東京 – The National Sword Museum

On my second outing to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, I walked in The National Sword Museum, almost scared of being disappointed – it was located in a part of Shibuya I would never have seen if not for my decision to walk as much as I could and Google Maps’ enjoyment at making me go through odd paths, to a point that when I first passed by I almost dismiss it as a tourist thing, which would have been a huge mistake.

Location (until the end of March): Shibuya, then Sumida from January 2018

Entrance fee: 600円 (£4.3)

Why go there?  To marvel at traditional Japanese swords

Exhibition I have seen: The Masterpieces of the Museum Collection

I was extremely lucky, as they will move to a new location in Sumida (northeastern part of Tokyo) at the end of the month, and took this opportunity to exhibit all the most important pieces of their collection – National treasures and such. I have also learnt about the making of a sword, and how it evolved over time.

This museum was opened in 1968 to help promote and study Japanese swords, which had been in great danger of disappearing after the edict of 1876 banning them but also in the aftermath Second World War as Americans considered them solely as weapons and started to confiscate them and destroy them.

tsuba-swordguard
Tsuba (guard at the end of the grip), representing Shōki and a demon. Shōki is a legendary exorcist, and a deity coming originally from China.

At this time, some soldier started keeping and selling them abroad, and while the post-war ban was lifted in 1953, in 1958 there were more Japanese swords in America than in Japan. Ever since then, sword makers have been held under strict rules to ensure that they were producing works of art rather than weapons for war.

As for the museum itself, people were extremely welcoming, and they gave me a rather complete leaflet in English about the exhibition and Japanese swords in general which were very interesting. For example, I have read about the various forms of blades, and how they were displayed – Tachi blades, for example, are always displayed with the sharp edge down. I have also seen a guide of temper patterns in chronological order, which I find fascinating (but maybe I am a nerd!).

I was very surprised to see that pictures were allowed to be taken with phones, as long as there was no flash, and quite amused to see all the visitors taking pictures of every single one!(Of course, phone pictures don’t do justice to how great these swords are, which may be a bit frustrating). Here are some of the items I really liked!

img_4450
Kozuka (small utility knife, fitting into a pocket next to the scabbard) Mid-Muromachi period (late 15th, early 16th centuries)

It was overall a very interesting and instructive visit, though the exhibition itself was small. I definitely understand how these swords could be considered not only work of art but holy!

img_4453
Kogai – decorative utensil, said to have been used as a hair comb. Also fitted into the saya (sword’s scabbard). Muromachi Period.
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