The Kodokan Judo Museum

Kodokan Judo

It is understandable, given the founder of Judo’s background in education, that the Kodokan Judo museum is given such importance at the Kōdōkan, serving as the jūdō honbu-dōjō, in the center of Tokyo. The Kōdōkan represented the vision that the founder, Jigorō Kanō shihan, had for jūdō. From the moment I decided to practice martial arts, I wanted to step inside the Kōdōkan.

The Birth of the Kodokan

The idea for the Kōdōkan Jūdō Institute started in 1882 with ten students and by the year 1900, membership had risen to a thousand students. The Kōdōkan we see today, was built in 1958 and at eight floors in height with practice halls of 1300 mats, it was the envy of all the martial arts schools in Japan. One little known fact is the previous home of the Kōdōkan was taken over by the Japan Karate Association, which became a legal entity in 1957, just before their founder, Gichin Funakoshi passed away at the age of 89 years.

Just as important as the creation of jūdō itself, Jigorō Kanō, as an educator, was able to place jūdō into the schools and make it part of the curriculum. He did not stop there and under his guidance, jūdō became the first Japanese martial art to gain worldwide recognition outside Japan. In 1909 he became the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee and saw jūdō become an Olympic sport. Please watch our Judo trailer here.


A bronze statue of Jigorō Kanō outside the Kodokan. Photo by Jon Braeley

A Visit to the Kodokan

My first visit to film at the Kōdōkan took place in 2003 just before the release of our first documentary, The Empty Mind. The Kōdōkan is easy to find, located in Bunkyo Ward, near the downtown area of Tokyo close to the Tokyo Dome. In fact, as you exit the nearby train stations, there are signposts in English pointing you to the Kōdōkan – a rarity in Japan and an indication of the importance of this institution.  My visit however could not take place due to a terrible event – an earthquake. While I waited in the ground floor reception room, an earthquake hit an area about 100 miles North of Tokyo and the tremor could be felt across Tokyo, shaking the buildings. This event is covered in more detail in my book, Masters of Budo: The Interviews. Needless to say my appointment at the Kodokan was cancelled that day. 

Kodokan Museum

Inside the Kodokan Judo museum on the 2nd floor. Photo by Jon Braeley

While I am told no deaths occured due to the earthquake, it would be eleven years later when I returned to the Kōdōkan. This was during the filming of Warriors of Budo series. The curator of the Judo museum was Naoki Murata, an accomplished 8th dan Judoka and author, gifted with a vast knowledge of the history of Judo. Sadly Naoki Murata sensei  passed away in 2020.

Interview with the Curator, Naoki Murata

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Naoki Murata and my  job at the Kōdōkan is to be the curator of the Museum and Reference Library. My secondary job is to explain about the history of jūdō to the visitors of the Museum. My role here is to gather the history of jūdō and to teach it to people, guide through the Museum and explain the items on display, among other things. Also, as 8th dan in jūdō I also serve as a technical instructor that includes teaching jūdō several times every week.

I also travel abroad to do lectures about the history of jūdō, and naturally, on those occasions I use the opportunity to teach the technical aspects as well. I have been appointed to do an all-round type of work for the Kōdōkan.

Can you tell us the reason why Kanō Sensei created jūdō?

Yes, I can tell you about the reasons for Kano Sensei created jūdō. At first, he studied jūjutsu. However, jūjutsu included very dangerous techniques. With the change of era marked by the fall of the samurai, Japan entered a so-called period of ‘cultural enlightenment’ in which there was the intent to include a new culture. Old things, such as jūjutsu and the katana, for example, became prohibited. jūjutsu also fell out of use. 

However, jujutsu is a really wonderful thing because of how it can forge both the body and the mind. However jūjutsu includes dangerous elements. By taking these out Kanō Sensei changed it from a way of killing to a way of building people. In turn, this became a physical education system, in other words jūdō, was created. This is what Jigorō Kanō Sensei was thinking when he created jūdō based on jūjutsu.

What is the mission of the Kōdōkan?

The objective of Kōdōkan jūdō is that by studying the jūdō of Kōdōkan, you become able to use the power of mind and body, shinshin in Japanese, to its highest degree of efficiency. This is our way of thinking. For students to acquire this way of thinking of aspiring to maximize the power of mind and body is our main objective. 

Murata and Jon Braeley

The principles of Judo written by Jigoro Kano

In the above photo Jon Braeley and curator Naoki Murata are in perhaps the most important corner of the museum, where the founders important scrolls are on display. On the right is “Seiryoku-zen’yo” which means “maximum efficient use of energy” and on the left is “Jita-kyoei” which means the “mutual prosperity for self and others.” I asked Murata sensei  to explain these important calligraphy below…

Can you tell us about the calligraphy ‘seiryoku zen’yō’?

