo (training halls) in Hyogo, Osaka, and Tokyo, Japan; Seattle, U.S.A.; and Beijing, China. These dojos provide one-time-only lectures as opportunities for general applicants to gain experience.
Nihon buyo generally refers to all Japanese traditional dances, but here it specifically means Japanese traditional dance as performance art on stage. Its roots lie in noh plays passed along from ancient times, and in kabuki, based on “kabuki dance” originally performed by a woman called Izumo no Okuni at the start of the 17th century, which took current form in male performance during the Edo period. Nihon buyo is a collection of selected elements and refinements from such sources. Thus, some Nihon buyo programs provide synopses similar to kabuki and roles are performed in dance. Presently, there are more than 200 Nihon buyo schools that bring different choreographies and forms of expression to the same repertoire. In addition, programs not only feature classics but also produce new and contemporary tales.
Ms. Rin Hanayagi — a Nihon buyo performer from Hanayagi-ryu, one of five main Nihon buyo schools — promotes the appeal of classical programs as well as collaborating with Japanese musicians and giving new experimental performances of Nihon buyo dance with J-pop music. “Nihon buyo features makeup and costumes that clearly express the role the performer is playing. For example, a wig differs in hairstyle, hairline, hair ornaments, and hair color depending on the age and rank of the character. Moreover, even though all characters wear white makeup with a white powder base, there is a specific makeup for each role. These rules and styles have been studied for hundreds of years that constitute Nihon buyo history. In addition, suodori dance performance uses simpler apparel and makeup. Because there are fewer elements to help viewers identify the role of the dancer, suodori requires training and discipline to physically express the age, rank, and role one is playing,” she says. Ms. Hanayagi treats traditional forms and techniques with care as she takes on new challenges, seeking to focus on the future of Nihon buyo, “While considering the viewpoints of contemporary spectators, we dancers take pride in passing on hundreds of years of tradition. We want to continue performing Nihon buyo that appeals to many people and is also linked to the future.” (Description by Ms. Hanayagi.)
Born in 1990, Ms. Rin Hanayagi is a Nihon buyo performer. From her early childhood, she studied under her grandfather Minoru Hanayagi (now deceased) and made her debut when she was two years old. She acquired a license as an accredited master in 2006 and an instructor’s license in 2011. Noted for her rich power of expression and graceful delicacy of technique reflecting her respect for the classics, she displays artistry beyond genre, gaining support from varied fields. Her musical, media, and artistic collaborations inspire expectation.
One of Japan’s traditional martial arts, kendo is practiced and prized by a wide range of enthusiasts in Japan, from children to adults. Kendo practitioners wear four types of protective gear — men (face guard), kote (gauntlets), doh (breastplate), and tare (flap/throat protector) — in one-on-one matches. Kendo originated from swordsmanship using tohken (real swords), which turned into Japanese fencing games featuring shinai (bamboo swords) as kendo evolved. By the end of the Edo period, followers of different schools met to test their prowess, and unified rules gradually developed.
In today’s Japan, kendo exercises are practiced in dojo (halls) in communities or as extracurricular activities in schools, and tournaments are held nationwide. Kendo is also required in police training, and many police forces include master practitioners.
While kendo is enjoyed as a sport, its physical and mental discipline as a martial art aims at building character. Ms. Yukiko Takami, an expert practitioner, says, “In the world of kendo, respect for an opponent is even more important than victory or defeat.” This philosophy is reflected in fighting conduct — such as sonkyo (crouching) before and after competitive and practice matches, and showing zanshin (awareness) by saluting a defeated opponent. Without zanshin, a strike (datotsu) is not counted as a valid point (yuko).
Vocalization (hassei) during datotsu is also required for a valid point. The shout must be strong and clear — a physical expression of spiritual force, since a practitioner must use the entire body when striking an opponent. This vocalization is mandatory in kendo rules.
Ms. Takami — who holds an outstanding winning record in numerous Japanese and international competitions — sees an increasing number of overseas kendo enthusiasts: “Many people practicing kendo internationally appreciate Japan and Japanese culture. I believe kendo is a sport that gives people better understanding of Japan and the Japanese spirit,” she says.
Born in 1985 in Fukuoka, Japan, Ms. Yukiko Takami started kendo in elementary school. She captured the All Japan University Women’s Kendo Championships as a sophomore; in 2009, she won the individual World Kendo Championship (WKC) as a first-time participant representing Japan; and in 2012 and 2015, she won WKC third place (individual) and her team won WKC group championships. After university graduation, she entered Juntendo University Graduate School of Health and Sports Science to continue her study of kendo principles and training, and began teaching university students there from 2015.
