Last updated: October 7, 2021
Judo Dojo at Manzanar
“The aim of judo is to utilize physical and mental strength most effectively and … to understand the true meaning of life through mental and physical training. … You must develop yourself as a person and become a useful citizen to society.”
Dr. Jigoru Kano, founder of modern judo, 1882
Before the war, judo dojo (studios) thrived in many Japanese American communities. Under the guidance of Seigoro Murakami and Shigeo Tashima, 400 judo students practiced in Manzanar on a 40’ by 60’ canvas-covered sawdust platform. Judo’s demanding physical conditioning and code of behavior lifted spirits and introduced many young Japanese Americans to the disciplines and traditions of their cultural heritage.
Framed by old cottonwood trees, the white dojo defied the camp’s monotonous, rectangular layout and stood in contrast to the black tarpapered barracks. Japanese sliding screens were added in winter. “When we weren’t practicing hard enough, Sensei (teacher) Murakami would open the screens and blast us with the cold air,” recalled Isamu Yamashita. Today visitors can see sidewalks that connected the dojo to a dressing and storage room, built on the foundation of Ed Shepherd’s ranch house from decades earlier.
Enthusiasts of kendo (Japanese fencing) practiced in their own dojo just southwest of the Judo dojo. Most were among Manzanar’s Kibei population, American-born Japanese educated in Japan, whose strong cultural and political ties to that country sometimes put them in conflict with more Americanized Nisei. Following the 1943 “Loyalty questionnaire” crisis, many Kibei were sent to Tule Lake Segregation Center and, reported the Manzanar Free Press, “all interest in kendo has died away.”