Gallery of Vintage Images

Thank you to the members of "Kendo World Forum" who've shared positive comments about RCIKK's vintage images of Japan and Japanese sword work.

This page was created to share a love of old photographs that capture subjects related to the Japanese sword arts. Please keep in mind these images are not always historically accurate. Early photography had its limits, perhaps resulting in many of the staged or studio images. Also, accuracy may have been sacrificed for the Western market. Early commentators had perspectives and prejudices very different from ours. Nonetheless, the images are intriguing and worth enjoying.

For the most accurate images of samurai themselves, see Terry Bennett's Photography in Japan: 1853-1912 (2006). Of particular interest is an image on page 106, dated to 1861, that depicts the sale of swords at market.

Kendoka (c. 1866)

Shinsaku Image

Thanks to the Shung Do Kwan martial arts club for these images. Details regarding the original sources are not longer, please let us know if you have any.

Meiji Era Kendo Bronzes

These bronzes were sold at Sotheby's auction in 2006.





Unknown Japanese Language Book


Henry and Nancy Rosin Collection @ The Smithsonian

Smithsonian ArchivesDr. Henry D. Rosin and Nancy Rosin collected approximately 600 images to document nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century photography of Japan. They were taken by a vareity of photographers and depict architecture, landscapes, formal studio portraits, and people in daily activities. These images are now part of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Kendo in the First Movies (c. 1897)

In 1897, the Lumiere brothers sent their representative, Gabriel Veyre, to Japan, who made several short films about 3 minutes long: Geisha in a Jinriksha , Kendo Combat, Rain Dance of Spring.

Source:  Lionel Lambourne, Japonisme: Cultural Crossings Between Japan & the West at 223 (2005).


Kendoka Training (c. 1900)

Kendoka TrainingThanks to the webmaster of the Burlington Kendo Club (Canada) for this vintage photograph. Unfortunately, it's source data is no longer available. Please contact the webmaster if you have any clues.


Satirical Postcards (c. 1907)

The satirical Japanese-language magazine "Kokkei Shimbun" was launched in 1901, and it published satirical postcards as a separate publication, "The World of Postcards" (Bessatsu Ehagaki Sekai), from May 1907 through June 1909. Each month, 30 postcards were printed on postcard-thickness paper, and folded uncut into magazine-size pages. Satirical Postcard

The image of the first card belongs to the Boston Museum of Fine Art, which holds an extensive collection of early Japanese postcards. The museum calls the card "Female Sword Artist" (Onna ken bushi). It dates the card to 1907, the late Meiji Era. Like most of the 780 cards published in "The World of Postcards," the artist of this card is unknown.

 Almost all the cards had a Japanese caption that was printed alongside the postcard on the original page. And almost all had a design on the back, in the square where the stamp is stuck. To understand the point or meaning of many of these postcards, you need all three of these parts.

The second image of the female judoka belongs to Andrew Watt, but the webmaster also a copy. Be sure to follow the Watt's link to his information article with pictures of additional satirical cards.



"An Old-Time Swordsman" (1911)

The author explains (purportedly speaking about the man in the first photograph), "[H]is father had been one of those warriors of old Japan, called Samurai. A certain number of those men adhered to every Daimio [sic], lived at his castle, fought his battles, and, not content with one sword, always carried two, as distinctive symbols of their rank. Yet now the old-time swordsman, if alive, has no doubt ceased to shave his head, has laid aside his singular costume, and has even put his swords away as relics of his youthful days, since no civilian is at present allowed to wear them."

Source: John L. Stoddard, John L. Stoddard's Lectures at 60-61 (vol. 3, rev. ed. 1911).


"Fencing" on the Nippon Maru (1913)

Kendoka Training (c. 1915)

These images were hosted by, many by John Lindsey and George Kohler.


Kenjutsu (undated)

Identified only as "kenjutsu," this old image was reprinted in Richard Tames' "Encounters with Japan" (1991). Notice the the rocky ground, and the follow on the right fighting nito.



Kendo Match (undated)

Another old postcard....


Kendo Dojo (undated)

Another old postcard....


Noguchi Radio Transmitter / Baby Monitor (1937)

In the post Lindbergh baby era, the "Radio Nurse" was created to protect parents and children from would-be kidnappers. The Radio Nurse was composed of two devices, the actual recording piece to be placed near a child and the transmitting speaker, whose design Isamu Noguchi (American, 1904-1988) derived from a Kendo mask. Manufactured by Zenith Radio Corporation, this nurse cuts an impressive figure.


Jukendo (1945)

Purchased from Ebay, this old photograph was identified as an official U.S. Navy photo and was accompanied by the following typed information:  "discovering equipment and field manual explaining the Jap [sic] game of kendo [sic] on Iwo Jima, Seabees Roy B. Childs (left), Chief Specialist (athletics) of Altadena, Calif., and Seaman 2/C Harry F. Wright of Saint Clairsville, Ohio, promptly donned the gear and tried their hand at the sport. (v-5-22-45)"

jukendo 1945


Kendo in Advertising (1955)

1. "A greenhorn hasn't a chance when he crosses 'swords' in a Japanese Kendo match," writes John Rich, an American friend of Canadian Club. ...

2. " 'Remember your style,' Kendo master Muken Mori reminded me as I was scarfed and armed. ...

3. "...I saw some fast action as one athlete dropped suddenly to his knees to strike a quick and winning blow to his opponent's unprotected ribs."

Source: possibly Life magazine.


Kendo (1980)

Cover to the National Geographic Magazine (October 1980)

Author Luis Marden wrote in his story "Bamboo, the Giant Grass" (page 502), the following comment about the kendoka on the cover:

"Shouldering the arms of kendo, a Japanese sport taken from ancestral samurai combat, fencers bear slatted bamboo swords through a bamboo grove. Raw material for implements of peace and war, this botanical cousin to rice, corn, and Kentucky bluegrass may be the world's most useful plant."


Links To More Vintage Images


Copyright 2009 by River City Iaido & Kendo Kyokai, All rights reserved.
Report web problems to the webmaster