The Chibana Project

A blog where I post my research on a certain Okinawan named Chibana Choshin.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Work in Progress, Part I

I have been translating some text from Nakazato Shuguro's new book Okinawa Traditional Karate: Shorin Ryu Kata. While most of the book contains pictures of Nakazato Sensei performing kata, there is an extend section on his views of karate, his life, and more important for my research, on Chibana Choshin. My grasp of Japanese is loose and slipping fast having been away from the country and its language for a while, so what follows is a rough, paraphrased translation of the first major section in his book on Chibana Sensei. Everything about the translation is not very precise. This translation encompasses pages 217-219.

Meeting Chibana Sensei

On August 15 in Showa 20th year (1945), I met the end of the war in Osaka. At that time, I worked in a military production factory called Osaka Light Alloy, and I was the person in charge of heat treatment (1). I had 36 subordinates, but at the end of the war it was decided that the factory would be closed, and all the workers at the factory would be let go. In the middle of the chaos following our defeat in the war, there was no work or food supply; and at that time, the conditions were such that everyone had lost their way.

At that time, the suburban residents of Kansai (2) who were originally from Okinawa banded together and formed the Nansei Shotou Federation (3); I, who had become the youth department manager for the federation, was in Osaka urban and city public office, and I toured police related offices in Amami (4) giving out petitions to return to Okinawa. I daily made efforts to negotiate for boats for our return to Okinawa. Finally, when it was possible to return to Okinawa, I went by boat and made landfall at Cape Kuba in Nakagusuku in the following year, March Showa 21st year (1946).

I returned to my hometown of Chinen Village (5) and applied for a position at a soy sauce company. The soy sauce company president was a Shuri sakeya family heir named [?](6), and with me being a repatriated Okinawan from mainland Japan, he cheerfully ushered me in. Soy sauce was a quick and easy substance to manufacture because it was concentrated seaweed that only required boiling; however, because of the lack of other food seasoning in those times, those few who made soy sauce prospered. One day, I went to Yanbaru (7) by car to look for some fuel to boil the seaweed. On that day, unexpectedly, I met Chibana Sensei. Sensei was living in a four tsubo (8) area on the soy sauce company site belonging to the Totan family.

Chibana Sensei was wearing an HBT (9) uniform he had received from the military garrison, and he also wore big shoes. But, my very first impression of him was the feeling of a man from a stern karate family who was also a gentle gentleman. He was considerably older than me, but his manner of speech was polite, his demeanor was soft, and you intuitively knew that he was worthy of respect. Knowing that I had been learning karate in Osaka, he mentioned that he believed karate was a way of cultivating the mind, and he recommended that I become his student. “You do not have to finish halfway. By all means, learn from my beginnings. I live and continue to remain because of karate,” he said. With Chibana Sensei’s brimming self-confidence and the deep words he had spoken, I intuitively knew that there was no other teacher like him, and I immediately resolved to become his apprentice. In June of Showa 21st year (1946) Chibana Sensei was 61 years-old and I was 25 years-old. Shortly thereafter, I quit my job and left with Sensei as Sensei had left Chinen and returned to his birthplace in Shuri Tori Hori village. At Tori Hori, Sensei had opened his first dojo in Taisho 7th year (1918).

Chibana Choshin Sensei was born in Meiji 18th year (1885), and his family was a Tori Hori sakeya family (10). He was an apprentice of Itosu Ankoh, who was a personal pupil of Matsumura Sokon; and even while still Itosu’s student, he was known as a karate expert. When Chibana Sensei opened his first dojo in Shuri Tori Hori Village, Funakoshi Gichin, Oshiro Chojo, Yabu Kentsu, Hanashiro Chomo, Tokuda Anbun, and others whose illustrious names carried weight in the karate world founded the Karate Research Club (11) dedicated to furthering the research of karate ideas and technique training.


(1) Nakazato Shuguro served in the Imperial Army as a member of the cavalry.

(2) Kansai is the southern-central region of Japan featuring the prominent cities Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Nara. The region has a distinctive group of dialects known as Kansai-ben with Osaka-ben being one of the most notorious of the Kansai dialects; it is an informal equivalent of a Southern accent. Okinawans from Kansai must have stuck out amongst other Japanese like sore thumbs, futher marginalizing them from the rest of mainstream Japanese society.

(3) Nansei Shotou literally means “Southwestern Island People.” This is obvious reference to their geographical location relative to Japan. Other references Okinawans make to themselves include Uchinanchu (“Okinawa people”) and Uminchu (“People of the Sea”).

(4) Amami is a city on Amami Oshima in Kagoshima prefecture in the Kyushu part of Japan. Amami Oshima was an island of the Amami Island Chain belonging to the Ryukyu Kingdom until its annexation by the Satsuma clan in 1624. Because of this storied history, Nakazato Sensei probably exploited a shared sense of solidarity with the Amami people. Okinawa was under U.S. military control following the end of World War II, and in the years after 1945 there was hope that at the end of U.S. occupation, Okinawa would regain its independence from both Japan and the U.S. and become a sovereign nation again. In 1972, events did not play out as hoped following reversion of governance of Okinawa to Japan.

(5) More than 10,000 Okinawan civilians fled to or were escorted by the U.S. military to the Chinen peninsula during the Battle of Okinawa; the U.S. military established camps in Chinen to treat injured civilians, recruit labor, and relocate displaced Okinawans. According to John Sells’s Unante, Chibana Choshin was at such a camp in Chinen harvesting sugar cane (pg. 176).

(6) I have not been able to find the kanji for this gentleman’s name in any dictionary at my disposal, nor have I been able to figure out the proper reading.

(7) Tsubo refers to the area encompassed by two tatami mats laid side-by-side. One tsubo is approximately 3.3 square meters or 35.6 square feet.

(8) Yanbaru is an area on the northern part of Okinawa renowned for its forest.

(9) HBT is the acronym for herringbone twill, the uniform initially utilized by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) for field work in 1941; in 1942 it had become the USMC battle dress uniform. Below is a photo of the HBT uniform from

(10) With the abdication of the Ryukyu king in 1879 and the effective dismantling of the monarchy and caste system, all former royal families and nobility lost both their titles and their means of employment. According to Mr. Masahiro Nakamoto, while former nobility were awarded modest stipends from the remains of the royal treasury, they still had to find work. Many peichin families of Shuri became sake brewers; most of the peichin families lived in Tori Hori. The Chibana family wealth is assessed as moderate judging from the site and size of the plot of land near the present day residence that belonged to Chibana Choshin – a four story apartment building now stands on the land.

(11) More than likely refers to the Tode Research Club founded in 1918 by Chibana and the others listed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The explanation of this that I received from Murakami Katsumi Sensei, and the subsequent translation I made following that, is as follows:

"Whoever can withstand countless trials and never show the degree of
his or her suffering will achieve a thing more valuable than gold."

It's not a direct translation of the proverb, but it captures the essence of what it means. The poetry of the original is unfortunately completely lost, but perhaps someone with a better ear than that can effectively adapt it.

2:56 AM  
Blogger Onimitsu2004 said...

Thank you very much for the input!

6:18 PM  
Blogger shidoman said...

My teacher, Seikichi Iha, senior student of Katsuya Miyahira has the following on a scroll in his dojo: Shinubi shinubushi tarun shinubushiga shinubaran shinubi sushiru shinubi. His explanation: To have patience where one can have patience is not true patience. To have patience when it is intolerable, this is true patience.

9:59 AM  
Blogger kyudokan said...


congratulations! vERY NICE BLOG!

can I take some information about Chibana Sensei from your blog to my website?

I'm from Argentina.

2:51 PM  

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