High in a skyscraper in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, an ancient skill is taught.
Dressed in a neat Hakama (traditional costume) and with long dark-hair, instructor Yukihiro Oshido fits my preconception of a Samurai warrior.
Between the occasional smile as I make a daft mistake during the Samurai training course, Yukihiro maintains the staunch demeanour and proud posture of his predecessors.
In the western world, Samurai are viewed mostly as caricatures, sword-wielding warriors in movies, television shows and comic books.
In Japan, however, they are considered a proud vestige of an ancient culture.
Influenced by Zen Buddhism in the 1300s and 1400s, Samurai forged aspects of Japanese culture that are still admired across the world like the precise and considered art of the tea ceremony for example.
Samurai adopted this Chinese practice using it as a means to relax and socialise between military calling.
Perhaps even more incongruous to the pop culture image of the Samurai is the dainty practice of flower arranging. Known as Ikebana, this pursuit was developed by Zen Buddhist priests as a form of meditation. But its adoption by Samurai for the same purpose helped popularise flower arranging across Japan.
The biggest contribution of the Samurai to Japanese culture, however, came in the form of its code of conduct, Bushido. This unwritten protocol, similar to the idea of chivalry, placed emphasis on the importance of ethics and etiquette and prioritised the virtues of honour and loyalty – traits of modern Japanese culture.
Samurai remain an iconic part of Japanese culture and they are of great fascination to many tourists. Despite our one-hour time limit, Yukihiro is determined to share a generous amount of the knowledge he has gained from his extensive training.
First we are enlightened on Samurai etiquette, which gives great importance to seemingly simple things such as which side of your body on which to carry your sword. Yukihiro says that, as Samurai, we should never be seen in public unarmed with our deadly Kitana blades not just a means of protection but also a symbol of our status.
It is imperative that we protect our blade as carefully as we would our child – keep it spotless and never allow it to be handled by anyone else. As much as I’m fascinated by this code of conduct, I’m also itching to wield my Kitana.
Having satisfied Yukihiro that I understand the weighty responsibilities, I am given permission to unsheathe my Kitana. “Stop, stop,” he instructs as I snatch it out with my left mitt. “Your sword is on your left side so reach across and take it out with your dominant hand, your right hand.”
Having mastered this first step, I’m soon deep into the cool stuff, learning attacking and defensive stances, striking manoeuvres and simulating how to react to an ambush scenario.
As I lift the blade above my head, preparing to thrust it downwards with deadly force, Yukihiro stops me again. My posture is incorrect.
“Widen your stance and bend your knees for better balance,” he instructs.
I do just that, and then admire myself in a floor-to-ceiling mirror. Ah yes, my Samurai transformation is complete.
- Samurai training courses are available in many cities across Japan. In Tokyo, Yumenoya offers http://www.tokyo-samurai.com/ Samurai courses twice a day, which includes a photo shoot followed by a one-hour lesson for $90 per person.
- Yumenoya also has Kimono photo shoots and Geisha Experiences, during which participants can learn about Geisha Culture before being made up in the iconic white facial makeup and costumes of the Geisha for $40 per person.
- Ninja training sessions are offered at the Ninja Dojo and Store in Kyoto, where they will learn to throw Ninja stars among other unique skills http://ninjadojoandstore.com/
Published under license from Well Travelled.