“A Master of Early Aikido Nearly Written Out of History…”
Morihei Ueshiba is universally recognized as the founder of aikido. Historians of this martial art mention to varying degrees the significant roles of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu and the Omoto religion in providing the basis for Ueshiba’s technique and spiritual beliefs, respectively. Similarly, the founder’s debt to such benefactors as Admiral Isamu Takeshita, Kenji Tomita, Kinya Fujita, and others who assisted him over the years is clearly acknowledged. Several of Ueshiba’s early students including Kenji Tomiki, Minoru Mochizuki, Gozo Shioda, Koichi Tohei, and his son Kisshomaru are also widely known for their contributions in spreading the art in the postwar period as the heads of their respective organizations. In contrast, the name of Yoichiro Inoue is mentioned only occasionally as one of Morihei’s early students who also happened to be his nephew. That such an important contributor to the development of the art has been given such short shrift in aikido histories is an inexcusable omission and one that I hope to right through the article that follows.
Because of a lack of historical context presented in Morihei biographies published thus far, one is easily left with the impression that the founder made several major life decisions that proved key to the subsequent birth of aikido primarily on his own initiative. I refer specifically to such important events as his stay in Tokyo in 1901 with the intention of becoming a merchant, his relocation to Hokkaido as a settler in 1912, and his precipitous move with his entire family to the Omoto religious community in Ayabe in 1920. The reality of the matter is that the wealthy Inoue family of Tanabe to which Yoichiro belonged played a significant part in all of these major life choices of the young Ueshiba. The Ueshiba-Inoue family link is an undeniable fact of history and the names of Zenzo and his son, Yoichiro, as well as Zenzo’s younger brother Koshiro emerge with conspicuous frequency in connection with Morihei Ueshiba from around the turn of the 20th century through 1935.
The Inoue Family
Yoichiro’s father, Zenzo, was born in Tanabe about 1861. He was the patriarch of the Tanabe Inoue family and it appears that he inherited his wealth from his father Isuke. Zenzo married Morihei’s eldest sister, Tame, about 1889 and together they had eight children, the fourth of whom was Yoichiro. Yoichiro was born in Tanabe in 1902 making him Morihei Ueshiba’s junior by 19 years. Zenzo owned a great deal of property in Tanabe and elsewhere and was involved in various manufacturing activities.
Zenzo and his younger brother Koshiro relocated to Tokyo around 1887 at the urging of their father Isuke. They both achieved success in business, but Zenzo later returned to Tanabe leaving the business ventures they had established together in the hands of Koshiro. At a later date, Zenzo operated a clothing business in Kyoto as well. At various points in his career Koshiro was involved in the soapware business, metal goods and paper manufacturing and sales. According to his son, Koshiro made his fortune during the Russo-Japanese War period when he provided a range of products of necessity that were in short supply. Eventually, Koshiro would become one of the top ten of Japan’s highest taxpayers and a mentor of Konosuke Matsushita, founder of the Matsushita group of electrical appliance companies.
Morihei works for Koshiro in Tokyo
Apart from the marriage of Zenzo and Tame, the first recorded instance of the involvement of the Inoue family in the affairs of Morihei occurs when the 19-year-old Ueshiba relocated to Tokyo in 1901. Since it is known that Morihei was apprenticed to Koshiro to assist in the latter’s businesses in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, it would appear obvious that this career decision was taken jointly by family members including Morihei’s father, Yoroku and Zenzo.
As fate would have it, Ueshiba stayed in Tokyo for less than a year under the tutelage of Koshiro. Nonetheless, this period is significant in terms of Morihei’s development in the martial arts. It was at this time that he underwent his first formal training in Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu jujutsu under Tokusaburo Tozawa. Morihei returned to Tanabe later in the year after falling ill with beriberi, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 in the diet common to Japan at that time.
Entering the Japanese Imperial Army
In 1903, Morihei married Hatsu Itogawa and in December of the same year joined the 61st Army Infantry Regiment of Wakayama, just prior to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War. It was during his period of army service that Morihei commenced a study of Yagyu-ryu jujutsu which he continued practicing occasionally even after his return to Tanabe following his discharge in 1906. Although Morihei’s study of this jujutsu school was more extensive than his earlier exposure to Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu jujutsu, the exact nature of his study and what if any effect it had on the later development of aikido remain unknown.
Judo for restless youths
The years after his discharge from military service were difficult ones for Morihei as he found himself already in his late 20s, married and still unsettled on a career. For his part, Morihei’s nephew Yoichiro Inoue proved to be a rebellious youth whose unruly behavior would soon get him expelled from school. Around 1911, Yoichiro’s grandfather Yoroku, with the support of Zenzo, decided to invite a young judo instructor named Kiyoyuki Takagi who was traveling in the area to come to Tanabe. Their idea was to use judo practice as a means of channeling the youthful energies of their sons Morihei and Yoichiro and his brothers. Yoichiro recalls his grandfather as a very kind, charitable man of great physical strength who had a love for the martial arts. It is worthy of mention that Takagi later became a famous judo instructor achieving the rank of 9th dan.
