This is a list of places where you can go and see beautiful examples of Japanese craftsmanship developed over, oh, the past thousand years or so in arms and armour. Other sites on the web list not-to-be missed web resources, but this page is intended to give an inclusive list of places where you can actually see artifacts in the flesh. My sources are personal travel, recommendations from others, and bits and pieces culled from the specialist literature and travel guides. I've listed sites separately for Japan and the U.S. Some places are commercial and others are museums large and small where a small entrance fee may be charged. At the larger museums there will generally be English speaking guides or English guidebooks available.Be advised that for some sites visits may be by appointment only and English speaking personnel not always available. Also, just like everywhere else, be prepared for a "cool" reception at commercial establishments until and unless you develop some kind of relationship with them. The reasons should be obvious but I'll mention at least a couple. Swords and armour are first of all weapons of war, and the history behind the artifacts sometimes belies less than simple and forthright admiration for the craftsmanship or beauty of the tool. Be sensitive and show respect for the objects and the history.
Note: Place names in Japan sometimes list the ward (ku), town (machi), city (shi), and prefecture (ken) suffixes as part of the word, sometimes as a hyphenated suffix, and sometimes it is omitted as unecessary. Neighborhood names are used in addresses but these are not identified with a suffix as above, but with a number preceding them. Many sites are linked either directly to that organization or to a local chamber of commerce or tourist information site. Travelers are advised to contact the Japanese National Tourist Organization (JNTO) for current travel information. Here is an abbreviated and highly idiosyncratic list of museums all throughout Japan, but nice for how it groups museums by prefecture.
I take NO responsibility for the accuracy or timeliness of this information, nor for the views of organizations listed, which are provided merely as a service to lovers of art and antiquities.
Stein and Jim
Gilbert have excellent,
authoritative websites with many links to further information on nihonto (Stein)
and tsuba (Gilbert). Highly recommended.
Bizen Osafune Museum, Okayama-ken, Osafune-shi. 30 minutes east of Okayama-shi by train, and an hour west of Osaka by shinkansen. The museum is a short walk from the Osafune train station, where maps are posted. "Not a very big museum, but has about 20 blades on display, a display about steel production, a mock-up of a historical swordsmith's smithy, and demonstrations every other weekend." [Han Shan Anderson]. Grant Jenkins has posted some great pictures and additional directions from his recent trips here.
Hayashibara Art Museum, (formerly Okayama Art Museum). 2-7-15 Marunouchi, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken. Phone: (0862) 23-1733. Travel: Tram for Higashiyama, get off at Kencho-dori. Walk east to the corner of the Prefectural office, then left. Museum is through Edo-period gate. Among many other pieces of art, the museum holds two important Bizen school swords, by Kanehira and Masatsune, respectively. Kamakura era swords are by Yoshifusa, Mitsutada, Nagamitsu and Sukeyoshi. Nambokucho and Muromachi armor from Ikeda family. While you are in Okayama, check out the Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art (Phone: 086-272-1149), which has a smaller collection of nihonto, but notable for Heian and Kamakura era swords.
Ishikawa Prefectural Art Museum, Dewa-machi, Kanazawa. Phone: 076-231-7580. No guarantee it will be on display when you get there, but they have in their collection Important Cultural Asset (August 29, 1950) tachi by Nagamitsu (Signed), Kamakura period (Late 13th century), owned by Shirayama Hime Shrine (Tsurugi).
Iwakuni Museum and Castle. For information, call Iwakuni City Chamber of Commerce Tourist Office at 0827-22-4141 or the Iwakuni City Tourist Office at 0827-41-2037. From the website: "...3 minute ride on the ropeway from the Kikko Park... This castle was built by Hiroie Kikkawa over a period of seven years. The present castle was rebuilt in 1962, conforming exactly to the original construction. The 360-degree panoramic view is very beautiful. Inside are displayed armor and weapon from the medieval times." [Iain Fyfe]
Izumo Taisha Treasure House, (Izumo Taisha Homotsuden), Izumo Taisha, Taisha-machi, Izumo-shi, Shimane-ken. Phone: (08535) 3-3100. Travel: Try the JR San-in Line or the Ichibata Dentetsu that runs between Matsue and Taisha Machi (about one hour). The Homotsuden is part of a very large, old and important Shinto shrine complex, which, among a large collection of historical artifacts contains a large number of swords because of the steel and sword making tradition of the Izumo area.
