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Cutting edge art at the Japanese Sword Museum

The Japanese Sword Museum is about the bladed weapons of the Samurai.  In particular, it is about their artistic value and their beauty.  History takes a backseat.  The focus is art, with a cutting edge.

14th century tachi made by Chikushu in Chikuzen province

The museum is immaculate. It is small. There were around fifty blades on the third-floor display area when I visited. But there is much to enjoy. Everything is of the highest quality.

blade of Edo period katana (19th century) made in Musashi province

The swords come from many eras of Japanese history. On my last visit, I saw a 13th-century tachi, the predecessor of the katana. Another time, there was an exhibit of suits of armor. What you see will depend on when you visit. The exhibits change several times over the year.


The focus is not on the history of the swords. Yes, you can learn who made them and carried them in some cases. But, the Japanese Sword Musem is not about that. That isn’t the focus of the presentation. It is about their artistic beauty. Visitors go there to appreciate them.

accessories for Japanese swords

One of the things I appreciate is the hamon. Hamon is a pattern running along the blade. It is created during the hardening process. This is one of the things that make Japanese swords unique and beautiful.

And that is only a tiny part of what goes into these swords. You’ll be able to see the things that make Japanese swords works of art. That means looking at tsuba (crossguards), menuki (metal fittings), and more.

A brief history of the Japanese Sword Museum

  • The Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords operates the museum. They founded it in 1948 to preserve these weapons. Why? Because the post-war Occupation administration was confiscating weapons, including swords. Something needed to be done.
  • The society saw their swords as a vital part of their culture. They were also pieces of art. Luckily for all of us, they were successful in their efforts.
  • The Japanese Sword Museum was in the Yoyogi district of Shinjuku ward in 1978. It closed in 2017 to move to its current location. In 2018, it once again opened to the public.
3 swords on mounts at Japanese Sword Museum

What can you see there?

Of course, you can see lots and lots of swords! Japan has many different types. Depending on the exhibit, you might see there are:

  • Katana – probably the most famous sword of all time. It appeared during the Nanboku-cho period (1336-1392).
  • Kodachi – a short sword
  • Tachi – the father of the katana. They appeared in the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Tanto – a short blade between 15-30 centimeters. While it is a sword, the samurai often used it as a knife
  • Wakizashi – a short blade between 30 and 60 centimeters. It is usually paired with a katana
  • Some swords will be complete, in their scabbards, with full decorations. Others will be only the blade and nakago (tang). There is also all the paraphernalia that goes with the swords like:
    1. tsuba (crossguards)
    2. Menuki (small metal fittings on hilts to prevent hands from slipping)
    3. Fuchigashira (decorative metal caps on the hilt
    4. Kozuka (a utility knife for daily tasks that is placed on the scabbard)
    5. Kogai (a decorative utensil fitted into a slot on the side of the scabbard)

You will also be able to learn about the creation of the weapons. On the first floor is an area devoted to this. It also has a video, but that is in Japanese only

Tang of early Edo period (1675) katana made in Settsu province and heirloom of Aoyama family

Is photography allowed at the Japanese Sword Museum?

I’m sorry to say it depends. You won’t be able to photograph some swords, and they’ll be marked so. And unfortunately, some exhibits won’t allow any photography. So, to avoid disappointment, contact the museum before you go and ask.

Photography tips for the museum

  • The lighting is quite good, but you will still need high ISO
  • The museum optimized the lighting and glass for people, not for cameras. When taking pictures, you might find there is a lot of glare in your photos. Play with your camera, move it around to get minimum reflections and bright spots
  • The quality of the glass is very good. Be careful getting absorbed in your photography. If you don’t pay attention to your lens, you could bump the windows with your glass
  • A zoom lens might be useful. I used my Fujifilm 16-55 mm, for these photos and found it rather short. There were times when I wanted to get closer to the swords
tang of Edo period katana (19th century) made in Musashi province

Where is the Japanese Sword Museum?

Two stations near the museum. They are:

  • JR Ryogoku – This is on the Sobu line. Leave via the North Exit and walk past the Ryogoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium, and;
  • Ryogoku subway – This station is on the Toei Oedo (subway) line. Leave via exit A1.

Whichever station you leave, you find the Former Yasuda Gardens. It’ll be about a seven-minute walk. Once there, the museum will be in the northwest corner.

By the way, Yasuda Gardens is one of the prettiest parks in Tokyo. It would be a good idea to take a walk around it and enjoy its beauty.

Here is a Google map:

Opening hours

  • The museum is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm (Last admission is at 4:30 pm).
  • It is closed on Mondays but opens on holidays (but it will close the following day).
  • The museum closes over Christmas and New Year. Check those dates on the website before you go.
Japanese Sword Museum katana

Public restrooms

Available

Admission costs

  • Adults – 1000 yen
  • Children – 500 yen

You can see its website here.

Wrapping up

Please remember, this museum is not about the samurai. If you go there expecting to learn about them, you’ll be disappointed. It is about the swords and everything associated with them.

Blade of early Edo period (1675) katana made in Settsu province and heirloom of Aoyama family

And while some people have said the Japanese Sword Musem is small, the quality of its exhibits is superb. The wordsmiths who created the blades were the masters of their times. Their work truly deserves to be recognized as art. You could almost say they are the cutting edge of art!

And once you finish, there is a lot to check out in the area:

  • Sumida Hokusai Museum

And if you have been to this museum, what did you think of it? We’d love to know your opinion. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

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