Learn to Be a Samurai at Samurai Kembu Theater in Kyoto, Japan
At the Samurai Kembu Theater, visitors get to learn about “Kembu,” the traditional sword art practiced by the ancient samurai of Japan. It traditionally uses a katana (long, curved sword) and fan to convey poems and stories. Visitors can watch performances by masters of Kembu, and then they can even try it out for themselves. It’s definitely a unique, must have experience in Japan for those interested in Japanese culture, history, and society.
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Samurai Kembu Theater Packages
|Kembu Training (Japan resident only)||¥5000/month|
Samurai Kembu Theater Demonstration Show
The performance had two parts: traditional Kembu and modern Kembu. I wasn’t a big fan of the traditional Kembu. It reminded me a lot of when I saw a Noh performance. Honestly, I think it’s the music that’s just off-putting to me. I can’t stand the sound of the flute with a woman shrilling over top of it. The modern Kembu was much more entertaining. The music they used reminded me of the background music used in movies to make scenes more dramatic or sad. The performance itself told a story, and it was interesting to see how the actors used swords and fans to move the story along.
Unfortunately, no photography was allowed during the show, but I was able to take pictures with the performers afterwards.
Lessons: Learning the Way of the Samurai
The lessons after the performance were more difficult than I thought they were going to be. The whole thing was particularly geared towards foreigners and they really played up the samurai aspect, but the lessons themselves were quite serious. They taught us the proper way to draw and sheath a sword. From there they taught us the different ways to swing it. I have to say, the sword is heavier than I thought it would be. I often had to hold it out while the instructor was explaining the next steps, and it definitely wore on my arms. Suffice to say, I’ll definitely be sore. However, despite the hard work, I actually really enjoyed the training. It reminded me of when I did martial arts. Of course a lot of the movements are different, but the discipline is the same. It definitely brought back memories.
Once the basic training is complete, guests get to try on kimono and hakama (traditional Japanese robes) that are actually used in Kembu performances. The staff helped up get dressed and then we were able to take photos all dressed up in our outfits. The staff even encouraged us to make cool samurai poses for the pictures.
At this point, the “Light Lesson” package comes to an end and the staff helps those who chose the Light Lesson package remove the traditional robes. Those who opted for the “Full Lesson” package are asked to stay.
From there, those who chose the “Full Lesson” package learned actual sequences of sword movements used in performances, as well as how to use a traditional fan. Once we had that down, we were given the opportunity to get up on the same stage the performers had been on not long ago and show off the various techniques that we learned to traditional Kembu music.
Overall Thoughts of Samurai Kembu Theater
As I mentioned above, the light and full lesson packages are geared towards foreigners, so instead of focusing on the significance of Kembu as a sword art, they definitely focus on the “cool samurai” aspect. Allowing participants to dress up in traditional kimono and hakama and take pictures looking like a samurai are definitely the more touristy aspects of the theater. However, I think the performance definitely captured and showcased the essence of traditional Japanese discipline and honor-focused mentality. The performers definitely have a strong dedication to the art.
Despite the slightly touristy aspects, I felt like being able to learn the sword movements and give my own performance at the end gave me a small window into the world of Kembu. There is a difference between seeing Japanese culture and actually being able to experience first hand, so I highly recommend taking a lesson at the Samurai Kembu Theater for those interested in taking a deeper delve into Japanese culture.
If nothing else, I recommend taking time to catch their demonstration show. It’s located right by Sanjo station, and some of the best hotels in the Gion district, so it wouldn’t be too far out of your way.
What do you think? Would you be interested in visiting the Samurai Kembu Theater? Have you ever seen a demonstration or taken some of the lessons? Let me know in the comments below!
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