Three Ages of British Kendo: The Introduction of a Unique Sporting and Cultural Activity

By Paul Budden

Britain & Japan Biographical Portraits Vol IX (pp.39-53)

Japan Society 2015

THE ANCIENT ART of kendō has been studied and practised throughout Japan for centuries and has spread worldwide. BEGINNINGS IN BRITAIN The Royal armouries possess Samurai armours sent as gifts in 1613 by Tokugawa Hidetada to James I, via John Saris. However the first public reference to Japanese Kendō armour was in a Liverpool Mercury Newspaper advertisement dated 12 December 1865: WITHOUT RESERVE On Thursday next, the 14th instant, at Two o’clock, at the Brokers Office. Colonial-buildings 36, Dale-street, 200 Open Japanese FANS, A Quality IVORY CURIOSITIES, A Suit of Japanese FENCING ARMOUR, A Quality LEATHER, PAPER, Ac, Ac. For further particulars apply to MALCOM GREAME & C0., 36, Dale-street. In 1862 the Japanese had sent their first official representatives to Europe, since first contact in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the World Fair in Paris in 1867 the arts and artifacts in the Japanese exhibition aroused great interest. Fascination in things Japanese continued to rise culminating in 1885 with the opening of the Japanese village in Knightsbridge London. At Tannaker Buhicrosan’s Japanese Village in Knightsbridge, according to pictorial records and newspaper articles of the time, there were daily demonstrations of ‘Kendō often described as ‘Fencing and Single Stick Exercise’ (see image taken from a flyer for the village) and Sumo a form of Japanese wrestling. The London Standard Saturday 10 January 1885 Yesterday a numerous party were invited to a private inspection, and after lunch were entertained with an exhibition of Japanese fencing, wrestling, and dancing in the theatre attached to the Village. The fencing with bamboo canes, between two athletes, padded and wearing wire masks, caused considerable amusement and the performers certainly displayed considerable adroitness. The wrestling was rather slow and, according to English notions of the exercise, extremely Tame. It is probable that there had been displays of kendō. at the International Health exhibition of 1884 as according to the BKA History ‘The fencing, as those who saw the display of masks, pads, gloves and bamboo swords sent from Tokyo gymnasium to the Health Exhibition’. THE DEVELOPMENT OF KENDō IN BRITAIN According to a newspaper article of 23 May 1898, the crew of the Japanese imperial navy cruiser Takasago presented a Tyneside audience with an ‘entertainment’ that included kendō.


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4 May 2024