Soke Shogo Kuniba
Sandai Soke of Motobu Ha Karate Do
Shodai Soke of Kuniba Ryu Goshin Do
Shodai Soke Kuniba Ryu Kobudo
Shodai Soke Kuniba Ryu Iaido
THE KOKUBA FAMILY OF OKINAWA
The Kanji character of Koku translates as “country.’ and the character for Ba translates as “Place”. The character Koku is pronounced as Koku in Okinawa and as Kuni in mainland Japan. The actual written form, in Kanji, is the same.
The Kokuba family traces their ancestry back almost 2,000 years and the charts to prove it are kept at the home of the head of the family, Koshu Kokuba who is the oldest male of the family line. He is also the former superintendent of the Okinawan School System. The family history goes back to Yoshitsune Minamoto who was the younger brother of Japan’s first Shogun Minamoto Yoritomo who became Shogun in 1192. The younger brother was considered a threat to Yoritomo because he was a strong warrior. He was exiled from the court and fled south where his descendants eventually wound up in Okinawa. That is part of their family history.
The family was also part of the last royal family of Okinawa, the Sho Shi family. Soke Kuniba and Shojin Nagamine are the only Okinawan martial arts masters who are directly related to the Okinawan royalty. Prior to World War II, there was a Kokuba village near the city of Naha. The family members who live there today can show you where the village was. Today, it is a part of the city of Naha. There is still the Kokuba river which flows through Naha. There was a Kokuba Castle which housed the ancestral swords and relics but it was destroyed by American bombs during the war.
Today, the Kokuba family is the most important family in Okinawa. One cousin was a member of the Japanese Congress, the Diet, for more than 30 years. His name was the same as Soke Kuniba’s: Kosho Kokuba and he passed away recently. The family is one of the big Japanese conglomerates like Mitsubishi or Honda. They own over 400 companies and employ over 70,000 people in Okinawa alone. They also have business interests in other parts of Japan. They are involved in many industries, primarily shipping. In Naha, there are several large housing complexes called Kokuba Mansions and also several skyscraper buildings which are called Kokuba Buildings and house their business interests.
All males of the Kokuba family have as the first Kanji character of their name the character Ko which means happiness or good fortune. It can be read as Ko or as Yuki. Soke Kuniba was given the name Kosho at birth and that can be pronounced as Yukitaka also. It sometimes causes confusion to Westerners. Kanji characters can be given a Chinese or Japanese reading and it often depends on the context of the sentence as to which way it is read. Some of Soke Kuniba’s cousins are called Ko something and some are called Yuki something. To further confuse the issue, they also give children different names as they grow older. As a teenager, Soke Kuniba was called Noboru-chan and his relatives in Okinawa still call him Noboru-chan because he spent many of his teen years there with them.
Soke Kuniba’s mother’s family was also of the samurai class. They are the Furugen family and all males in that side of the family have names that begin with the Kanji for So. Many of them are in real estate and they work together with the Kokuba family. One cousin Sotetsu Furugen was an aide to Shintaro Abe, the former finance minister of Japan who is one of the leading politicians of the Liberal Democratic Party which is Japan’s ruling political party.
Soke Shogo Kuniba was truly a Master of Masters.
* Reprinted from the Seishin Kai Karate Handbook 1 by Dr. James Herndon, PH.D.