Beyond the Nintendo and Pokemon silliness, the parts of Japanese history and culture that really fascinate me are the samurai and their bushido way of life.
Though they were often far from what modern sensibilities might consider good people, the samurai were a group obsessed to a point beyond parody with their own honour, with proving that they were the bravest and most loyal warriors. They would die before retreating, take their own lives before letting the enemy capture them. They were stubborn idiots, but they were committed to it.
The samurai class hasn’t officially existed since 1868, but many people and places work to keep their arts, skills and morals alive. Samurai Kembo is a theatre and studio in a basement beneath a hotel, where a mall but incredibly talented team of performers re-enact classic Samurai short plays and one-man performances.
Somewhere between interpretive dance, martial arts routine and theatrical play, the precision and elegance of the sword wielding, fan twirling shows was truly mesmerising. As well as performing the individual shows, the team talked the audience through the origins and meanings of the different aspects of the performance.
No photography was allowed during the show, naturally, but afterwards we from the audience were allowed up on stage to practice basic sword moves, take pictures of and with the cast, and generally get hands on. Full lessons are also available, though they add quite considerably to the price.
I can’t say I wish the samurai still ruled Japan, but I’m glad the most admirable aspects of their way of life are kept alive in places like this.