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Although this is the most widely-publicized interpretation of the Kodokan symbol in the west, it is not the most accurate account. A cherry blossom (sakurabana) in Japanese crests is always represented with five petals, as shown in this symbol and photo of a cherry blossom. By contrast, the Kodokan emblem has eight pointed lobes. Some judo clubs and organisations have used the five-lobed cherry as part of their emblems, and as a meaningful Samurai symbol it is also accepted. But the Kodokan symbol has different origins. The colors in the symbol worn by members of the Kodokan represents a piece of red hot iron surrounded by pure white floss silk -- hard in the centre, soft on the outside. The badge emphasizes the judo principle that the soft controls the hard, or gentleness can control force, that one can win by using the opponent's force against himself.
The Kodokan symbol was not used until after Jigoro Kano died, so he may not have been involved in selecting it. A small pamphlet purportedly published by the Kodokan explained that the current Kodokan symbol was introduced in October 1940, and that the form is modeled after an ancient 8-sided copper mirror (called yata-no-kagami). This mirror is chronicled in Japanese Shinto legends and the shape is represented in numerous Japanese crests (mon). The mirror, reflecting everything truthfully, is a symbol for honesty. The red circle in the center was intended to symbolize a sincere and passionate mind. This historical account is now accepted as the authentic origin of the Kodokan symbol, and it has been confirmed by the Kodokan (Naoki Murata, director of the Kodokan Museum).
The Kodokan symbol is the representation of Yata no Kagami, or "The Mirror Yata" or "The Octagonal Mirror". According to the mythical history of Japan, the Gods offered three sacred gifts to the first japanese emperor to prove his "divine descendence":
KUSANAGI NO TSURUGI - "The Sword Kusanagi"
YASAKANI NO MAGATAMA - "The Jewel Yasakani"
YATA NO KAGAMI - "The Mirror Yata"
The Yata no Kagami is not a normal mirror. Unlike normal mirrors that reflect our external image, Yata no Kagami reflects our soul. For this reason, there are always mirrors inside Shinto temples (it is said the original Yata no Kagame still remains untouched inside a Shinto temple in Japan). Applying Shinto concepts in the symbol of Judo, the white color of Yata no Kagami represents the Judoka's search for purifying his/her soul, and the red sun in the middle stands for the virtues of Judo which the Judoka should focus on.
Chinese 8-sided bronze mirror with shape similar to Kodokan symbol The 8-sided mirror was a design that was also common in China. This photo shows an 8-sided bronze mirror most likely from the Tang dynasty (some time before 800 AD). In China, as in Japan, such mirrors were often more than just a grooming aid. The inscriptions on the rim, in this example, indicate possible ritual usage by Daoist priests. The circle at the top represents heaven, while the square below represents earth. This mirror is on display at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
For more information see this article published in 1963: The Story of the Kodokan Badge by Senta Yamada.
The story of the Kodokan badge
Kodokan Emblem Revisited - David Waterhouse
Judoka everywhere are familiar with the emblem of the Kodokan. In the May 1997 issue of the Yudansha Journal, two contrasting explanations of it were presented: from the book Judo Training Methods: A Sourcebook (1962), by Takahiko Ishikawa and Donn F. Draeger; and from a 1963 article by Senta Yamada. The editors of Yudansha Journal, reprinting the latter, felt it necessary to add: “This article does not represent the beliefs of Judo Canada. It has been included solely for your interest”. I had never previously thought about the history and meaning of the Kodokan emblem; and Judo Canada’s nervousness about associating itself with the explanation given by Senta Yamada suggests that I am not alone. However, a little research proves that Yamada-sensei, a distinguished teacher of both judo and aikido, was basically correct (even if his final comments raise questions); and that Donn Draeger, for many years the foremost Western authority on Japanese and other Asian martial arts, was in this instance wrong. Draeger states in part: “the standard emblem of the Kodokan is an 8 petalled flower of the cherry tree. It was adopted by feudal Samurai because the flower is detached from the branch at the apogee of its beauty in order to die.: In classical Japanese poetry cherry blossom represents the evanescence and fragility of human life and beauty; and it continued to be a favorite if hackneyed image in Japanese literature, visual art and the theatre. Cherry blossom has other traditional associations in Japan, for example, with the courtesans of the Yoshiwara, and as a euphemism for edible horse meat (which is supposed to be the same shade of pink). Some prominent warrior families adopted a crest-badge based on a stylized cherry blossom; but I cannot discover that it was particularly associated with the samurai before modern times. Draeger may have been influenced by Eugen Herrigel’s well-known Zen in the Art of Archery (1953): “It is not for nothing that the Samurai have chosen for their truest symbol the fragile cherry blossom.
