Monday, January 11, 2010

Tsunako Miyake a cultural treasure?

The blogger and martial arts teacher 'Thoughtful Sensei' wrote about one of his teachers

"The Sensei I learned Kodokan Goshin Jutsu from was one of Tomiki's most senior players. She is still alive today and from what I understand is considered a National Cultural Treasure in the Martial Arts with streets in Tokyo named after her."

He likely was referring to Tsunako Miyake. I have heard wonderful things about this teacher my entire martial arts career. I decided to do a little fact checking and see if I could verify the rumor's Thoughtful Sensei heard that Miyake Sensei was a national treasure. I think the idea of a national treasure in the Tomiki line would be a great feather in our collective hat.

I sent the information to my old budo buddy Jeremy. He is still living in Japan, and has a Japanese wife to help with the tricky Japanese.

Dear Eric,

Kumiko and I found a 三宅綱子 who is from Hokkaido, graduated from Nihon Taiiku Daigaku(日体大)PE college and spent some time as a PE teacher. She's known for massage and shiatsu, has 5-dan in judo, 6-dan in aikido, 7-dan in jodo, tai chi chuan instructor. She's been doing something called [健康武道」or "Health Budo" lately.


An Amazon link introducing the author talks about how she was doing
martial arts for a long time, starting with judo at age 16, but
lately quit to devote time to shiatsu and related stuff. Her book is
「わが家でできる健康指圧」"Shiatsu for health that you can do at home."


She teaches shiatsu at the Asahi Culture Center in Yokohama. At
least, I'm assuming it's probably the same woman, given the name and class subject.


She is almost certainly NOT a Living National Treasure. If you type
人間国宝(にんげんこくほう)and her name into a Google
search, you get no hits. Lots of hits for different people named
Miyake in noh and kabuki, but nothing for martial arts, and none for
her full name.

In addition, for the official National Treasure list, there are only
really two categories for people: performing arts, and craftsmen.
They're all pretty well documented, and there's a complete list on
Wikipedia, as far as I know.


She may have other awards or recognition for contributions to
preserving cultural heritage, but she's not a Living National
Treasure. Considering that the Culture Center doesn't list any awards
suggests that she doesn't have any, though. Kumiko said that if she
did have any certificates, awards, etc. they would have listed them
along with her other qualifications on the instructor info section at
the Culture Center website.

She's also probably not well-known enough to have a street or even
building named after her, or there would be a lot more links to her
name, and they would be more mainstream. The fact that she seems to only be known in the budo world suggests that she's not very well known, in fact.

I suppose it's possible that if she's from a small village in
Hokkaido she might have a street there named after her, but if so
it's so small that we can't search for it online. We didn't even find
where in Hokkaido she's from, so we're talking about a place that's
probably about the size of Niiharu, or maybe even smaller.


Special thanks to Jeremy and his wife Kumiko for their research. Much appreciated. He has a passion for budo and history that matches my own.

FYI - Niiharu was a village of 3000 people I lived in from 2000-2003. Shortly after I left it was absorbed by a larger town.

Well this is the information I have uncovered. I do not think it is the final word, but perhaps this information can fuel further research from people with more resources. Needless to say, whether she got the official recognition or not, those that have been touched by this woman all seem to agree she holds a special magic and is worthy of the honor. If she is not a cultural treasure there in Japan, she sure seems to be one here in the USA.


  1. yes a bit more mytholoigizing i'm afraid--
    ironic since she really is an amazing and inspiring person without hyperbolic bells an whistles-- i hope to be like her when i grow up (if i'm so lucky) --
    you can also get some good online data on Miyake Sensei from the Judo forum where CK has done a bit of research -- personally i know she was reputed to be the main coach for the first women's olympic judo team-- and i hear that after WW2 she was an security operative assigned to the japanese royal family (she liked to say "I was a policeman!") -- i know also she was doing some nice preformance with chinese folk opera on the mainland a few years ago--
    all round a dynamic and wonderful teacher and lady--

  2. i first heard the "street named after her story" from Mac Mc Neese after he had just come back from a visit from Tokyo-- He and Miyake had been touring around town, visiting notable spots (he mentioned that she was recieved with some deference at the Diet) -- at one point she stopped and pointed out a street sign and told him "my street, my street" at first he thought she meant the street she lived on, but soon he got the impression it was actually named after her --
    sadly Mac is no longer with us to elaborate but i would submit that the street in question is somewhere in the metropolis

  3. I am not sure what is myth or not. I still think it warrents some more research before the myth is busted.

    However us budo folk commonly get hold of bad information and pass it down like crazy.

    Very cool to hear some of the sources for the stuff though. This blog-o-sphere thing is pretty cool. I like the fast feedback on these kinds of projects. Don't you have some correspondence with Miyake, Nick?

