Sashi-haba (Stitch Width)
This refers to the size of the interval left between the rows of stitching that run through the Futon. This is referred to in units of Bu in the case of hand-stitched Bogu, and in units of mm for machine-stitched Bogu. Bu is a traditional Japanese unit of measurement, and is a fraction of the Kane-jaku or common Shaku - which itself is part of the ancient Shakkanhou measurement system. In the case of Bogu, one Bu is equal to 3.03mm.
As a rule of thumb, as the Sashi-haba gets finer, the Futon in turn becomes more rigid, and also thinner – as the Futon itself is physically bound tighter. This, makes it both less protective and less comfortable, however, it is easier to mould into a desirable shape, and is considered by many to have an overall better appearance.
Thus, in turn if the Sashi-haba is wider, the Futon is both thicker and more flexible, making it more cushioned and comfortable. However, the trade-off is that it is harder to mould into a desirable shape, and is not as suitable for areas of the Bogu where a rigid Futon may be favoured – For example, the Mendare are preferred by many to have slightly more rigidity than other areas of the Bogu, as forming them into the correct shape is critical in ensuring the fine movements are kept unseen to the opponent, ensuring the overall look of the Kamae is correct, and that the Mendare correctly deflect missed strikes away from the shoulders.
Amongst modern practitioners, the most popular choices tend to be 2.0 or 1.5 Bu for general use hand-stitched Bogu, and 4mm or 3mm for machine-stitched Bogu.
However, this serves only as a general idea, and what is extremely important is NOT to base judgment on whether or not a particular Bogu set is suitable or not on the Sashi-haba alone. There are several determining factors, and if in doubt, we recommend you to contact our team of professional advisors.
Sashi-Ma (Stitch Length)
This refers to the actual length of each individual stitch, or in other words, the size of the interval the Futon is actually pierced by the needle and thread at the time of stitching. This varies depending on the individual Bogu and the stitching type, however, it is not something that is generally offered as a selectable option when purchasing a Bogu, as it is a choice which – for the sake of optimum durability – is best left to the experience of the craftsman. In a similar way to the Sashi-haba generally, the tighter the Sashi-Ma, the thinner and stiffer the Futon becomes.
Generally, machine-stitched Bogu uses a much tighter Sashi-ma than hand-stitched Bogu, though our ‘All Japan Pitch’ brand Bogu uses the special ‘All Japan Pitch-zashi’, which uses a longer Sashi-ma, providing extra flexibility and padding. Hand-stitched Bogu almost exclusively uses the same interval for the Sashi-ma, as for the Sashi-haba - in other words, in the case of Hand-stitched Bogu, the length of the stitches is almost always the same as the distance between the row of stitching (i.e. the Sashi-ma of a 1.5 Bu Bogu set, will also be 1.5 Bu).
In Japan, the Sashi-ma is often call the the 'pitch' (Pittchi), hence the name 'All Japan Pitch'.
Bogu Stitching Types
Te-zashi (Hand-stitched Bogu)
Hand-stitching the Futon of a Bogu is indeed a laborious task that requires a large degree of skill and expertise. There are two main types of stiching used, called 'Naga-zashi' and 'Ten-zashi'.
Naga-zashi is by far the most common, as it is less labor intensive and requires less skill, so it can be made for a lower price. However, Ten-zashi offers both increased durability, flexibility and protection.
Video showing a Futon being stitched by hand :
When a Bogu’s Futon is stitched using Naga-zashi, a needle and thread is passed through the surface of the Futon to the reverse side, and then after a short interval, it is passed back through to the surface side. On the surface side, it is passed straight back through to the reverse, leaving only a small ’dot’ type stitch on the surface of the Futon. This means that the Futon has less of the actual thread exposed on the surface – which is frequently stricken with a Shinai, further a long stitch is made on the reverse side giving a degree of flexibility, which is not found in regular machine-stitched Bogu.
With Ten-zashi the needle is passed through the Futon diagonally, leaving only small pin-point stitches on both sides of the Futon. This is much more time consuming than Naga-zashi and requires a level of skill that most Bogu craftsmen no-longer posses. This style of stitching carries with it many advantages, such as only leaving small amounts of thread on both sides. Meaning that durability is increased not only on the surface - where the Bogu is struck with the Shinai - but also on the reverse, where the Futon is exposed to friction from rubbing against the body. Further, more airparticles are kept between the stitches, which gives the Futon much more flexibility and cushioning, whilst retaining enough rigidity to keep a good shape.
