Kobukan Dojo Era (Part 1) by Stanley Pranin

Formal portrait of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba taken inside the Kobukan Dojo c. 1935

Formal portrait of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba taken inside the Kobukan Dojo c. 1935

Part 2 of this article is available here

Introduction

In April of 1931, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, opened a private dojo in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo called the “Kobukan.” This dojo served as the center of the founder’s activities for more than a decade and is intimately related to the subsequent birth of aikido, Japan’s spiritual martial art.

During the Kobukan period, Morihei Ueshiba rubbed shoulders with the elite of Japanese society associating with luminaries from military, political, business and religious circles. Though not politically motivated himself, Morihei taught and interacted with many of the leading figures of the times, men who had deep respect for his incredible martial skills and who would shape Japan’s destiny as it hurtled toward war on the continent and in the Pacific.

In this short span of time, Morihei juggled a seemingly impossible teaching schedule that had him on the move all throughout the Tokyo and Kansai areas each month. His activities and achievements during this time span are so numerous and so fundamental to the emergence of modern aikido that that this topic deserves special scrutiny. To that end, we propose to divide our study into two parts.

The first section appearing in this issue of Aiki News will cover Morihei’s activities in Tokyo leading up to the opening of the Kobukan Dojo, the actual launch of the dojo, its most significant figures, the search for Morihei’s successor, the Budo Senyokai, expansion to the Kansai area, and finally the Second Omoto Incident and its aftermath.

Part two to be published in Aiki News 132 will discuss Morihei’s military and political associations, aiki budo in Manchuria, the establishment of the Zaidan Hojin Kobukai, the Dai Nippon Butokukai and the “naming” of aikido, the wartime uchideshi, and Morihei’s technical and grading systems.

Morihei’s activities from 1925-1931

The Kobukan Dojo was established after Ueshiba had spent about six years instructing in various temporary locations in the Tokyo area. His ties to Tokyo came about in large part due to the efforts of Admiral Isamu Takeshita, a long-time martial arts enthusiast. The relationship between Takeshita and Ueshiba began as a result of the introduction of another naval officer, Rear Admiral Seikyo Asano. Asano was a believer in the Omoto religion and began to practice Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu with Morihei in Ayabe in 1922. Thoroughly engrossed in the study of Morihei’s Daito-ryu, Asano recommended him to Takeshita, his classmate at the Naval Academy in Tokyo.

Admiral Isamu Takeshita
Admiral Isamu Takeshita (1869-1949), patron and
avid student of Morihei Ueshiba

Takeshita journeyed to Ayabe in 1925 to view Ueshiba’s budo and left totally convinced that Ueshiba was an exceptional martial artist. Upon Takeshita’s return to Tokyo he presented a glowing recommendation of Ueshiba to retired Admiral Gombei Yamamoto—also a two-time former prime minister—and this led to a demonstration before a select audience at Takeshita’s residence. Henceforth, Admiral Takeshita played an active role in promoting Ueshiba’s activities among the elite of Tokyo society. Morihei made a number of trips to Tokyo from Ayabe to give seminars. This resulted in many military officers, government officials and wealthy persons becoming devotees of Ueshiba-style Jujutsu.

After Morihei’s move to Tokyo in 1927, he taught assisted by his nephew Yoichiro Inoue in a succession of temporary locations. Training took place first at Shiba in Shirogane, then Mita Tsuna-cho, followed by Shiba Kuruma-cho, and finally, in 1930, Mejiro. Morihei’s reputation had spread by word of mouth to the point that no more students could be accommodated in these small training facilities. Under these circumstances, a permanent solution was called for.

Soon donations were collected from Ueshiba’s circle of patrons to build a full-time dojo. Among the wealthy contributors to the dojo fund was a certain Koshiro Inoue who was related to Morihei by marriage. Koshiro’s brother Zenzo had married Morihei’s eldest sister Tame in the late 1800s in their native town of Tanabe in Wakayama Prefecture. The couple had eight children the fourth of whom was a boy named Yoichiro. Yoichiro’s uncle Koshiro built his fortune in Tokyo’s Asakusa district in the 1890s around the time of the Sino-Japanese War. Yoichiro—about whom we shall hear more later—was of course also Morihei’s nephew and his closest student at this time. Yoichiro would frequently tap Koshiro for funding for Morihei’s budo activities and Koshiro is said by surviving relatives to have made a large donation toward the building of the Kobukan Dojo.