Japanese Sword Museum/Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kai (NBTHK), 4-25-10, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0053. Phone: (03)3379-1386/8. Fax: (03) 3379-1389. 10-min. walk from Sangubashi Station on the Odakyu Line. Hours: 9:00-16:00, closed Monday. Works of noted swordsmiths, both ancient and modern. "Easy to find... Just look for the "katana" kanji on the maps. Also next door (well three doors down) there are two sword shops. One the name I can't remember but the other is Aoi Art." [Mike Faul, GH]
Kasuga Taisha Treasure House, (Kasuga Taisha Homotsuden). Kasuga Taisha, Kasugano-cho, Nara-shi, Nara-ken. Phone: (0742) 22-7788, or the Nara City Tourist Center (0742) 22-3900. Travel: The shrine complex is in the eastern section of the city at the upper end of Nara Park. A large and important collection of masks, armor, swords and fittings are in this new building built in the traditional kura style just on the edge of the 8th century Kasuga Taisha (Grand) Shinto Shrine. Don't confuse this Kasuga Taisha Shrine with the Kasuga Shrine in Seki city in Gifu prefecture. Seki city is an old center of swordmaking and the Seki brand of cutlery is still produced.
|Kunozan Toshogu Museum, (Kunozan Toshogu Hakubutsukan). 390 Nekoya, Shizuoka-shi, Shizuoka-ken. Phone: (0542) 37-2437. Open 9 - 4pm. Travel: 35 minutes by bus from Shizuoka Station. The museum is on the grounds (situated in a small 15 acre Protected Forest) of the (Important Cultural Property) Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, built pursuant to the wishes of Tokugawa Ieyasu, on ground previously occupied by the 6th C. Emperor Suiko's castle. The museum has on display 2 suits of armor worn by Ieyasu, 2 Bizen Swords used by his son Hidetada and his grandson Iemitsu, a suit of armor worn by Iemitsu, and many other swords, spears, arrows, quivers, war fans, guns, armor and other artifacts belonging at one time to the household of Ieyasu Tokugawa, himself buried here for a short while before his remains were transferred to Nikko.|
Kyoto Arashiyama Art Museum, (Kyoto Arashiyama Bijutsukan). 33-22 Tsukurimichi-cho, Tenryu-ji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi. Phone: (075) 882-1010. This musuem is said to have moved to Shirahama-shi, in Wakayama. Stand by for update [Oct 2002, thanks Han Shan Anderson]. This museum may have closed [Patrick Howard]. Recent information (April 2002) confirms that this museum seems to have closed in the mid-90s sometime [James Hunt].
Kyoto National Museum, 527 Chayamachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan 605. Phone: +81-75-541-1151 (from outside Japan), 075-541-1151 (within Japan). Transportation: Via JR or Subway: Get off at Kyoto Station. From bus platform A2 in front of the station, take City Bus #206 or #208 to "Hakubutsukan-Sanjusangendomae" bus stop. One minute walk to the Museum. Via Keihan Railway: Get off at Shichijo Station. Walk east along Shichijo Street (about seven minutes)to the Museum. Via Hankyu Railway: Get off at Kawaramachi Station. Walk east over the bridge to the Keihan Railway Shijo Station. Take Osaka-bound Keihan train to Shichijo Station. Walk east along Shichijo Street (about seven minutes) to the Museum. Free parking on Shichijo Street, east of the Museum entrance. Check out important cultural property tachi (1598) by Umetada Myoju. This piece may or may not be on display at any particular time, but they have many others!
