TOYKO (Circa) - Forget natural history, or modern art, or science. How about a museum dedicated to the history and culture of the Samurai?
The Samurai Museum, located in the hectic commercial district of Shinjuku, Tokyo, explores the Samurai from the Kamakura (1185–1333) to Edo (1603–1868) periods in Japanese history.
The most-known symbol of this Japanese warrior class was the sword, an object that Paul Martin has dedicated his life's study to.
"Technologically, it's one of the world's greatest objects as well as being an art object," says Martin. "Kind of like a canvas in a way, but in steel."
Martin teaches a Samurai sword course titled "The Japanese Sword" at the Samurai Museum, which is booked by appointment.
Martin started taking karate at a young age in his native United Kingdom, and got into Japanese film as a teenager. He got a job at the British Museum as a security guard, which is where he first came into close contact with Japanese swords. While he was working at the museum, a co-worker told him that there was a sword specialist who worked there. "And I was like, 'That's a job?' From that point on I decided I wanted to be a sword specialist," says Martin. He moved to Japan 12 years ago to study swords, and never left. Martin also works with Nihonto Bunka Shinko Kyokai (translated to Japan Sword Culture Promotion Association), and writes a column on Japanese swords for Japan Forward.
Martin studies swords all over Japan, and gives attendees of his course an opportunity to see some up close, while teaching them about how he appraises the blades.
"There's a sense of accomplishment when you can appraise a blade and get it right. It's very exciting," explains Martin. "It's best to first look at the shape of the blade. And then you look at the folding pattern in the steel. And the kind of pattern of the hardened edge. And from that, it's possible to determine the make of the blade. Over a thousand years and a thousand smiths."
Attendees are free to explore the museum in addition to taking the sword course. The Samurai Museum also offers Samurai calligraphy lessons, sword battle performances, and photo shoots.