Extra Details about Chiba Sana

*2/8/2021 – A few updates to specific information. Big thanks to Kazuyo Matsuda of “Fine Ladies Kendo Worldwide”.

Here’s the continuation of my previous post on Chiba Sana. This time around, some extra tidbits regarding Sana and her family that are not usually mentioned, or not even known in English, will be covered here.



There are 2 ways to write the name Sana. In a Hokushin Ittō ryū mokuroku (list of technique names) given to Sakamoto Ryōma, it is written in kanji as 佐那. Honorary monuments and signs use this one today as well. However, in a mortuary tablet it is written as 佐奈. The difference in writing the 2nd character is unknown, but it is possible that for the mortuary tablet it was not known which kanji was used. In any event, both ways of writing are used to identify Sana.

For the name Sanako, apparently this is what was written on her grave at Seiunji in Kōfu City, Yamanashi. It is written as “さな子”, with the 1st 2 characters written in hiragana.


From a letter that Ryōma sent to his older sister Otome in 1863, we learn about the other talents Sana was adept in. Other than martial arts and healing practices, Sana was well versed in other areas such as horseback riding, drawing pictures, and playing the koto (Japanese 13-stringed instrument). There may have been more, but this is all that has been uncovered so far.


There are a few popular portraits that float around the web said to be Sana. Actually, they are not. Interestingly, there are no photos taken of her while she was alive. This is not an unusual case. Researchers have yet to come across an official photo of Sana from her family.

Below are 2 common ones that are mistaken to be her.

Satō Kichi, from Wikipedia

This is actually a picture taken of Satō Kichi, who was a top class geisha during the 1800s. She would later become a hair stylist and restaurant owner. She also bears the nickname “Tōjin Okichi” (唐人お吉). Kichi had this picture take when she was 19.

Kusumoto Takako, from Wikipedia

This pic is of a girl named Takako, who was the daughter of a Kusumoto Ine, the 1st Japanese woman to specialize in Western medicine. This was taken in 1872, when Takako was 20 years old.

While the 2 women’s bios are official in Japan, and almost all Japanese websites do not reference them to Sana anymore, it is unfortunate that some websites outside of Japan still do. I hope that this post can bring awareness about the matter, and prevent further accidental use of these 2 photos.


In a document put out by the present Hokushin Ittō ryū Honbu, Sana is stated as assisting in starting the Chiba Gekikenkai. This establishment was significant, for it not only helped in bringing popularity back to gekiken, but to reinvigorate interest in martial arts. As Japan entered Meiji period (1868~1912), much changed in terms of government and direction of lifestyle of the people. As times were becoming much peaceful, people were focusing on progressive means of living, including work.

Interest in būjutsu was fading drastically, as most schools taught techniques styled for combat on the battlefield. Many people did not want to get involved in such practices anymore due to the violent events that had taken place towards the late-mid 1800s, which ushered in the new Meiji period. A great number of training halls closed their doors, family styles were being forgotten, and the warrior class was becoming obsolete. The Chiba Gekikenkai, on the other hand, gave way to a new direction for applying the martial spirit in a competitive environment.

There is a famous woodblock print of a female utilizing a naginata against a male using a shinai. This is an artistic scene of how gekiken took place at the Chiba Dōjō. For the longest this female is said to be Chiba Sana, yet has not been proven 100% yet. One of the issues is that the name next to the woman is different.

A snapshot of the newspaper article about Chiba Sana and the woodblock print. Original source is here.

On February 13th 2010, an article was published in Asahi Newspaper where researchers detailed their search into the matter of the woodblock print. The label next to the woman reads “Chiba Tei – woman” (千葉貞女), with woman as an indicator of her gender. One rumor is that this is Chiba Tei, the grandchild of Chiba Shūsaku, Sadakichi’s older brother and 1st headmaster of Genbukan Dojo. However, the article states that there are no records of any women from Shūsaku’s family line ever participating in gekiken competition. Another point mentioned is that there were only about 3 women who took part in the Chiba Gekikenkai, and Sana is believed to be one of them. Furthermore, there appears to be no records of any women bearing the name of “Chiba Tei”.

Why label Sana as “Chiba Tei”? It is possible, from my personal assumption, that the label wasn’t stating a name, but is actually a complement — most likely towards Sana if this truly is her. If you look at the Japanese characters “千葉貞女” again, and read 貞 (tei) and 女 (onna) together, they make up the word “virtuous woman”. So it is quite possible that the label is stating “the virtuous woman of the Chiba family”. Why “Sana” was omitted is a mystery to me, but there are numerous cases where individuals’ names are omitted from historical or artistic works, especially for women.


In Ryōma’s Hokushin Ittō ryu mokuroku, it has the names of those members of the Chiba family who not only trained with him, but as proof of his training within this martial system. The names are the following:

千葉周作 – Chiba Shūsaku

千葉定吉 – Chiba Sadakichi

千葉重太郎 – Chiba Jūtarō

千葉佐那 – Chiba Sana

千葉里幾 – Chiba Riki

千葉幾久 – Chiba Kiku

Names as written in the mokuroku. They are indicated in the red box. It is read from right to left, from top to bottom. Note that for Sana and her sisters’ names, the character 女 (onna) is written after each one to indicate that they are females.

Along with Sana, the names of her younger sisters Riki and Kiku are written as well. This is a good indication that they too studied Hokushin Ittō ryu. On what skill level did they reach and how long they trained is not mentioned. Still, this indicates that Sana was not the only female of the Chiba family who trains. This also includes her older sister Umeo (梅尾), whom she learned naginatajutsu from.


On the website, “Hokushin Ittõ ryū~Chibake“, it is mentioned that Sana did a form of martial arts performance that earned her much acclaim. Found in a documentation related to the Chiba family, it is stated that when she was 16, Sana displayed her martial prowess before the wife of the lord of Takamatsu Domain. There is not enough information, however, on the particulars of this.


A snapshot of the page. The line stating Sana’s martial performance is underlined in red.

For example, there is a Takamatsu Domain located in Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku (southern part of Japan), which is pretty far of a journey to make from Edo (present day Tokyo). While there was a villa established in Edo by the 1st Takamatsu Domain lord Matsudaira Yorishige (originally from old Hitachi Province, a section of present day Ibaragi Prefecture) for him to reside in 1664, it is not known whether later successors utilized the same villa. Also, what type of performance Sana took part in (whether demonstration of techniques or 1 vs 1 match) is not explained. This all has to be taken with a grain of salt.


That’s all I have regarding Chiba Sana. An individual quite active up until her last days, Sana lived a life with many impactful events, which should have better documentation. Hope all find this and the previous post informative and enjoyable.

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