I have a list of favorite movies that I can readily answer to anyone who asks. By favorites, I don’t mean they’re the best I’ve seen cinematically, but they’re those I wouldn’t mind watching again and again. These include (in no particular order), The Proposal, Titanic, Divergent, White Chicks, Azumi, and The Last Samurai. This list has not changed since 2015 and I can honestly say the last time I’ve re-watched all these was just this year… some thrice this year… and it’s just the first half of the year.
That being said the last 2 movies I mentioned are probably the main reasons why I fell in love with learning about Japan’s warrior culture. Kahit pa too Americanized yung isa haha! I love the sword fights, the techniques, the tools, the discipline, the intelligence, and the honor. So, visiting the Samurai Museum in Tokyo where there’s high exposure for all that, was probably the best spontaneous activity that we had during our trip. Best part is Pao is a fan too!
We found ourselves aimlessly wandering Shinjuku after a fail visit to the Imperial Palace. At JPY 1,800 (Php 900), you might think it’s too steep a price for a museum. But if you’re anything like the geek I shared I was, trust me THIS IS WORTH IT. To give you that added push, unlike the bigger museums in Tokyo, this one is a guided tour which makes things more personal and allows for more depth. Our tour guide was able to accommodate all our questions that everyone looked satisfied after the tour. You also get to go in batches, each tour starts 30 minutes apart of each other, so there’s no concern about a group getting too big for entertaining. Each tour is around 1 – 2 hours depending on your enthusiasm. Our group ended past the 2 hour mark I think. Haha!
Allow me to share several things I learned from the tour. Please don’t be afraid to read on. There is plenty learn and being there physically is so much better and different so reading this wouldn’t mean wasting your money if you do decide to go. 🙂
There are two floors in the museum. The first has the ticket and waiting area, souvenir shop, and an abundance of armors. Fun fact, the owner of the museum is a descendant of a samurai. How cool with it have been to have met him and talk!
P.S. No video taking is allowed in the tour.
The first armor you’ll see is from the Tokugawa shogunate. You can tell a lot about a samurai just from the armor. The more colored the armor is, the higher in class the samurai is. It is usually just the samurais who wear dark colored armors who fight. This first one, with orange, blue, and gold hues, did not fight. He is a high class samurai.
The second armor we saw (first from the left of the photos) is the oldest armor in the museum. It’s 450 years old and was worn by a samurai from the Shimazu clan. The samurai is of the Daimos class, or second class, and is a local leader or head of a prefecture. The third and fourth armors are armors of samurai who fight. The third belonged to a middle class samurai, someone who fights for the boss, while the fourth belonged to lower middle class samurai.
I thought it a bit sad that being a Samurai is by birthright. You cannot work for it. You can only be a Samurai if your parents are Samurais. Given this did you know that there are girl samurais?! Like legit, not like Mulan who fought for her father, girl samurais. They’re more correctly called Onna-bugeisha (thanks Google!). They are female warriors born into the Japanese nobility. We were told they fulfill the roles of a samurai if there are no sons in the family.
Before ascending to the second floor we were shown the tapestry which depicts the Battle of Sekihagara. It’s a battle between the East and the West of Japan. The East under the Tokugawa family won and became the ruling shogunate of Japan. When the Samurai way ended, the shogun moved to Edo (now Tokyo) and the emperor stayed in Kyoto. I’m writing this because it was interesting to note from the tours that we went on, that until now there is much dispute as to what the capital of Japan should be. Most tourists would just think it’s Tokyo but there are so many who still think Kyoto should be capital.
The second floor showcases weaponries, accessories, notable figures in the period of Samurai, and armors of well-known shoguns.
Samurais have to master three skills – riding a horse, shooting arrows, and using the Katana. The Katana is probably the most famous weapon of the samurais. It takes years of practice to master this sword. We were told that the Samurai usually carries 3 Katanas – long, short, and mid-length. The lower Katana in the picture was the oldest in the museum at 800 years old!
The blades in the picture are used for Seppuku or Harakiri. This is a known Way of the Samurai. It is a very painful practice that I won’t go into in explaining. It is done for several ways; most especially for honor.
All these Samurai talk and you’d have to ask yourself who started all of it anyway? The answer lies with the blurry picture I took of Minamoto Yoritomo. The first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate. Before the establishment of Samurai, the samurai were just officers serving the nation. I guess with the clash of thoughts and ideas, man felt the need to show strength to determine the rule. ‘Di pwede ang agree to disagree dito. Haha!
The picture up top is of Musashi Miyamoto, a ronin (samurai with no master) and one of strongest samurais in history and a master of the Katana. He can even wield two swords at the same time, with each sword weighing 2kg.
If I’ve thought of my outfit the night before, I can dress up in as a quick as 5 minutes or less. This is not the case for Samurais. Putting on the armor will take 45 minutes! Thus, I can’t be a Samurai. I would be late always and probably reprimanded often. Haha!
At one point or another, nations meet globalization and the things that come with it. Guns were introduced to Japan around 450 years ago by the Portugese. Japanese merchants bought 2 of the guns and had a Katana maker copy them that by the end of 16th century, there were around 50,000 Japan-made guns in circulation. (May all I’m saying be true, all these I know from our tour guide haha). Tokugawa prohibited the use of these guns; firmly inclined to the use of swords.
The last area of the museum shows how the Samurai era ended and the different armors of well-known Samurai. It highlights 3 in particular, the armors of Nobunaga Oda, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Nobunaga succeeded in his unification attempts of the nation but was murdered by his vassal Akechi Mitsuhide who was in turn overthrown by Toyotomi. Toyotomi unified East of Japan and ruled until he was displaced by Tokugawa which marks the peaceful rule of the Shogunate.
Pao and I were having a game of who would we rather be given the figures. I’d like to be Tokugawa, because in Azumi, they were serving the Tokugawa clan. But, after learning about Nobunaga, I’m probably more like him. Temperamental and moody… HAHA! Pao thinks he is like Nobunaga too – cunning and erratic haha! Armor-wise though I’m definitely Toyotomi!
We ended the tour with picture-taking in armors and kimonos. I was so happy about this part because I got to wear a kimono without having to rent one anymore. Even happier because I wore a Samurai costume too haha! It was the perfect souvenir for a really amazing museum visit. 🙂
Oh and they also do staged sword fights! We didn’t get to catch it, I think it runs at around 4:30 in the afternoon, but better check to be sure. If you’re in Shinjuku and figuring out where to go, I’d highly recommend a visit here. They’re open from 10:30 AM to 9:00 PM with the last admission at 8:30 PM. I hope you get to go! 🙂