The Age of the Samurai conjures images of warfare, bravery, rivalry and power. At The Samurai Museum in Tokyo, we can now experience 700 years of samurai history.
In the first exhibition room our tour guide highlights to an incredulous crowd, that the average height of a samurai was 155cm. So how do you explain the size of those swords lined up in the display cabinet?
What samurai may have lacked in height, they made up for in pizzazz on the battlefield. Generals often wore special kabuto (helmets) so that they were easy to identify on the battleground. In the next exhibition room a kabuto is peacocking with large gold spikes. In another, kabuto take inspiration and symbolism from animals, for example the fish design. (Read: do not mess with this samurai at sea.) Or the rabbit detailed kabuto; props to that warrior for his wickedly rapid reflexes. In short, there is a lot going on in the headwear department, and you can try most of them on.
So what awaits visitors who brave these darkened rooms in Shinjuku? The answer is swords, samurai shows and trying on suits of armor. This small museum tucked away in the centre of Shinjuku, was founded by Tetsuro Koyano, who spent more than five years privately collecting the items on display. He has carefully chosen more than 70 historical artefacts – including kabuto helmets, samurai armor, swords, guns and paintings – to breathe life into history. Each item maps the period of samurai rule from the Kamakura era to the Edo era.
One of the highlights of the visit is a free performance which demonstrates the art of Iaido, Japanese swordsmanship. Iaido, also known as iai, is a martial art that focuses on awareness, control and drawing of the sword. At the Samurai Museum, a fifteen minute performance is included in the price of the ticket and takes place daily at 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, and 5pm.
You’ll be pleased to know there are plenty of opportunities for posing with samurai swords after the performance. There’s that moment when all visitors keenly pretend they have absolutely no interest in participating in a samurai sword photo session. Who, me? Cue momentary silence. Then suddenly everyone is experimenting with the winning trio of sword poses: attack pose, a sly defense, and finally the nonchalant samurai stance, sword sheathed casually at the side. What naturals we are!
You may have seen the movie, The Last Samurai, but how much do you know about the first Western samurai? The first Western samurai was an English navigator named William Adams who sailed to Japan in 1600. After initially throwing Adams into Osaka prison, the shogun began to recognise Adams’s worth and skills. He declared the sailor William Adams to be dead, and instead proclaimed the samurai Miura Anjin to be born. Thus, the first Western samurai was born. Miura Anjin became an important advisor to the shogun, earning living-quarters in Hemi, Yokosuka City.
Fancy dressing up like Anjin? Save yourself the selfie and have the professional photographer take your picture for 500yen. There is a dressing area set aside for portraits where you can chose your kabuto, sword and armor. If you want to go one step further, the website also offers an opportunity to reserve a more authentic experience in full Sengoku armor. To make a reservation and select your armour of choice, please see the webpage for more details.
Samurai Museum, Shinjuku
Address: 2-25-6 Kabukicho | Eiwa Dairoku Bldg 1F, Shinjuku 160-0021, Tokyo Prefecture
Opening Times: Daily 10.30am – 9pm
Ticket: Adults (1,800yen), Children under 12 years old (800yen), Children under 3 years old (Free)
For more information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/destination/shinjuku/