Samurai Culture Experience at the Samurai Kembu Theater in Kyoto


Samurai Culture Experience at the Samurai Kembu Theater in Kyoto


Every year TripAdvisor, the world’s largest traveler review website, announces a ranking of the most popular Japanese tourist spots among foreign visitors, and in 2015 the Samurai Kembu Theater in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, came eighth, ahead of many other famous tourist destinations around the country. I visited the theater to find out why it is so popular, observing its program of lessons and shows and asking participating foreign tourists for their impressions.

Introducing Samurai Culture to the World

The Samurai Kembu Theater (kembu means sword dance) occupies the basement of a building near the intersection between Sanjo-dori and Hanamikoji-dori streets. It is run by Ms. Auga Magari, a master of the Seiga school of sword dancing in Shiga Prefecture. I asked Ms. Magari, who is the granddaughter of the head of the Seiga school, what sword dancing is and why she established the theater in Kyoto.
  ”The sword dance is one of Japan’s traditional performing arts,” she explained. “Performers are dressed in samurai costumes and equipped with a sword and folding fan, and they dance to the accompaniment of a Chinese or Japanese poem recital and music. Each dance lasts about two and a half minutes and is a condensation of the values and spirituality of the samurai. Samurai culture is one of the roots of Japanese culture, and in many ways its values and aesthetic sense remain alive among the Japanese today. Many foreign tourists come to Kyoto in search of a Japanese experience, so I wanted to contribute to the promotion of multicultural understanding by telling them in English about samurai culture and the ‘Japaneseness’ that is rooted in this culture and letting them experience it. At the same time, it is my hope that if foreigners can appreciate and enjoy sword dancing, then understanding of this traditional performing art will deepen here in Japan as well.”

60-Minute Samurai Experience

The Samurai Kembu Theater offers two types of lesson: a 60-minute “light” lesson and a 105-minute “full” lesson. On the day of my visit, I watched the light lesson from 11:15 and the following full lesson. There were two pairs taking part in the light lesson: Mr. Heikki Huhta and Ms. Essi Huhta, a married couple from Finland, and Mr. Tom Soffer and Mr. Leo Soffer, two brothers from France. Participating in the full lesson were four members of the Marriott family from the United States (David, Andrew, Jack, and Henry). They all kindly agreed to let me watch and report on their samurai experience. Read more…

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