Matsue Castle, Matsue Jozan Koen Administration Office, Tonomachi 1-5 Matsue City, Shimane-ken, Honshu. 0852-21-4030. 8:30am - 4:30pm, no holidays. Another fine example of Momoyama-style military architecture. Three superb Koto era Bizen wakizashi and an excellent Koto Bizen katana, several Edo era Heian-style tachi mounts, bows, arrows, quivers, saddles armor.[Patrick Howard]
Matsushima Kanrantei Museum, 56 Aza Chounai, Matsushima-cho, Miyagi-ken. Phone: (02235) 4-2111. For details contact: Matsuhima Kanko Kyokai, 022-354-2618. A collection of possesions of the Date family. Highlights include armor, horse fittings and spears (yari, naginata). Masamune moved the now adjoining Kanrantei tea house to his Edo (Tokyo) residence during the years 1592 to 1596, and Tadamune moved it to its present location. I am still trying to figure out if this is separate from or merely an old name for the Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum (below).
Matsuyama Castle, Matsuyama-shi, Ehime-ken, Shikoku. 9:00am - 4:30pm most of the year. 250 yen. A faithfully restored example of a Momoyama-style castle built for defense rather than mere show. On display are several katana, wakizashi, and a large collection of armor. [Patrick Howard]
Matto Municipal Museum, (Matto), Kanazawa. Phone: 076-275-8922. The process of producing samurai swords by Sumitani Masamine (a living national treasure) and works of contemporaries in Matto are exhibited.
Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum. Matsushima, Sendai, Miyagi-ken. Phone: 022-354-4131. Some 200 wax figures depicting events in the life of Lord Date Masamune, one of the preeminent feudal lords in Japan's Waring States period. "There was a temple complex [Godaidou Temple? - GH] ...that had a display of swords and armor... a lot of yari and naginata hanging on the wall. I can not remember exactly where it was." [John Prough, Mike Simmons]
Museum of Japanese Sword Fittings / Nihon Tosogu Bijitsukan, THIS MUSEUM CLOSED IN JUNE 2001 DUE TO INSOLVENCY (FROM THEIR WEBSITE, WHICH WAS STILL UP IN AUGUST 2003). MY APOLOGIES FOR NOT POSTING THIS INFORMATION SOONER. 6-6-10 Honkomagome, Bunkyou-ku, Tokyo. Phone: 03-5976-6800. Station: Sugamo station on either Yamanote or Mita line in north central Tokyo, 2 stops East of Ikebukuro station. Walk Southeast from Sugamo station on Hakusan Douri, and at the 2nd traffic light turn left (Northeast). The museum is about 2/3rds down the block on the right. Reddish modern brick structure. Closed Mondays. Open other weekdays from 10:00am. 1000 Yen. Open since 1995 or so, this museum specializes in the so-called kodogu or sword fittings that house and decorate the Japanese sword. It is described as "awesome... this museum is tops," and contains "an enormous quantity of outstanding quality." Shinsa and kantei(object vetting and attribution) is available for a nominal charge by prior arrangement. Rating levels: Bunka Shiryoo (Cultural Item), Tokubetsu Bunka Shiryoo (Worthy Cultural Item), Yushu Bunka-zai (Important Cultural Item). Catalogs are available. After your visit, continue Northeast just another block to Rikugi-en, the beautifully preserved (ca. 1702) grounds of the 5th Tokugawa Shogun's retainer Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. Jump to JNTO map of Sugamo station area. [Barry Thomas, Jim Gilbert, Mike Simmons, Chris Bowen, Rick Stein]
Oyamazumi-Jinja Treasure House, (Oyamazumi-Jinja Kokuhokan). Miyaura, Omishima-machi, Ochi-gun, Ehime-ken. Phone: (0897) 82-0032. Take ferry to Omishima, in the Inland Sea, between Mihara on Honshu, and Imabari on Shikoku. Open 8:30am - 4:30pm daily (reportedly with no holidays, but don't count on it). 1000 yen. A well-kept, professionally-displayed collection of ancient mirrors, armor, and nihonto of all kinds, including several Juyo and National Treasure level pieces. This shrine is dedicated to Oyamazumi Okami, the Shinto god who watches over pirates. Many famous daimyo left their armor and swords here as tributes, said by some to be among the finest armor in the country. [GH, Patrick Howard, Tom Helm]