Morihei, the Inoue brothers along with other neighborhood youths spent a year or two practicing judo in their free time until the departure of Takagi from Tanabe. It should be kept in mind that Takagi, although a large, powerful young man, was only about 17 years old at that time and Morihei was some 11 years his senior. Yoichiro states that Morihei was distracted by other responsibilities and did not practice judo consistently while Ueshiba’s son, Kisshomaru, says that his father trained enthusiastically. My personal impression is that Yoichiro–who was physically present–is correct about Morihei being at times distracted as will become evident in the paragraphs that follow. Further, no less an authority that Sadateru Arikawa points out that there was no trace of judo techniques in Morihei’s aikido.
During the period of 1910-11, Morihei strongly supported the efforts of noted botanist Kumakusu Minakata who opposed the government’s new policy of consolidating existing shrines in a given area. He was very active as one of Minakata’s lieutenants in the campaign against this policy that he perceived as a way to enrich corrupt politicians and businessmen. Despite this flurry of activity in support of a political cause, the solution to Morihei’s lack of direction in life lay in a decision to join in the effort to colonize Hokkaido, the sparsely-settled northernmost island of Japan.
After the Meiji restoration, the Japanese government placed great emphasis on the development of resource-rich Hokkaido and offered incentives such as cheap land to settlers. Morihei was among those seduced by the lure of adventure and ended up spending seven years in Hokkaido. In aikido histories published thus far, Morihei is portrayed as the leader of a group of settlers from Tanabe who became known as the “King of Shirataki,” a reference to the name of the village hewn from the wilderness by the Tanabe group. However, the history of the Shirataki years must be revisited as new research paints an entirely different picture of the circumstances of the colonizers from Tanabe. Here, too, the Inoue family plays a pivotal role.
Yoichiro stated in an interview that his family owned businesses in Tanabe, Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and Hokkaido. Moreover, one of Yoichiro’s sisters points out that Zenzo lived with his wife Tame in Hokkaido prior to the departure of the Tanabe group for Shirataki. The time frame would likely be sometime during the first decade of the twentieth century. This coupled with the fact that both Zenzo and Koshiro owned property in Shirataki makes it clear that the Inoues were active participants in the development of the northern island probably in some way connected with their various business interests. Also, Zenzo is reported to have provided funding for the group of settlers from Tanabe.
A more believable picture of the expedition to Hokkaido based on such evidence emerges where Zenzo, as the wealthy patriarch of the Inoue family, arranges with his father-in-law Yoroku, and perhaps other Tanabe elders for the dispatch of volunteers to Hokkaido. In this context, the young and passionate Morihei was probably chosen to fulfill various leadership functions under the guidance of Zenzo, Yoroku, and company.
Morihei appears to have enthusiastically embraced the colonization effort. Kisshomaru reports that Morihei was also strongly influenced by Denzaburo Kurahashi, a farmer-soldier (tondenhei) who had already spent time in Hokkaido and filled Morihei’s head with tales of its great potential. Morihei fiirst traveled to Hokkaido in 1911 with Kurahashi to scout out a suitable area for the establishment of a settlement. It is not known whether Zenzo or others might have accompanied them to Hokkaido on this occasion.
An area in the Okhotsk region known as Yubetsu was chosen as a suitable site to settle. The Tanabe colonists would found a village named Shirataki located about 30 miles inland from the Sea of Okhotsk in the northeasternmost part of Hokkaido. Today, there are some 26 municipalities in this region with a combined population of 350,000 that has been steadily decreasing since reaching a peak in 1960.
Morihei and the Tanabe contingent actually departed from Wakayama to settle this area in March of 1912. The group consisted mainly of second and third sons of farmers and fishermen who could not expect to receive an inheritance. In this regard, Morihei was the exception as Yoroku’s only son. The initial group was followed later by other settlers from Tanabe and other areas of Japan. All participated in the clearing of the land and building of the village. The first years proved full of hardships because of the severity of the weather and poor crop harvests. With time, however, lumbering, dairy farming, and the cultivation of peppermint, rice and other crops began to take hold and the village knew a certain degree of prosperity.
Yoichiro to Shirataki with the Ueshibas
Back in Tanabe, the ill-behaved Yoichiro had benn entrusted to the Ueshiba family by Zenzo. Kisshomaru once stated in an interview that Yoichiro spent part of his early years in the Ueshiba household and then rejoined them at the age of 12. With Morihei already in Hokkaido, Yoichiro was presumably overseen by Yoroku and his wife Yuki, together with Morihei’s wife Hatsu who had recently given birth to a baby girl. When interviewed years later, Yoichiro recalled how he came to leave for Hokkaido:
“When I was in the fifth grade of elementary school [about 1914], I went on strike! My teachers had a hard time handling me. My father thought I was unmanageable and sent me to Hokkaido to let me run loose. I would not have gone otherwise. I became well-behaved after I went to Hokkaido…. Ueshiba’s parents went with me.”