Jigoro Kano
Jigoro Kano, Founder of judo (1860-1938)

After collecting sufficient donations and with the assistance of the wealthy Ogasawara family, Morihei succeeded in purchasing a plot of land in the Ushigome district of Shinjuku. The move to Mejiro was a temporary measure while construction of the new dojo was being completed. It was during the Mejiro period that judo founder Jigoro Kano made a special visit to observe a demonstration by Morihei. Highly impressed, Kano sent two of his top judo students—one of whom was Minoru Mochizuki—to engage in intensive training under Ueshiba. Another memorable event from the Mejiro period was the visit of General Makoto Miura who came to the Mejiro dojo to challenge Morihei. Miura had been a student of Sokaku Takeda some 20 years earlier and considered Morihei an upstart who had strayed from the Daito-ryu path. However, the General was powerless against Morihei’s technique and ended up becoming a long-time student and supporter.

Kobukan Dojo opening

Before describing the grand opening of Morihei’s Tokyo dojo, mention must be made of a rather unusual event that took place just prior to the inaugural ceremony. Morihei’s Daito-ryu jujutsu instructor, the famous Sokaku Takeda, taught a seminar at the new dojo from March 20 to April 7, 1931. This is known because an entry bearing Morihei’s name and seal appears for these dates in Sokaku’s enrollment book (eimeiroku). Certainly, Sokaku had prior knowledge of the opening of Morihei’s private dojo because the two maintained a correspondence over the years. However, none of the circumstances of his visit to the Kobukan Dojo on this occasion are known. Sokaku visited Morihei periodically from the 1920s until the mid-1930s, sometimes without prior warning. The relationship between the two had become strained in recent years as Morihei had struck out on his own as a budo instructor. Morihei had been certified as a Daito-ryu aikijujutsu instructor in 1922, but the financial arrangement between the two remained somewhat vague and this proved to be a bone of contention. At this period of his career Morihei was well into the process of modifying the techniques of Daito-ryu into the more flowing, less jujutsu-like movements that would characterize his later aikido.

Enrollment book of Sokaku Takeda
Entry from enrollment book of Sokaku Takeda dated April 7, 1931

The official opening ceremony took place later in April 1931 after Sokaku had left Tokyo and was attended by many dignitaries including several high-ranking army and navy officers. There is a rare group photo that preserves a record of those present on that occasion. Among the vip’s in attendance were Admiral Isamu Takeshita, General Makoto Miura, Rear Admiral Seikyo Asano, Admiral Sankichi Takahashi, Dr. Kenzo Futaki, Harunosuke Enomoto, and retired Commander Kosaburo Gejo. Some of Morihei’s uchideshi and students who were present were Yoichiro Inoue, Hisao Kamada, Minoru Mochizuki, and Hajime Iwata. Morihei’s wife Hatsu and son Kisshomaru were also on hand. Fittingly, a horizontal calligraphy brushed by Onisaburo Deguchi—Morihei’s spiritual mentor— that reads “Ueshiba Juku” is on display in the dojo tokonoma. This same calligraphy was displayed on the wall of Morihei’s first school, the “Ueshiba Juku,” located in the Ueshiba home in Ayabe in the early 1920s.

Grand opening of the Kobukan Dojo
Grand opening of the Kobukan Dojo, April 1931. From row,third from left, Hatsu Ueshiba, Kisshomaru Ueshiba;seated center, Morihei Ueshiba, Admiral Seikyo Asano,Admiral Isamu Takeshita, General Makoto Miura.

The training area of the Kobukan Dojo consisted of 80 tatami and the structure also housed the Ueshiba family and uchideshi living quarters. Kisshomaru indicates that as many as 20 uchideshi could be accomodated in the dojo at a single time. The structure served for many years and survived the wartime fire bombing of Tokyo when most of the surrounding buildings were burned to the ground thanks to the timely efforts of Kisshomaru. It was used as the Aikikai Headquarters dojo until 1968 when the building was torn down to make way for the construction of the present Aikikai Hombu Dojo. The present Ueshiba family residence rests on the site formerly occupied by the Kobukan Dojo.

