Kano Society

The Kano Society



Jigoro Kano in North America

By Joseph R. Svinth © 2000. All rights reserved.

Although Jigoro Kano’s influence on North American judo came mostly through students trained at the Kodokan, he personally visited both the United States and Canada on several occasions. The following is therefore a synopsis of those visits.

Kano’s first visit to the United States took place during the winter of 1912-1913. While passing through New York City on his way home from the 1912 Olympics, he gave a judo exhibition attended by local sportswriters. Later, the ship Kano was on stopped in Honolulu. While paying his respects to the Japanese consul, Kano met with Shigemi Teshima, who with Naomatsu Kanshige had established a judo club in Honolulu in March 1909. During the 1970s, signs Kano brushed for Teshima still hung with pride in Honolulu’s Shunyokan Dojo.

Kano’s next American visit came in 1920. He reached San Francisco on June 24, 1920, and from there went to New York. Probably he spoke to both reporters and Japanese associations, but so far I have found nothing in print to substantiate this belief. After going to Europe to attend the Olympics, he returned to Japan via the United States. His port of entry was New York, and on December 23, 1920 he demonstrated his art at the New York Athletic Club. The New York Times said afterward that Kano and his partner, Ryoichi Taguchi, 5-dan, "went through a series of offensive and defensive movements … with an agility that drew frequent applause… Mr. Kano defined judo as the study of the maximum efficiency of the mind and body for the purpose of attack and defense."

Kano revisited the US in 1932. While his main purpose was to promote Japan’s bid for the 1940 Olympics, he also gave lectures. The title of his 1932 speech was probably "The Contribution of Jiudo to Education," as that was the title of his paper subsequently published in the Journal of Health and Physical Education.

From late July until the middle of August Kano was in California, where he attended the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Once the Games were over, though, Kano took his own private tour of the Pacific Coast. His traveling companions included Ryoichi Taguchi and Eitaro Suzuki.

The party reached Vancouver, British Columbia, on August 17, 1932. Among the people greeting them was Yoshitaka Mori, 1-dan. (Vancouver Dojo leader Shigetaka Sasaki was in Tokyo at the time, studying for his 3-dan ranking.)

The stay in Canada was only overnight, and the following afternoon Kano spoke to the Japanese Language Schoolteachers’ Assembly of the Northwest in Tacoma. His theme, unsurprisingly, was the role of judo in education. Consul Kiyoshi Uchiyama also spoke during this lecture. The gist of his speech was that the Nisei [second-generation Japanese Americans] needed to learn what Japanese language schools taught if they were to be able to properly interpret Japan for the benefit of European Americans.

On August 19, Kano gave a similar speech to the Japan Society of Seattle. This organization had been established in July 1923 and its mostly European American members included the chairman of the University of Washington’s Asian languages department, a city judge, the city school superintendent, and the city librarian. Kano told this distinguished group that the Nisei must live up to high standards and expectations if they were to fulfill their duties as patriotic American citizens. "This mighty ocean," said Kano:

is no longer is a dividing gulf. With the developing advancement of the lines of communication, year by year, the blue waters of the Pacific are rapidly becoming transformed into a connecting link that will eventually join us together in our common aim of world friendship and peace.

Afterwards Kano showed some judo moves. His helpers included Seattle Dojo’s George Maniwa and Kaimon Kudo. Said the Japanese-American Courier afterward, "Carefully and with the precision of a slow motion picture, Mr. Kano illustrated the science of Judo to his audience in such a manner that it was easy for everyone to understand."

Immediately following the demonstration Kano attended a garden party hosted by Japanese consul Kiyoshi Uchiyama and then a dinner hosted by the Seattle Yudanshakai (black belt association). One presumes that at formal dinners such as this, the younger black belts did not engage in their usual after-dinner game of seeing who could eat the most bowls of rice.

