Originally published in Kendo World magazine vol. 7.3, 2014.
The agreement on the first French military mission to Japan was signed by both countries in June 1866. The French instructors set foot in Yokohama on January 13, 1867. The mission was headed by Charles Chanoine, and its purpose was to create a new shogunate army based on a European (more specifically, French) system of both administration/logistics and combat/tactics. Japanese men would receive instruction in artillery, infantry and cavalry.Unfortunately, the mission fell through shortly after it started. With Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s abdication in favour of the Emperor in 1868, the mission was halted and the instructors officially left Japan on October 18, with very little accomplished.
By the time of the third French military mission (1884–89), Japan mainly relied on German instruction, and was also hiring advisors from several European countries. Nevertheless, Tokyo decided once again to entrust the land army to French instruction. The French mission reorganised the Toyama military academy and created in 1886 the four departments of strategy, artillery, callisthenics, and fencing. The fencing course was itself divided into three fields: foil, sabre and bayonet.
The third French military mission officially ended in January 1889. The same year in November, Japan’s Ministry of Army published Kenjutsu Kyōhan, the official fencing textbook that was based on translations of French military teaching materials. Kenjutsu Kyōhan is divided into three volumes:
• Seiken-jutsu (正 剣術 ) —> foil • Guntō-jutsu (軍 刀術 ) —> sabre • Jūken-jutsu (銃 剣術 ) —> bayonet
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