Sado (Chado) is a ceremony not only to make tea (tateru) but also to create a ceremony space by selecting chawan (teabowls) and kakejiku (hanging scroll) for a tokonoma (alcove), and arranging flowers in preparation for guests. Sado is a composite art. Thus, the tea master strives to be something more than an artist — art itself.
During the early Heian period (early 9th century), tea (cha) was brought to Japan from China as medicine. Tea cultivation expanded across Japan, and tea-drinking customs spread among the ruling classes of samurai (warriors) and aristocrats in the Muromachi period (13th century). As cultured communication between host and guest(s) became more important, saho (manners) were formalized, philosophical thinking about time and space deepened, and aesthetic taste grew in refinement. Eventually, the chajin (tea master) known as Sen no Rikyu brought sado culture to its culmination in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (late 16th century).
Various sado schools were founded before, during, and after the time of Sen no Rikyu, emerging one after another in later eras. Depending on the school, small differences in style ranged from the way of making tea to opening and closing the fusuma (sliding door) of the tearoom. Because sado etiquette was studied and refined mainly by the samurai class, many of the ways of tea and basic forms of courtesy originated in practice of budo (swordsmanship) and appreciation for noh drama.
During haiken (appreciation of arts) in the tea ceremony — for instance, when a utensil such as a chashaku (tea scoop) is shown to guests — the host’s manner of handling this item resembles a samurai unsheathing a sword. The seemingly ordinary act of welcoming guests by serving tea is conducted with sophistication, sublimating the commonplace in ritual contemplation of beautiful things. This is the philosophy of sado.
Sadoka (tea master) Soshin Kimura says, “What we do is not just to sip and enjoy a type of beverage but to seek a sense of communion between host and guest and savor this unique experience. That’s the key to sado. Elements that emerge from such extraordinary moments include more than the manner of making tea, focusing instead on what is important in the combination of elements for artistic installation and arrangement of the space. The guest uses all five senses to decipher the ‘codes’ that the host has carefully revealed and concealed, sharing the host’s intentions in silence. This is the essential pleasure of tea.”
Sadoka (master of tea ceremony) Soshin Kimura was born in 1976 in Ehime pref. and was graduated from Kobe University. Mr. Kimura began learning sado from childhood and in 1997 established the Hoshinkai school. He presides over keikoba (practice halls) in Kyoto and Tokyo. At the same time, he is actively involved in writing on the theme of tea (chanoyu) in various affiliated media and in direction/production of exhibitions. Mr. Kimura frequently collaborates with creators/designers inside and outside Japan, and takes these opportunities to promote and popularize understanding of the sado world from various approaches. He won the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards Pastry Cookbook Grand Prize in 2015 for his book Ichi-nichi Ikka (One Day, One Sweet). He has also received awards from the Japanese Association of Museums and the China National Tea Museum in China.
Kyudo is one of Japan’s traditional martial arts, pairing the bow and arrow (yumiya) in shooting at a target. Bows (yumi) and arrows (ya) used as hunting gear from the Paleolithic period in Japan were developed as weaponry with sophisticated techniques by the samurai society after the 10th century, and also utilized in Shinto rituals and court events from ancient times.
Ms. Mariko Satake, a top-ranked (8-dan) master of kyudo, says, “Uniquely designed Japanese bows — extremely long and beautifully shaped — have been deified and treated with reverence as formal high-ranked tools, in the same way as swords.” Touching a bow from a sacred background offers insights into Japanese history and tradition — indeed, the martial art of kyudo embodies the Japanese heart. Thus, kyudo contests not only focus on striking the target (mato) but also on the beauty and the importance of bow-drawing posture.
Today, unified basic rules of archery called Shaho-Hassetsu (Eight Stages of Shooting) draw on characteristics of various kyudo schools, defined by the All Nippon Kyudo Federation (as central members) launched after WWII. This describes eight stages in the shooting sequence, starting from spreading the feet apart on the shooting position (shai) to make the footing (ashibumi); nocking the arrow on; drawing the bow; and ending with arrow release (hanare) from the correct posture.
Ms. Satake says, “Shaho-Hassetsu is divided into eight stages, all interlinked in one continuous action. Each stage is carefully conducted while unifying the flow of ki via the central axis of the body by focusing the breath in the lower abdomen (tanden).”
People may imagine that the main appeal of kyudo is the pleasure attained when, after such preparation, the arrow is released and flies right into the target. However, many kyudo practitioners (kyudoka) are also attracted by the spiritual training indispensable to the intense concentration which is required to hit the target.