Sekigahara Museum, Sekigahara-shi (Sekigahara station on Tokkaido line), and a smaller satellite museum at the "Warland" battlefield area ("Warland" website Nihongo only). Famous battlefield between Gifu and Hikone, where the great Sekigahara battle of 1600 was fought. This battle was definitive in propelling Ieyasu Tokugawa into a unified Japan shogunate. Little nihonto proper, but loads of armor and early Edo firearms. Stay tuned for more info. [GH, Patrick Howard]
Shimada Museum of Arts (Shimada Bijutsukan). 4-5-28 Shimasaki, Kumamoto-shi, Kumamoto-ken. Phone: 096-352-4597. Travel: Take the "Araobashi" Line bus from platform No. 9 at the Kumamoto Transportation Center. Get off at "Jikei Byoin-mae" (Jikei Hospital entrance), stop and walk about 10 min. Hours: 9:00am - 4:30pm, closed every Wednesday and Dec. 26-Jan. 4 Admission: 500 Yen for adults. "A portrait of Miyamoto Musashi as well as the armors and clothes of his relatives and peers are displayed here. The extensive collection of paintings, calligraphy works and sculptures by Musashi enables us to recognize his high sense of culture." Also on display are what is said to be his famous sword, an o-suriage mumei Kinju, and his bokuto, a weapon made from the oar of the skiff he used to get to his famous dual with rival swordsman Sasaki. While you are in Kumamoto city, do not miss the beautifully restored Kumamoto Castle to see artifacts of Kato Kiyomasa (the builder of the castle), the Hosokawa daimyo family and relics associated with the Seinan War (Satsuma Rebellion of 1877). Architecture buffs can see here the longest straight run of castle wall (Nagabei = Long Wall) at 242 meters by some 7 meters high, designated a National Cultural Asset. [Dirk Junker, GH]
Shimane Prefectural Yakumotatsu Fudoki no Oka History Hall, (Shimane Kenritsu Yakumotatsu Fudoki no Oka Shiryoukan), 456 Ouba-machiari, Matsue-shi, Shimane-ken, Honshu. 5 km south of Matsue. Phone: (0852) 23-2485. 9:00am - 4:30pm daily, closed 28 Dec through 4 Jan, and a few days before and after special exhibitions. Travel: 15 minutes by cab from JR Matsue Station, or 5 minutes on foot from "Fudoki no Oka Iriguchi Kumano" bus stop, Yakumo-Bessho lines. This museum has a large Kofun era archeological collection, including haniwa, and Joumon and Yayoi pottery. Numerous examples of some of Japan's very oldest swords, predating the Yamato emperor. Countless bronze (thrusting) swords made around 600 AD, before iron working techniques were introduced to Japan from China and Korea. Also several later iron tachi, hira zukuri, muzori, and ko-kissaki swords with round, ornamented pommels. In addition to the many original blades (some in advanced states of decomposition) are beautiful reproductions of each type to show what the originals looked like. [Patrick Howard, GH]
The Tokugawa Art Museum, 1017, Tokugawa-cho, Higashi-ku, Nagoya 461. Phone: +81-52-935-6262. Travel: City bus from Nagoya JR station, 3 minute walk from Shindeki bus stop. Closed Mondays. The place where Tokugawa family treasures are displayed, among 30,000 other art objects. Ieyasu Tokugawa's own armour is on display, and many books and tracts are available on different parts of these amazing collections. [Iain Fyfe, GH]
Watanabe Museum, 1-55-1 Tsutsumishita, Kakuji, Tottori-shi, Tottori-ken. Phone: 0857-24-1152. Travel: Take the bus for Sakyu, Iwami or Iwai and get off at "Watanabe Museum" (15 min. ride from Tottori Sta.) "Art from the Heian Era to the Meiji Era (about 800-900 years) is exhibited. 10,000 pieces of calligraphy, pictures, works of art, porcelain, folkcraft, arms and Buddhist altar fittings are worth seeing." For recent photos of some of the arms, see the May/June '98, Vol. 30(3), issue of the JSSUS Newsletter.