On August 20, Kano and Taguchi drove two hundred miles to Portland, Oregon. After Kano gave some speeches the two men sat for photographs with local judoka and their fathers. Then they drove back to Seattle. As Kano had another speech to give at the Nippon Kan (a still-extant community theater) that night, the speedometer probably eased past seventy miles per hour as their automobile raced past the stump farms lining the newly completed highway between Vancouver and Olympia. [FN1]

At the Nippon Kan that evening, another Japanese visitor named Kyugoro Obata joined Kano on the platform. The secretary of Tokyo’s Japanese-American Relations Committee, Obata told the mostly Japanese audience that education and scholarship would effectuate a better understanding between the US and Japan. For his part, Kano said that the Nisei "must first of all be taught to become genuine and good American citizens. The ideal of world peace and mankind’s welfare must always be kept before them." Finally, said a Seattle community newspaper, "Both speakers frankly expressed the opinion, the Americans of Japanese ancestry could only fulfill their proper part in their country’s national life by becoming genuine citizens."

On August 21, Kano attended a Seattle judo tournament. "Originally the event had been scheduled for the Nippon Kan from 3 p.m.," explained the Japanese-American Courier, "but owing to the big sell-out of tickets throughout the Northwest, the change [to the larger Chamber of Commerce auditorium] was necessitated."

After watching the matches, Kano approved some promotions, including a 2-dan ranking for Ken Kuniyuki, a future leader of Southern California’s Nanka Yudanshakai. Finally, around 11:30 p.m., he and Taguchi boarded a train for San Francisco.

From San Francisco, Kano and Taguchi went to Yokohama via Honolulu. While in Honolulu, Kano took the time to visit the Hongwanji Japanese High School and pose for a photograph with its judoka. He also awarded the Hawaii Judo Association, which by then had ten member clubs, with a certificate of recognition. Dated November 15, 1932, the form was obviously signed in Tokyo and mailed rather than delivered on the spot.

Kano passed through Seattle again in July 1936. During his speech on July 6, he told his audience that the spirit of judo was not a spirit of competition but a spirit of cooperation. He added that Japan wanted the Olympic Games because nations became more sympathetic toward one another through competing in sport. Said he, "If China understood Japan’s intentions, they would try to cooperate in all matters. China is torn by internal wars. They misunderstand Japan’s real intention."

On July 7 Kano boarded a train and headed to British Columbia. Vancouver Dojo leader Shigetaka Sasaki greeted him at the station in Vancouver, and then accompanied Kano across Canada to New York City and Berlin. A photograph of their visit to Lake Louise in Banff can be found in the University of British Columbia archives and the cover of Glynn Leyshon’s Judoka.

In New York City on July 16, Kano held a press conference at the Hotel Astor. After the obligatory luncheon, Kano attended a judo exhibition given by the Jiu-Jitsu Club located at 114 W. 48th Street. His host was T. Shozo Kuwashima [FN2] and the Japanese-American Courier reported that "among the judoists were not a few Japanese and American women who have taken up the art."

On his way back to Japan Kano visited with the Japanese community in Los Angeles. On October 23 he attended a dinner at the Kawafuku restaurant in Los Angeles. As the judoka who paid for the dinner included the professional wrestlers Kaimon Kudo and Shunichi Shikuma, the stories about Kano withholding promotions from professional wrestlers appear to owe more to postwar Olympic platitudes than fact.

The next two days found Kano watching a judo tournament pitting a Washington State all-star team against a California all-star team. Promotions approved as a result of this tournament included a 3-dan ranking for the future US Judo Federation president Masato Tamura.

Kano’s last visit to North America came during his return to Japan from an Olympic meeting in Cairo in 1938. His first stop was in New York City, and on April 17, Kano and members of the New York Dojo demonstrated judo for reporters, using some Japanese American black belts as his models. As usual, Kano accompanied the demonstration with a speech about how thinking about judo had caused him to create his theories about maximum efficiency and mutual welfare. When a reporter asked him how he reconciled the drive to win with the need sometimes to submit to overwhelming force, he replied, "When yielding is the highest efficient used of energy, then yielding is judo."