Ms. Satake continues, “Once you start kyudo, you’ll gradually realize that shooting at a mato is like aiming at your own heart. Shooting (sha) is said to be ‘the shadow of the archer’s heart.’ I was rigorously taught by my master that all moments of everyday life are reflected in the way of drawing the bow, as well as in the grade and dignity of the shooting. In kyudo training, we seriously study not only arrow-shooting action but also behavior and demeanor as well as propriety under strict guidance. Through such training, the body and spirit are properly prepared and the foundation firmly established for drawing the bow. We devote ourselves to improving our skills while listening to the voices of the body and the bow, and to building our character. Such discipline is the Way of the Bow — kyudo.”
Born in 1947 in Wakayama pref., top-ranked (8-dan) kyudo master Ms. Mariko Satake started kyudo as a senior high school student. As a contestant, she set a brilliant record of awards in major competitive events including three championships of highest prestige in the All Nippon Kyudo Women’s Championships (Empress’s Trophies). In 1998, she was conferred Hanshi status — the highest title in the kyudo world. She also plays major roles in the central examination committee and as a central instructor in a number of events throughout the world, seeking to promote kyudo popularization while devoting herself to a quest for excellence in kyudo. In May 2016, Ms. Satake was commended as “Champion” in the Hanshi category of the All Japan Kyudo Championship, the highest possible award presented by the All Nippon Kyudo Federation.
Now approved as an official game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, karatedo is a martial art that originated in Okinawa. According to some sources, it is rooted in an ancient Okinawan martial art called te (meaning “hand” and pronounced “tee” in Okinawan), influenced by kenpo martial art from China, and further developed as karate (written as “Tang hand” in kanji). From the late 1910s, a group of Okinawan karateka (karate practitioners) gathered around Gichin Funakoshi started a serious effort to introduce karate to mainland Japan, and sometime around 1930, karate began to be called karatedo (the way of karate).
Even today, there are many different schools, and teaching methodology and rules vary by school. The “four major schools” of traditional karate are Shotokan-ryu founded by Gichin Funakoshi, Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, and Wado-ryu. Descriptions on this website are based on practices of these major schools.
The key quality of karatedo is reflected in the saying, “No taking action ahead of time in karate.” Its goal is self-protection with empty hands in an untimely attack by an adversary. It requires the karateka to train all parts of the body and make full use of them as weapons — including seiken (clenched fist), enpi (elbow), shittsui (kneecap), etc. Karate features basic techniques called kihon that include tsuki (punching) and keri (kicking); kata (forms) that combine and apply kihon techniques; and kumite, which is actual practice of techniques with an aite (opponent or practice partner).
Enbu is a demonstration of a predetermined series and order of waza (techniques), and its solo performance is often shown before juries in competition. There are 25 kata practiced in Shotokan-ryu karate, according to Ms. Ayano Nakamura of the Shotokan-ryu school, a two-time champion in the kata category at All Japan Karate Championship events. She says, “All kata begin with an uke (defense) pattern, and each kata has some meaning. For example, a kata called Kanku (written as ‘observing the sky’) starts with an upward gaze. There are various interpretations for this, but according to one theory, this initial action shows that the karateka is unarmed. Another kata called Enpi (written as ‘swallow flight’) is characterized by the nimbleness of a swallow for which it is named.”
Unlike enbu, kumite is a one-on-one competitive practice match featuring waza skills. Its main characteristic is control of sundome, which restrains dangerous techniques — stopping a few millimeters before contacting the body of the aite (opponent or practice partner) in order to avoid injuries during practice and competition.
Ms. Nakamura says, “In karatedo, it is most important to properly abide by rules and show courtesy. Karatedo is a martial art that nurtures strong will, patience, and self-control while enhancing skills with physical training through full utilization of the body and repeated practice. This is the great appeal of karatedo, I believe.”
Born in 1989 in Niigata pref., Ms. Ayano Nakamura started her karate practice in her early childhood under strict coaching by her father, the master instructor of a karate dojo (practice hall), and she set a brilliant record in competitive events from her elementary school period onwards. Today, she continues her karate career as an active practitioner while teaching children. She won championship awards in the kata category of All Japan Karate Championships (Japan Karate Association) during two consecutive years (2015 and 2016), and in the Asia Oceania Championships. She was chosen as a representative contestant for Japan in the World Karate Championships scheduled for August 2017 in Ireland.