Naturally, whichever method is used, the process is incredibly labour intensive, so you can expect to pay more for a hand-stitched Bogu, than for a Machine-stitched Bogu set of the same specification.
As the name implies, the Futon of a machine-stitched Bogu is stitched using an industrial sewing machine. In a similar way to a household sewing machine, the machine uses 2 separate threads which pass through the Futon from each side. As more thread is exposed to the surface of the Futon, this provides slightly less durability than a hand-stitched Futon of the same Sashi-Haba (stitch width). In addition machine-stitched Bogu generally uses a shorter Sashi-Ma (stitch length) than hand-stitched Bogu, which means the Futon is bound somewhat tighter, making it thinner and also slightly more rigid.
Video showing a Futon being stitched by machine:
As the process is much less labour-intensive than hand-stitching, you can expect to get a cheaper price on a machine-stitched Bogu, than you would a hand-stitched Bogu of the same specification.
‘All Japan Pitch-zashi’
Our original ‘All Japan Pitch’ brand of Bogu is all stitched using this special stitching technique, and is one of the main reasons the brand has so quickly become one of Japan’s most popular. Essentially, the technique used is similar to machine-stitched Bogu, however, the pattern of stitching itself is slightly different. With ‘All Japan Pitch-zashi’ Bogu, the stitches Sashi-Ma (stitch length) is actually longer than with standard machine-stitched Bogu, and is instead similar to the Sashi-Ma used in hand-stitched Bogu – making it thicker, and more protective, whilst at the same time giving additional flexibility. As the stitches are longer, they have a slightly higher probability of breaking, which is a problem encountered frequently with Bogu sets which use a similar, imitation ‘pitch’ type stitching – usually due to weak thread, or inappropriately spaced Sashi-Ma. However, the original ‘All Japan Pitch-zashi’ uses both a combination of a tried and tested optimum Sashi-Ma, and also a specially developed thread, which is resistant to breakage.
Although is still much less labour-intensive than hand-stitching, ‘All Japan Pitch-zashi’ requires a special technique to complete effectively, and also slightly different stitching materials. For this reason it is generally slightly more expensive than standard machine-stitched Bogu of the same specification.
The stitching applied to the Mendare play an important role in the flexibility, comfort and the overall appearance of the Men itself. There are three main types of stitching used on the Mendare, and they are as follows :
Naname-zashi (Diagonal Stitching)
This is simply where the stitches are applied at a 45-degree angle to the main stitching on the Futon. This gives more flexibility to the Mendare, making it easier to move the shoulders when swinging the Shinai. Naname-zashi is the most common type of stitching used on the Mendare of modern-day Bogu, as it provides a good balance between comfort, protection and appearance.
Gunome-zashi refers to a method of stitching where an additional, usually off-set row of stitches is inserted between the standard rows of stitching. This gives the Futon more rigidity, and also makes it thinner, so it is used in places where forming the Futon into a desirable shape is important - hence it is used on the Mendare. It is most commonly seen on hand-stitched Bogu, though a similar effect can be seen on machine-stitched Bogu also - paticularly those with a wider Sashi-haba. For example, a 6mm machine-stitched Bogu may use 3mm stitching on the Mendare, to produce the same effect.
Bou-zashi (Straight Stitching)
When the main rows of stitching on the Futon continue in a straight line, all the way to the end of the Mendare, it is known as Bou-zashi. This is somewhat rare in modern machine-stitched Bogu sets, however, it is still frequently used in hand-stitched Bogu, particularly if the Sashi-haba is tight - for example, 1.2 Bu. It is preferred by some, as although it lacks the flexibility of Naname-zashi, it provides a very simplistic, classic appearance.
In general, all Bogu is made in something of a similar way, with the majority of the Futon being made from layers of cloth, wool and felt, wrapped in natural cotton and reinforced with leather. The materials used for this reinforcement play a large role in both the appearance and the durability of the Bogu set. The biggest difference is made by the Hari (covering) which is used to reinforce the surface of the Futon. The main materials used for this are as follows :
This is where the Futon is covered with thick cotton, similar to the material used for the Kendogi. This is cheaper than using genuine leather, and has the advantage of being flexible and quick-drying, making it well suited to hot climates. It is not as durable as leather, however, and it doesn’t offer the same prestige as genuine deerskin. In any case, Orizashi Bogu is becoming more and more popular, as it is a great way to save cost on a good-quality Bogu set.