Yasukuni Shrine/Yushukan Museum, Kudan, 3-1-1 Kudankita, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Tozai, Hanzomon and Shinjuku lines, Kudanshita station. This shrine, founded on Kudan Hill in 1869 (ca. Meiji 2), deifies those who have died fighting for Japan. The Yushukan houses an extensive collection of militaria from early feudal times through the WWII era. Also the site of an important Showa era swordsmith's workshop. Although the shrine has been the focus of highly politicized debate on the role of the military in Japanese international affairs, it hosts many important festivals and events every year. From their website, "The white doves that fly above the Jinja also await your visit." When you visit, keep in mind that "the Museum presents all materials and issues from the perspective of the time when the events happened. It offers the context within which a lot of young Japanese offered themselves up... It is about people who died carrying out the values of their time" [Peter Bleed]. RECENT INFORMATION (OCTOBER 2002) SUGGESTS THAT THE YUSHUKAN IS NOW OPEN AFTER AN EXTENSIVE REMODELING. Also check ahead for periodic Sunday antique fairs held on the grounds. [GH, Jeff Miller, James Hunt, Blane Bellerud]
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, 20 Sagamore Hill Road Oyster Bay, New York 11771-1807. Phone:(516) 922-4447 offers 24-hour recorded information, (516) 922-4788 for park offices. Hours: 9 AM to 4:30 PM. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This was the home of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, now maintained by the National Park Service. An avid outdoorsman, "Teddy" had several nihonto in his collection. John Prough recently discussed Sagamore Hill on the Token Kenkyu Kai mailing list. I quote his extensive comments: "One of our club's prior projects was to rescue the Nihonto in Sagamore Hill from the benign disinterest of the Parks Dept. This started in about 1989 when one of our members was touring the Sagamore Hill House and his sharp eyed young son pointed out that there were some swords hanging on the wall. At the entrance to the main living room there was a display case on the wall on either side. There was a tachi in one case and a tachi and tanto in the other. You can only get about 15 feet from the cases since the room is off limits. You basically look in from the doorway. And they were not lit at all so it was easy to overlook them. I contacted the curator to see what they knew about the swords. The short of it was they knew nothing. Their inventory had entries like "1 Japanese short sword". As far as she could tell from the records, the cases had not been opened since 1940! I made a proposal to her as to having our club come out and do a survey of what they have, provide a real description of each item, and clean them. She seemed pleased to have us do so, but after the proposal was mailed--silence. As it turned out, the curator had been killed in a freak shopping center fire, and there was not anyone else who could pick it up since her boss was being replaced. Some years later I tried again, and after some drama managed to get a team out there to inspect what they had. The single tachi in a case was according to the case's tag a gift from the people of Sendai in northern Japan. It was very nice efu-tachi fittings, but the blade was a wakizashi signed Kanenori. The other case was a gift from the Meiji Tenno. The tachi has very nice fittings with a Bizen Osafune Sanemitsu blade in it. This is probably the 2nd generation smith who worked around 1425. The tanto, in fancy Meiji koshirae, is o-tanto with a Hasebe Kuninobu in it. Probably was the best of the 3. They also had 3 other blades in the basement that they didn't have a clue about. Appeared to be a tachi mounted shinshinto, a suo-koto mumei katana, and a shinto mumei wakizashi. They have no record as to where they came from, though they suspect one of the sons picked them up on a trip to Japan. Before our shinsa in 1997, we were able to get