Musashi Rules

The last six months of my life has been pretty much all about Miyamoto Musashi. When I’m not doing my real job, Musashi is sure to be there giving me a hard time. He has even been haunting my dreams of late. The reason for this obsessiveness is a recent book project that, in a fleeting moment of madness, I decided to take on. Yes folks, the world’s bookshelves are about to be adorned with yet another translation of Musashi’s classic, Gorin-no-Sho. As if we need another one, right? True enough, if I’m perfectly honest; but it has been a profound undertaking for my own personal development in kendo. I…

Isunoki – The little known yet hardest and heaviest tree in Japan

The isunoki tree (English; distylium racemosum), often shortened to isu in Japanese, is an evergreen, broad-leaved tree that stretches up to 20m in height. It grows mostly to the east of the Kanto region. Often the leaves will have insect galls forming on them. In the old days, children picked up the galls which were empty after the insects had left, and used it as a pipe. This was often called the hyon fruit. Because of this, the isunoki is often called hyon-noki. Often Japanese people would say “Hyon-na koto kara” meaning something accidental, but some theories that this “hyon” comes from hyon-noki. That is how much isunoki is connected…

Are you avoiding Aizome for fear of fading?

The Ai (indigo) color is used not only in Kendo equipment but has been used throughout Japanese culture. Its deepness has naturally blended with the Japanese lifestyle. There is a saying; “Blue comes from Ai and is bluer than the Ai”. This refers to the blue color extracted from the Ai-grass, noting that its color is more beautiful than the color of the Ai-grass itself. This is applied as a idiom to refer to an apprentice surpassing his master. Ai is possibly the oldest plant dye used by humans, and is the natural world, at least among plants, it is the only things that gives a naturally blue color. It…

Japanese Language and Samurai Aesthetics

I have written a number of entries about the Japanese sword and Japanese idioms, which has gained much more response than I had imagined. For this edition, I would like to take things a little broader, focusing not only on the sword but on the “samurai” as we explore more idiomatic expressions. Some of these are still used in everyday conversation, whereas some have become archaic, but they all artfully express the samurai or the bushi way of life. Hana wa sakura-gi hito wa bushi (Cherry-blossoms are to flowers what bushi are to men) Among flowers cherry blossoms are the most beautiful, and among men bushi are the best. This…

The Japanese Sword and the Japanese Idioms Part 4

There are even more sword-related Japanese idioms we would like to introduce to you. “Tsukeyaki-ba” (Blade forged and stuck on) When a sword loses its sharpness, sometimes swordsmiths will stick on a tempered blade made of steel. This is called Tsukeyaki-ba, but such a blade very quickly loses its cutting ability and becomes useless. From this analogy, this term refers to knowledge and skills that were hastily acquired without maturity. “Yaki ga mawaru” (The burn gets around) During the forging process of the Japanese sword, the blade is hardened by putting it through the fire. But too much fire actually weakens its sharpness. This has developed into an idiom which…

The Japanese Sword and the Japanese Idioms Part 3

We will continue introducing Japanese idioms that related to the sword. “Seppa tsumaru” (The seppa is stuck) Seppa is a long elliptical thin metal piece on both sides of the swordguard. One is placed between the guard and the habaki (the metal encircling the base of the blade), and another between the guard and the hilt. It is designed to stabilize the swordguard. When this seppa is stuck, the sword cannot be drawn, leaving you in a rather urgent situation in which you cannot fight and cannot run away. When one is in such a situation, we used the term seppa tsumaru. “Mi kara deta sabi” (The rust from the…

Are you familiar with the expression byo-jo-shin-kore-do?

Are you familiar with the expression byo-jo-shin-kore-do? The follow is the definition: “In martial arts terms – to expel the four diseases of fear, alarm, confusion, and doubt, to keep a calm mind, and remain cool-headed is of utmost importance; this is the right path for man the highest form of morality.” This spirit is considered the highest moral standard. From its very beginnings, martial arts as put a huge emphasis on “respec”. Kendo, sumo-do, naginata-do all have the suffix “-do” attached to it. During such contests, if you clench your fists to show your delight, the merits of that move will be retracted. This is because such acts are…

The Japanese Sword and the Japanese Idioms Part 2

For this entry, I would like to continue to introduce Japanese idioms related to the Japanese sword. “Dotanba” (A podium made of sand) During the Edo period, the execution place for criminals had a podium made by a piling up sand. These grounds were also used to test out swords by cutting up bodies. Often there would be a carving in the sword to indicate the number of bodies it successfully severed on debut! The podium made by the pile of sand is called dotanba. At the dotanba, one has nowhere to escape and is about to meet his fate. Today this word is used for desperate situations or circumstances…

The Japanese Sword and the Japanese Idioms

The Japanese Sword – it has unbelievable cutting power, but does not break or bend. It is called the soul of the samurai and it treated not only as a weapon but carries a spiritual, religious aura. It appears in the mythologies of Kojiki and Nihonshoki (two of Japan’s oldest and most important books of classical Japanese history), called reiken (spirit-sword) or houken (treasure-sword) and is steeped in much mystery. Japanese people are uniquely known for keeping them as jewelry to appreciate its beauty rather than as a collection of antique items. Yes, it is believed that number of samurai who used the sword and the craftsmen who made them…

Suzaku – The never ending challenge, moving the sword craft into the future

Written by Yamamoto Yasumasa(Tozando)Many roads passed through the ancient capital of Kyoto, for example the Tokaido, Sanyodo and Hokurikudo roads. The most important 7 main roads on which you could enter and leave Kyoto, in other words check points, were called Kyo no Nanakuchi(the seven entrances of Kyoto). Even to this day there are train stations and locations which reminds us of this history, such as Kuramaguchi and Tanbaguchi. Among those seven entrances, there was one called Awataguchi, nowadays it would be somewhere located close to the Higashiyama-Sanjo, or Sanjo Keihan Station area. Anyone who has studied a bit about Japanese swords would recognize Awataguchi as the area from where…