Since there is only anecdotal information on the various travels of parties to and from Tanabe to Shirataki, we can only make educated guesses about the time-lines involved. Morihei’s wife Hatsu and daughter Matsuko and his parent eventually made the trip to Shirataki with Yoichiro in tow as did Zenzo and Tame. It may be that all of them journeyed together. The year is probably 1914. According to the late Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Yoroku actually moved his family register (koseki) to Shirataki, so it is clear the elder Ueshiba went with the intention of staying.
Given that the total number of Ueshiba and Inoue family members in Shirataki during these years comes to at least nine, the image of the 31-year-old Morihei as the “King of Shirataki” in charge of the entire Tanabe group seems quite an exaggeration. Rather, an accumulation of evidence points to a more realistic picture of a joint effort on the part of prominent citizens of Tanabe including Zenzo and Yoroku to organize a settlement operation carried out with the participation of Morihei and other young Tanabe residents. It would be probably be fair to assume that Morihei was placed in charge of various tasks because of his great vigor and talent for dealing with people and due to the influential roles of Zenzo and Yoroku in the Hokkaido venture.
Encounter with Sokaku Takeda
Once in Shirataki, Yoichiro would soon be an eye-witness to an event directly related to the later development of aikido. In 1915, Morihei participated in a private seminar conducted by a jujutsu expert named Sokaku Takeda in the nearby town of Engaru. Yoichiro accompanied Morihei on this occasion and describes what happened in these words:
“It happened when I was thirteen. My uncle, Takeda Sensei, myself, and several others met in the reception room of the Hisada Inn. It was there I first found out about Daito-ryu jujutsu…. Since I was young I just watched the training. Usually they didn’t allow other people to observe their practice, and you had to pay even if you were only watching. That’s how secretive Takeda Sensei was in his teaching. He never showed his techniques. If someone came to watch, he would take him and throw him out; therefore, there were absolutely no peek holes in the dojo. I don’t think Sokaku Sensei could have made a living without having at least ten students.
One was not allowed to sit cross-legged while observing. I am now sitting cross-legged here with you, but in those days I would sit in seiza [formal position] wearing a hakama [pleated skirt]. I thought while I watched the lesson that this martial art school was different, and I didn’t want to learn it. When I met Takeda Sensei and he told me to practice with him I refused, saying I didn’t like his type of training. He said to me, “Little boy, do you want to practice with me?” I answered, “I don’t want to be taught by an old man like you!” But he didn’t get angry with me. He said, “Oh, I see. Do I look that old?” “You are an old man without any teeth!” I replied.”
In this passage one gains a glimpse of the rather irreverent character of the teenage Yoichiro, a trait that he would retain into old age and that was one of his most endearing characteristics. It also provides confirmation of the presence and participation of Inoue at this event that would bear so significantly on the path chosen by Morihei.
It is a well-known fact that Morihei became obsessed with learning Daito-ryu jujutsu from Sokaku. He soon convinced Takeda to relocate to Shirataki and live in his home to gain easy access to Daito-ryu instruction. Kisshomaru states that Sokaku taught Morihei and about 15 employees in Shirataki. Yoichiro’s father Zenzo and uncle Koshiro both owned property in Shirataki by this time and Zenzo actually lived there as we have seen. It is likely then that Morihei’s study of Daito-ryu along with Yoichiro and the «employees»points to the former’s involvement in Inoue business activities.
Zenzo and Yoroku fund sons’ Daito-ryu study
Sokaku soon established permanent residence in Shirataki due directly to his connection with Morihei and the extended family of Ueshibas and Inoues present in the village. There are numerous bits of evidence that taken collectively support this view. Probably the most convincing fact is that an undated entry in one of Sokaku’s ledgers (shareiroku) contains the signatures of Zenzo Inoue and Yoroku Ueshiba. A reasonable guess would be that the entry was recorded in 1915 or 1916. These ledgers record payments made to Sokaku for jujutsu instruction although no amount is indicated in this particular case.
Therefore, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it was Zenzo and Yoroku who financed Morihei’s study of Daito-ryu as asserted by Yoichiro:
“Morihei said he wanted to study the art, and so my father and Ueshiba’s father in Tanabe discussed the idea and built a dojo in Shirataki and Takeda Sensei was invited to teach…. They sent money to Takeda Sensei every month, although I don’t know how much. Our fathers certainly gave him what he needed for the rest of his life. My father also thought that it would be nice to have a budo man from our family. Ueshiba’s father did it out of affiection towards his child. There was no problem with money since my father owned a lot of real estate and was also actively engaged in business in Tokyo. I suppose the amount of money they sent was insignifficant to them. They had that kind of relationship with Takeda Sensei.”
