(original) Noma Dōjō Part 2 (旧) 野間道場 パート2

keikojō looking towards jōdan’noma

Initially constructed in Taishō/大正 14 (1925), Noma Dōjō’s enormous popularity quickly lead to significant expansions in Shōwa/昭和 5 (1930) and Shōwa/昭和 8 (1933). A final extension in Heisei平成 9 (1997), expanding support facilities, brought it to its final state. This second post in the series will look at the layout of the original Noma Dōjō as documented prior to demolition.

Part 2 – Internal Layout
Noma Dōjō was built as a stand alone building at the rear of Kōdansha’s Otowa campus. It was centered on the keikojō on the first floor and included a second floor with dormitory rooms on the eastern side of the building. All necessary support spaces such as changing and storage rooms were contained within this structure. While the dōjō belonged to Kōdansha, this detached nature allowed anyone wanting to participate in the daily early morning practice to drop in freely. In contrast, the current Noma Dōjō occupies the top floor of one of Kōdansha’s commercial office buildings and thus for security reasons any visitors will need to get a standing member to register them on the expected guest list.

axonometric from northwest

axonometric from southeast

Site Orientation and Approach
Noma Dōjō is orientated so that the length of the hall runs generally north-south. The approach to the site is on the north end and as such, the genkan is to the north of the keikojō. In its final state, there was no formal secondary entrance on the south end and thus all users would enter the building via the same genkan. This would seem at odds with the general preference for a southern entrance into the dōjō as described in this blog’s previous post about basic dōjō layout. However, it is not uncommon for a dōjō to have two or more entrances with a southern main entrance and a northern VIP’s entrance. Thus, it is speculated that Noma Dōjō may have had a southern entrance which was lost during its expansions, however, there are no available records to either prove or disprove this hypothesis.

At its zenith, the original Noma Dōjō structure was on the eastern end of its parcel with the northern and southern ends coming very close to the site boundaries. The northern end was connected to access from the road. The southern end had a fence over which were neighboring buildings. The eastern side of the building had a narrow strip of land before the site ended with a retaining wall with the topography dropping off beyond this. On the other side of this retaining wall was the access road. On this narrow strip of land between the eastern side of Noma Dōjō and the retaining wall were a number of cherry trees. To the west of the building there was space enough for a garden. The topography continued to rise up at the western end of the garden as Noma Dōjō effectively sat on the slope of Otowa Hill.

ground floor plan 1階の平面図

second floor plan 2階の平面図

Significance of Expansions
Before looking in detail at the layout of Noma Dōjō, it is worth understanding the series of expansions that the structure went through. When Noma Seiji decided to open the doors of the hall to all kenshi regardless of their ryūha, the popularity of the dōjō quickly grew. As a consequence, the physical structure of the hall expanded a number of times in order to accommodate this.

The original structure erected in 1925 was relatively square in plan. The keikojō itself at 9m x 10.9m was also nearly square. The extension of 1930 doubled the size of the keikojō to 9m x 21.8m long. A final extension of the practice floor was made soon after in 1933 bringing the keikojō to its peak size of 9m x 29m, nearly three times the size of the original. In 1925 and 1930 an open corridor wrapped the western and south sides of the keikojō much as it did in the structure’s ultimate state. In 1997 a final expansion was made to the structure with the addition of support spaces to the northwest corner of structure.

While it may have been possible that a southern entrance existed prior to the 1933 extension, with the keikojō reaching its maximum size there would have been no room at the south of the building to make a formal southern entrance feasible. The 1933 extension brought the structure very close to the site boundary with neighboring buildings beyond this boundary. Again, there is no available evidence that such a formal entrance ever did exist in the first place.

keikojō looking towards shimoseki

Ground Floor and Keikojō
The vast majority of the dōjō’s floor area was for the keikojō itself. All other spaces centered on this training floor. To the north of the keikojō was the genkan. This was a projection from the main mass of the building and serves as the only formal entrance into the building. Once entering into the genkan, shoes were removed prior to stepping up onto the wooden floor boards. From here hallways lead to other parts of the building. Another genkan also existed just to the west of the formal genkan, this time not projecting beyond the main mass of the building. This was marked as kyū-genkan (旧玄関), meaning “former genkan,” in Japanese plans. Based on the photograph of the initial construction of Noma Dōjō, it does not appear to be the case that this “former genkan” preceded the main genkan that came to be identified as the entrance to Noma Dōjō. Instead, it perhaps initially served as a secondary “daily” entrance. Such is the case with Mito Tōbukan where what appears to be the genkan is not actually in regular use while a less conspicuous side entrance is used most of the time.

west hallway 西廊下

Between the genkan and the keikojō was the jōdan’noma within which was a tokonoma. This both created a block that spatially separates the keikojō from the entrance and sets the hierarchy within the keikojō. A jōdan’noma, being the place where a VIP would be seated to observe the keikojō, is at the socially higher end of the hall and therefore the jōseki would have also been at this end. The jōdan’noma was raised relative to the keikojō such that it allows the shihan (師範/head instructor) to sit in seiza (正座/kneeling) while maintaining eye level with those practicing on the training floor. To either side of the jōdan’noma were direct entrances to the keikojō. Above the frame of the jōdan’noma hangs the kamidana, which reinforced the hierarchy set by the placement of the jōdan’noma.

