This year (2008) is the Centennial of Japanese Immigration to Brazil. There are many events scheduled to celebrate this Centennial, one of which is the publication of a book containing the history of kendo in Brazil. And the author of this article is currently researching this fascinating topic.
The purpose of this article, split in two parts, is to present a brief overview about the little known history of kendo in Brazil, as well as bringing forward some of the difficulties and challenges faced during the research.
The first difficulty lies in the author himself, who has a background in Science, not Literature or Arts. It would be too big a digression to explain why such person is doing this work, but it should be pointed out that this unusual background makes this research more similar to an exact science publication than an anthropological or literary piece of work.
When was kendo first introduced in Brazil? Getting the answer to this crucial question showed some interesting challenges from the very beginning. To begin with, the Brazilian Kendo Confederation (CBK) has no publication on this subject, and the historical materials it has are scattered among many people.
Likewise, records on Brazilian kendo are scattered in many books and newspapers from different museums. Notably the Japanese Immigration Historical Museum stores a great number of publications, but nonetheless a patient work of data gathering, analysis and treatment is needed.
It is fundamental to state that this is the first time that a book on Brazilian kendo history is being written, a hundred years after the arrival of Kasato Maru, the first ship to bring large numbers of Japanese immigrants to Brazil in 1908. After a century, most of the historical material and data has been lost, and today there are large gaps of information, which unfortunately may be left forever unfilled.
However, the introduction of kendo in Brazil is clearly explained in the book Imin Yonjûnenshi, compiled by Rocro Kowyama in the 40th Anniversary of Japanese Immigration. According to this book, there was a person called Tokutaro Haga, who was kendo instructor in the police of Ehime Prefecture, holding a 2nd dan given by the Dai Nippon Butokukai.
Haga was the only one of the Kasato Maru immigrants who brought kendo gear to Brazil and therefore he can be considered as the person who first brought kendo to Brazil. There are also records about a small kendo tournament held in the Kasato Maru, and this can be considered as the first kendo tournament held in the century-old Japanese immigration to Brazil.
Interesting enough, the name of Haga was no longer heard of as soon as he arrived in Brazil. According to his son, who is 92 years old now, he became a confectioner and became too busy to train kendo, given the huge demand he had for his pastries.
After Haga, there is a gap of fourteen years till the next mention to kendo in Brazil. The next mention is dated of 1922, when a newspaper of the Japanese community in Brazil reports the celebration of Tenchôsetsu, the Anniversary of the Emperor, in the city of São Paulo, where gekken shiai, kendo matches, were held. The scribbles left by Haruka Yamashita, one of the most important names in the post-WWII Brazilian Kendo, tell that Midori Kobayashi, 3rd dan, took part of those matches.
The name of Midori Kobayashi, as well as of his school, Seishû Guijuku (Missão Japonesa no Brasil), was well known in the pre-WWII Japanese community in Brazil. An educator and a preacher, he was one of the people who most promoted kendo in Brazil before World War II, opening the first dojo (practice hall) of kendo in Brazil, in 1928.
Since then, kendo started to spread in Brazil, mainly among the Japanese immigrants. Also, many immigrants who arrived from Japan were also practitioners of the art, creating the necessary élan to constitute the Hakkoku Jûkendô Renmei, Brazilian Judo and Kendo Federation, in 1933, 25th Anniversary of the Japanese Immigration to Brazil.
Hakkoku Jûkendô Renmei was the organization who managed and promoted not only judo and kendo, but all Japanese traditional martial arts in Brazil till World War II. It had the support of the Japanese Consulate in Brazil, the KKKK (Kaigai Kôgyô Kabushiki Kaisha, an immigration company) and Sociedade Colonizadora Bratac (Bratac Settlement Society), the three most powerful and influential entities of the Japanese community by then.
It is certain that kendo was practiced in various locations in Brazil before World War II, but unfortunately most of the material and data about such practices has been lost, and it has become quite hard, if not totally unlikely, to have a precise account of pre-WWII kendo in Brazil. Furthermore, most people who lived then has already passed away, and it is now impossible to obtain even testimonials and oral accounts.
Even so, some materials can be found even today. One example is the publication called “Butoku”, whose 2nd number was published by Hakkoku Jûkendô Renmei in 1937. It has a list of names of people and places affiliated to that organization, being nowadays a priceless source of information.
The complete list of the kendo instructors of pre-WWII Brazilian kendo is just too long to be presented here, but it includes names like Eiji Kikuchi, 5th dan, Sanae Itô, 5th dan, Yoshihiko Miyadera, 4º dan, Matsukichi Sasaki, 4th dan, Kenji Niwase, 4th dan, Eiji Sasaki Seirenshô, Hisayoshi Hayashi 4th dan, Shigeru Fujiwara, 4th dan e Matsumaro Sakurada, 3rd dan, among many others. All of them contributed in a remarkable way to the Brazilian kendo.
The main kendo event of those times was the Zenpaku Budô Taikai, the Brazilian Budo Championship, held annually around August. Apart from that, there were regional tournaments, as well as bouts between kendo academies.
Kendo was practiced in schools and in community centers. In places without such infrastructure, any building was used. Where there was no suitable buildings, kendo was practiced in open air, usually in the terreiro, an open place where coffee was left to dry.
However, the world scenario from the second half of the 1930s was not auspicious at all, and the Japanese community in Brazil was cast into a turbulent situation. The restriction to the immigration, as well as the prohibition on teaching the Japanese language, was a shock to all Japanese living in Brazil.
As the Pacific War broke out, Japan and Brazil saw themselves in opposite sides, further increasing the control and repression on the Japanese community. In January 1942, Brazil broke all diplomatic relations with the Axis countries, including Japan, and some days later, DEOPS (Specialized Division for Political and Social Order, a police division) ordered the formal dissolution of Hakkoku Jûkendô Renmei, as part of the measures applied against the Japanese community in Brazil. This marks the end of pre-WWII Brazilian kendo.
The second and last part of this article will present a short summary of kendo in Brazil after World War II.
About the author:
Grandson of Japanese immigrants, he has a PhD in Engineering at the University of São Paulo. Currently, he is researching the history of kendo in Brazil.