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Sokaku Takeda Biography (1)

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by Tokimune Takeda

Aiki News #74 (April 1987)

The following article was adapted from an essay in the Daitokan Newsletter No. 4 published August 1, 1974 and prepared with the kind assistance of Jill Lopato of the U.S.A.

Sokaku Takeda was born the second son of Sokichi Takeda on October 10, 1860 at the Takeda Mansion, part of the Ise Shrine (dedicated to the deity Amaterasu Omikami) in Oikeda, Aizubangecho, Fukushima Prefecture, the former center of the Aizu clan.

Takeda Family in the Service of the Aizu Ise Shrine

Sokaku’s birthplace was near the Seinei Temple in Fukushima Prefecture, which was built by Tamuramaro Sakanoue (758 – 811), the military commander of an expeditionary force against the “Barbarians”. Also known as Aizu Ise Shrine, it was dedicated to the spirit of the Great Ise Shrine in Mie. Successive generations of the Takeda family served this shrine.

(Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture is known as the Grand Shrine of Ise, the highest mausoleum, and the “original” Japanese shrine. Tamuramaro Sakanoue also founded Kiyomizu-dera, the well-known temple in Kyoto.)

The founder of the Aizu clan, Lord Masayuki Hoshina (d. 1671) who was a guardian of a family that later inherited the Shogunate, contributed 170 koku (one koku = 5.119 bushels) of rice from his fief to the Ise Shrine, increasing its estate substantially. He wanted to revive Shinto, during a period when Chinese literature flourished in Japan, as an essential part of his vision for support of the Imperial family. Successive heads of the Aizu clan inherited the administration of Aizu Ise Shrine, which was established to revere the Kami (deities) and the Emperor. This involved sending representatives to convey congratulations and condolences as well as visiting the Imperial palace.

Lord Matsudaira: Kyoto Military Commissioner

When Lord Katamori Matsudaira (1835 - 1893) became head of the clan he was appointed Military Commissioner of Kyoto. For a number of years he committed himself to uniting the Imperial Court and the Shogunate, thereby gaining the confidence of Emperor Komei.

Matsudaira’s wife and children, who had remained in the Aizu fief, sold everything, even combs and ornamental hairpins, in order to support him in Kyoto. The entire Aizu clan backed the Emperor heart and soul. Later, due to a court intrigue involving the Choshu clan, Aizu suddenly lost favor and came to be regarded as enemies of the Emperor. The members of the Shogun’s Council of Elders, who were also promoting the union of the Imperial Court and the Shogunate, resigned their posts to avoid responsibility for this turn of events. The Aizu clan got the blame, and the Emperor’s former enemy, the Choshu clan, came to form the Imperial Army. The combined forces of Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa and Hizen then attacked the Aizu who were brought to the brink of ruin. This was the tragic episode in which ten of the Byakkotai and 21 members of the Saigo family committed seppuku (ritual suicide), in the Boshin War of 1868.

The so-called loyalists in pre-Meiji Japan had differing ideologies, some wanting to “revere the Emperor and expel the barbarians” while others supported the Shogun and the opening of Japan to foreign intercourse. Despite this difference they shared the same reverence for the Emperor and loyalty to the nation. Their spirit of willingness to sacrifice their lives during a time of national crisis was called Yamato Damashii or “Japanese Spirit”.

Sokaku and the Japanese Spirit

Sokaku grew up in the shadow of the tragic Aizu war, at the end of which the Satsuma and Choshu clans of the Western Army seized command of the army, navy and police. In later years Sokaku was to teach military officers and police his own version of Yamato Damashii, embodying of the spirit of reverence toward the Kami and the Emperor. Sokaku’s warrior code prepared him, when faced with death, to fight against thousands for the sake of a noble cause. In 1899, Sokaku’s budo spirit was expressed in the form of a poem, which is recorded in one of his enrollment books (eimeiroku):

“Poem dedicated to Sokaku Takeda Sensei, the Kami of the samurai warrior, giving his entire soul to his nation without any thought for reward.”

Political Turmoil in Pre-Meiji Japan

Conditions in Japan during that period greatly affected Sokaku’s childhood. The political situation was confused due to the pressure to open Japan to the outside world. In August 1859 the Shogunate put to death anyone opposing its policies (including Sanai Hashimoto of the Fukui clan and Shoin Yoshida of the Choshu clan) and many able men were lost during this purge, known as the Mass Execution of the Ansei Period.

On March 3, 1860, Lord Naosuke Ii, the Chief Minister of the Shogun, was assassinated by 18 members of the Mito and Satsuma clans outside the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle. As a result of this incident the authority of the Shogunate seriously began to erode.

The Unfortunate Fate of Princess Kazunomiya

The Shogunate then adopted the ideology of its opponent, which centered upon reverence for the Emperor. A particularly crucial event involved Kazunomiya, the younger sister of the Emperor who was engaged, at age six, to Taruhito Arisugawanomiya Shinno, an Imperial prince. Despite the fact that the date of this marriage had already been decided, she became a victim of the movement in favor of the union of the Imperial Court and the Shogunate and was forced to marry the Shogun, a subject. In October 1861 she was taken to Edo (the former name of Tokyo) over the treacherous Nakasendo road. Shogunate authorities feared she would be captured by the loyalists and selected 50 members of the Kobusho (where retainers skilled in martial arts gathered for training) as her security guard, armed with bows, guns and swords. The party succeeded in reaching Edo and on February 14, 1862, at age 16, Kazunomiya’s life of sacrifice began as the wife of Shogun Iemochi Tokugawa.

Strife in Kyoto

Six loyalists upset at this incident attacked Nobumasa Ando, a member of the Shogun’s Council of Elders, outside the Sakashita Gate while he was on his way to Edo Castle on January 15. Nobumasa suffered a back wound, but all six would-be assassins were killed on the spot. This is known as the Sakashita Gate Incident.

Arson and assassination were commonplace. Sakon Shimada, a high-ranking official of the Kujo family of Kyoto, was murdered in July 1862. Mobs belonging to the Tenchu group ran rampant, threatening to overthrow the Shogunate,. They gibbeted the heads of wooden images of three generations of the Ashikaga family (Shogun dynasty ruling from 1338 to 1573), creating high anxiety among the residents of Kyoto.

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