【Local College Students Tell All!】Transform Into a Samurai at the Samurai Kembu Theater in Kyoto!
Many of you may think of samurai when you think Japan. I visited the Samurai Kenbu Theater where you can enjoy the experience of wearing samurai costumes, dancing with swords and fans, and taking photographs. Read more to find out all about my experience!
Aug 21 2017 (Sep 09 2020)
What is the Samurai Kembu Theater?
The Samurai Kembu Theater is a facility where you can experience kenbu. Kenbu is a traditional Japanese dance performed with Japanese swords and fans, along with kanshi (classical Chinese poetry) and waka (traditional Japanese poetry). It expresses the values and mentality of samurai through dance. The theater offers kenbu trial lessons, as well as performances, for the purpose of spreading the art of kenbu.
There are 2 trial lessons: The “basic course” (60 minutes), where you can learn how to use a Japanese sword, and the “authentic kenbu course” (105 minutes), where you can actually learn kenbu. Both of the courses are taught by experienced, English-speaking instructors. Being able to dress like a samurai and learn how to use a Japanese sword, as well as learn the mannerisms and ways of the samurai, have gained so much popularity that it continues to rank among the top Japanese sightseeing spots for foreign visitors.
I gave it a try!
To give you insight on the Samurai Kenbu Theater, I went ahead and participated in the basic course!
After arriving at the theater, participants need to select a costume. These are actual stage costumes that are worn during kenbu performances. You can choose from over 50 different costumes that range from traditional samurai attire to vibrantly colored garments.
Around 15 people participated in this lesson. Except for me, everyone was foreign and their ages ranged widely, from small children to the elderly. At the start of the lesson, we all proceeded to the dojo, where we watched a 3-minute instructional video.
After watching the video, we were given iaido swords. These are not real swords and they come in different weights and lengths, so both children and the elderly can handle them safely.
Once you have received the sword, you will sit seiza style (sitting on your legs) and bow once. The lesson has already begun at this point. We are first taught the manners of the samurai, such as how to conduct yourself while sitting seiza style or what hand movements you should make when doing a bow.
After the bow comes the main part of the lesson! We will watch and learn as the instructor goes through how to maneuver a sword. The first movements you will learn are the batto and noto (drawing and sheathing a sword). While it may seem simple enough, each single arm and hand movement requires intricacy, making it quite difficult. Especially with the noto, you have to do it correctly for the sword to return smoothly into its sheath. But don’t fret, the instructors will kindly guide you through the procedure.
Next is the sword fighting technique lesson. The first one we tried was the shomen giri (cutting from the front). When done perfectly, you can hear the swoosh of the sword as it cuts through the air. There were some others besides the instructor who were able to make that sound with their swords.
The lesson continues on to other techniques: Tsuki (thrust), where the sword is held parallel to the floor before being thrust forward; Kesa giri, where you cut diagonally through the opponent, and kara take wari (empty bamboo split), where the sword forcefully and vertically splits the opponent. Afterwards, we combine these fighting styles and learn how to take down an opponent in small spaces. By imagining myself in specific situations, I was able to feel like an actual samurai when performing these sword fighting techniques.
Once the sword lesson is finished, it is time to put on a samurai costume. Japanese garments are difficult to put on by yourself, but not to worry, a staff member is always there to assist you.
After you have changed into your costume, you will be equipped with a sword. They will suggest some striking poses, so you will be able to take awesome photos in several different sword positions. Of course, you can also pose in any way you wish to create a memorable photo!
At the end of the lesson, each participant is called out one by one to receive a certificate of completion! The 60-minute lesson went by in a flash, but I was able to enjoy a fun-packed, worthwhile experience.
You can also watch a kenbu performance!
The theater not only offers lessons, but a live kembu performance as well! The performance consists of 5 to 6 acts, including traditional kenbu accompanied by shigin (recitation of Chinese poems) and a more contemporary kenbu with modern music. During the 60-minute performance, samurai culture and Japanese history are explained in English in-between the acts.
The powerful and lively dances performed with swords and fans are a must-see! Prepare to be in awe as you watch the superhuman dancers perform with agility and splendor.
Great souvenir selections!
After watching the performance, make sure to check out the souvenir section before you leave! There is a great selection of samurai paraphernalia, such as sword-shaped letter openers.
The Samurai Kenbu Theater is a great sightseeing spot for samurai lovers. You can easily experience the feeling of being a samurai and watch fascinating kenbu performances. Please go to their official website for more information and details on their courses, schedule, and fees.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.