Aikido is probably one of the most famous of the many different forms of Martial Arts coming out of Japan. In the West it is often seen as the softest martial art, focusing on throws and using the opponents energy against him. Modern Competitive Aikido was founded in 1961 by Kenji Tomiki (1900-1979) who in his lifetime achieved 8th grade black belts in both Aikido and Judo. He studied under the legendary Morihei Ueshiba who was teaching Jujutsu and developing Aikido from it. Tomiki was the first of his students to reach the 8th level of the black balt, in 1940. He worked as a teacher at the university of Kenkoku in then Manchuria from 1938 to 1945 and spent three years in a Soviet “labor camp” after the war before returning to Japan in 1948 as part of a large prisoner release effort.
Master Tomiki died in December 1979 and his grave is the town where he was born, Kakunodate, in Akita Predecture. If you are one of the millions worldwide who study Aikido, be sure to look up this tomb the next time you visit Akita!
More photos from my visit to the beautiful little town of Kakunodate in the northern Akita prefecture. Many of the houses are preserved originals from the time when samurai families were posted to this town in order to serve in the castle garrison, but there are also a good collection of merchant’s and craftsmen’s houses that appeared in the neighborhood after the end of feudalism in the late 1860’s, early 1870’s. Some of these buildings are even made out of brick, a small testament to the relatively few earthquakes in this area of Japan. Akita prefecture was hit by magnitude seven earthquake in 1694, and with the continuing aftershocks slightly less than 500 people were killed. The fewest earthquakes in any prefecture? Saga Prefecture, on the coast of Kyushu Island.
When I visited Kakunodate, it was mainly to see the cherry blossoms for which this town is so famous, even inside the town itself there were quite a few beautiful trees in full bloom!
Kakunodate town in southern Akita prefecture which is itself in northern Japan is lovely little town famous not only for its many cherry trees but also for its well preserved historic house district consisting of the old samurai quarters from when the town was a castle town. Being built of wood, these old style feudal houses are almost completely gone in the rest of Japan, making this town all the more important. There are few other towns in Japan that have even a handful of original samurai class residences left intact. The town has also managed to save quite a few old merchant’s houses and factories and most developments seems to have dropped off after the 1960s.
For me the most interesting photo in this post is the last one, which shows a humble town home where the owners haven’t removed the winter season’s protection! This is a common way of insulating homes in snow rich areas of the world, not only Japan. It creates an air pocket between the walls and the snow outside while also protecting the wall themselves from the damp. The outer layer is sacrificial and can easily be replaced when necessary. This far into spring all houses except this had already removed the winter boards. Maybe the owner hand’t been home for quite some time?
Kakunodate is extremely easy to reach and even possible as a (very) expensive day trip from Tokyo. First shinkansen in the morning, all day to explore and then back again in time for supper. If you are touristing in Japan and are lucky enough to have bought a JR rail pass you basically have no excuse no to visit Kakunodate even if you are based in Tokyo!
If you plan on following the the sakura season (the cherry blossoms) as it progresses northwards you are probably thinking about visiting Kakunodate in Akita prefecture, one of the most famous cherry blossom viewing spots in the north of Japan. Kakunodate is famous for its hanami, or cherry blossom viewing along their beautiful river, but they are also famous for their cheap and delicious sakura ice cream ladies, skillfully creating sweets in the shape of flowers in front of the customer. I don’t remember the price but it was very cheap. Kakunodate is easily reached by the shinkansen train, and very popular with both foreign and Japanese tourists. Enjoy!