After his dojo was opened, Morihei received visits from leaders of the Omoto religion. Hidemaro Deguchi and his wife Naohi—Onisaburo’s son-in-law and daughter—paid several visits to the Kobukan around this time. A commemorative photo of one of these visits has survived and it is interesting to note that the calligraphy displayed in the tokonoma has changed since the opening ceremony. Several pieces of Hidemaro, a skilled calligrapher, were put up, no doubt in honor of the prominent Omoto visitors.

Training at the new dojo

Visit of Naohi and Hidemaro Deguchi to Kobukan Dojo
Visit of Naohi and Hidemaro Deguchi of Omoto religionto Kobukan Dojo, 1931. Front row center:Naohi Deguchi, Hidemaro, and Morihei Ueshiba

The new dojo was used extensively and normally two morning and three evening classes were held at the dojo with uchideshi having an opportunity to practice at other times during the day. Trainees were relatively few in number and consisted usually of persons who had obtained introductions from at least two prominent people. Another source of students, especially among the uchideshi, were those with some connection with the Omoto religion.


Demonstration by Morihei at Kobukan Dojo, c. 1931

Morihei’s teaching style was long on action and short on words. He would execute techniques in rapid succession with almost no explanation. His teaching method was not at all systematic. Yoshio Sugino, the famous Katori Shinto-ryu master, who studied at the Kobukan Dojo for about two years starting in 1931, describes what it was like when the founder was teaching class:

“Ueshiba Sensei, unlike present instructors at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, taught techniques by quickly showing the movement just one time. He didn’t provide detailed explanations. Even when we asked him to show us the technque again he would say, ‘No. Next technique!’ Although he showed us three or four different techniques, we wanted to see the same technique many times. We ended up trying to ‘steal’ his techniques.” [From an interview conducted by Aiki News in 1984]

Here is a recollection of one of Morihei’s first uchideshi, Hisao Kamada:

“Sensei would often use the term ‘irimi’. This is a technique they did not have in judo. I guess it comes from Daito-ryu aikjujutsu, but I don’t know much about Daito-ryu. Ueshiba Sensei always said, “You have to enter to the inside of your training partner. Get to his inside and then take him into your inside!” He would start with ikkajo, nikajo, and suwariwaza. I don’t think he used the term “kukinage” (kukinage: lit., “air throw”; a popular judo technique of the period). There were techniques like yonkajo, but these were ways of training the body, while I believe that using them as applied techniques (oyowaza) is a matter of the spirit. The basics went about as far as gokajo, and after that it was applied techniques.“ [from an interview conducted by Aiki News in 1981]

The youthful uchideshi set the tone in training and practice was intense. There were very few females training at this time. One standout, however, was Takako Kunigoshi who was at that time a young art student. She is remembered most for her important work in sketching the hundreds of line drawings used in the Budo Renshu training manual published in 1933.

This stereotypically “old-fashioned” teaching approach is further described by Ms. Kunigoshi:

“No matter what we asked him I think we always got the same answer. Anyway, there wasn’t a soul there who could understand any of the things he said. I guess he was talking about spiritual subjects, but the meaning of his words was just beyond us. Later we would stand around and ask each other, ‘Just what was it Sensei was talking about anyway?’”

Ueshiba’s ubiquitous nephew Yoichiro Inoue

Yoichiro Inoue
Yoichiro Inoue, Tanabe, c. 1946

No discussion of this period of the Morihei’s activities would be complete without frequent mention of the role of his nephew Yoichiro Inoue. Inoue, who was Ueshiba’s junior by 19 years, spent part of his childhood in Tanabe and Hokkaido growing up in the Ueshiba household. He trained under Sokaku Takeda as well as his uncle and actually settled in Tokyo about 1925 prior to Ueshiba’s move from Ayabe. From a very young age, Yoichiro assisted his uncle as his partner in training and demonstrations. In the early days in Tokyo, especially, Yoichiro would teach as Ueshiba’s representative and substitute for the founder who was frequently ill.