After the press conference, Kano went to the airport, where he caught a United Airlines DC-3 bound for Seattle via Chicago. On the evening of April 20, Kano ate dinner with members of the Seattle Yudanshakai at Seattle’s Gyokko Ken restaurant. Afterwards the Seattle judo association held a promotional tournament at Washington Hall. Fife’s Ryoichi Iwakiri received promotion to 3-dan while his fourteen-year old son George Makoto received promotion to 1-dan. [FN3] While some have claimed these as Kano’s last promotions, other Northwestern players including the future US Judo Federation president Eiichi Koiwai were promoted during this tournament, and it seems petty to argue about who stood last in line. More importantly, Kano visited the Kido Kan Dojo in Vancouver, British Columbia on April 22 and probably promoted someone there before leaving.

As for the impact of these visits on the young men who saw them, sixty years later Frank Moritsugu recalled Kano’s visit to Vancouver for the Judo Ontario newsletter:

[Stephen] Kamino-sensei did a quick phone-around in Kitsilano to get several of his students out of school that day and into dress clothes to rush downtown to wait outside the Vancouver dojo with other young judo people. As we waited, we were instructed in the technique of sai-kei-rei, an extremely low bow of respect, which we were to do when the great man arrived.

The taxi drew up. Mr. Sasaki got out first, and then came this small man in a dark suit and coat with a brown hat. He didn’t seem impressive at all until you got a good look at him. Then there he was: Jigoro Kano himself!

Under that hat, he looked just like the man whose portrait adorned every judo dojo we’d ever visited. And on the barked command from Kamino-sensei we did our sai-kei-rei, not daring to peek until we straightened up again.

A Note on Sources

The chief sources for this article were interviews with Nisei judoka conducted by the author between 1996 and 1998, and microfilmed community newspapers such as the Great Northern Daily News, Japanese-American Courier, and North American Times (Seattle) and Japan Times (Tokyo). See also:

Kano, Jigoro. "The Contribution of Jiudo to Education," Journal of Health and Physical Education, 3 (1932), 37-40, 58.

-----. "Jiudo: The Japanese Art of Self Defence," Living Age, 314 (1922), 724-731.

-----. "Olympic Games and Japan," Dai Nippon, 1936, 197-199.

-----. "Principles of Judo and Their Applications to all Phases of Human Activity," unpublished lecture given at the Parnassus Society, Athens, Greece, on June 5, 1934, reprinted as "Principles of Judo" in Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin, April 1948, 37-42.

Kano, Risei. "The Kodokan Judo" (Tokyo: The Kodokan, 1951)

Maekawa, Mineo. "Jigoro Kano’s Thoughts on Judo, with Special Reference to the Approach of Judo Thought during His Jujutsu Training Years," Bulletin of the Association for the Scientific Studies on Judo, Kodokan, Report V (1978), reprint from http://www.bstkd.com/kano1.htm.

----- and Hasegawa, Y. "Studies on Jigoro Kano: Significance of His Ideals on Physical Education and Judo," Bulletin of the Association for the Scientific Studies on Judo, Kodokan, Report II (1963); reprint from http://www.bstkd.com/jobo.1.htm.

Matsudaira, Tsuneo. "Sports and Physical Training in Modern Japan," Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society, London, 8 (1907/1909), 120.

Waterhouse, David, "Kano Jigoro and the Beginnings of the Judo Movement," Toronto, symposium, 1982, 169-178.


People who contributed information or stories included in this article included Howard Alexander, Richard Bowen, Jerry Dalien, Fujiko Tamura Gardner, Richard Hayes, Larry Kobayashi, Graham Noble, Teru Okawa, Kenji Okuda, Jim Onchi, Robert W. Smith, and David Waterhouse. The financial support of the Japanese American National Museum and the King County Landmarks and Heritage Program is also gratefully acknowledged.


FN1. I am well aware that during the 1930s the normal travel time on the Pacific Highway between Portland and Seattle was around five hours. Going that speed, however, would have made Kano late to his Seattle speech. And it is certain that Japanese Americans sometimes exceeded the posted speed limits. For example, in March 1920 the Seattle Star reported that a Japanese American named M. Yamato received a $100 fine for driving 65 miles per hour on the Pacific Highway near Kent, and by 1932 cars were much more powerful than they had been in 1920.