It seems that the Inoues and Ueshibas went back and forth between Shirataki and Tokyo-Wakayama in connection with business matters. For example, we find Yoichiro in Tokyo sometime in 1915 or 1916. He stayed at Zenzo’s Tokyo house and was perhaps involved in the Inoue family business. Also, Yoichiro reports a visit by Morihei to Tokyo during this same time frame:
“In 1915 or 1916 when my uncle [Morihei] visited Tokyo, he came to my house in Kaya-cho all dressed up in formal wear. When my family asked him why he had dressed so formally to come to see them he said that he was finally going to become a jujutsu teacher! We all laughed about a farmer becoming a teacher of jujutsu. We then decided to practice on the second floor of our branch store. My older brother was alive then. Another younger brother of mine, who just recently died, was also alive. We all practiced together. My brothers enjoyed the practice a lot. The four of us, all young men, practiced at the house in Tokyo for about one week. I told them clearly that the art was just Daito-ryu.”
As a side note, it should be mentioned that Yoroku, Morihei and Zenzo contemplated for a time the idea of having Yoichiro and Matsuko marry since Morihei did not at that point have a male heir. [Kisshomaru was born in 1921.] I was told this by a member of the Inoue family and the story was confirmed by Morihiro Saito’s wife who in later years was very close to Hatsu Ueshiba. Neither of these two seemed interested in the proposition and the idea was abandoned.
The Great Shirataki Fire
The progress made by the Shirataki village settlers suffered a devasting setback in May 1917 when some eighty percent of the homes and structures in the surrounding area were destroyed by fire. This included the Ueshiba home. The villagers were in the habit of starting “controlled fires” to more quickly clear the land, but on this occasion strong winds pushed the fire out of control. The disaster led to the return of many Shirataki residents to Tanabe. Among them were Morihei’s parents, and Zenzo and Tame who were expecting their last child. Morihei, however, stayed in Shirataki and there proved to be a silver lining to the fire in that the village quickly recovered from the disaster as the task of clearing the forest was greatly facilitated.
Yoichiro’s discovery of Omoto
Leaving things in Hokkaido for a moment, another event of fundamental importance to the future of aikido occurred in Tokyo around 1917. The Omoto religion–whose driving force was now the colorful and charismatic Onisaburo Deguchi–was engaged in intensive recruiting efforts in Tokyo and other metropolitan areas. The Omoto religion was a so-called “new religion,” one of a number of Shinto-based sects that sprang up in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Japan. It was started by a poor farm woman named Nao Deguchi in the early 1890s. Onisaburo later married Nao’s daughter and became the “co-founder” of the Omoto religion.
Yoichiro apparently first learned about the religion when he attended a lecture given in Ueno probably in 1917. There is some discrepancy regarding the exact year and circumstances of Yoichiro’s initial exposure to the religion. Nor is it known if he actually saw or met Onisaburo on this occasion. Likewise, there is only anecdotal information concerning Yoichiro’s first visit to the Omoto in Kyoto Prefecture. In any event, his involvement with the religion clearly predates that of his uncle Morihei.
Aikido writers thus far have asserted that Morihei first became acquainted with Omoto in 1919 as he was rushing back to Tanabe from Hokkaido when notified that his father was near death. Considering that Yoichiro and his family were already informed about the relgion as early as 1917, Morihei certainly had prior knowledge of Omoto while still in Hokkaido. It should also be mentioned that Morihei’s elder sister Tame, Yoichiro’s mother, was a devout Konkokyo believer. The central deity in this older Shinto sect is “Konjin” viewed as the parent god of heaven and earth and the god of love. In Omoto, the main deity is “Ushitora no Konjin,” a god probably related to the Konjin of Konkokyo. Even though Shirataki is a relatively remote location, there were several waves of settlers from other prefectures in addition to the Tanabe group who would have brought news of happenings in other parts of Japan. Also, as we have noted above, there was a fair amount of travel to and from Shirataki on the part of its residents.
Morihei departs Shirataki
As we have seen, the great Shirataki fire, even though of devastating proportions, did not break the will of all of the village residents. Morihei remained for about two-and-one-half years after the disaster. He was even elected to the 12-member village council of Kami Yubetsu in June 1918. In this regard, he was following in his father Yoroku’s footsteps as the elder Ueshiba had served as a member of the Tanabe town council for many years.
This notwithstanding, Morihei’s stay in Hokkaido was coming to a close. By the spring of 1919, Morihei was already planning his return to Tanabe where he planned to teach jujutsu. He was after all Yoroku’s only son and his father was now in his mid-70s. Also, Morihei’s relationship with Sokaku Takeda had cooled and he wanted to free himself from his current situation association with the jujutsu master.