Shodo is the art of expressing characters and words, using a fude (writing brush) dipped in sumi (black ink) produced by grinding an ink-cake on suzuri (inkstone), and writing on sheets of gasenshi (thin handmade paper). These bunboh-shihoh (“four treasures of stationery”) are the essential elements of sho (calligraphy).
Nowadays most people in Japan are literate but only a handful can perform sho. This form of artistic writing is practiced only by experts who have learned classical calligraphy techniques, and is different from writing characters in a stylish manner.
According to shoka (calligrapher) Koji Kakinuma, sho is a living entity. He says, “Most characters we encounter in life are simply typography without flesh and blood. What I’m trying to achieve through sho is letting blood circulate through these characters, helping them rise from the dead.”
Sho has accompanied the development of kanji characters, which are said to have originated in China 3,500 years ago, Over this long history, sho has been practiced by master calligraphers called nohitsuka in every era and dynasty of China and Japan. Sho left behind by past nohitsuka became “textbooks” for shoka of later eras, and nohitsuka of new eras emerged from shoka groups who learned classical texts. Repeated over hundreds of decades, this legacy of sho is today’s inheritance. Even now, penmanship practice with classical models called rinsho is indispensable to becoming a master of shodo, the way of writing.
Mr. Kakinuma says, “We constantly practice rinsho like conversing with great master calligraphers of the past, learning how those masters breathed and feeling their rhythm of writing, so we can explore how good writing can maintain beautiful natural balance. After such painstaking effort, we may be able at last to bring a glimpse of individuality to the world of sho, I believe. If classical texts are kata (styles), and we adhere to these kata most of our lives, the supreme goal is becoming a kata-yaburi (style breaker).”
He continues, “Sho is a one-time-only art of expressing ‘nowness’ (immediacy). Even when rewriting the same character thousands of times, it isn’t the same sho. However, stroke order and classical cursive styles follow long-established rules. Calligraphers who can bring ‘nowness’ to characters while conforming to strict rules are worthy of being called nohitsuka.”
Our project team asked Mr. Kakinuma to write three sho works. After spreading gasenshi (calligraphy paper) over a mosen (felt mat), he practices kuusho by test-writing characters in space while planning strokes with a fude (writing brush). Then, the fude is dipped in sumi (black ink) — a choice of deep black noh-boku (thick ink) or usu-zumi (thin ink) for beautiful bleed gradations.
Calmly regulating breathing, the shoka makes the crucial first stroke (nyuhitsu) on the paper that determines the finish of the work. Afterwards, the fude is guided along through the natural flow of characters, following rules of stroke order and classical cursive style. As a line is drawn, breath is held or exhaled; when the fude tip is lifted from the paper, breath is inhaled. Then the shoka promptly moves on to the next dot or line. Once the flow of writing starts, it cannot be stopped and should not be corrected by overwriting a stroke. But sometimes a flawed start can be redeemed by the quality of the work in its entirety.
After completion, the fude is set aside and the work is checked. Mr. Kakinuma says, “We write sho on paper placed on the floor, but we elevate the work and attach the paper to a wall to observe it. If characters ‘rise up’ before you, then sho is vigorously alive.”
Shoka (calligrapher) Koji Kakinuma was born in 1970 in Yaita, Tochigi pref. A graduate of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, Shodo Course, Faculty of Education, Tokyo Gakugei University, he also served as an honorary calligrapher at Princeton University while a visiting scholar from 2006-2007. In 2013, Mr. Kakinuma held a solo exhibition at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. He has received a number of major awards including Higashi-Kuninomiya International Cultural Award (Spring 2012), 1st Yaita Honorary Citizen Award, 4th Teshima-Yukei Award, and Mainichi Shodo Exhibition Mainichi Awards, etc. He wrote the titles of Fuu-Rin-Ka-Zan NHK Taiga Drama (TV), “Achilles and the Tortoise” (film) by Takeshi Kitano, etc.
Noh (also known as nohgaku) is Japan’s unique performing art on stage. Said to be the world’s oldest of presently performed dramatic arts, nohgaku theater is registered as an intangible cultural asset by UNESCO. The history of this traditional drama goes back to such ancient entertainments as folk dances, mimicry, and impersonation. These different performing arts, gathered together and combined with festive events and rites held by Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, showed unique development.
This performing art eventually acquired its noh style from the aesthetics of yugen — characterized by mystical depth and subtle grace — through the efforts of Kan’ami (father) and Zeami (son) at the zenith of the Muromachi era (end of 14th century to early 15th century). Texts (shisho) of scenarios written (and edited) by the father and son became a cultural legacy, and programs based on these works are faithfully performed even today.