Inoue appears often in the surviving group photos from the Kobukan era and his importance to the development of aikido cannot be understated. Fate would have it that he had a falling out with his uncle shortly after the Second Omoto Incident that took place in December 1935. Although they sometimes would perform together in demonstrations thereafter, the two drifted apart and met only occasionally after World War II. Despite their one close relationship and blood ties, the rift between Morihei and Yoichiro never healed and they were not able to work together again. Books published on the history of aikido overlook Inoue’s contributions almost entirely and omit mention of the blood relationship that exists between the Ueshiba and Inoue families.

Search for a successor

From before the Kobukan period, one of Morihei’s preoccupations was the search for a suitable successor whom he hoped to marry to his only daughter Matsuko. Various anecdotes survive from several martial artist candidates with whom Morihei discussed the idea. These include Kenji Tomiki, Minoru Mochizuki, and Yoshio Sugino. It appears that at an earlier date the Ueshibas and Inoues had also entertained the idea that Yoichiro would marry Matsuko even though the two were first cousins. This actually was quite a common practice in the prewar era and it seems that even Morihei and his wife Hatsu, both of Tanabe, were distant cousins.

Kiyoshi Nakakura
Morihei Ueshiba’s adopted son, Kiyoshi
Nakakura, known as “Morihiro Ueshiba,” 1932

Finally in 1932, Kiyoshi Nakakura, one of Japan’s top kendoka and a student of Hakudo Nakayama, agreed to marry Morihei’s daughter. The arrangement was made with Morihei and Nakayama acting as go-betweens. The ceremony was held that year and Nakakura was adopted into the Ueshiba family and took the name of “Morihiro Ueshiba.” The founder not only had a successor, but a top swordsman who would stimulate his growing interest in the study of the sword.

Nakakura would remain at the Kobukan Dojo for approximately five years. Due to his presence, a kendo group was formed within the Kobukan and even entered competitions. As it turned out, Nakakura, first and foremost a kendoka, found it difficult to master the subtleties of Morihei’s jujutsu and gradually came to feel he would not make an appropriate successor. His marriage ended in 1937 at which time Nakakura returned to the kendo world.

After that, the issue of who would succeed Morihei again became an open matter. Many assumed that his nephew Yoichiro would become the successor given his long period of collaboration in spreading aikibudo and his kinship to Morihei. But as it turned out, Morihei’s son Kisshomaru started training in the mid-1930s and gradually began serving as his father’s partner especially for sword demonstrations. When Morihei retired to Iwama in 1942, Kisshomaru, by then a student at Waseda University, took over as the head (dojo-cho) of the Kobukan Dojo. When the founder passed away in 1969, Kisshomaru formally succeeded his father as the Second Doshu.

Outside teaching activities

The Kobukan provided a fixed base for Morihei’s prewar activities, but he was constantly on the move. Anyone studying the founder’s life during these years—and even in his final decade—is struck by the frequency of his travels around the Tokyo, Kansai, and Wakayama areas.

Morihei’s duties in Tokyo alone kept him extremely busy. Besides the Kobukan Dojo, he taught classes and demonstrated at various businesses, clubs, and, on occasion, at private residences. However, his main outside activities involved teaching posts at several military institutions. These prestigious assignments came about through his broad network of contacts among high-ranking army and navy officers.

Morihei teaching at Army Toyama School
Morihei teaching at Army Toyama School, c. 1931. Ueshiba seated eighth from left

Although it is difficult to pin down the specific dates and circumstances of his military teaching career, we offer below a tentative listing of his assignments:

  • Naval Staff College (Kaigun Daigakko), c. 1927-1937 through his contacts with Admirals Isamu Takeshita and Sankichi Takahashi.
  • Army University (Rikugun Shikan Gakko)
  • Military Police School (Kempei Gakko), dates unknown, through an introduction from General Makoto Miura.
  • Toyama School (Rikugun Toyama Gakko), c. 1930-?, possibly through a connection with General Miura.
  • Nakano Spy School (Rikugun Nakano Gakko), c. 1941-1942, through a connection with General Miura.
  • In addition, brief teaching stints at the Naval Engineering School (Kaigun Kikan Gakko), the Yokosuka Naval Communications School (Kaigun Tsushin Gakko), and the Torpedo Technical School (Kaigun Suirai Gakko) of unknown dates are recorded.
    The teaching assignments at military schools covered here span the period from about 1927 to 1942 when Morihei retired to Iwama. A glance at the above list offers rather convincing evidence of Morihei’s extensive links to right-wing military figures and their activities. We will delve into this subject further in part two.

