Historical photo: “Time Machine Back to Osaka in 1935,” by Stanley Pranin

“Morihei Ueshiba’s Vanguard Dojo in Japan’s Second Largest City.”

This is a rare photo of unusually high quality depicting Morihei Ueshiba in Osaka with the leading figures of his Asahi News dojo. The photo is almost certainly from 1935 judging by Morihei’s visage, and the fact that it was taken at a time prior to Sokaku Takeda’s arrival in Osaka in June 1936. The people who appear in the photo reflect aspects of Morihei’s activities that extend beyond his martial arts teaching into family areas and the political realm.


First of all, here is a list of those persons we are able to identify by assigned number:

1. Mitsujiro Ishii
2. Kenji Tomita
3. Takuma Hisa
4. Morihei Ueshiba
5. Hatsu Ueshiba
6. Kiku Yukawa
7. Yoshitaka Hirota
8. Yoshiteru Yoshimura
9. Tsutomu Yukawa

Mitsujiro Ishii (1889-1981)

Mitsujiro Ishii

We start with Mitsujiro Ishii. Ishii was an early student of Morihei Ueshiba beginning around 1927 when O-Sensei was being actively promoted by Admiral Isamu Takeshita in Tokyo. In 1933, he provided the introduction that led to Morihei becoming the martial arts instructor of the Osaka branch of the Asahi News. At the point in time this photograph was taken, Ishii was a managing director of the Asahi News company headquartered in Tokyo, and wielded a tremendous amount of influence in the Asahi company. He was a mentor and supporter of Takuma Hisa, who also appears in this photo, and helped in the formation of the Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Takumakai after the war.

Ishii would later become an important figure in Japanese postwar politics. At one point, in 1957, he was one of the top candidates to become prime minister of Japan. Ishii served as a cabinet member in several administrations from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. He was also a golf enthusiast and served as president of the Japan Golf Association. Parenthetically, Ishii was the father of Yoshiko Ishii, a famous Japanese chanson singer who was a Japanese star for many years, and was also well-known in France and performed in major European venues.

Kenji Tomita (1897-1977)

Kenji Tomita

Kenji Tomita was also a devoted student of Morihei, and the Osaka Police Chief at the time this photo was taken. He earned the Founder’s undying gratitude by secretly helping Morihei avoid arrest during the Second Omoto Incident of December 1935. It was on this occasion that the Omoto religious sect headed by Morihei’s spiritual master, Onisaburo Deguchi, was violently suppressed for the second time in a government crackdown. As Morihei was a top leader in the church hierarchy, he was slated to be arrested along with Onisaburo and other leading figures. It was only through Tomita’s intervention that Morihei was able to avoid imprisonment and torture at the hands of government authorities.

Tomita also entered politics in the late 1930s and became governor of Nagano Prefecture. He soon rose to the highest echelon in Japan’s political world, and in 1941 served as the chief secretary in the third cabinet of Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe. Tomita was involved in the intense negotiations with China to rein in the Kwantung Army and also efforts to avoid an all-out war with the United States.

Tomita was part of the process leading to the establishment of the Zaidan Hojin Kobukai in 1939 along with Kinya Fujita, Yoji Tomosue, Kozaburo Okada, Admiral Takeshita, and a few other key figures. In the postwar period, Tomita served four terms in the Japanese House of Representatives.

Takuma Hisa (1895-1980)

Takuma Hisa

Hisa was a in charge of security operations at the Osaka Asahi News, a post for which he was recommended by Mitsujiro Ishii, his university senior. Hisa became a student of Morihei in 1933 in order to train security personnel to protect the newspaper which had become the object of violent attacks due to some of its editorial policies and published articles. Morihei continued teaching at the Osaka Asahi dojo for three years before he yielded the position to Sokaku Takeda–his Daito-ryu teacher–who appeared on the scene in 1936.

In 1939, Takuma Hisa became one of only two persons to receive a Menkyo Kaiden from Sokaku. After the war, Hisa remained active teaching Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu and formed the Takumakai in 1959. This organization headquartered in Osaka still exists and remains active both in Japan and internationally. I have written a detailed article titled “Remembering Takuma Hisa” for those interested in finding out more about this important historical figure.

Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969)

Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido, needs no introduction. Beginning in the early 1930s, Morihei established a strong base in the Kansai area, centered in Osaka. From his position as the instructor of the Osaka Asahi News dojo, he branched out setting up other dojos within the city and even rented a home there for several years.

Hatsu Ueshiba (1881-1969)

The wife of Morihei, their union lasting some 65 years. Mother of Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba.

Kiku Yukawa (1912-?)

Kiku Yukawa, née Tanaka, was a niece of Morihei, and the daughter of his elder sister, Chiyo. She married Morihei’s student, Tsutomu Yukawa (also in this photo), around 1934. This represented another effort on Morihei’s part to strengthen his legacy by marrying family members to key martial artists. Morihei also arranged the marriage of his daughter to famous kendoka Kiyoshi Nakakura in 1932.

Yoshitaka Hirota

A grand-nephew of Morihei who was an Aiki Budo practitioner in the late 1930s, and in the early postwar period in Tanabe. I received the original print of this previously unpublished photo from Hirota about 1994.

Yoshiteru Yoshimura

Yoshimura was an employee of the Osaka Asahi News office and studied under both Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda. He appears in most of the photographs from this era and figures prominently in the Soden photo albums compiled by Takuma Hisa that document the techniques of both Morihei and Sokaku. He reportedly drowned at a young age when he fell into a river while intoxicated.

Tsutomu Yukawa (1911-1942)

Tsutomu Yukawa

Yukawa was an early uchideshi of Morihei at the Kobukan Dojo having enrolled in 1931. He was powerfully built and was a standout judoka while in high school. Known for his great physical strength, Yukawa was one of the leading uchideshi from this period and a contemporary of people like Kaoru Funahashi, Shigemi Yonekawa, and Rinjiro Shirata. He established a branch dojo of the Kobukan in Osaka around 1935 and taught there until his untimely death in 1942 as a result of an altercation with a Japanese soldier.

This is certainly an historically significant photo that preserves for posterity a snapshop of Morihei Ueshiba’s family and close associates during the heyday of his early career in prewar Japan. Photos like this tell stories that pass down to subsequent generations of aikidoka and are a part of our fascinating cultural heritage.

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The Morihei Ueshiba Founder’s Course is O-Sensei’s video legacy starting in 1935 and covering a span of 34 years until just before his passing in 1969. Besides the more than 30 films of the Founder, the course includes three rare audio interviews of O-Sensei with complete subtitles. These are wonderfully intimate conversations with the Founder that convey his bright personality, playfulness and sincerity. In addition, the course includes a series of video documentaries by Stanley Pranin on the life of the Founder and the spread of his art worldwide.

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