Have you ever wanted to learn how to become a Samurai? Or perhaps it’s something you never considered before, but learning how to carry an actual sword is something that really intrigues you. Either way, one experience that you must have on your visit to Kyoto is The Samurai Experience. In this post, I’ll let you know why the Waraku Samurai house has the best Samurai Experience in Kyoto and give you ideas for related experiences that you can have in the city!
A Brief History of the Samurai
This history of Japan is intricately tied to the history of the samurai. The samurai rose to prominence in Japanese society in the 12th century AD. At that time, Japanese society was based off of a caste system, with one of the most important castes being the military caste, where the samurai fell. While very early samurai worked as armed support for the wealthy feudal lords who fell out of favor with the emperor. The word samurai means “those who serve”, and this is reflected in the role they held particularly in that time.
Following Mongol invasions during the 13th century, Japan fell into a time of chaos, as there was really no true central authority. The samurai rose to great power during this time, as the protectors of their respective houses, and the keepers of civilian peace. This time lasted for roughly two centuries, and it was during this time that Zen Buddhism began to be incoporated into standard samurai practice.
Starting in the 1700s in the Edo period, Japan entered a period of peace, and the samurai became focused on civilian (vs. military force). During this time, the samurai, as we know them, began to have a period of decline. In the late 1800s, following pressure from western countries to open their borders, Japan abolished feudalism, restored power to the emperor from the shogunate, and removed the right to carry swords from the samurai – all in just a few years!
Although the samurai no longer exist, the influence of their teachings can still be seen today by the adoption of the bushido (“way of the samurai”) as the moral code of Japan. The samurai are often synonymous with Japanese culture, and this is clearly seen by their storied history in the country. Click here for more on samurai history.
In this 2-hour experience, immerse yourself in the history and culture of the samurai. Learn from an expert sword instructor Bushido, or the “Way of the Warrior.” Do this all in an actual Kyoto samurai house where you will practice with a real katana and wear a traditional kimono.
The Samurai Experience
Now for the part that you’ve been waiting for – all about the experience! I’ll cover an overview of what the experience includes, but know that this will not ruin it for you! Each visit is completely unique to the individual visitor.
The Samurai Experience in Kyoto is broken up into 3 main parts:
1 | Education
You start your day there by getting dressed as a samurai – don’t worry too much about the clothes you wear underneath, just keep it comfy / don’t wear a dress. After you change, your instruction from a real samurai master will begin. You will learn about the samurai house and general information about the samurai. This will include how they trained as well as what some of the basic samurai battle moves are. You will also learn about Japanese swords – also known as katanas, and the makeup of samurai armor.
One thing I loved about this experience is that you can take as many pictures and videos as you like! So no worries about trying to remember everything after it ends – just hit record!
2 | Swordmanship
After you learn all there is to know about samurai, it’s time to put it into practice! You first practice with wooden swords, learning the proper way to hold the sword and how to move your legs in step with your sword movements. It’s simple, yet hard to get down, so you may need to walk through the motions a bit before it feels normal.
One thing that was really interesting for me at this point was learning there is almost a ceremony to presenting a knife to another. It makes complete sense when you think of sword safety though.
Once you have the hang of moving the wooden sword, you’ll then learn how to hold an ACUTAL real katana. What’s amazing about this is that you’ll be using centuries old swords that were once wielded by real samurai. These are actually very sharp, so yes, you will have to sign a waiver before purchasing.
Your practice object with the samurai sword is a wet, rolled-up, bamboo mat. The reason for this being that it mimics the density of a human shoulder (a little bleak to think about, no?). You get to practice your swing now on the mat with the sword – I’d be lying if I said this part did not make me a bit nervous. I actually did not get to cut all the way through mine, but it was still exhilarating, regardless.
3 | Zen Meditation
After you get worked up using the swords, you’ll get some tea, then move on to practicing zen meditation. As I mentioned above, this became part of the samurai way during the prime era of the samurai. The objective of this meditation was to enable clarity of mind in the samurai, so they could quickly adapt to any situation with ease.
I do a bit of meditation myself, but what I found difficult about zen meditation was that you can’t close your eyes. This make sense from the standpoint of someone who has to be always ready to fight – but it is quite hard to focus your mind when you can see in front of you. Maybe I’ll master it one of these days haha.
Following your meditation, your experience has come to an end. You are provided with professional-quality shots at the end, which is a really nice bonus.
Kyoto Samurai House (The Location)
The Samurai Experience takes place in the Waraku Samurai House, one of the the only remaining ones left in Kyoto. This is really what sets the experience apart from others, as many just take place in a type of studio. What I loved about the house was the fact that you could really experience what it was like to train as a samurai on the traditional training grounds.
