Uechi Kanbun – Draft Dodger or Conscientious Objector

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Uechi Kanbun

The founder of Uechi-ryu Karate-do, Uechi Kanbun (1877-1948) was born in the village of Izumi on the Motobu Peninsula.  At the age of 20, Kanbun reportedly left for the city of Fuzhou in Fujian province, China in order to avoid being conscripted into the military and study martial arts. What some readers may not be aware of is the level of opposition Okinawans felt towards conscription and how that may have influenced Kanbun’s decision to leave Okinawa.

Contemporaries of Kanbun, like Yabu Kentsu (1866-1937) and Hanashiro Chomo (1869-1945), had no qualms about serving in the military and both men fought in the first Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895). Of note is that during their time, military service was voluntary. However, in 1897, the revised conscription law came into effect throughout Japan including Okinawa. Many Okinawans were opposed to conscription and apparently one of the more common ways young men would avoid service was cripple themselves by cutting off a finger. This gives you an idea of how serious families felt about conscription on Okinawa and the lengths men were willing to go to avoid it.

Indeed, the articles of conscription state,

It is the duty of those who are fit for military service to undergo the examination, and those who are fit for military service may not avoid it unless they have a legitimate reason for doing so. If a person has a legitimate reason and is unable to appear at the inspection site, he must submit proof of the reason, and if he is ill, he must submit a doctor’s certificate to the district mayor in that region, and to the island governor in Miyako and Yaeyama before the inspection date. If he fails to do so, he shall be receive a fine of not more than one yen 95 sen.

To put that amount in perspective, that would be about half a month to a month’s wages, so no family would have been able to afford paying the fine. It seems Motobu had the largest number of people opposed to conscription compared to the rest of Okinawa. The Ryukyu Shimpo published the names of 774 people who had “dodged” the draft between 1889 and 1915 in an article published on April 8, 1916. Almost one quarter of those names (174 individuals; 22.5%) were from people from Motobu. Whether or not Uechi’s name included in the list I don’t know, but I am trying to track down the article.  However, it is unlikely as Kanbun supposedly left in 1897 and the list starts from 1898.


Meyer S (2007) Citizenship, culture and identity in prewar Okinawa. pp. 163 (https://hub.hku.hk/bitstream/10722/51701/6/FullText.pdf)

Kondo, K (1994). A Study on the Educational Policy in Okinawa in relation to the Enforcement of Military Service System. pp. 13 (https://eprints.lib.hokudai.ac.jp/dspace/handle/2115/29435)