It should be noted that with this heavy load of teaching responsibilities, the founder was forced to rely on a cadre of assistants to cover his commitments. Yoichiro Inoue was the senior of this group and shared instruction duties during the first years in Tokyo, but with the establishment of the Budo Senyokai the locus of Yoichiro’s activities shifted to the Kansai area. Morihei thus had to rely on his leading uchideshi—people such as Hisao Kamada, Kaoru Funahashi, Shigemi Yonekawa, Tsutomu Yukawa, and Rinjiro Shirata—for assistance.

Establishment of the Budo Senyokai

Although Morihei had physically distanced himself from the Omoto religion with his move to Tokyo in 1927, he still maintained close ties with members and leaders of the sect. In August of 1932, at the behest of Onisaburo Deguchi, an association for the promotion of martial arts called the Dai Nippon Budo Senyokai was created. Onisaburo had earlier set up numerous auxiliary organizations under the umbrella of the Omoto religion in an effort to accomplish specific tasks in the propagation of the sect. This association was tailor-made to support the efforts of Morihei in developing his budo and also served the purpose of demonstrating the patriotic role of the Omoto religion.

Morihei Ueshiba, Sumiko Deguchi, and Onisaburo
Morihei Ueshiba, Sumiko Deguchi, and Onisaburo pose before Dai Nippon Budo
Senyokai banner. Standing right is Aritoshi Murashige

Morihei was appointed the first chairman of the Budo Senyokai. Branches were established all over Japan and training sessions were held at Omoto facilities even in far-flung places like the village of Iwama in Ibaragi Prefecture. Parenthetically, the existence of the Iwama chapter of the Budo Senyokai led to the enrollment in the Kobukan Dojo of Yonekawa and Akazawa, two of Morihei’s most valued uchideshi.

The official headquarters of the association were established in Kameoka, the administrative headquarters of the Omoto religion, but the large dojo opened in the town of Takeda in Hyogo Prefecture soon became the de facto training center. Several of the uchideshi of Morihei’s Kobukan Dojo in Tokyo were sent to Takeda at various times for intensive training and to assist in instructing. Yoichiro Inoue also played a significant role instructing at Budo Senyokai branches in the Kanto and Kansai areas.

Kisshomaru recalls that friction developed between Morihei’s students from Tokyo and certain hot-blooded Omoto believers—particularly members of the Showa Seinenkai (Showa Youth Association)—who practiced at the Takeda dojo. This amounted to something of a rivalry between the Kobukan Dojo and the Takeda school. [From Aikido Kaiso Ueshiba Morihei, pp. 223-223]

Training at Budo Senyokai Takeda dojo
Training at Budo Senyokai Takeda dojo in Hyogo Prefecture.Standing left, Kiyoshi Nakakura; sixth from left:Morihei Ueshiba, Gozo Shioda, Kisshomaru Ueshiba,Hatsu Ueshiba. Standing third from right is Kenji Tomiki.Seated second from left: Rinjiro Shirata, Tsutomu Yukawa

Yoichiro alluded to the type of young Omoto men who trained at the Takeda dojo of the Budo Senyokai by adding this perspective:

“We initially taught in Ten’onkyo in Kameoka. I was teaching then but as you know those practicing the martial arts are all the mischievous type! I couldn’t put them in place every time I went there. So I talked to Reverend Deguchi about the problem. He said: ‘Inoue, why don’t you get rid of them by sending them to Takeda?’ To tell the truth they were all kicked out of Kameoka! They say the reason was because a dojo was built in Takeda but that’s not true. They were sent to Takeda because they were so selfish.” [from Aikido Masters, edited by Stanley Pranin]

A total of 75 affiliated dojos were eventually set up giving a large boost to Morihei’s efforts to spread his aiki budo throughout Japan. It appears that there were even branches established on the continent and that Yoichiro and Aritoshi Murashige taught seminars in Japanese-occupied Manchuria and Korea in 1933 in connection with the Budo Senyokai. To a certain extent, other martial arts were practiced within the framework of the organization, in particular, kendo. In fact, Hakudo Nakayama was the kendo advisor to the Budo Senyokai and this undoubtedly was related to his friendship with Morihei. Nonetheless, the practice of Morihei’s aiki budo was the centerpiece of the activities of this organization.