Morihei received an urgent telegram in December 1919 informing him that Yoroku was gravely ill in Tanabe. Morihei hastily arranged his affairs and gave his household and its furnishings to Sokaku before setting out for Wakayama. While on the train in Kansai–the story goes–Morihei heard from a fellow traveler about the Omoto religion and Onisaburo Deguchi and impulsively decided to detour to Ayabe to meet the sect’s leader and pray for the recovery of his father.
Yet as we have noted, Morihei was already informed about Omoto and positively predisposed towards the religion at the time of his chance encounter on the train. In any event, Morihei did detour to Ayabe where he met and was greatly impressed by Onisaburo. He ended up staying for several days. When he finally reached Tanabe, Yoroku had already passed away much to the consternation of Morihei who had attempted to obtain divine intervention for the recovery of his father.
Yoichiro and Morihei take up residence at Omoto
By 1920, Yoichiro had been completely converted to the Omoto cause. Despite being still a teenager, he took up residence in Kameoka, the administrative center of the Omoto religion, prior to the arrival of the Ueshiba family in the spring of the same year. When precisely this took place is uncertain. In any case, here is Yoichiro’s retelling of the story in an early Aiki News interview:
I first learned of the Omoto religion in 1917. In 1920, at the age of nineteen, I went to Kameoka to study under Reverend Onisaburo Deguchi. After that I was allowed to stay in Ayabe for a long time. That was before the Ueshiba family came to the Omoto headquarters. About one year after that Ueshiba came to Ayabe with his family. I was not in Ayabe all the time but in Kameoka.
Morihei’s association with the Omoto religion is cast in an all together different light when we realize that Yoichiro became actively involved first. In fact, Yoichiro’s presence in Omoto was likely a factor in determining Morihei’s move with his family. This also points to the continued close-knit Inoue-Ueshiba family nexus and the parallel technical and spiritual paths followed by Morihei and Yoichiro.
Yoichiro spent roughly three years primarily in Kameoka but also in Ayabe during the early 1920s. He was deeply involved in the study of the Omoto religion and totally devoted to Onisaburo. For his part, Morihei was based in Ayabe and fully embraced the Omoto community life there eventually becoming a member of Onisaburo’s inner circle. He was heavily involved in farming activities using the skills he had acquired in Hokkaido.
The charismatic Onisaburo took great pains to surround himself with successful and talented people from all walks of life. Many intellectuals, political and military leaders and successful businessmen alongside legions of common folk entered the Omoto fold. Morihei and Yoichiro–both skilled martial artists–certainly fit that description and Onisaburo could rely upon them not only as “trophy devotees” but also for purposes of self-protection. Morihei was encouraged by Onisaburo to teach Daito-ryu to Omoto believers and he did so out of his home in Ayabe which became know as the “Ueshiba Juku.”
The religion was always walking a tightrope in its widespread activities and inviting the heavy hand of the Japanese military government to intervene to throttle its incredible growth. The axe finally did fall in 1921 with the so-called “First Omoto Incident” when Onisaburo was arrested and much of the religion’s property destroyed or confiscated. Both Morihei and Yoichiro witnessed the devastation although no specifics are known of what roles they may have played in the aftermath of the government attack.
Sokaku Takeda to Ayabe
Another significant event that occurred early in the Ayabe period was the unexpected visit of Sokaku Takeda and his family in the spring of 1922. Controversy surrounds the reasons for Sokaku’s visit and neither the aikido nor the Daito-ryu side can agree on the whys and wherefores of his coming. One theory is that it was actually Onisaburo who initiated the invitation, perhaps to add another “trophy” to his collection of martial artists. The fact of the matter is that Sokaku spent some six months in Ayabe teaching from the home of Morihei. The students of Daito-ryu consisted mostly of members of the Omoto community, but there were also frequent visits from naval officers from the Maizuru base located nearby on the Sea of Japan.
Yoichiro, who was in Kameoka at that time, went up to Ayabe to greet Sokaku and assist in looking after him for the duration of the latter’s stay. Yoichiro’s reminiscing about the visit of the Takedas to Ayabe reveals a familiarity in his dealings with Sokaku that no doubt was a continuation of the relationship established several years earlier in Shirataki when Ueshiba and Inoue first began Daito-ryu training.
Yes, he [Sokaku] brought them all. He brought his wife [Sue] and their three children, the eldest daughter, their boy [Tokimune] and a baby. We had to take care of all of them. I was in Kameoka at that time. I went to Ayabe because I heard that Takeda Sensei had come. It wouldn’t be proper if I didn’t prepare his bath for him. When I heated up the bath he would say, “The bath today feels nice.” But it couldn’t have, because it was still lukewarm. But he said it felt good. Since I was the spiteful type I would just mumble, “Oh, really?”
