During the spring 2016 Japan Trip, one of the highlights was the pilgrimage to the village of Yagyu (Yagyucho), also known as the centre of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Kenjutsu as we have come to know it.

Yagyucho is not easy to travel to as it is quite remote. By train from Okayama to Osaka and Nara, and finally arriving at Kasagi train station, which is about 5km from Yagyu. With the help of the train station director, the only taxi in the region was arranged, as blisters prevented the pilgrimage through the mountains on foot.

Kasagi Station
Kasagi Station

The taxi driver drove through the mountains and asked where we wanted to be dropped off. I choose the Yagyu Shinkage ryu Masakizaka Dojo as the starting point of the exciting exploration of Yagyucho.

Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Masakizaka Dojo
Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Masakizaka Dojo

There was no training at the dojo during the time we visited Yagyucho. The Masakizaka Dojo has some interesting history, as the building itself was partly moved from Kyoto in 1965 and is situated on the site where Yagyu Tomonori used to live. The building partly resembles the original Masakizaka Dojo that was build by Yagyu Jubei.

After the dojo, we visited the Hotokuji Temple. I will not post details about what you can find in and outside the temple as this is something that needs to be experienced in person.

Hotokuji Temple
Hotokuji Temple

The real treasure lies behind the temple. A short walk past the temple into the woods revealed one of the most magnificent sites I have come across.

Path to Grave Site
Path to Grave Site

From there we passed a smaller grave site and followed a path to the Yagyu Clan grave site, which included the graves of some of the famous Yagyu Shinkage-ryu kenjutsuka. The grave site was entered by going up stone stairs.

Stairs leading to Yagyu Clan Graves.

Over 80 successive tombstones were lined up, with the tombstone of Munenori Tajimanokami Yagyu at the center. Other tombstones included ones for Muneyoshi Sekishusai and Mitsuyoshi Jubei.

Yagyu Clan Grave Site
Yagyu Clan Grave Site

There were not many other visitors on the grave site. After about 10 minutes, a group of three Japanese men walked up the stairs towards the grave site and were wondering around. They identified the graves of several Yagyu Shinkage-ryu retainers, including the grave of Yagyu Munenori, Yagyu Jubei, and Yagyu Tomonori.

Budo conversation
Budo conversation

One of the men asked me in mixed Japanese and English how I knew of this remote location in Japan, as he explained that not even many Japanese people know of or visit the location. What followed was an interesting conversation about Yagyucho, Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Kenjutsu, as well as a shared interest in Budo. I found it fascinating how much this person knew about Yagyu Shinkage-ryu and I am still wondering if he was either a Yagyu Shinkage-ryu budoka or a Yagyu family member. It felt too embarrassing to ask him.

Chris standing next to one of the first Yagyu Clan Tombs

After visiting the grave site, we continued our journey to visit the famous Yagyu rock. More photos and a description of the journey will be found in part two of this story shortly.

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