Synthetic Leather –
Synthetic leather has been used for some time now as a substitute for genuine deerskin. Originally it was inferior by a long way, and was used only on the lowest-level Bogu sets. However, with improvements in technology, modern synthetic leathers which have been especially produced for use in Bogu – such as ‘All Japan Shin-Leather’. These are almost indistinguishable from real deerskin in terms of appearance, and are much cheaper to produce. Unfortunately, they do still have downsides… Synthetic leathers do not hold the dye the same way as genuine deerskin does, and over time changes colour differently. Thus it does not produce the well known ‘faded blue’ look that Kendo practitioners have come to love. Further, although modern synthetic leathers have improved a great deal since their introduction into Bogu construction, they still do not quite compete with the outstanding durability offered by genuine deerskin. Having said this though, owing to the high cost of genuine deerskin, modern synthetic leathers allow us to make great quality Bogu at reasonable prices – making quality affordable, to practitioners of all levels.
Cow Leather –
Like synthetic leather, cow leather has been used as a substitute for deerskin for some time, and in general offers a very similar appearance. However, its popularity in Japan has decreased greatly in recent years, as modern synthetic leathers have surpassed the positive qualities of cow leather for use in the construction of Bogu. Although cow leather offers excellent durability, it does not react well to moisture, becoming stiff when drying out – making the Bogu set feel somewhat cumbersome. Further, it does not take to the dye as well as deerskin, making it turn somewhat grey, as oppose to faded blue, over time.
Konkawa (Genuine Indigo-dyed Deerskin)
Ever since the early days of Bogu construction, genuine Japanese deerskin has been favoured for its flexibility and durability for reinforcing the Futon. Deerskin reacts well to moisture, remaining supple and flexible after drying, and it also takes the genuine Aizome (indigo-dye) perfectly – allowing it to fade naturally over time. Further, of all the materials used in the construction of Kendo Bogu, deerskin provides the best durability, helping the Bogu last for decades of frequent use. Unfortunately, preventing Konkawa from being the undisputed champion of materials for Bogu construction is its high price, making deerskin reinforced Bogu sets somewhat pricey. Further, although it is more durable than Orizashi, it does not dry as quickly, so it is not necessarily the best for consecutive use, particularly in humid environments.
Goku-Jou (literally 'extremely superior') Konkawa, is the finest cut of deerskin available, and is extremely soft and flexible. Despite this though, it has and extremely good level of elasticity making even more durable than standard Konkawa.
Mousen is the felt that is inserted between the layers of wool padding inside the Futon. It does not appear in some low-quality cheaper sets, and there are several styles and types. Good quality scarlet Mousen is used in many modern hand-stitched Bogu sets, which is very flexible and offers good padding. However, the very best quality Mousen is known as 'Kodai-Mousen', which Mousen which is made in the traditional way, by hand from animal hair. Kodai-Mousen is very rare and expensive, but thanks to the extra air-particles that remain inside - due to the traditional construction - using it in the Futon gives an unrivaled feeling of flexibility and protection.
Inside of a hand-stitched Bogu Futon.
Kazari Ito is the thick, braided rope-like decoration that appears on several areas of the Kendo Bogu. It serves the main purpose of decoration, and is available in several colours, though it also serves more practical purposes in some cases – such as separating the chamber of the Atama (fist portion) of the Kote.
*Colours are for reference only and actual products may appear slightly different than on-screen.
The Matsuri Ito is the thread which stitches the Hari (reinforcement covering) to the Futon. On machine-stitched Bogu sets, this is usually also done by machine - and for this reason is almost exclusively done in dark navy. Te-matsuri is the term used when the Matsuri Ito is applied by hand – in this case it often possible to be applied in a variety of colours.
This is leather backing that is applied to the Futon, to conceal and protect the reverse side. It is only found in places that are particularly susceptible to wear, such as over the reverse stitching of the Kazari-Ito on the Mendare. This is usually done in leather similar to other reinforcements on the Bogu, though in some cases there are options to change this.