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Hibiya Kenjirō : The Figure and His Story

 In Japan, there was a man who published the first Japanese-German dictionary. He lived amid the turbulent times during the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (Bakumatsu 幕末) (1853−1868), was a well-known swordsman and enjoyed culture and art. His name was Hibiya Kenjirō (日比谷健次郎), a local samurai from Adachi in Musashi Province, the northern part of Edo (today known as Tōkyō).


1. A Growing “Young Dragon”: Swordsmanship, and Arts and Crafts


 Kenjirō was born in 1836 into the Hibiya Family (日比谷家), who were feudal lords and local warriors of Adachi. At the age of 12, the death of his father Sakichi (佐吉) made Kenjirō heir to his family. Although the Hibiya Family had been exclusively involved in the government service of the Shogunate, Kenjirō was widely involved in a range of non-government related assignments due to his interests in  modern cultures and academia of his time. At the age of 18, it was evident that Kenjirō became increasingly interested in crafts, as he commissioned a popular artist Funatsu Bun'en (舩津文渕) (1806−1856) who studied with Tani Bunchō (谷文晁) (1753−1841),  to produce fusuma  (襖) (sliding door) paintings in the style of the Rinpa school.

 As part of self-development, he studied the Hokushin Ittō-ryū swordsmanship (北辰一刀流) at the famous Chiba Dōjō (gym) in Edo, and at the age of 21 he was conferred a kaiden (皆伝) (master swordsman's license). He eventually became known for his achievements in swordsmanship and his extended knowledge and involvement in cultural activities. For his magnificent achievements, at the age of 22, he was awarded a calligraphy “kenteki” (乾惕) (meaning “young dragon”) by Tsutsui Masanori* (筒井政憲) (1778−1859) a high-ranking official from the Shogunate.

 Around this time, he married the daughter of Katō Suikei (加藤翠渓) (1818−1895) from Misato, Saitama Prefecture. Their first daughter, Shin, was born when he was 24. Kenjirō celebrated the birth of his eldest daughter by ordering her a wonderful set of Hina dolls (see photo below). Today this set is exhibited as a masterpiece of Edo Hina decoration from the late Edo period, at the Tōkyō National Museum (Kokin Bina 古今雛).


* Tsutsui Masanori: he was given the honorable titles – Rankei (鑾渓) and Metsuke (目付) (censors of Tokugawa Shogunate) working  as a magistrate in Nagasaki and Minamimachi. He has also worked as a plenipotentiary representative for diplomatic negotiations with the Russian admiral Yevfimiy Putyatin (1803–1883) upon his arrival.


Hibiya Kenjirō


Time period: Edo period

Birth: Tenpo 7 (1836)

Death: Meiji 19 (1886)

Grave: Kokudo Annon-ji Temple


2. Activities as a Local Samurai (gōshi): Dōjō and the Bakumatsu upheavals


 When Kenjirō was 25, as the popularity of the Hokushin Ittō swordsmanship grew further, he opened his own dōjō (gym) and the swordsmanship became well-known both within and outside of Edo. Various weapons were exhibited in his dōjō, which are carefully preserved today. Among them were suits of high-quality armor and chainmail that were actually worn by feudal lords. The selection of these weapons indicates Kenjirō's tastes in armaments. In addition, while these were exhibited as art crafts, they were actually used for fighting when public security was poor.

 At the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration (1868), the whole society faced rapid changes. Kenjirō became active in his 30s as a local samurai supporting the Tokugawa Family. He paid the Shogun's travel expenses to Kyōto during the Chōshū War (1864–1866), protected the warriors of the Shogunate government’s military academy (kōbusho 講武所), and worked with neighboring landowners to provide financial support for the Shogunate government. He was also reportedly in contact with Hijikata Toshizō (土方歳三) (1835−1869) (vice-commander of the Shinsengumi) at this time.

 When Kenjirō was 33, the Boshin War (1868–1869) and the Meiji Restoration took place, the above shogunate collapsed in spite of his support, and the politics changed drastically. 


3. The Power of Culture – The Publication of the First Japanese-German Dictionary, Highly Praised by Katsu Kaishū

 Kenjirō devoted himself to culture as soon as the new era arrived. As a man of action and great culture, Kenjirō’s most representative achievement was the publication of the Japanese-German dictionary (Wadoku-taiyaku-jirin 和獨對譯字林).

 His  father in-law, Katō Suikei, was also a swordsman who held a license in Hokushin Ittō-ryū swordsmanship and was a highly cultured individual. Kenjirō planned to publish the first Japanese-German dictionary in Japan with him. Needless to say, it takes great effort to publish dictionaries. The most challenging part of the process was finding German reviewers. Not long after the Boshin War, Suikei and Kenjirō traveled to Kyōto in search of a reviewer. Thereupon, they finally met the German engineer, Rudolf Lehmann (1819–1905).

 In 1877, when Kenjirō was 42 years old, he published Japan's first Japanese-German dictionary under the title Wadoku-taiyaku-jirin. He believed that it was necessary for people in Japan to understand the German language in the new era. The publication of the dictionary was hailed as an excellent accomplishment by the great Katsu Kaishū, who was known as a famous statesman and naval engineer of the late Edo and Meiji eras.

p64-1和獨對譯字林 内扉.jpg

4. Kenjirō's Legacy: The Richness of the Local Samurai (gōshi)

 Kenjirō was known as a well-educated man, and at the age of 50, he built a stone monument with a magnificent Chinese inscription. Kenjirō wrote noble and lofty texts on the memorial built for Makino Takayuki (牧野隆幸) (unknown date of birth and death), an educator whom Kenjirō supported. Kenjirō's writings were beautifully transcribed by Shōji Hidetaka (荘司秀鷹) (unknown date of birth and death), a famous educator of the time, and were engraved on a stone – and it is now preserved as a cultural heritage. 

 The following year, in 1886, Kenjirō’s short life came to an end leaving profound achievements in the Meiji era. Kenjirō's footsteps and legacies speak of local samurais’ versatility in letters and arms. 

 Kenjirō's heritage includes valuable records of swordsmanship, armor, arts and crafts, and the publication of a Japanese-German dictionary. These depict how these Edo samurais survived in the turbulent times and their open-mindedness and ambitions – and are imperishable.

 In sum, Kenjirō's achievements and heritage epitomize the samurai of his days, and will forever be spoken of.


*Ages are counted by the traditional Japanese system called “Kazoedoshi” (数え年).

Japanese names follow the Japanese order: surname-name.

Japanese names and words are transcribed using the Hepburn romanization method. 


For the exhibition schedule of each material and artifact, please contact the museum collection hall.


Contribution: Fumio Tada, Curator, Adachi City Museum, part-time lecturer at the Open University of Japan (interview classes).

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