The house trully feels zen, so you never get too worked up, even after all that sword swinging! If you’re curious, the house is located near the Omiya train station. If you do book the experience, know that there will be someone to meet you at the station to take you to the Waraku Samurai House.
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The Samurai Experience Kyoto Price
Currently, the price for the samurai experience is $112.07 (¥ 12,000). This price is as of June 2019. While that is a bit steep for a tour, you will get ~1.5 hours of dedicated time with your instructors, making it well worth it. You should also know that your proceeds go to the restoration of the Waraku samurai house as well.
If you can’t get enough, there are additional ways to explore samurai culture in Kyoto:
- Samurai Kembu Sword Dance Show: This experience will allow you to watch the Samurais (instead of participating), and you’ll also learn the history of Kembu in samurai culture. This is a great option if you have restrictions on movement due to injury or other reason.
- 5-Hour Walking Tour with the Last Samurai: Experience Kyoto while being led by your samurai tour guide. In addition to learning about the city, your guide will close out the tour with a samurai demonstration. Perhaps best of all, this tour includes lunch!
- Kyoto Samurai & Ninja Experience Museum: Get a guided tour of the Samurai and Ninja Museum in Kyoto, and have an opportunity to dress as a samurai or in traditional kimono.
- Iga-Ryu Ninja Museum: This museum showcases the history and techniques of the famous Iga ninja clan. The museum includes exhibits on ninja tools, techniques, and history, as well as demonstrations of ninja skills and training. Visitors can also explore a replica ninja house and participate in hands-on experiences, such as throwing shuriken (ninja stars) and practicing martial arts moves. The museum is a popular destination for tourists interested in Japanese history and culture, as well as fans of ninja movies and anime.
Additional Things to do in Kyoto
If you have more time in Kyoto, here are a few more experiences and activities that you may want to explore:
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest:This is a beautiful natural forest located in Kyoto, Japan, known for its towering bamboo stalks that create a mesmerizing ambiance. While there you can stroll through the grove on a designated path, where the towering bamboo creates a serene atmosphere and rustling sounds. The forest is a popular tourist attraction, and visitors often combine a visit to the bamboo grove with other nearby sights, such as the Tenryu-ji Temple and the Sagano Scenic Railway.
- Fushimi Inari Shrine: The Fushimi Inari Shrine is an important Shinto shrine located in Kyoto, Japan, famous for its thousands of torii gates that lead up to the sacred Mount Inari. The shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice and prosperity, and visitors can walk through the torii gates and climb to the top of the mountain, where they can enjoy stunning views of Kyoto. The shrine is a popular tourist attraction and is especially famous for its torii gates, which are painted in vibrant shades of vermillion and orange.
- Japanese Tea Ceremony: This ceremony also known as chanoyu or sado, is a traditional cultural activity that involves the preparation and serving of matcha, a powdered green tea. The ceremony is steeped in symbolism and is designed to promote a sense of harmony, respect, and tranquility. During the ceremony, guests are invited to sit on tatami mats in a traditional Japanese tea room while the host prepares the tea. The tea is then served in a delicate tea bowl, and guests are encouraged to savor the taste and appreciate the beauty of the tea utensils and the surroundings. The Japanese tea ceremony is considered a valuable cultural experience and is often taught as a form of mindfulness practice.
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple: Kiyomizu-dera is a historic Buddhist temple located in eastern Kyoto, Japan. It was founded in 778 and is famous for its impressive wooden stage that juts out over the hillside, offering panoramic views of the city. The temple is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can explore the temple’s many halls and shrines, including the Jishu Shrine, which is dedicated to love and matchmaking, and the Otowa Waterfall, where visitors can drink from one of three streams, each said to have a different benefit.
- Golden Pavilion: The Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is a famous Buddhist temple located in Kyoto, Japan. The temple is famous for its stunning architecture and its top two floors, which are covered in gold leaf, giving it a shimmering appearance that reflects on the pond it overlooks. The Golden Pavilion was originally built in the late 14th century as a private villa for a powerful statesman, and it was later converted into a temple following his death.
In Summary | The Kyoto Samurai Experience
I hope that this post has peaked your interest in samurai culture and trying the best Samurai Experience in Kyoto. In summary, this unique experience is awesome because it allows you to truly experience what it was like to train as a samurai in a traditional house hundreds of years ago. It is the best way to “step back in time” and live a little bit of Japanese history in the present day.
If you have any questions on this experience, let me know in the comments below!