It is unclear when exactly Nagamine Shōshin entered Tomari Common Elementary School. He was born July 15, 1907, and the school year at that time started in April. The regular school enrollment for first graders was the age of 6 (MEXT, data for 1908 and 1919). Therefore, if all went according to regulations, Nagamine would have entered Tomari Common Elementary School in April 1914. According to Nagamine (1986:111), Funakoshi Gichin taught Naihanchi and Pinan at that time:
“When I was in the third grade of Tomari Elementary School, a Joint Athletic Meet of Naha Elementary Schools was held at Onoyama Park. At that time, Gichin Sensei was teaching at Tomari Elementary School, and we third and above graders were taught Naihanchi and Pinan and presented a group performance with about 200 people, which I remember as it was only yesterday.”
Nagamine’s third grade year would have been from April 1916. Moreover, according to the Ryūkyū Shinpō newspaper (November 14, 1916), when eight elementary schools held a joint athletic meet in Onoyama Park in Naha on November 13, karate was demonstrated by elementary school boys. (Maeshiro et al. 1992; Yanagihara 2020-08-06). The same joint athletic meet in Onoyama Park was also held a year before on 1915-12-14 and a year later 1917-11-10 (Maeshiro et al. 1992). Therefore, while Nagamine could have referred to any of these three joint athletic meets either 1915, 1916, or 1917, it was most probably 1916.
Let’s continue under the assumption that Nagamine entered Tomari Common Elementary School in April 1914. Education at that time had a number of possible routes (Shillony 1986: 769-787; MEXT, data for 1908 and 1919). If all went smooth, then, Nagamine would have completed the compulsory 6-year elementary school (jinjō shōgakkō) in March 1920. He would then proceed to the 2-years of higher elementary school (kōtō shōgakkō, or otherwise preparatory course), which he completed in 1922. In April that year, Nagamine entered the 3-year Naha Commercial School (shōgyō-gakkō), which he would have completed in March 1925. However, in his second year at Naha Commercial School (i.e. 1923), he became sick:
“When I was in my second year at Naha Commercial School, I suffered from gastrointestinal disorder and was confined to sickbed for more than a year. My complexion was also pale and my weakness was so severe that my school friends misunderstood it as me having pulmonary tuberculosis and were wary of approaching me. At that time, tuberculosis was an incurable disease. I was silently treated by a physician, but it didn’t seem to be effective, so I decided to give up my medicine and concentrate on my diet.” (Nagamine 1976:54)
“Besides that, as a more non-serious matter, I began to receive instruction in the basics of karate. Elder Kuba Chōjin, who was doing karate in the neighborhood, taught me in the garden of his house. This was in the summer of my 17th year, in the 12th year of the Taishō era (1923).”(Nagamine 1976:54)
In other words, he lost one school year due to illness. The 3-year Commercial School therefore took him four years, so that his final year started in April 1925 and he graduated in March 1926.
Nagamine wrote that in 1923, in his 17th year, he started learning karate under Kuba Chōjin. That means, he began to learn karate beside school education, sport meets, and the like. Obviously, his 17th year means when he was 16 years old.
This needs a little more study.
Here are the regular school years at the time. Add one for Nagamine.
The above is important to consider because there are a number of websites which uncritically adopted dates that seem to be wrong,. i.e. 1928 instead of 1923.
Gima Shinkin, Fujiwara Ryōzō: Taidan Kindai Karatedō no Rekishi o kataru (Dialogue – Talking about the History of Modern Karate). Bēsubōru Magajin-sha 1986.
Maeshiro Tsutomu, Taira Tsutomu, Kinjō Noboru, Kinjō Fumio: A Chronological History of Athletic Meets in Okinawa Prefecture before World War II. Bulletin of College of Education, University of the Ryukyus, Vol. 41, Part 1, Part 2, 1992. pp 299–306.
Nagamine Shōshin: Shijitsu to Dentō o mamoru Okinawa no Karatedō. Shinjinbutsu Ōraisha 1976.
Nagamine Shōshin: Shijitsu to Kuden ni yoru Okinawa no Karate Sumō Meijin-den (The Biographies of Okinawan Masters of Karate and Sumō by Historical Facts and Oral Traditions). Shinjinbutsu Ōraisha 1986.
Shillony, Ben-Ami: Universities and Students in Wartime Japan. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 45, No. 4 (Aug., 1986), pp. 769-787
Yanagihara Shigeo: The Story of Nagamine Shoshin — The rise and fall of Okinawa Karate (2). The character of the place called Tomari. August 6, 2020.
Yanagihara Shigeo: The Story of Nagamine Shoshin — The rise and fall of Okinawa Karate (3). Started karate in the second year of Commercial School. August 14, 2020.
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