Saturday, May 12, 2012

Konjoubo and the Criminology Museum

A couple of colleagues and I have been doing some research into this instrument I previously identified as konjoubo. It turns out that "konjoubo" is probably a misnomer.

I first heard this term a few years ago from kinbaku model Aiko who had the apparently misnamed device applied liberally to her cute bottom shortly beforehand.

Thinking about it, I'm pretty sure I know now why she referred to it as konjoubo; something like the one pictured above has been for sale at 100 yen shops as well as possibly the chaotic (but fun) Don Quijote chain of variety stores.

Whoever supplied those things to the 100 yen shops labeled them konjoubo, but now it seems this is not the correct name for this instrument.

Konjoubo (根性棒) appear to have got their start around the time of WWII. It can be translated as "spirit stick" and was apparently a device used by the Navy to instill a martial spirit into the conscripts. Rather than being a long piece of split bamboo, they seem to have been constructed of sold wood. A few other names are as follows (you can Google these kanji and see for yourself):


Here is what a colleague had to say:

The origin of konjoubo can go back to WWII where the naval force used a stick to "fill" people with ”sprit of soldier".

The punishment tool that was officially used in Edo was called houkijiri (箒尻) that was made from a split bamboo with hemp.

In the seventh century, official tools for punishment were muchi(笞)and jyou(杖). Both of them were made from wood but the former was slimmer than the latter. Sizes were officially indicated.

Houkijiri was a revival of muchi and jyou in the Edo era.

Muchi(笞)is old kanji of 鞭. We used wood (probably bamboo) muchi (like "switch" in Western countries).

Jyou(杖) means stick. The 發花杖 was made with jyou(杖) .

About a year ago I was surprised to see a whole bunch of these bamboo things hanging outside a restaurant in Tokyo. I even took some photos. After that, however, I pretty much forgot all about them.

Then I read a thread on FetLife in which someone asked what the heck these things were. I was still thinking they were called konjoubo, but I was soon set straight. I also found out that this word might leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of some Japanese folks who are past middle age. Aiko certainly doesn't fit into that demographic.

I started to get interested in this thing and thought that it might be a worthy item to add to the Stuff4Sale department here.

It just so happens that there is a small bamboo grove not five minutes on foot from where I live. I went over there and talked with the proprietor. I used the term "konjoubo" and he was obviously familiar with the word. This fellow looked to be in his 50s. Unfortunately, the bamboo he had really wasn't right for this project.

I decided to go back to the restaurant and when I got there, I found that only one of these bamboo thingies was now hanging from the outside wall. I don't know what happened to all the others.

I spoke to the owner, a lady who appeared to be in her 60s. I asked her what it was. She said "bamboo". I said, yeah, I know that, but what's the name of this thing? She didn't know.

I was purposely avoiding using the word konjoubo so as not to bias the test and, also, I was a little worried that the word might conjure up uncomfortable images.

I then asked her what it was used for; what was the purpose? She paused for a few seconds and then tapped her shoulder with it a couple of times. So that was it? A kind of massage device? Then she gave it to me as a present.

So, I thought, it probably is just an implement for loosening up tight muscles but it wouldn't be the first time something like this took on a dual use by imaginative folks with an interest in SM.

When you think about it, a sold wood stick is a pretty serious thing. But a split bamboo rod that emits a nice crack! with minimal force applied, now that could be fun.

I found a place that sells some really amazing bamboo. Not cheap, though. The stuff in the photo below costs 15,000 yen apiece and you could only get three cuts out of one of these poles. These are from Kyoto and are aged to a dark natural color.

For half the price you can get bamboo that has been painted dark brown and I think that may be the story with the picture at the top of this post. I'm still trying to decide which to go with and there's another place I need to check out to see if I can get a lower price.

By now, I was pretty convinced that far from being a konjoubo, this device had been invented long after WWII and was designed for the purpose of whacking tense shoulders. But, just to be on the safe side, I decided to head over to the Museum of Criminology at Meiji University.

Once there, I asked my friendly guide about konjoubo. "I don't know," he said. He had never heard the word before!

Now, he was a gentleman in his 60s, perhaps, but those were his words. In a way, it's not surprising. The Criminology Museum focuses on law enforcement in the Edo and Meiji Periods. He did, however, concede that it could have been something of military significance during the Second World War.

The closest thing to konjoubo at the museum was a device called houkijiri (see above), two pieces of bamboo wrapped with thin hemp.

The following are some additional photos I took at the museum.

This next one shows the different colors of rope (torinawa) that were used to bind prisoners back in the old days. The picture came out poorly but each color corresponded to a different season: red for summer, the natural color for winter, and so on. The one in the center was the rope used as one season transitioned to another.

Next is a drawing of the inside of Kodenmacho jail which used to be located in the area of Tokyo by the same name. I thought I had written down the name of the artist but, alas, no. Apparently, he spent some time in this jail and so was able to give a firsthand portrayal. However, my guide said that, in fact, the jail had only one floor, not two levels as shown in the drawing.

Next, a structure for suspending offenders.

Sorry for the poor quality of many of these photos. The museum is a bit dark and you even have to go down into the bowels of one of the university buildings to get there. That seemed appropriate. Also, I only had with me my pocket point-and-shoot camera which isn't the best in low light.

The next photo shows truncheons (jitte) which identified one as a policeman and could be used as a weapon.

And long poles (sodegarami) with several sharp points used to control unruly suspects.

Women who committed adultery could anticipate being placed in these manacles. These were not meant for torture/confession but, rather, punishment. My guide made a clear distinction between the two. A victim might be placed in these anywhere from one to three months.

This is probably one of the most familiar scenes to Westerners. Known as ishidaki, an individual slab weighed 49 kilograms and the victim might endure up to five slabs.

Someone would have his head placed in this hole and displayed naked outside the front gate of the jail. The bails on either side were used for sawing off heads although my guide said this didn't happen much. Ne'er-do-wells were also paraded around naked while bound. Female ne'er-do-wells were generally tossed into jail, though, rather than being paraded around.

An arsonist could look forward to this fate.

Crucifixion was meted out to robbers (repeat offenders) and murderers. The condemned would be left in an exposed state for two days in Nihonbashi which is next door to Kodenmacho, and then crucified. If you're a nerd who has been to Akihabara for your nerdy goods, you weren't far away from the location of some bloody crucifixions.

Under certain circumstances, heads would be chopped off and displayed on spikes.

The fellow in the center in the top picture is an Edo Era investigator.

And a reminder that these sorts of harsh punishments were also practiced in the West: the guillotine and the iron maiden.

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