Japan 2023: Day 21

Cutting tatami mats with a real katana, wearing hundreds-year-old samurai armor, and meeting a Youtube star.

A chill, short day swinging swords? This is what I hoped! Today I just had a "samurai experience with a modern day Musashi" (youtube link) from 1:30 to 3 p.m., and I was hungry. I wanted to treat myself after a rough night doing my computer stuff, so I dawdled in bed until 10:30 a.m. and looked for a nice brunch place to fuel up.

  • Steps taken: 10,100
  • Money spent: 35,508円 | $262.76 USD
    • Samurai experience: 19,998円 | $152.98 USD

Table of contents

A mountain of whipped cream

I found a well-rated Hawaiian breakfast place called Eggs 'n Things near Nishiki Market. (I later saw this same restaurant, apparently a chain, in Yokohama and Lalaport Tokyo Bay.) When I arrived, there was a short line. I had to wait about 20 minutes to get a seat. It was the longest I had waited for a restaurant seat, though I wasn't in a rush or desperately hungry, so I didn't mind.

Inside, I truly felt like I was back in Hawaii, enjoying a meal under the wooden ceiling fans with my partner back during our trip in 2019.

I ordered a cup of "premium" 100% Kona coffee, a mango juice, uji matcha pancakes with adzuki topping and whipped cream, and an appetizer of ahi tuna. Truly time to spoil myself! Breakfast I usually skipped or resorted to konbini… today would be different.

Oh my! But there was just too much whipped cream. Too much!

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Caffeinated and drunk

I walked out filled and caffeinated, but then I also felt…drugged? I realized later that my mango juice, actually マンゴードリンク or "mango drink", was probably spiked with alcohol. But it was wild because I did not taste any alcohol at all… it was just a satisfyingly thick and fruity mango juice… I thought.

Well, it was good timing given my rough night to help me relax, but also it may have exaggerated my sadness a little as well.

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Training with a Bolivian kendo traveler, iaido dojo master, and YouTube star

After giving my partner a call, I went back to around the same area to find Kyoto's Yushinkan Dojo. There, I met a motley crew of Shogo of the Let's Ask Shogo Youtube series, the dojo master himself, his super cool top (?) student Osayo, and another participant from Bolivia. I quickly learned that the other participant was a repeat visitor who loved his experience the first time, and that he is also an experienced Kendo artist – certainly way more than the 2 hour intro I had! I felt way out of my league in terms of martial arts experience, but I still had a good time.

I learned about the history of the dojo, how swords are made, the difference between a katana meant to be for a horse rider and a regular one, how to wear a budo-gi (extra strong and flexible kimono and hakama for martial arts training), and what it felt like to wear real samurai armor that is hundreds of years old. I also learned the supposed reason for why many Japanese people walk on the left side: apparently since samurai rested their swords on their left hip side, they walked on the left so as not to knock their sword ends into other people.

Finally I learned the basics of how to unsheath and sheath a real sword, how to block, how to position myself to aim and swing a sword, how to shake off the blood on my sword (lol). and how to reposition myself for another swing. I had a difficult time successfully cutting through tatami mats, but I managed to do it maybe half the time (?). Good enough for me! It was scary, to be honest. Of course the dojo master was always concerned whether I'd hurt myself or others, but thankfully I did not.

In between, the dojo master himself did a performance where he cut through the tatami mat several times with two swords while the mat was falling to the ground from his previous slices. He did another performance where he showed a few techniques on how to attack someone from a seated position, within a narrow space, etc. These were incredibly impressive and showed what one could do with ~20 years of training.

The first part of the experience actually took 2 hours instead of 1 and a half. Then, both the other participant and I expressed interest in wearing the samurai armor – I actually mentioned this in my message to Shogo a few weeks ago, but he must've forgotten, which is understandable – as he was surprised, maybe a little stressed since it was not in their original plans, but ultimately happy (I hope) for the interest and extra business opportunity.

Unfortunately we had to wait two hours because another group – who had booked the same day! – came for their own experience.

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Taiko arcade fun again

In between the first and second parts of my experiences, I discovered an arcade nearby where I could play more taiko. Having had some experience already in Kinosaki Onsen on Day 15, I upped the difficulty and had a fun time. Several anime and video game songs were on there that I recognized and had fond memories of.

Then I checked some work stuff while resting at a nearby Tully's Coffee.

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Wearing hundreds-year-old samurai armor

Finally back the dojo, my Bolivian participant partner and I got dressed in elaborate samurai armor. I wore gold and black, and he wore red and green. I was considered the "boss" so I got the fancier sword, but it was clear he was the one who knew how to sit and stand as a very masculine daimyo – I'm sure his beard and stockier build helped, and the fact that he was comfortable samurai man-spreading while I closed my legs from years of social conditioning as a woman.

We took some fun pictures, and then it was time to cut tatami again with swords, but in our armor! That felt weird and awkward, and I failed the first time. But I got it the second time! I think they used the thinner tatami mat for me, and I appreciated that so I could have a funner experience.

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A member of the dojo

To wrap up the experience, I paid my extra 10,000円 for the samurai armor + tatami mat cutting piece, and then the dojo master created a laminated member card for me as a souvenir to take him. It supposedly claimed I was now a member of the dojo, which was very sweet! I'm not sure if it's true, but I very much appreciated the gesture. :)

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OK ramen again

Given the experience ended about three hours later than I expected... I was rather tired and hungry, and unfortunately it wasn't long before I had to get back to my computer stuff. I had to quickly find something to eat. I was tempted to do a restaurant I had tried before again, but I managed to find something novel nearby: Ramen Mugyu VOL. 2, a small ramen shop at the end of a small, hidden alley. Through a machine I ordered toritama which I unfortunately didn't like... The broth was too thick, and the chicken was dark meat. :( But I ate most of it and was caloried- up for the night.

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Pictures pending

See the rest of my posts on Japan 2023