  4. I have some vhs tape somewhere at home of Miyake teaching judo in China. Mac gave me the video before he died. The video shows her demonstrating the nagenokata, junokata, and some competition variants of things to a lot of young women. during the video, the action stops and they bow to some VIPS that showed up to watch. Among the VIPs appears to be Mao Zedong himself. That would date the video to before his death in 1976.

    Mac told me the story about seeing the street named after Miyake. I want to say that he said it was in Tokyo. He also told of her receiving a lot of deference at restaurants - as in proprietors comping their meals because they dared not present her with a bill.

    I like the fact that you are so willing to investigate these legends that we've had passed down to us. Kudos to you, Strange!

  5. Interesting! Spysee web references link to MY website since I have her name in Japanese on my history page. Also it links to the Nihon Jodokai site where it says "神之田師範も撮影に協力した一人である。また、女流武道家として名高い三宅綱子師範は、講道館時代にドレーガー氏に熱心に誘われたのが縁で清水師範と出会い、杖道を始めたという。三宅師範は現在も海外での指導や中国で京劇を行うなど、積極的に活動されている。
    東京に滞在時、ドレーガー氏は市ヶ谷にある一軒家に外国人武道仲間数人と同居していた。" This refers (far as my pidgin nihnogo) to "Miyake Shihan" accompanying Shimizu Shihan and others on a budo tour of the US with Donn Draeger, in the 70's I think.

  6. I only had the pleasure of seeing her one time, many years ago, when she paid a visit to Windsong when it was still at I-40 and Meridian under Chuck Caldwell. That was the "blue hair" trip, I believe. All I know for sure was that she was full of wonderful, positive energy and as spry as a child! Like Nick, I dare to hope to be like her when I grow up as well!

  7. Eric is wise in saying that this isn't the last word on this issue. I only did a quick search to see what turned up, and there are undoubtedly print sources that have never been put on the 'net. I wouldn't be all that surprised if someone else turned up more information than I did.

    However, her martial arts qualifications by themselves are very impressive. There's really no need to blow her up into a larger-than-life figure when having even one high-level qualification represents both talent and devotion, and she has multiple documented qualifications in disparate arts.

    It's funny how people tend to mythologize these things when the bare facts are already remarkable.

  8. Wow! Eric, upon second perusal of this article and the comments, I noticed the second photo you have of her - the blue hair and the sun logo on her gi...

    That's a photo that I took of her at Gentle Wind in Baton Rouge during her 1997(ish) tour of the US. I didn't realize that photo was on the net or I would have used it before now. I did a image search and it popped up on Jack's website, where i'd never seen it till now.

    Cool. I'm going to steal it back from y'all since you have it in digital form ;-)

  9. @eric --yes i was until recently, but have not heard anything lately

    @ pat -- too cool, love to see her judo work-- i have a little black an white snippet of her back in the 50's doing some ; please consider sharing them some day

    @jack -- i spoted that too, thanks for the translatin

    @jeremy, indeed. some of the mythic elements date from a simpler time (before internets)-- the line about "national living treasure" was floating around pretty commonly in certian dojos in the 80's --back then nobody really knew enough to even know how to check such stories-- now we can just google it and shazam!
    -- another of the things i heard (which sounds good but may have been more hyperboly) was that when she worked guarding the imperial family, she was the only person permitted to carry a firearm in the emperor's presence.
    Again, this sounds good but maybe sounds "too good?" I dont know-- dont even know how one could check such a thing-- i never asked her and at the end of the day it matters not.

    What i can unreservedly say is that the lady is a real master (and i dont use that term much), and that she herself has not been the source for this mythic spin -- i kinda think she might find it all a little childish, silly --

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  11. Hmm.. that last one looks like sino-spam...

    My translation sucked... The part about the 1970 "Bushido Camp" US tour was earlier in the paragraph. Sorry but I don't know if I can edit the blog comment. The first part of what I posted is about Donn Draeger filming You Only Live Twice, with Sean Connery and help from Kaminoda Shihan.

    The next part about Miyake sensei is translated by Google as: "The female teacher Tsunako Miyake is famous as a martial artist, teacher and [something about Shimizu Shihan] was acquainted with Mr. Drager asked eagerly Kodokan era that began Jodo. Normal Miyake and opera in China to foreign leaders and still have been active."

    Perhaps Eric or his friend can clear that up!

  12. Someone at JudoForum wrote me this...

    I know Miyake Tsunako - the picture below is of her in her instructor keikogi for the Nihon Budokan, where she headed class for many years. I study judo with one of her senior female deshi there from time to time. She is a gem, but not a Living National Treasure - however, there are such at the prefectural, and presumably the city (Tokyo, Osaka) level, too.