Noh — known as sarugaku in those times — continued to evolve and was passed down through the patronage of clan lords. During the Edo period, sarugaku was preserved as a required accomplishment (called shikigaku) of the samurai class but lost popularity and fell into decay as the Tokugawa shogunate ended. After the Meiji Restoration, this dramatic art acquired the patronage of the powerful political and business establishment. Under the name of noh, it was gradually restored as a traditional performing art, which the general public can also appreciate today.
Programs on themes of classical literature and historical battles make up the majority of noh repertory, with each play featuring a primary role — warrior (general commander), onna (woman), divinity, spirit, oni (demon/ogre), etc. Nohgakushi (noh player) Yaemon Yamashina says, “Noh is an art that communicates the suffering of people and the mind and soul of the socially vulnerable, and there are neither winners nor losers. For example, even if an oni is punished in a play, the oni is not a villain but a spirit who expresses torment.”
In most cases, noh is performed only by a shite who plays the main character, a waki who tells the story, and sometimes a tsure who accompanies the shite. On stage are ohayashi instrumentalists and jiutai choir who support songs performed by the shite. Also, noh is characterized by wearing men (a mask). Mainly worn by the shite main character, the type of men varies — including okina (old man), onna (woman), otoko (man), han’nya (female demon), etc., depending on the shite role. These masks (also called nohmen) can convey sensitive facial expressions through changing reflections of light captured in subtle motions and facial angles. For example, the intimidating look of the han’nya mask can sometimes reveal the ogre’s pain and sadness.
Mr. Yamashina says, “I myself am still in the process of learning the ‘aesthetics of yugen’ but I am gradually getting to know that this means the tranquil flow of time and its beauty. Both outer beauty and inner beauty are regarded as essential. Therefore, even if playing an ogre’s role, the sense of beauty should not be lost.”
Born in 1961, Yaemon Yamashina is the second son of Sakon Kanze, 25th Grand Master of the Kanze School Head Family — directly descended from Kan’ami and Zeami who completed the foundation of noh-style drama. He is also a younger brother of Kiyokazu Kanze, the 26th Grand Master of the Kanze School. In 2007, he succeeded to the name of the Yamashina family, which is famous for Ohmi Sarugaku-style noh and is also the General Holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property. He appears in many noh performing events in Japan and internationally as Kanze-ryu shite-kata (a main role player of the Kanze School). He also in charge of school education, commentates on nohgaku, and devotes effort to popularization of noh culture.
Judo can be called the world’s best-known Japanese martial art. Because it appears as one of the Olympic games, people may regard this as an athletic event. However, judo is an essential character building process like other Japanese martial arts. A judoka (practitioner) seeking exercise or matches depends on opponents and must treat them with respect. According to its founding philosophy, “Judo begins and ends with courtesy.”
Judo expert and Olympic gold medalist Kosei Inoue reflects on the key role judo has played on his path in life: “I could not only nurture physical strength — needless to say — but also learn the importance of respecting people and cooperation. Judo has indeed taught me all necessary things for my life and strength for living.”
Created by Jigoro Kanoh in 1882, the martial art of judo is based on offensive and defensive techniques originating with jujutsu, utilizing only bare hands or short weaponry. Since then, judo has been adopted into police training and school curriculums.
The guiding philosophy of judo is to “make body and spirit work most effectively.” Based on judo teaching principles, a challenger seeks to break the opponent’s body balance (kuzushi), assume a dominant position over the opponent (tsukuri), and demonstrate “finishing” waza (techniques) to defeat the opponent (kake). Waza include the famous seoi-nage (shoulder throw), uchi-mata (inner thigh throw), and ohsoto-gari (large outer reap), and tachi-waza (standing) and ne-waza (prone) techniques. Judoka learn important skills through kata-geiko (forms exercise) and kumi-geiko (matching exercise) called ran-dori (free practice).
Mr. Inoue says, “It is undeniable that international judo students find it appealing to fight with acquired techniques using their bodies alone. I believe students from any country and at any age are fascinated by the fact that they can forge spiritual strength through discipline and build character through training techniques.
That’s what I believe the cultural sport called judo — originating in the soil of Japan — is all about.”
Born in 1978 in Miyazaki pref., Kosei Inoue began judo practice at five years old. He won the gold medal in the men’s under 100kg class at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and participated in the 2004 Athens Olympics as captain of the Japanese team. After he retired in 2008, he took charge of training junior judo practitioners at the Judo Club of Tokai University, his alma mater. In 2012, Mr. Inoue became director of the All Japan Men’s Team, which achieved the remarkable record of winning medals in all weight classes at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
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