FN2. Remembered today mostly for his book written with A.R. Welch (Judo: Forty-One Lessons in the Modern Science of Jiu-Jitsu, 1938), Kuwashima was born in Kagawa Prefecture in 1893. After studying judo at Tokyo Agricultural College, he emigrated to the United States in 1916. He taught judo in Stockton and other Northern California locations until the mid-1930s, when he got a job teaching judo in New York and New Jersey. Later he moved to Chicago, where he operated a judo club until a skin disease forced his retirement in 1945. Demonstrators shown in British versions of Kuwashima’s book included Ted Mossom and Stan Bissdell.

FN3. On page 16 of "The History of American Judo," Judo USA, 3:3 (Jul 1977), Dennis Helm of the US Judo Federation historical committee wrote: "Professor [Ryoichi] Iwakiri exhibited such skill that he received his First Dan by Professor Kano at the age of thirteen. At that age, he could defeat everyone in his class. Since his father would not promote him, the promotion came directly from Kano." As Ryoichi Iwakiri did not start judo in the United States until about age eighteen this statement evidently refers to this promotion of Iwakiri’s son George Makoto in 1938. That said, I strongly doubt that either Iwakiri ever told anyone that they could defeat everyone in a club whose members included Masato Tamura, George Kawasaki, Sunji Dogen, Jack Ohashi, and all their brothers.


Memories of Jigoro Kano's Visit to the London Budokwai in August 1933

By Trevor Leggett

Reprinted courtesy of Richard Bowen and the Budokwai, http://www.budokwai.org. Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.

At that time the Budokwai was in small premises near Victoria Station. It was originally one of a small line of shops, including a little restaurant. It was a side street; the other side of the street was the high wall of Buckingham Palace grounds. The Budokwai had a ground floor dojo of about twenty tatami; the basement was another dojo of the same size, and the showers and changing rooms.

I was a young judo enthusiast of under twenty years when Dr. Kano came with Mr. Sumiyuki Kotani and Mr. Masami Takasaki. We were able to become members of the Kodokan, and I received from Dr. Kano a Ni-kyu certificate. Dr. Kano watched two English Budokwai members performing Nage-no-kata, and then Mr. Gunji Koizumi and Mr. Yukio Tani perforing Ju-no-kata. Koizumi had introduced some of his own ideas into the kata, and I heard that Dr. Kano remarked: "That is a modification of Ju-no-kata." He himself demonstrated a couple of the Itsutsu-no-kata. It must have been very difficult in the confined space. He made a little explanation for the English members, in his impeccable "Headmaster's English". (I mean by this that each word was separately and clearly pronounced, as an English Headmaster does to set a good example of correct pronunciation to pupils.) He told us that it would be difficult for us to understand the principles shown in the Itsutsu-no-kata. He added, with an unexpected touch of humour: "It is even more difficult to perform it. I myself have been studying it for over forty years, and I think I can now perform the first three correctly!"

On one of the days of his visit, he had been invited to an afternoon garden party at Buckingham Palace. It was arranged that he would come on to the Budokwai (which did not open till about 6 p.m. -- the members all had jobs which they could not leave till about 5:30.) As it happened, Dr. Kano left the Buckingham Palace party at about 5. He was wearing Court dress, which in those days was magnificently decorated with gold braid. As the Budokwai was so close to the Palace, he walked, but found it still closed. It was a warm sunny day, and he had not brought a raincoat. The Budokwai secretary arrived in a hurry just before 6; he looked in at the little restaurant next to the Budokwai, and (as he told me later), he saw this wonderful old Japanese man in full Court dress, sitting very upright and drinking tea, without any sign of embarrassment, before the amazed gaze of a few other customers in the tea shop.