Another interesting sidelight concerning the six-month visit of Sokaku, the specifics of which are difficult to sort out, is that the term “aiki” was added to the name of “Daito-ryu jujutsu.” This seemingly occurred at the suggestion of Onisaburo who obviously wanted to elevate Daito-ryu to a higher level above that of a mere jujutsu form. Thereafter, entries in Sokaku’s enrollment books are mostly recorded as “Daito-ryu aikijujutsu” whereas “Daito-ryu jujutsu” was used before this time. This is important also because the addition of the term “aiki” at this juncture in 1922 was determinative in the later adoption of the name “aikido.”
Yoichiro embarks on training pilgrimage About 1923, Yoichiro left the Omoto to return to his native Tanabe. He wanted to test his martial skills in the outside world and there was certainly pressure from his family for him to decide on a career:
“When I was twenty-one years old, after receiving permission from Reverend Deguchi, I returned to my birthplace in Wakayama Prefecture. In order to further my studies on affinity, I began, with high ambitions, what is called mushashugyo. One can’t know whether what he has acquired is really good or bad, or strong or weak unless he has actually tested it. The people in Tanabe made light of me. But I was very successful there. Many newspapers came to cover these events and wrote a great deal.
Then Ueshiba Sensei came back and we practiced together. I didn’t teach only in Tanabe. I also went to various other places both in and outside of Wakayama Prefecture.”
Morihei accompanies Onisaburo on adventure to Mongolia
Onisaburo had many grandiose plans for the spread of the Omoto religion, not only in Japan, but also abroad. He formed alliances with various religious groups in different countries and also had the idea of establishing a utopian nation based on religious freedom. Onisaburo chose Mongolia as the site for this grand plan and set out to accomplish this goal in February 1924 with Morihei Ueshiba and two other hand-picked men. Onisaburo’s party became embroiled in a struggle for the independence of Mongolia and were eventually captured by the regional revolutionary army and condemned to death. Only the last-minute intervention of the Japanese consulate and the fear on the part of the Mongolian authorities of starting an international incident by executing such well-known Japanese prevented them from certain death.
This is a famous story known to all of those who study aikido history. The harrowing near-death experience seemed to have a profound effect on Morihei’s art and his understanding of the role of budo as a vehicle for attuning oneself with the universe. Yoichiro is reported to have said that it was he who had originally been chosen to accompany Onisaburo to Mongolia, but that he fell ill and was replaced by Morihei at the last minute. So far there has been no independent verification of this story and we include Yoichiro’s statement here only for the sake of completeness.
Morihei and Yoichiro teach in Tokyo
The next major phase in the development of would eventually become aikido was the relocation of both Morihei and Yoichiro to Tokyo. As on so many occasions before, the names of these two are irrevocably intertwined at this stage too. The shift of focus of their teaching activities was due, not surprisingly, to an Omoto connection. One of the avid Daito-ryu students in Ayabe was Vice-admiral Seikyo Asano who was a collegue of a certain Admiral Isamu Takeshita. Parenthetically, Seikyo was the older brother of the famous scholar and psychic Wasaburo Asano who, for a time, wielded a tremendous influence within the Omoto.
Seikyo spoke glowingly of Morihei and Daito-ryu to Takeshita. The Admiral–a long-time enthusiast and practitioner of the martial arts–made a special trip to Ayabe to witness the training. This led to Morihei and Yoichiro making visits to Tokyo at Takeshita’s invitation to give courses to well-to-do people from business, political, military and intellectual circles. It appears that Yoichiro stayed more or less full-time in Tokyo from about 1925 while Morihei traveled back and forth between there and Ayabe before relocating permanently with his family in 1927. Yoichiro stated that Morihei was often sick during this period and that he handled much of the teaching duties. Yoichiro added, for example, that Admiral Takeshita learned more from him than from his uncle.
There were a number of people besides Takeshita who acted as patrons for the activities of Morihei and Yoichiro. One such individual was a Count Shimazu. Yoichiro describes the early Tokyo years in these words:
“Mr. Shimazu had a mansion in Osaki-cho where we held our first training. During this period Ueshiba came to Tokyo several times. He was ill then and very weak. I had to take care of him and had a difficult time. As a result, I did most of the teaching at the dojo. From the dojo in Osaki-cho we moved to Mita. Baron Katsuji Utsumi lived there and, since his mansion was empty, we were offered the use of it.
So I went around teaching in a number of locations. We didn’t teach at just one place in Tokyo. It was quite hard for us to build a dojo and we had to overcome many difficulties. However, it was all due to the greatness of my uncle, not me.”
