Japanese Sword Museum: Exploring beautiful Samurai art

Japanese sword museum in Yasuda Park
The Japanese sword museum in Yasuda Park.

The Japanese Sword Musem is about the bladed weapons of the Samurai. But it’s not about their history and use in war. No, that takes a backseat. Here, it is their artistic value and beauty. It’s art with a cutting edge.

This museum is immaculate. It is small. There were around fifty blades on the third-floor display area when I visited. Both art and samurai fans will love it. Everything is high quality.

14th century Nanbokucho period katana
A 14th century Nanbokucho-period katana.

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 were some suits of armor.  What you see will depend on when you visit.  The exhibits change several times over the year.

Once again, the history isn’t so important here. Yes, you can learn who made them and carried them in some cases. But the Japanese Sword Musem is not about that. It is about their artistic beauty. Visitors go there to appreciate them.

tang of Edo period katana made in Musashi province
A tang of an Edo-period katana from Musashi province.

One of the things I appreciate about the weapons is the hamon. Hamon is a wavy 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. It shows the swordsmith’s creativity.

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.  Much of it is so intricate. That means looking at tsuba (crossguards), menuki (metal fittings), and more.

A brief history of the Japanese Sword Museum

  • After the war, the Occupation administration wanted to disarm Japan. This led to them confiscating swords, even ancient ones. Japanese who were against this created the Society for Preservation of Japan Art Swords in 1948. And that resulted in the creation of the museum.
  • The society saw their swords as a vital part of Japanese culture.  They also saw them as pieces of art.   Luckily for all of us, they were successful in their efforts.
  • The original museum opened in the Yoyogi district of Shinjuku ward in 1978. It closed in 2017 to move to its current location. In 2018, it reopened.

What swords can you see there?

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

  • Katana – one of the most famous swords of all time. It was developed 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. It is classed as a sword and often used as a knife. 
  • Wakizashi – a short sword with a blade between 30 and 60 centimeters. It is often paired with a katana.

Some swords will be complete, in their scabbards, and fully decorated. Others will be only the blade and nakago (tang). There is also the paraphernalia that goes with them:

  • tsuba – crossguards.
  • Menuki – small metal fittings fixed to the hilt to prevent hands from slipping.
  • Fuchigashira – decorative metal caps attached to the hilt.
  • Kozuka – a utility knife that is placed on the scabbard.
  • Kogai – a decorative utensil fitted into a slot on the side of the scabbard.

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

sword accessories
Sword accessories.

Are cameras allowed at the Japanese Sword Museum?

I’m sorry to say it depends.  Some swords can’t be photographed, and they’ll be marked so. And unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed in some exhibits. 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 lighting and glass have been optimized for people, not for cameras.  When taking pictures, you might find a lot of glare in your photos.  Play with your camera, and move it around to get minimum reflections and bright spots.
  • The quality of the glass is very good. But be careful getting absorbed in your photography. You could bump the cabinets with your lens if you don’t pay attention.
  • A zoom lens might be useful. I used my Fujifilm 16-55 mm, or these photos and found it rather short. There were times when I wanted to get closer to the swords.
Edo period katana heirloom of Aoyama family
An Edo-period katana blade.

Some photo spots near the museum:

Japanese Sword Museum details

See the museum’s admission fees, opening hours, and location on the official website.

Wrapping up

Please remember, this museum is not about the samurai. You’ll be disappointed if you go there expecting to learn about them. It is about the swords and their art.

And while some people have said the Japanese Sword Museum is small, the quality of its exhibits is superb. The blades were created by the masters of their times, old and modern. You could say it is the cutting edge of art.

And if you have been to the Japanese Sword Museum, what did you think of it? I’d love to know your opinion. Please leave questions and comments below.

Tang of early Edo period katana heirloom of Aoyama family
Tang of an early Edo-period katana.

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