This scroll of calligraphy is written ’seiryoku zen’yō’. It is only four characters but it expresses the deep spirit of jūdō. I will explain this by looking at the meaning of each character. The uppermost two characters read ‘seiryoku’. In English this means the body and mind energy. Physical and mental energy. Then ‘zen’yō’ means the most efficient use of something. Most effective or maximum effective use of both physical and mental energy. During daily jūdō practice, if one observes this principle then one is able to throw the opponent successfully. If it doesn’t follow this then one is putting too much strength and it does not work out. Day by day during jūdō training we study this principle. 

Also, once the practice is finished, one must also apply this theory and principle to the outside world in our daily life. Think ’seiryoku zen’yō’ when you talk with your friends, study, drive your car. That is why there is the way of thinking of jūdō as the way of humanity. This concept is expressed completely by this ’seiryoku zen’yō’ and we should always think about this.

We also have another scroll on display with four characters. This is read ‘jita kyōei.’ This is also one of the principles of jūdō. ‘Jita’ means oneself and others, in other words, you and me. In English, it expresses mutual benefit. Me and you. The lower two read ‘kyōei’. This means that both flourish. Both become happy. Both prosper. Mutual welfare and benefit is how it is written in English. Seiryoku zen’yō, if one uses the power of mind and body efficiently then there will be no harm towards the opponent. The most efficient way is not one in which harm is inflicted, but one in which both can develop. This is what is expressed by jita kyōei, which is the ultimate spirit of jūdō.


Kodokan Judo

Curator Naoki Murata, 8th dan Judo. Photo by Jon Braeley

Do you have objects that belonged to Kanō Sensei?

Kanō Sensei’s personal belongings are in storage and not in display, but here in this museum we have some of his many brush-written pieces and calligraphy. Here in this museum we also display many of his utensils. We have quite a lot of them. Also, we have his jūjutsu uniform from the days when he practiced jūjutsu. These are things from about 130 years ago.  I cannot remember the exact date now, but this jūdō Museum, Shiryōkan (lit. reference library) as we call it, has been here for some 30-some years already, since the time when the Kōdōkan was refurbished. It was then that this Museum was constructed.

Please note: Our walk around the museum and parts of this interview is highlighted in our documentary movie – Warriors of Budo Episode Four; Judo.

Kodokan Judo

The tiny Judogi of Shirō Saigō, a first student of Jigaro Kano sensei

Could you take us around the museum and the exhibits?

Yes of course. First, this exhibit near us, is of a jūdō uniform is about 130 years old, from around the time when Jigorō Kanō Sensei was creating jūdō. It belonged to one of the disciples. This uniform is very small, as was the person who owned it. His name was Shirō Saigō. This Mr. Shirō Saigō could throw over practitioners of old-style jūjutsu using the techniques from the new jūdō. That is how people in Japan then thought that jūdō was more impressive than jūjutsu and it became accepted. This person, Saigo Shiro is important as the one who demonstrated and symbolized the acceptance of jūdō as a martial art at this time. So his practice uniform is displayed here. It is likely that if this person had not been there at that time, jūdō would have never risen in popularity. In order to praise his merits, Kōdōkan has put his uniform on display here.

Judo and the Olympic Games

Can you tell us how Judo was selected for the Olympic Games?

Yes this is an important event. We have a display of historical photographs concerning this. Jigorō Kanō Sensei is well known as the father of jūdō. However, that was not his only achievement. He was the first Olympic Committee Member to be chosen from an Asian country. The so-called father of modern Olympics, the French Pierre de Cubertein, knew that in order to have countries from the east participate, good relationships should be built. Kanō Sensei’s idea of a prosperous cultural society through the spirit of Judo as ‘‘seiryoku zen’yō and ‘jita kyōei’ was similar to the idea of Pierre de Cubertein, in creating a peaceful world through sports. That is why Kanō Sensei was very pleased to be invited and heed the call to meet, and thus became the first Committee member from Asia.

The commemorative photograph of the time when Kanō went to meet Cubertein at the Olympics is on display. It was in the year 1912, at the 5th Olympic games in Stockholm. Kanō Sensei went as the leader of the Japanese team, taking along with him two players. One was a sprinter, and the other a long distance marathon runner. Unfortunately, neither of them made it to the finals, but Kanō Sensei and the two athletes did succeed in starting up the activities regarding the Olympics in Japan.

Judo grave site

The Shinto resting place of Jigaro Kano in a cemetery in Tokyo. Photo by Jon Braeley

At that time, there were still many people who did not know about Japan and Kanō Sensei wanted to show them. He thought in order to do that he could invite people to Japan by hosting an Olympic games in Tokyo. The Olympic committee in agreeing with him, then determined that the Olympic games would take place in Tokyo, and this would be in 1940.

All this activity must have caused a lot fatigue in his body, and on the way back to Japan after the IOC meeting, just a couple days before arriving in Yokohama, Kanō Sensei passed away aboard the ship on May 5, 1938. Over 3,000 mourners were waiting at the dockside in Yokohama. We refer to Kanō Sensei as the father of both jūdō and the Olympics in Japan.