Following a period of several years teaching at various temporary facilities, Morihei and Yoichiro’s efforts in Tokyo finally led to the construction of a permanent dojo in the Wakamatsu-cho district of Shinjuku. There were many contributors to the opening of the Ueshiba dojo, known as the “Kobukan,” in April 1931. One of those who played a role in the funding effort was Yoichiro’s uncle Koshiro who by that time was one of Japan’s wealthiest individuals. Yoichiro would later boast, “Koshiro’s money is my money!”, and it appears that Zenzo’s younger brother was tapped with some regularity for financial assistance by Yoichiro during the early Tokyo years.
A fascinating photo taken at the Kobukan dojo opening survives in which many famous figures appear including of course Morihei and his family, Yoichiro, Admiral Takeshita, Vice-admiral Asano, General Miura, Minoru Mochizuki, Kenzo Futaki, Hajime Iwata, and others. Yoichiro is standing off to the side with his arms folded leaning against a pillar with a somewhat disinterested look in contrast to the formal poses of the others present.
Onisaburo launches Budo Senyokai in support of Morihei
Using the Kobukan as the base of his activities, Morihei began teaching at various military institutions and companies in the early 1930s. He was assisted by Yoichiro and a new crop of talented uchideshi such as Kaoru Funahashi, Rinjiro Shirata, Shigemi Yonekawa, Tsutomu Yukawa and others who took over a portion of the teaching duties. The art itself was continuing to evolve away from the more rigid forms of Daito-ryu towards a more free-flowing, circular application of techniques. Numerous witnesses from that period recall how Yoichiro’s movements looked virtually identical to those of Morihei.
Quite a number of the early Tokyo practitioners were in some way connected with the Omoto religion. Both Onisaburo and his son-in-law Hidemaro Deguchi paid visits to the Kobukan during this period. In August 1932, an organization called the Budo Senyokai (Society for the Promotion of the Martial Arts) headquartered in Kameoka was created under the auspices of the Omoto religion. Onisaburo set up a variety of auxiliary organizations in support of the dissemination of the sect at various levels of Japanese society. This particular association was centered on the martial teaching activities of Morihei and Yoichiro, the latter being known by the name of Yoshiharu at this point in time. There are a number of photographs from the Budo Senyokai period that depict Onisaburo, Morihei and Yoichiro posing all together. These documents alone constitute irrefutable proof of the relationship between the three and the importance of Yoichiro in the development of Morihei’s new budo.
Martial arts training sessions were held in the facilities of Omoto chapters located all around Japan. In fact, it was the existence of one such chapter in Iwama, Ibaragi Prefecture that led to Ueshiba acquiring property there. The establishment of the Budo Senyokai gave Morihei a nationwide network of affiliates and greatly increased his instructional responsibilities. Yoichiro, for his part, was charged with setting up and operating a dojo in Takeda in Hyogo Prefecture. He describes his activities during this period in his own words:
“I think it was in 1932 that I began to travel around the country to teach. We initially taught in the Ten’onkyo in Kameoka. I was teaching then, but, as you know, people who practice the martial arts are all mischievous types! I couldn’t keep them in line. So I spoke with Reverend Deguchi about the problem.”
He said, ‘Inoue, why don’t you get rid of them by sending them to Takeda?’ Actually, they were all kicked out of Kameoka! Although it was said that they were sent to Takeda because a new dojo had been built there, it wasn’t true. They were sent to Takeda because they were so selfish. I didn’t spend much time in Takeda, and I was mostly in Kameoka where there was another dojo. I first sent one of my students to Takeda in about 1932. He is still living in Himeji. He built a house in Takeda for me but I stayed mainly in Kameoka. With Kameoka as a base I went around the Kyoto and Osaka areas teaching and opened dojos in those cities.”
As can be seen from Yoichiro’s comments, the flurry of activity in connection with the Budo Senyokai led to the establishment of a strong training base in the Kansai area as well. The seemingly ubiquitous Yoichiro was directly involved in this effort too. He played a role in the opening of the Asahi News dojo in Osaka whose central figure was Takuma Hisa. Yoichiro taught regularly at another Osaka dojo for several years. Morihei himself would spend about one week out of the month in Osaka where he maintained a second residence in the mid-1930s.
Despite his busy teaching schedule in this period, Yoichiro also managed a trip to Manchuria in 1933 where he instructed at the Daido Gakuin, an elite school in Japanese-controled Manchukuo. He also briefly visited Korea on his way back to Japan.
Second Omoto Incident sends Morihei into hiding
The occurrence of the Second Omoto Incident in December 1935 where once again the military government brutally supressed the Omoto religion led to an abrupt halt to the activities of the Budo Senyokai. Many Omoto leaders including Onisaburo and his wife Sumiko were arrested. The government had also planned to detain Morihei as a leading Omoto figure but he was spared this fate due to the intervention of one of his Osaka students, Kenji Tomita, who happened to be the Osaka Police chief. Morihei was warned of the impending clampdown ahead of time and forced into hiding for about a month until things calmed down.