Expanding to Osaka

One of the effects of the launching of the Budo Senyokai was the strengthening of Morihei’s network of dojos in the Kansai region. Coincidentally, at the urging of Mitsujiro Ishi in the spring of 1933, the Osaka office of the Asahi News contracted with Morihei to have him teach regularly at the newspaper dojo. Ishii had trained for a time under Morihei in Tokyo in the late 1920s during the Mita Tsuna-cho period and was a higher up at the Tokyo Asahi News office.

The timing of the commencement of training at the Osaka Asahi News office had to do with the occurrence of several violent attacks by political factions on the newspaper company because of its political stands. Ishii arranged for Morihei to give instruction at the newspaper in order to have the employees acquire self-defense skills to be used in an emergency.

Osaka Asahi News group
Osaka Asahi News group, c. 1935. Seated left to right:Mitsujiro Ishii, Kenji Tomita, Takuma Hisa, Morihei Ueshiba,Hatsu Ueshiba, Kiku Yukawa. Standing second from left:Yoshitaka Hirota, Yoshiteru Yoshimura, Tsutomu Yukawa

The key figure at the Asahi News dojo was Takuma Hisa who had earlier worked in the Tokyo office performing well as a security director. In 1933, Hisa was promoted and transferred to Osaka and was thus a logical choice to oversee the Asahi News dojo given his work background and love of the martial arts.

Morihei began spending a week—some accounts say two weeks—out of each month in Osaka teaching at the Asahi dojo and other locations that had sprung up about this time. Several uchideshi from the Kobukan Dojo were soon assigned to Osaka. These included Tsutomu Yukawa who married and settled down in Osaka about 1934, Kaoru Funahashi, Shigemi Yonekawa, and Rinjiro Shirata. Since he was then based nearby in Kameoka, Yoichiro Inoue was probably the first of Morihei’s assistants to teach in Osaka.

Thus by the mid-1930s, Morihei was busy going back and forth between Tokyo and Osaka and, as we have seen, he had a large number of affiliated dojos throughout Japan due to the operation of the Budo Senyokai.

In June of 1936, a rather mystifying string of events led to Sokaku Takeda relieving Morihei of his teaching duties at the Asahi News dojo. Those interested in reading the details of this puzzling episode may refer to my article titled Remembering Takuma Hisa which appeared in Aiki News 129. Despite the fact he no longer taught at the Asahi News, Morihei continued his regular visits to Osaka and instructed at the other locations overseen by his uchideshi. For a time, Morihei even maintained a home in Osaka and he and his wife spent considerable time there.

Second Omoto Incident

By 1935, Japanese government authorities had become increasingly irritated with the widespread activities of the Omoto religion that had arisen like a phoenix from the ashes of the brutal suppression of 1921 known as the First Omoto Incident. The sect now had something approaching two million adherents and was rapidly gaining in influence. In addition to the sect’s many domestic activities that irked the government, Onisaburo was heavily involved in the affairs of Manchuria and was advocating an independent nation under Pu’yi, the “Last Emperor” of movie fame. Furthermore, Onisaburo was suspected of funneling large amounts of money to various right-wing causes including the activities of Mitsuru Toyama and Ryohei Uchida. We will have more to say about these topics in part two.

Onisaburo
Onisaburo in Matsue the day before his arrest

The aggressive actions of the Showa Shinseikai, a new organization established by Onisaburo in July 1934, may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as far as the Japanese government was concerned. Luminaries such as Toyama, Uchida, leading politicians, army and navy officers, and many leaders from the business world and other fields attended the high-profile inaugural ceremony of the Shinseikai held in Tokyo. The organization espoused the broad goal of “universal love and brotherhood” (jinrui aizen) and promoted the “Sacred Imperial Way.”

