Ganryu Island

Ganryū island, or the island of the Gan school of swordsmanship (巌流島), is known for Musashi’s famous duel with Sasaki Kojirō. Though not mentioned once in his own writings, the duel at the island of Ganryū is the most famous episode in Miyamoto Musashi’s life and has come to epitomize his ingenious fencing skills.

Situated in the Shimonoseki straits, the narrow waters between the main island of Honshu and the southern island of Kyushu, the island was historically called Funashima (Boat Island) because of its boat-like shape. Up until the end of the Meiji era the island was only a third of its present size. It was connected by a narrow riff of sand with the main island Hikoshima. During the Taishō era, however, part of the shallow waters behind the riff were filled up with land, and the riff was severed from Hikoshima island, creating the much larger outline of the present island, now more commonly known as Ganryū Island.

Given Musashi’s popularity, the island is now more widely known as Ganryū-jima, or Ganryū Island, but according to the Kōkai fūhansō:

この島の名は剣術使いの名によって名付けたというのは誤りである。これは流儀の名前である。この流儀を始めたのは上田宗入というものということである。この者は、不見の磯に一年間結跏趺坐して波が打つのを観じて兵法の工夫をして巌流と名付けた一流を創始した。

The belief that this island was named after a swordsman by that name is a mistake, for it was named after a school of swordsmanship. The founder of this school was a man by the name of Ueda Sōnyū. He spent a year in meditation on a rocky beach and, observing how the waves broke on the rocks below, devised a school of swordsmanship that he named Garyû, or the “school of the rocks.”

It is now most widely believed that Musashi’s opponent in this duel was a man by the name of Sasaki Kojirō, who happened to be a practitioner of the Ganryū school of swordsmanship. Though little is known about him, Kojirō is believed to have been a native of Echizen province, and born in the town of Fukui toward the middle of the sixteenth century. At a young age he entered the service of the powerful Asakura clan, which had its headquarters at Ichijōdani castle.

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