This incident proved to be a major bone of contention between Morihei and Yoichiro. Inoue felt that Ueshiba had betrayed the Omoto cause and–given his high position within the religious hierarchy–should have shared the fate of other Omoto leaders who were imprisoned and tortured by the authorities. As an aside, when this writer asked a higher-up in the Omoto hierarchy why Yoichiro was not arrested, his humorous reply was, “He was not one of the “big cheeses!”
There were no doubt other factors that played a role in the breech that developed between Morihei and Yoichiro after the Second Omoto Incident. But the fact remains that these two high-strung personalities who were, to further complicate matters, blood relatives, had a parting of the ways after this event.
Relatively few records survive concerning Morihei and Yoichiro’s activities in the late 1930s so it is difficult to say that they had no contact at all. In any event, the next documented meeting of Morihei and Yoichiro was in 1940 in Manchuria at a major martial arts demonstration held in Shinkyo [present-day Chang Chun]. Morihei’s partners on that occasion were Yoichiro–who was then using the name “Seisho”– and Shigemi Yonekawa.
Starting in 1942 through about 1955, Morihei was in semi-retirement in the village of Iwama in Ibaragi Prefecture. After the war, Yoichiro was active in Tokyo where he began instructing U.S. Air Force officers. Later, after the Korean War, he operated a dojo in Yoyogi Hachiman in which both enlisted men and officers trained. He called his art “Aiki Budo,” preserving use of the prewar name of the art. Inoue even traveled to Hawaii, Los Angeles and Mexico on two trips in mid-1950s and early 1960s. In 1956, he gave a public demonstration at the Yomiuri Hall and starting calling his art Shinwa Taido. Some years after that he began calling his art Shin’ei Taido, which is still the name used today.
Yoichiro’s interactions with Morihei after the war were infrequent. There is an interesting photo in which both appear from around 1960. Likewise, Yoichiro–who in the postwar period is better known as Hoken and later Noriaki–had little to do with the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Shinjuku following Morihei’s passing in 1969. Inoue stayed active teaching until the very end of his life when on April 13, 1994 he passed away at his home in Kunitachi at the ripe old age of 92.
Balancing historical accounts
In later life, both Morihei and Yoichiro were critical of one other. Their prejudices have been passed on to relatives and students of both and remain as common themes in conversations touching on the relationship between the two. Morihei had a falling out with Zenzo in the early 1920s as a result of a dispute over a loan to a relative. This was reported to me in 1996 in a private meeting with Kisshomaru who was clearly uncomfortable while relating the story. In an unpublished interview with Morihei where he talks about his experiences in Hokkaido, he fails to mention the name of a single Inoue despite the important role that the family played in the colonizing effort. Morihei’s frequent disputes with Yoichiro were legendary and occurred over a span of decades. The net result is that, whether justified or not, Yoichiro’s name has been all but eliminated from orthodox aikido history and he is therefore unknown to most modern-day practitioners.
Quite understandably perhaps, Inoue was bitter about such treatment and harsh in his judgement of his uncle’s character and martial ability. In conversations with Inoue, it often seemed that he was aggrandizing his role in the development of aikido to the point that it would not be an exaggeration to regard him as a “co-founder of aikido.” While that is perhaps overstating things in the opposite direction, still the evidence linking the two is overwhelming. The Ueshiba and Inoue families shared a blood bond and common goals for several decades. It is unthinkable to imagine Morihei creating aikido without the assistance of the Inoues. With the passing from the scene of these two martial arts greats and the healing effect of time, we can perhaps today reach a more balanced appreciation of the respective roles of Morihei Ueshiba and Yoichiro Inoue in giving birth to a truly spiritual martial system whose purpose is to achieve peace among peoples the world over.
This writer finally succeeded in meeting Inoue Sensei for the first time in 1981. A pre-condition for that meeting was that I bring along some “old-timers” from the Kobukan dojo period. On December 9, together with Shigemi Yonekawa and Zenzaburo Akazawa, I met with Inoue Sensei at his home in Tokyo. Based on his reminiscences on that occasion and the deferential attitude of Mr. Yonekawa and Mr. Akazawa toward Inoue Sensei, it became obvious to me how important a role he played in the development of aikido.
Our next meeting–which proved very difficult to arrange–took place in August of 1986. I was fortunate enough to meet with him on many other occasions over the next two years. During that period I always had a tape recorder on hand and running in order to catch every possible tidbit of conversation that I could later mine for historical facts and pearls of wisdom.
I attended the annual Shin’ei Taido seminar held in Kameoka in 1987 and was able to videotape most of the event. Aiki News also was given permission to videotape Inoue Sensei at his dojo in Nakano where he gave a special speech and demonstration. Finally, Aiki News sponsored a highly successful Shin’ei Taido demonstration in Tokyo on April 24, 1988 which was attended by a sell-out audience of more than 500 people.