There’s a new museum in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, just a block from the well-known Robot Restaurant. The Tokyo Samurai Museum only opened in late 2015, but already, it has managed to attract a small crowd of international visitors.
The Samurai Museum is the creation of a private collector who wanted to share his passion for samurai and their history with a larger audience. And interestingly enough, he’s choosing to share it in a forum that’s designed more for foreign visitors than native Japanese.
That’s not to say that Japanese visitors won’t appreciate the museum; indeed, everything is labeled first in Japanese, then in English and subsequent languages (I noticed Chinese and Korean). But the layout of the museum, the clear explication of certain items, tends to skew towards visitors who may not have grown up learning about samurai in history class.
The museum cover two levels. The first floor showcases several suits of original armor from the Muromachi Period. I was pleased to recognize the Shimadzu family crest from my previous visits to Kagoshima. The other suits were equally impressive and their condition was fantastic.
Upstairs, individual rooms highlight certain aspects of samurai armor and weaponry. Katana, helmets, different pieces of armor – the exhibits can feel sparse but are tastefully displayed and labeled fairly well. There’s room to grow in each room, and it’s hopeful that the museum will continue to add to the collection.
In the final room, a large open space is overlooked by some impressive replicas of the samurai armor of Japan’s three major warlords – Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. In that space, one of the museum’s young staff demonstrates his swordsmanship. It’s an impressive display, though explanations of his techniques don’t come until the end. Afterward a question and answer session, the audience is invited to try their own hand at one or two of the techniques.
Visitors can also try on samurai armor, as well kimono that replicate what was worn by nobles in Japan’s Middle Ages. And of course, you are allowed to handle the replica weapons.
While the exhibits to me felt a bit too sparse to warrant the ¥1800 admission fee (already raised, apparently, from the initial ¥1500 admission at its opening), the staff here is genuinely enthused to share their love of samurai with visitors. We spent over an hour in the museum, examining the paraphernalia, chatting with the staff and taking photos of the exhibits.
I’m excited to see such an intriguing new museum in town, even if it’s in a slightly down-at-heel – though by no means truly dangerous – part of Tokyo. And I’m hoping it will continue to grow and improve, while not losing the personal touch they have cultivated thus far. Budget travelers may understandably balk at shelling out ¥1800. For those who can manage, I feel it’s worth your time.