Budo World

Last glimpse of Kendo of A-Level War Criminals: The record of Mr. Yoshihiko Jifuku

Jifuku Yoshihiko

By a strange chance I managed to hear the generally unknown story of the Kendo master, Jifuku Yoshihiko, concerning the history of Kendo after World War Ⅱ.
The contents of the story are quite shocking, as he himself was called by the GHQ -SCAP(General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers) to give a Kendo performance at Sugamo prison in front of to be executed A-level war criminals, such as Tojo Hideki and others.
Despite the efforts of different people there was not enough evidence concerning this case, and because this is an important part of the history that was not revealed and will disappear if not shared, I would like to use this opportunity to leave the record about this story in the dictation form.
Jifuku Yoshihiko Sensei was born on November 4 in 1914, presently 96 years old (was 94 at the time of the interview). He was an assistant of a chief superintended and kendo specialist, and is known respectably as one of the favourite students of Kendo master Mochida Moriji, as the participant of the 2nd All Japan Kendo Championship after the revival of Kendo, a skillful swordsman, etc.
The interview was taken on March 6 in 2009 after the training at Eisei Kendo club, where he was teaching.
The following is the record of the story on that day.

He was told to go to Sugamo prison, and when he went there carrying his equipment, there was an MP, and he told him to go inside. There were barracks and inside – a clean wooden floor. And over there were the A-level war criminals who were about to get executed, about 10 people, including Tojo Hideki. He did a Kendo match in front of them with another man who was called in from a different police agency. The reason for this was that the prisoners expressed a wish to GHQ to see a Kendo match before having been hanged. Jifuku Sensei won by hitting a hand. After the match he shook hands with Tojo Hideki.

It happened during the time when Japan was occupied by the American armed forces, and Kendo was prohibited by the GHQ’s CIE (Civil Information and Educational Section). It is truly the astonishing part of the Kendo history during Showa period that we could not even imagine to exist and that has to be known.
The story is so recent that it is hard to interpret but what the prisoners probably wanted to see was not Kendo as the competition of hitting each other with a sword. The philosophy of how the ancient Japanese people approached their body and mind depending on the sacred sword has deep roots in Kendo. We are inclined to think that by watching Kendo they probably wanted to put their heart in place. People who were about to approach their capital punishment witnessed Bushido of the ancient Japan, and presumably faced their last hour with preserved pride and peace of mind.
This is a matter that needs to be investigated further and left as the part of the official history, however there is not enough information. If anybody from the readers has any information, we would be grateful to have it.

Author: Toshinobu Sakai
Translated by: Iuliia Kim