Dream Material – Story behind the development of Hybrid Indigo Leather

A Half-Century Challenge -A Father to Son Story of Invention “Working as an artisan is incredibly tough, and I have worked hard to improve the working conditions since my father’s time” says Mr. Oka. His father is the Kazuman Tada, the late founder of Tada Industrial Corporation which manufactured Japanese kendo equipment and held more than 50% of shares in Japan. They have been involved in manufacturing kendo equipment for half a century, yet their unquenchable passion drives them on. Recently, China has taken over much of kendo gear manufacturing, but cost is not the only reason for this shift. It is hard, dirty work, and even with the advancement…

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…

Do not underestimate the importance of the mengane!

The mengane (the metal faceguard on the men) has no design extravaganza, but it carries the critical task of protecting the face – obviously a fatal spot. The thick vertical piece that runs through the mengane is called the mune(棟), and the many pieces running horizontally through the to are called higo(籤). The number of the mengane is actually the number of the higo. The circular base that supports the to and higo is called the daiza(台座). The mune and higo are visible, but the daiza gets buried inside the menbuchi and is completely hidden, but the daiza also absorbs the impact the most. Unlike the mune and higo, because…

Kendo’s Philosophy behind Non-Olympic Sport’s Worldwide Growth

On November 3, the 65th Japanese National Kendo Championship was held at the Nippon Budokan. This year, 5th dan Hidehisa Nishimura of the Kumamoto Prefectural Police, defeated 7th dan Ryoichi Uchimura of the Metropolitan Police with a double kote, claiming his second title which he first one two years ago and preventing Uchimura from winning his fourth championship. As the TV cameras captured Nishimura wearing the Tozando logo on his Bogu, I could not help myself cheering for him. Out of all the kenshi in the world, about 70% are Japanese, and the Japanese champion is usually considered the best in the world, even by international standards. The Kendo World…

Because we live in such a time, let’s think about Urushi Do-dai

Today, there is a tendency to wear lighter kendo equipments and wears, including the do-dai which is the topic for this entry. The bamboo do-dai of urushi (Japanese lacquer) coating is in fact losing popularity. It seems like a plastic do-dai named “Yamato-do” or the “Fiber-do” made of fiber is becoming the main do-dai used. But why would you paint expensive usushi over a do-dai that gets hit by the shinai? Urushi is a very strong and high-quality natural coating. Vessels with urushi coating are called shikki and in English they are called “japan”. The shining black of usushi coating has been highly valued as a traditional handicraft for its…

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…