Like a petal dropping in the morning sunlight and floating serenely to earth, so must the fearless detach himself from life, silent and inwardly unmoved:. Herrigel’s book, first written in 1936, was twice translated into Japanese (1937 and 1940); and at about this time cherry blossom did assume a new significance in Japanese militarist circles. Thus, the Sakurakai, “Cherry Society”, was a clique of extremist army officers; and towards the end of World War II cherry blossom (Oka in Sino Japanese) was a potent symbol for the Kamikaze pilots. Manned suicide bombs were called oh jinrai, “cherry blossom kamikaze”; and in February 1945 one young pilot left the following haiku poem (as translated by Ivan Morris):only we might fall in the Spring— So pure and radiant There are two conclusive arguments against Draeger’s identification. First the cherry blossom emblem is almost invariably shown with five convex lobes or petals where the Kodokan emblem has eight ogival lobes. (Some foreign judo dubs and organisations have used the five-lobed cherry as part of their emblems; Judo Canada, using five ogival lobes, contñves to get the best of both worlds.) Secondly, the Kodokan itself has given the following explanation:
About the principle of gentleness: the badge worn by members of the Kodokan represents a piece of red hot iron surrounded by pure white floss silk — hard in the centre, soft on the outside. The badge emphasizes the judo principle that the soft controls the hard, or gentleness can control force: that one can win by using the opponent’s force against himself. One of the fascinations of Judo that has been responsible for its expansion and development abroad is probably the kind of sensational win which bears out the contention that a “small man can beat a big man”. This principle was inherited from the Jujutsu era and must be passed on to future generations. The original Japanese text of this book makes essentially the same statement. A small pamphlet published by the Kodokan a few years ago adds further - The symbol was introduced in October 1940. The form is modelled after an ancient copper mirror. The red circle in the center symbolizes a sincere and passionate mind. The red circle is concealed by a white area which expresses soft and gentle white floss-silk.
Senta Yamada correctly identifies the outer shape of the Kodokan emblem as a yata no kagami, or yata-kaganil. In Japanese legends chronicled in the early 8th century yata-kagami, “eight-hand mirror”, refers to a huge mirror, suspended by the deities on the middle branches of a great tree. This, along with a lewd dance performed by another goddess, helped to persuade the Sun Goddehs, Arnaterasu, out of hiding; and light was restored to the world. Despite what Yaniada sam nobody knows exactly what yata means in the chronicles, or what the original yata-kagaini looked like. The yata-kagami is also one of the Three Treasures associated with Amaterasu; and the word came to be most commonly used in this context. The sanshu no shinki, “Three Kinds of Divine Implement”, are the Mirror, Sword and Curved Jewel: of which the originals are supposed to be kept secretly in the Kotai Jingu, one of the two great Shinto shrines at The Amaterasu herself is not only the most important of the Shinto deities, but also the lineal ancestor of the Japanese imperial house, closely associated with it throughout history.
All other bronzed mirrors described as yata-kagami are copies of the one at Ise. Almost all the earliest Japanese mirrors with eight ogival lobes, in the shape of the flower of a water chestnut (hishi), date from the 10th century or later; and production of such mirrors was clearly stimulated by the cult of the Sun Goddess. In turn, this eight-lobed mirror pattern was a direct imitation of one fashionable in the Tang-dynasty China during the eighth century (though most Tang examples have rounded rather than pointed lobes.) Ultimately, the shape was inspired by art of Iran. Among the myriad varieties of Japanese crest-badge (mon) is the sanshu no shinki, an eight-lobed ogival outline enclosing two crossed straight swords and two comma-shaped jewels. This mon is associated with many Shinto shrines; and Kano Jigoro’s father came from a long and distinguished line of Shinto priests. No doubt the Kodokan emblem was in the first instance an adaptation of the outer shape of this mon, with the substitution of a red circle on a white round. It was not evidence that it but rather a badge of membership in originally a “logo” for the Kodokan ,the institution, to be worn on the left the judogi jacket. I find nohad been designed by Kano Jigoro himself. After Kano’s death in May 1938, his nephew Rear-Admiral Nango Jiro was second head of the Kodokan, from December 1938 until the end of World War II. In 1943 he devised the kata Joshi Judo Goshin-ho, “Methods of Judo Self-Protection for Women”. It would certainly not have been beyond him to devise a new emblem for the Kodokan; and in 1940 there was a special reason for doing so.
The meaning of the badge is partly explained by the Kodokan in the two passages quoted above; but the red circle on a white ground is also the hi no maru, the circle of the sun, as seen on the Japanese flag. 1944 was publicly commemorated as the 2600th anniversary of the founding of the Empire, the main events taking place November 10th. The Kodokan played its part, with anniversary tournaments in June, and October and on 10 November a match between Waseda and Keio Universities. Perhaps the Kodokan emblem made its first appearance on one of these occasions; and that its creation was in part a patriotic gesture. After World War II, it was perhaps deemed inappropriate to acknowledge this; and the cherry blossom explanation could have come into circulation. There was actually nothing to be ashamed of; and today both Japanese and the rest of us can afford to be more relaxed about the past, without covering it with whitewash. Judoka may continue to enjoy and use the Kodokan emblem, as an elegant summation of much that judo stands for: including not least the old motto ju yoku go o sei suru, “softness will effectively control hardness”