I heard that on this same European trip, the coach in which Dr. Kano was travelling in Italy went off the mountain road, and nearly over the cliff edge. As it hung there perilously with half its length in space, some of the Italian passengers were almost hysterical with fear, but Dr. Kano sat undisturbed till they were able to climb to safety. (I heard this story at second-hand, so I cannot vouch for its truth in details, but certainly something of the sort happened. Perhaps what I have set down here may confirm some other more direct account.)

In London, Dr. Kano gave a public talk on the principles of judo to an audience of about 250 I should estimate, at the drill hall off Kensington High Street. We had expected it to consist largely of demonstrations of technique, and though he did show some movements, the main part of the talk was on intellectual and philosophic lines. This was a considerable surprise to most of the British audience, but his obvious intellectual capacity, combined with his almost magical charisma as founder of the mysterious judo, completely captivated the audience for nearly two hours.

He illustrated in various ways Saidai Noritsu Genri, which he translated for us as the principle of maximum efficiency. He said that goldfish in a tank could not live without some green stuff, but if there were too much, they could not live either. This particular example did not mean anything to me, as my family had never kept goldfish. But I was fascinated with the point, that to use too much force was against the principle of judo. Before going to university I had asked about the courses. I had been told that taking notes of the professors' lectures was an important and tiring job. So in the three months before going to London University, I learned shorthand, and got to a good speed, 160 words a minute. The high-speed instructor told us that it would be impossible unless we held the pen or pencil about halfway up, and very lightly but firmly. After this training, I had noticed that most of the British people held the pen rather tightly and near the point. This meant that they had to move the hand along the paper after nearly every word. I had noticed casually that this seemed very inefficient. But when I heard Dr. Kano speak of hi s principle of maximum efficiency as applying not only to technique on the mats but throughout life, I suddenly had a realization of what he meant. The principle could be applied in the smallest things of life as well as the largest things. Too much force -- holding the pen too tightly -- was as bad as too little force -- holding the pen too loosely. I understood that my whole nation, in one of our most common activities, namely writing -- had not understood the principle of maximum efficiency.

Another point he made was that this universal principle could be learnt in various ways -- for example, through commercial activity. But, he said, one of the best ways was through judo practice. He said that judo practice was a very good way to learn (1) self-control, (2) will: how to actualize long-term goals by suppressing short-term desires, and (3) mutual co-operation, rising above a superficial conflict to give mutual aid and benefit. British people were familiar with some of these points. For instance, we had long had a tradition about sport, that it should be training in character: one tries very hard, but one is not cast down in failure, nor over-elated by success. But the sporting tradition had nothing like the scope of Dr. Kano's principle, and it was already becoming eroded by professionalism. As a matter of fact, Dr. Kano was against having judo championships for this very reason, thinking that it probably would destroy the character-forming aspects of judo. In this he seems to have been right.

One of the things that puzzled us was Dr. Kano's insistence that the principles of judo (maximum efficiency: mutual aid and concession leading to mutual welfare and benefit) are all-pervading, though developed in Japan. He said repeatedly that these are not national things, but universal. I could not understand why he insisted on this point; I thought it was obvious. After all, Newton had discovered gravity, but it was not an English thing but a universal principle applying everywhere. Roentgen had discovered X-rays, but they were not German. Why was Dr. Kano emphasizing that judo principles were not specially Japanese, but all-pervading? He added that other branches of budo such as kendo were specialized applications of the universal principle of judo, namely maximum efficiency and mutual aid. It was not till I went to Japan towards the end of the 1930s that I understood why Dr. Kano insisted on this point, and how brave he was in doing so. He saw that Japan's future role would be to contribute to world culture, and not regard itself as a closed and superior society. I realized clearly the nature of that nationalism; high-minded though it undoubtedly sometimes was, I heard Admiral Jiro Nango give an address at the Dojo-biraki in 1940. He said that although Dr. Kano had seemed sometimes to say that kendo and budo in general were applications of the principles of judo, it would be truer to say that judo, like the other branches of budo, were in fact manifestations of the Japanese spirit of Yamato damashii.

