“Morihei in Tanabe,” by Stanley Pranin


“It would not be an exaggeration to say that the major steps in Morihei’s life… can be traced back to the influence of his immediate and extended families.”

Historians, like scientists, are fond of coming up with theories. The scientist forms a hypothesis based on previous studies and his own observations and then proceeds to see how well his theory stands up to testing and experimentation. The historian, for his part, seeks to catalog facts and events and from them to glean an understanding of the actions and motives of the subjects of his research.

The minutiae recorded and cataloged by the historian serve as signposts that guide him through the maze of historical events and provide a means of testing out his hypotheses. An offhand comment by a relative, an old newspaper article or program, an object on display on the wall in the background of a photo, any of these seemingly insignificant details can hold the key to a new and important revelation.

Unlike other periods in the life of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba, his early years in Tanabe and family circumstances are not well documented. Our principal sources of information on this period of Morihei’s life are the biography of Morihei Ueshiba published by his son Kisshomaru in 1977, later interviews and conversations with the author, and a few pages from the first biography of the Founder written by Kanemoto Sunadomari in 1969. To this can be added the recollections of members and relatives of the Ueshiba and Inoue families.

Undated photo of Tanabe rice fields

The information gleaned from the latter sources does not represent the aikido viewpoint, but has nonetheless proved valuable by shedding new light on Morihei’s early years and suggesting areas of discrepancy in the primary sources.

Given the limited data available on the Tanabe period, our main task here will be to recall the key events and influences on Morihei’s early years. We will also endeavor to identify those character traits and patterns of behavior that led to the formation of the man who would go on to create aikido.

Ueshiba Family Background

In Japan of the Meiji Era, the family unit had a more decisive role in the life and career of an individual than it does today. With this in mind, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the major steps in Morihei’s life that prepared him for a career as a martial artist can be traced back to the influence of his immediate and extended families. This is the case early in his life when he tried his fortune as a merchant in Tokyo, on the occasion of his move to Hokkaido, and when he finally settled on a career as a martial arts instructor.

The Ueshibas

Morihei’s father, Yoroku, was born in 1843 and was a prosperous landowner who was engaged primarily in farming. He is reputed to have been a hot-tempered man of great physical strength with an interest in martial arts. Yoroku was also a prominent citizen of Tanabe and served on the Tanabe and Nishinotani village councils from 1892 to1910. Morihei’s mother, Yuki, was from the Itogawa family of Tanabe and was born in 1850. Interestingly enough, Morihei’s later bride, Hatsu, belonged to the same Itogawa family.

Yoroku and Yuki probably married in the late 1860s and their union produced a total of five children. Morihei was the only son and was born on December 14, 1883. His three older sisters were Tame, Hisano, and Chiyo. The last of the Ueshiba children was a daughter named Kiku…

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  1. …Thank you as always.

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