(original) Noma Dōjō Part 1 (旧) 野間道場 パート1

north side 北の方

A previous post looked at the current Noma Dōjō, which opened in 2007. This post will be the first in a series that will look at its famous and much beloved predecessor, the original Noma Dōjō. It was the last of Tōkyō’s “Four Great Dōjō1” prior to its demolition.

Before the original Noma Dōjō became history, several architect members of the dōjō donated their time to document the building and produced some architectural drawings. Some of the drawings and photographs resulting from this survey were published2. As I was never able to visit the original Noma Dōjō the description in this and subsequent posts is based on my understanding of this material. Inevitably not all information is clear and more data is available for some parts of the building than others. Educated guess work was therefore involved in creating the illustrations contained herein. Any errors are therefore due to my own misunderstanding of the information I had at hand.

northwest 北西の方

The original Noma Dōjō will be presented in four parts as follows.

Part 1 – Urban Context and Development History

Part 2 – Internal Layout

Part 3 – Architectural Features

Part 4 – Death and Rebirth

NB: From this point forward, the original Noma Dōjō will be referred to simply as “Noma Dōjō” or “the dōjō”

In the illustrations the dōjō is on a base corresponding to the site boundaries with the addition of the adjacent access road to the east of the site. The bands below the dōjō are cutaways of the site.

Part 1 – Urban Context and Development History
Noma Dōjō was founded by and is named after Noma Seiji (野間 清治), the founder of Kōdansha (株式会社講談社), today Japan’s largest publisher. Although the dōjō became famous for its open door policy, it started as and continues to be a private company dōjō and its history is intertwined with that of the company and its founder.

northeast 北東の方

Urban Context: Kōdansha and Bunkyō-ku
Noma Seiji was born in Meiji 11 (明治11年/1878) in what is now Kiryū, Gunma Prefecture (群馬県桐生市). He was the second son born into a budō family. His father was a swordsman while his mother practiced kendō, naginata and kusarigama. At the age of sixteen Noma Seiji moved to Tōkyō but initially only stayed one year. In Meiji 35 (明治35年/1902) he made a permanent move to the capital when he started to attend Tōkyō Imperial University (東京帝国大学). In Meiji 42 (明治42年/1909) he founded the Dai-Nippon Yūbenkai (大日本雄弁会/Great Japan Oratorical Society), from which today’s Kōdansha was spun-off. Noma Seiji’s publishing career started by reporting the proceedings at Chinzan-sō (椿山荘 lit. House of Camellia Mountain).

Located in Bunkyō-ku Tokyo along the banks of Kanda River (神田川), Chinzan-sō was an aristocratic estate built in the Meiji Period by Yamagata Aritomo (山縣 有朋). Yamagata was a leading figure in the history of Japanese modernization, directly having a hand in the strengthening and expansion of Japan’s Imperial Army. He also served as Prime Minister twice. Often Yamagata hosted meetings with other politicians at the Chinzan-sō estate, including meetings were the Meiji Emperor was in attendance. Today Chinzan-sō remains as a Japanese garden open to the public and is popular as a wedding venue. It is also famous for evening firefly viewing in June3.

southeast 南東の方

Kōdansha’s headquarters, also in Bunkyō-ku, is located about ten minutes walk from Chinzan-sō. The corporate campus remains there today on the slopes of Otowa Hill. The dōjō was situated behind the main buildings lining Mejiro-dōri (目白通り/Mejiro Street). On the north end of Mejiro-dōri, which runs through Otowa Valley, is Gokokuji (護国寺), a large Buddhist temple.

This area is known by different names depending on the map or reference consulted. These include Otowa (音羽), Ōtsuka (大塚) and Gokokuji (護国寺). The official address is Otowa, but the police station literally next door is called Ōtsuka Police Station while many people will refer to the area as Gokokuji after the closest Tōkyō Metro station. Confusingly, JR Ōtsuka station and the area of Tōkyō generally thought of as Ōtsuka is located some twenty minutes walk further north. The overlapping place names and jurisdictions in Tōkyō could be a dissertation in itself.

Historically this area of what is now inner Tōkyō was at the fringes of Old Edo. Just a few minutes walk north on Mejiro-dōri would have been agricultural land in feudal times. From the Meiji Period the area would see much development resulting in Mejiro-dōri becoming the bustling modern commercial street that it is today. A tram line was installed (and later removed) along Mejiro-dōri. Tōkyō Metro Yūrakuchō Line was built under this avenue along with Gokokuji station. Tōkyō’s elevated urban expressways would also run through this area with Shuto Expressway No.5 (首都高速5号) cutting through the middle of Kōdansha’s campus on its way to Ikebukuro. This was done in preparation for the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics. Since these expressways were built after Tōkyō was already quite densely developed, they often sat over the only open expanse of land left, which were the waterways. Old maps of the area show a stream called Tsurumaki-gawa (弦巻川) running parallel to Mejiro-dōri behind the first line of buildings on the west side of the street. This stream separated Kōdansha’s main commercial buildings on Mejiro-dōri from buildings behind it such as Noma Seiji’s estate and Noma Dōjō. This tributary of Kanda River is no longer evident as it is covered over with the Shuto No.5. above it.