Hearing this I realized what a clear-sighted man Dr. Kano was.


The Death of Professor Jigoro Kano, Shi-Han

By Mr. K. Hirasawa (Minister of Foreign Affairs)

Reprinted from Judo International, ed. Henri Plée, Paris, 1950, pages 3-4. Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.

It was the first of May [1938]. The weather was fine, although the wind was a little strong for the time of day. For the first time 'he' was absent from the dining room, and worried, I asked the Captain [of the Hikawa Maru] why he [Kano] was not there. He replied, 'His temperature is 39 degrees [Celsius; 102 F.] and he is in bed.'

We were worried because he was very old.

I was in the corridor when I heard Mr. Kano saying, 'No, I am not old.' He has been in the dining-room since 10.30 a.m. and was trying unsuccessfully to eat his breakfast. [The Japanese navy and merchant marine used Tokyo time rather than Greenwich Mean Time until after World War II, so the local time would have been around 7:30 a.m.]

When I came down into the dining-room, there were only four places there, and I asked, 'Is Mr. Kano coming down this evening?' because I didn't see his place laid. The Captain replied, 'He is very obstinate. He's absolutely determined to come.'

The four of us had begun our meal when Mr. Kano came in, supported by a steward. He was much more feeble than at the beginning of the evening. His face was pale, and he said, 'It is cold.' His legs were weak, and he sat himself down on his cushion. He shook with cold. He ate a piece of sukiyaki, another of meat, and drank a cup of sake. Immediately he was sick, and told the steward to bring him a bowl. He showed great patience, and I could scarcely bring myself to look at him so moving was courage.

When the Captain and the Chief Engineer we discussed the air battle over Hankow in China, and Mr. Nakai surveyed the Cairo conference. I asked if Mr. Kano could hear us, because he appeared extremely ill.

He ate some watered rice, and painfully drank a little sake, for his hands were trembling. The steward advised him many times to return to his cabin, but he invariably replied, 'No. Not yet.' He remained almost to the end of the meal and left accompanied by the steward.

We were very distressed, because he had really taxed his strength too much to be present at our reunion.

On the next day, his table was not laid. We were a little happier to see that he had changed his plans and was having his meals in his cabin, but we soon learnt that it had been the steward who prevailed upon him not to go out.

On the second of May, his temperature had risen to 40 degrees [Celsius; 104 F.]. The doctor placed poultices on his chest to prevent pneumonia, and made him as comfortable as possible.

We sent a telegram to Tokyo saying that he was extremely ill.

Thanks to the care that had been given him, his temperature had fallen to 38 degrees [Celsius; 100.4 F.] on the next day, and we hoped that it would not change before we reached Yokohama.

On the evening of the third of May, we had a party for the passengers at which the Doctor remained only for a moment. I did not think that it meant anything very important. No one enjoyed himself very much, the Captain went to bed early, and we broke up around midnight to return to our cabins. I saw a steward sitting in front of the door of Mr. Kano's cabin, so perhaps the Doctor was there. Without thinking that this was anything serious, I went to sleep in the adjoining cabin, at the time when he was beginning to die.

In the morning, as usual, I went down about 8.30 a.m. [Tokyo time] for my breakfast, when I met the Purser who told me, 'Mr. Kano is dead.' You cannot imagine how dumbfounded I was. I didn't know what to do. The Captain's eyes were red, he hadn't shaved, and everyone was silent.

I heard them say that Mr. Kano had died as if he were falling asleep, very peacefully, of pneumonia, at 6.33 in the morning.

In the meanwhile, his body lay in the next-door cabin. I knew nothing of the Olympic Games that were to have taken place in Tokyo, for he was travelling alone. I don't know why, but he seemed to have too much work for a single delegate.

He died only two days before we arrived in Yokohama.

I had the rare good fortune to pass the last eleven days with Mr. Kano, and I hope that the immense services that he rendered to Japan and to the world in general with such an unremitting devotion will always be remembered.

Editor's note: Hikawa Maru survived World War II and is presently a floating restaurant in Yokohama.