south hallway 南廊下

Hallways or rōka (廊下) measuring 1.8m wide wrapped around the west and south of the keikojō. These were beyond the structural columns at the perimeter of the keikojō and aside from a waist height wooden rail in all but two of the column bays, there was no visual separation between this corridor and the keikojō. Glazed sliding doors, which can be extensively opened, separated these perimeter hallways from the exterior of the building. Armor shelving (not shown in the illustrations) were lined up against the southern external wall while a large box for holding shinai (bamboo practice swords) was situated at the north end of the west hallway. The keikojō, west and south hallways were level with each other but one step lower than rest of the ground floor. The rest of the ground floor all shared the same floor level with the exception of the initial area of the genkan, kyū-genkan and a small storage area in the 1997 extension that was only accessible from the outside.

east hallway & hikaenoma 東廊下と控えの馬

Adjacent to the east side of the keikojō were the hikaenoma. Like the jōdan’noma these were slightly raised relative to the keikojō floor level. There were five bays of hikaenoma, each measuring about 3.6m x 5.4m. The two original bays were of tatami. Bays from subsequent extensions had wooden floor boards and were labelled itanoma (板の間 wooden board area). By today’s standard, these hikaenoma were quite vast. To the east of the hikaenoma was another perimeter hallway with a glazed sliding glass doors separating this from the outside. Sliding shōji (not shown in the illustrations) separated the hikaenoma from the east hallway.

The rest of the ground floor was for support spaces. At the ends of the hikaenoma were storage closets (marked “cl.” in the plans). On the northeast corner of the ground floor were the kendo organization offices and a keikogi (training wear) storage room. In this area there was a set of stairs leading up to the second floor. The southeast corner had a small washroom and toilet. Another set of stairs at this end of the building also led up to the second floor. On the northwest corner of the ground floor was a changing room that existed prior to the 1997 extension, however records are not clear as to when exactly this was constructed. The 1997 extension added the rest of the support facilities on the northwest corner including the addition of the shihan’s tatami room off the changing room, bathing facilities, toilets and a kitchenette. The toilet facilities would have been shared by all members regardless of gender.

dormitory room 宿泊室

Second Floor
The second floor was built over the eastern and north side of the pre-1997 structure. The 1997 extension itself did not have a second floor though some drawings seem to suggest there may have been attic space used as storage in this section at some point. The second floor comprised mostly of individual dormitory rooms. These were originally for Kōdansha’s apprentices, who were mainly boys aged 15 years old. The number of these also increased as the structure was extended so that finally ten rooms in total were built. The stairs at the southern end of the building always existed and was shifted as the structure grew. A long dark hallway connected these rooms. This hallway was quite narrow at 90cm wide and only had natural light coming in at the ends or wherever a dormitory room had its door open. Overtime, as labor practices changed, these dormitory rooms fell to disused with only room no. 10 being used as additional office space for the kendo-bu prior to the building’s demolition.

In addition to these ten dormitory rooms, there are also storage rooms and the women’s changing room on the second floor. It is not clear when the storage room over the northern end of the building was built. It seems to appear in the photograph taken during initial construction but nevertheless records on this section seem to be ambiguous.

Interestingly, this second floor hallway was situated over the keikojō while the rooms were situated over the hikaenoma. As the keikojō had large wooden trusses to span the relatively wide training floor without intermediary support, the second floor hallway sat on top of the lower joist of these trusses. With the keikojō already having a taller ceiling than the hikaenoma, this resulted in the floor level of the hallway being some 38cm higher than the floor level of the dormitory rooms.

keikojō approach plan

As previously mentioned, the entrance arrangement to the dōjō was unconventional. In addition to entering the building from the north, the men’s changing room was also at the northwest end of the dōjō. This meant that the majority of the practitioners also came to the keikojō from the northwestern end of the building taking one of three paths as described below.

Sensei’s Entrance Path – after changing the sensei1 would enter the keikojō via the doorway to the west of the jōdan’noma. They would then take their position along the kamiza according to their relative seniority.

Non-sensei’s Typical Entrance Path – non-sensei typically picked up their shinai from the shinai storage box located at the north end of the west hallway. This meant they often had to squeeze behind the sensei, which can be somewhat awkward. They then continue to the southern end of the west hallway where the hallway was no longer blocked by rails to enter the keikojō. The vast majority of members entered this way.

Non-sensei’s Alternative Entrance Path – those who wish to avoid squeezing behind the sensei on their way to the keikojō could take a longer route to enter either from the doorway to the east of the jōdan’noma, from the hikaenoma or from the southern perimeter hallway. As the shortest route between women’s changing room on the second floor and the keikojō was via the southern staircase, women also normally entered the keikojō from these points.

In a strange twist of fate, the current Noma Dōjō is also arranged such that the jōdan’noma and entrances are at the north end of the hall. One can only enter however from either of the two doors at either side of the jōdan’noma, with the eastern one being mainly used by everyone, as it does not have the extensive hikaenoma and hallways encircling the hall as in the original. Initially I thought this was due to some kind of attempt to keep the unconventional character of the original structure. This may be the case, however the building width also tapers significantly at the northern end. This means that the keikojō by necessity had to be situated on the southern end with the northern end given over to support spaces.

Noma Dōjō was constructed mainly in traditional mokuzō fashion. However, it also featured elements that were not typical to Japanese vernacular. Part 3 will look at these architectural features.

1 NB: in Japanese nouns remain the same whether singular and plural. In this case sensei means several.

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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