Describing the purpose of the Shinseikai one year after its founding, Onisaburo wrote:

“The Showa Shinseikai means the changing of the order from ‘the spirit subordinated to the flesh’ to ‘the flesh subordinated** to the spirit,’ thereby starting everything afresh putting it on a glorious path that accords with the principles of Heaven… The family spirit of true love will expand to the level of the state so that a brilliant Japan based on the spirit of one large family will be born, and this will further spread to cover the whole of humanity and the whole of earthly creation.” [From Deguchi Onisaburo Kyojin, by Kyotaro Deguchi]

By late 1935, the authorities hatched a secret plan to destroy the religon once and for all. A large-scale raid was launched on the Omoto centers in Ayabe and Kameoka before dawn on December 8, 1935. Onisaburo, his wife, Hidemaro Deguchi, Uchimaru Deguchi and scores of other Omoto leaders were arrested and imprisoned.

Morihei, too, was among those Omoto leaders whom the authorities had planned to arrest. At that time he happened to be in Osaka. He was forewarned of the crackdown on the sect by his student, Osaka Police Chief Kenji Tomita and was kept safely in hiding. Rinjiro Shirata, the former Kobukan uchideshi who was instructing in Osaka at that time describes this episode in a 1984 interview:

“The Kyoto Police Headquarters issued an order to the Osaka Police Headquarters for [Morihei’s] arrest because he was a leading member of the Omoto religion. It was sudden, but there was some advance warning. There was a man named Kenji Tomita who was Chief of the Osaka Police Department and an ardent admirer of O-Sensei. He believed that it was impossible for O-Sensei to be accused of lese majesty, and that although he was a member of the Omoto religion, he was devoting his life to budo. However, the Kyoto police said that if the Osaka police were not going to arrest Ueshiba Sensei they would send their own officers to Osaka to arrest him.”

Ueshiba Sensei was told about this immediately. There was a man named [Giichi] Morita who was head of the Sonezaki Police Station who was also a strong admirer of O-Sensei. He sheltered Ueshiba Sensei in his own house until the storm blew over. The police came from Kyoto to look for him, but since he was in the police chief’s house they couldn’t find him anywhere, not in Tokyo, Osaka, or Wakayama! “

Back in Tokyo, the authorities also raided Morihei’s Kobukan Dojo in connection with the Omoto suppression. Kiyoshi Nakakura recounts what happened:

“[Ueshiba Sensei’s] wife, Hatsu, was also there [in Osaka]. I was in Tokyo. Kisshomaru was here also. In the Ueshiba Dojo there were shrines dedicated to Omoto deities and many framed calligraphic works by Reverend Onisaburo Deguchi hung on the wall. Mr. Ueshiba valued them highly. However, I tore all of them down and burned them. The uchideshi were surprised and asked me if it was all right for me to do so. However, it had nothing to do with being right or wrong. To hang up or display such things was an act of lese majesty. If Mr. Ueshiba’s wife had been present then, I don’t think I could have done such a thing. I could only do it because nobody was there.”

Aftermath of the Second Incident

The second attack on the church was designed to “leave no trace of Omoto” and had far-reaching consequences for Morihei both professionally and personally. The Budo Senyokai network of affiliated dojos was immediately disbanded, although apparently some groups continued training while maintaining a low profile. Morihei could no longer openly associate with Omoto believers or display images or symbols connected with the religion. The incident and its aftermath caused Morihei great stress as his life had been centered on the Omoto for some 15 years and he still held Onisaburo in the highest esteem.

Morihei was hurt deeply on a personal level as well. Many of the sect leaders thought it highly suspicious that Morihei escaped arrest given his prominent status within the religion and leadership of the Budo Senyokai. They regarded him as a “Judas,” a traitor to the Omoto cause. This reaction on the part of Omoto leaders was perhaps also related to the rivalry that existed within the Takeda dojo of the Budo Senyokai among the Kobukan Dojo uchideshi and the Omoto practitioners.

Even his own nephew Yoichiro seriously faulted Morihei for not sharing the fate of the brave Omoto leaders who were imprisoned and some of whom tortured. There arose a distance in their relationship, and even though they continued to associate on an occasional basis through 1942, this proved to be the wedge that eventually drove them apart.

[to be continued]


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