Ja­panese swords carve out larger fan­base

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By AKIHIRO TAKEDA

MORE and more peo­ple are be­ing drawn to the won­der of Ja­panese swords, with a siz­able num­ber ac­tu­ally want­ing to hold one in their hands. What is it about Ja­panese swords that en­snares the hearts of peo­ple to­day? I love samu­rai TV dra­mas my­self and took a look into the mys­tery.

At a dojo (train­ing cen­tre) I vis­ited, sev­eral men and women in hakama (skirt-like pants) were swing­ing mock Ja­panese swords through the air in com­plete si­lence. Only the sound of the blades part­ing the air could be heard.

It was a train­ing ses­sion for bat­to­jutsu – the mar­tial art of quickly and skil­fully draw­ing a sword – held at HiSUi Tokyo in Tokyo’s Ginza dis­trict. HiSUi Tokyo is a school where vis­i­tors can learn tra­di­tional Ja­panese cul­ture, in­clud­ing the sado tea cer­e­mony and shodo cal­lig­ra­phy.

Train­ing be­gins with learn­ing the form for cut­ting the air with fake swords with alu­minium al­loy blades. The trainees re­peat the same moves many times be­fore they try real swords.

They slash a roll of tatami-omote – the fi­bre sur­face of tatami mats – about 10cm in di­am­e­ter, cut­ting it in two with one slice of the sword.

These ses­sions were launched four years ago and have a grow­ing num­ber of par­tic­i­pants. Cur­rently, 40 men and women rang­ing from young to el­derly come to re­ceive the train­ing.

In Ja­pan, you can own swords as art works if you reg­is­ter them. Ry­ohei Ya­mazaki, a 23-yearold com­pany em­ployee who has been par­tic­i­pat­ing in the train­ing since Jan­uary, was fas­ci­nated by Ja­panese swords and pur­chased one.

Ja­panese swords are “cool”, he says. “I can’t help but closely look at mine at home. I feel like I’ve be­come a samu­rai, which has a nat­u­rally dig­ni­fied feel­ing.”

When try­ing out a real Ja­panese sword, each par­tic­i­pant stands in front of a tatami-omote roll in the cen­tre of the train­ing room. They stand in dif­fer­ent poses and silently move the swords in var­i­ous di­rec­tions, such as up­per right, up­per left, and hor­i­zon­tally. The tatami rolls are quickly dec­i­mated.

the will­ing­ness to cut is too strong, you can’t well,” says Suiju Kaito, 70, the great grander of the Hisuiryu school of the mar­tial art. mpor­tant to use a sword by trust­ing its Swords re­flect your state of mind.” the par­tic­i­pants seem es­pe­cially po­lite, and ys stand with good pos­ture. Kaito ex­plains trac­tive­ness of the mar­tial art, say­ing, real Ja­panese swords, your be­hav­iour and ns nat­u­rally be­come beau­ti­ful.” e So­ci­ety for the Preser­va­tion of Ja­panese words in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, holds a hly lec­ture on how to ap­pre­ci­ate Ja­panese ds. hen you hold a sword, don’t speak,” so­ci­ety ber Susumu Miya­jima, 49, tells 10 par­ti­ciat a re­cent lec­ture. “Spit can cause the to rust.” Al­ways bow once to the sword e touch­ing it, and never touch the blade your bare hands. ya­jima says the blades of Ja­panese swords bear wave-like pat­terns called ha­mon, and the pat­terns ex­press the “dig­nity of the swords”. I look closely at the swords. It is dif­fi­cult to see the dif­fer­ence in the pat­terns, but I am fas­ci­nated by the blade edges shin­ing in the light, and the beauty of their ha­mon.

In re­cent years, more and more women are be­com­ing sword fans, partly be­cause of the pop­u­lar­ity of the game. The on­line game personifies fa­mous Ja­panese swords as war­riors.

When the lec­tures on sword eti­quette be­gan five years ago, many par­tic­i­pants were men, and there were times when there were only three or four peo­ple. Now, how­ever, the par­tic­i­pants are fairly evenly di­vided be­tween men and women, and the lec­tures are fully booked. Some par­tic­i­pants come from as far as Hokkaido and Kyushu.

Par­tic­i­pant Yukiko Gonda, 46, says she be­came in­ter­ested in Ja­panese swords through the on­line game.

“Ac­tu­ally hold­ing a Ja­panese sword in my hands is scary, but at the same time, it helps me bet­ter un­der­stand how beau­ti­ful they are,” she says.

“Think­ing about the long his­tory of the swords, I think my en­thu­si­asm will only grow.”

Sword ex­hi­bi­tions have also be­come highly pop­u­lar in many parts of the coun­try. In Ashik­aga, Tochigi Pre­fec­ture, the mu­nic­i­pal Ashik­aga Mu­seum of Art re­cently ex­hib­ited a Ja­panese sword called “Ya­man­ba­giri Ku­ni­hiro”, which is an im­por­tant na­tional cul­tural as­set, and about 37,800 peo­ple vis­ited in a month. This sur­passed the an­nual num­ber of vis­i­tors to the mu­seum, which was about 25,000 in all of 2015.

When I had a close look at Ja­panese swords and touched them, I felt my mind calmed and my senses sharp­ened for some rea­son. Per­haps be­cause the Ja­panese swords are beau­ti­ful and have passed through many folds in his­tory.

I’m now fas­ci­nated by Ja­panese swords, as I think about their var­i­ous fea­tures. If you are ever in Ja­pan, I rec­om­mend you ex­pe­ri­ence this won­der­ful splen­dour for your­self. – The Ja­pan News/Asia News Net­work

Stu­dents wield mock Ja­panese swords in a train­ing ses­sion to learn tech­niques for draw­ing a sword. — Pho­tos: ANN/The Yomi­uri Shim­bun

Miya­jima (left) ex­plain­ing how to ap­pre­ci­ate a gen­uine sword.

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