Yoshikawa Sensei over to Sagamore Hill where he had a good look at them. He had also checked the records of the Imperial collection but couldn't fine any definite entry for them, but there was some mention of a suit of armor and a sword. There was some speculation that one of them was from Admiral Togo. Sensei also gave a nice lecture in their little lecture room. It was published in our newsletter in 1998. Hope this helps." [John Prough 5/30/02] Another alert brought to our attention a television feature on Sagamore shown on HGTV. Some nihonto are apparently on display in Roosevelt's private study. [Thomas Kennedy 5/30/02]
|The Walters Art Museum, 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD, 21201. Phone: (410) 547-9000. Open 10 - 5pm, T-Su. Located in the historic Mt. Vernon/Washington Monument area, the entrance is 1/2 block West of Charles Street, on Centre Street, just about 10 blocks due north of the Convention Center and other downtown Baltimore landmarks. The Walters is a real gem for Nihonto lovers for many reasons. First, they have on display some very nice fittings, katana, tanto, and armor (Hidemune, Akihiro, Sadayoshi, Kazunari, Miboku IV, Yoshinasa, Myochin Munechika, Sukesada). Second, the displays of nihonto (as well as the rest of their Asian art--tons of Chinese export porcelain, but also Japanese ukiyo-e, lacquer, ivory, small bronzes, Buddhist statuary and so forth) are installed in the original Walters mansion sections of the museum, so you get a feel for how a rich, social-climbing 19th century industrialist (and later, his son) might have lived with his collections. Third, the curatorial staff have mounted a few items (e.g., a Yoshinasa daisho) with very helpful sets of explanatory drawings and labels to help orient the viewer, and the items are generally only inches away (behind glass), so you can actually see them. The other labels tend to be accurate and very descriptive, but a few blades went without any mention of smith (or even a mumei designation). The armor pictured in the postcard here has very nicely worked images of Fudo Myo-o on the breastplate and helmet. Finally, nothing against ya' Baltimore, but finding the charming Walters in the midst of a generally economically depressed city made my visit memorable. Thanks, Walters!|
The Royal Armouries Museum, Armouries Drive (The Waterfront), Leeds LS10 1LT, England. Telephone: 0990 106666. Hours: 10.30 am to 5.30 pm. "The Royal Armouries is Britain's oldest museum, originally established in the Tower of London, it now occupies three sites in Leeds, London and Fort Nelson, Portsmouth." Armour, guns, pole arms, archery equipment and some swords plus loan exhibition of items from Nikko Toshogu that changes periodically. About half on show. Contrary to rumour, Ian Bottomley reports there is no Masamune in the collection. There is a "fabulous set of efu no tachi fittings in the Chinese style," but the blade (and saya) are themselves of dubious quality and authenticity.
Snowshill Manor, Gloustershire. 26 armours plus pole arms and some swords.
Merseyside Museum, Liverpool. Over 100 swords, armours and a fine collection of tsuba and fittings. Little is normally displayed.Glasgow Museum, Glasgow, Scotland. Mixed collection of armour and swords.
Birmingham Museum, Birmingham. Some armour and a few swords, fine collection of tsuba and other fittings. Normally not displayed.Bradford Museums. Three superb armours and about twenty swords and misc items. Only part on show.
Chiddingstone Castle. About twelve armours and originally a superb collection of swords but I believe some have been disposed of.
Le Musee de l'Armee, Art et Histoire [Museum of Arms, Art and History]. Hôtel national des Invalides, 29, rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris, France. Phone: 01 44 42 37 72. Hours: 10am to 4:45pm. Cost about 40 franc. "Has the tomb of Emperor Napolean 1st... and armour of Iro Iro Odoshi Domaru no Yoroi ...." Rick Wynn [Rick Wynn, GH]
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