southwest 南西の方

Development History
Noma Seiji was an enthusiastic kendōist having started practice as a schoolboy. His eldest son, Noma Hisashi (野間 恒) would practice kendō at Ōtsuka Police Station and eventually became a member of Yūshinkan (有信館)4. Noma Seiji built Noma Dōjō in Taishō 14 (大正 14/1925) for the benefit of his employees. Located in what was a corner of his residential estate (itself behind the Kōdansha offices), it is a stand alone building incorporating dormitory rooms for the trainees who were often boys joining the company at the age of fifteen. The dōjō was not built completely new. It is thought that parts of Noma Dōjō came from an older dōjō located in the Kanda Myōjinshita (神田明神下) area of Tōkyō. Unfortunately, there is not enough clear documentation to verify this nor to give more information on the nature of this predecessor structure.

Besides its use as a company dōjō, Noma Seiji famously invited renown kendōists to teach and opened the doors of Noma Dōjō to any swordsman. At this time kendō was only just emerging from classical fencing schools, which often closed their doors to members of different traditions. Noma Seiji envisioned a place where all swordsman could gather and practice together. Due to this, the popularity of Noma Dōjō increased quickly and expansion of the facilities was necessary. These expansion phases are illustrated and described below.

expansion phases 増築フェーズ

(1) Original dōjō is built in Taishō 14 (大正14/1925) using some parts from an older dōjō previously located in Kanda. The initial facilities included the genkan, access hallway and most of the rooms in the north wing of the building, the jōdan’noma and side hallways and hikaenoma corresponding to the original keikojō. The original keikojō was five tatami mats wide and six tatami mats long (in reference to the long dimension of the tatami mat) or 9.09m wide x 10.91m long. A walkway wrapped all the way around the keikojō.

(2) According to documentation, it is unclear when this section was built. Based on what is probably the oldest photograph of Noma Dōjō, it would seem that this second story north wing section of the building was there from the beginning. It would also not make much architectural sense if this section were not there from the outset as the genkan protrusion overlaps this volume.

(3) Five years after the dōjō was initially completed, the first expansion took place in Shōwa 5 (昭和5/1930). This added six tatami mats worth of length to the keikojō thereby doubling the available floor space to 9.09m wide x 21.82m long. The walkway around the keikojō, second story dormitories and hikaenoma were also correspondingly extended.

(4) Three years after the initial expansion another expansion took place in Shōwa 8 (昭和8/1933) adding four more tatami mats worth of length to the keikojō. This brought the total length of the keikojō to 29m. From this point the keikojō, corresponding hikaenoma, dormitories and walkways would remain as they were until demolition three quarters of a century later.

(5) This was the final extension made in Heisei 9 (平成9年/1997). This extension provided additional sanitary and storage facilities.

(6) When approaching the genkan to the dōjō, Gokoku Jinga (not to be confused with the similarly named Gokokuji at the end of Mejiro-dori) could be found to the right. This small Shintō shrine was initially located next to a small waterfall on the Noma estate. It was moved to the illustrated location when the Shuto No.5 Expressway was built.

Subsequent posts in this series will look further into the original Noma Dōjō. Part 2 will look at the layout of the building. This will reveal the relationship of the keikojō to other parts of the building and site.

1 The other Great Dōjō were Takano Sasaburo’s Meishinkan that taught Ono-ha Ittō-ryū, Ishii Saburo’s Kodogikai and Nakayama Hakudō’s Yūshinkan, which is mentioned later in this post.

2 Due to copyright issues this post does not present these drawings. They were the basis for the illustrative material produced for this post however.

3 Across the street from Chinzan-sō is St. Mary’s Cathedral, a masterpiece of Modernist Architecture by Tange Kenzō. This structure can be seen from the current Noma Dōjō.

4 While the original Yūshinkan dōjō structure no longer survives, the Shindō Munen-ryū kenjutsu, Musō Shinden-ryū iaijutsu and Shintō Musō-ryū jojutsu taught there still survives today. The inheritors of the tradition continue to use the name Yūshinkan.

Reference Material
「文京区文化財年報」 文京区教育委員会 平18月7日10

Kodansha Kendo Club, Nomadojo Dokokai, The Guide Book of Nomadojo. Kodansha Kendo Club, 2001
(Japanese PDF version can be found through the PDF link to the right of this webpage).

This blog by a member of Noma Dōjō documented the demolition. The link provided goes directly to the entry regarding the connection with predecessor dōjō in Kanda.

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