Samurai Kyushu Part 2
Following the Way of the Sword
In the first part of this article we delved into the connection between Kyushu and samurai. Kyushu offers many places that are connected with samurai tradition. With its castle towns and beautifully preserved samurai districts, it offers countless traces of feudal Japan. When we think of samurai, one of the first things that comes to mind is katana, the legendary Japanese sword. If you are interested in katana, there's a little place tucked away in the countryside of Fukuoka Prefecture that should be added to your bucket list.
The city of Omuta lies at the southern tip of Fukuoka Prefecture. A former coal mine town on the Ariake Sea, Omuta might not seem to be offering much at first. But what doesn't show itself to the eye is that Omuta has been home to the Miike school of swordsmiths since ancient times. Here, you can experience the real world of Japanese swords.
Just a few minutes' walk from the station is Shin Minato, a 60-year-old traditional Japanese restaurant. This restaurant allows visitors to experience tameshigiri (test-cutting), the Japanese art of cutting with a sword for the first time. Originally tameshigiri was performed by the most expert swordsmen to test the efficiency of a newly made sword. Nowadays it has become a martial art focused on showing the skills of a swordsman.
You will be dressed in a samurai outfit and led into the restaurant's peaceful Japanese garden. Here, a Japanese swordsmith will teach you how to handle a real sword. Following his guidance, you will be able to hold a real sword and cut a goza, a target made of tatami mat material.
After the practice you will be served a traditional Japanese meal in the restaurant. Enjoy the simple and genuine ingredients and the peace of mind that comes after such a deep experience.
Shin Minato has beautiful Japanese gardens that you can admire after your experience. At the entrance is a small gallery exhibiting a painting of a dragon in the clouds, made by the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.
Omuta is also home to Shiro Kunimitsu, a family of swordsmiths that has been making swords since 1786. They have passed down ancient techniques from generation to generation, and they still make beautiful swords to this day. Their technique is so renowned that one of their swords has been dedicated to a Japanese emperor.
Their workshop is located in a quiet rural area next to a small shrine. They sometimes hold demonstrations for the public where they showcase the making of Japanese swords.
The Shiro Kunimitsu family also crafts knives, with the same love and care that they use in crafting swords. Their knife factory feels like it came out of another era.
Owning a sword is not for everyone, but owning a knife that has been made by a katana swordsmith is a great way to bring home a piece of the samurai tradition.
It is said that Kyushu might have been one of the first places where sword forging emerged in Japan, due to its early technology exchanges with Korea and China. Keeping a connection with the past even in modern days is a wonderful thing, especially when ancient teachings live on to enrich our everyday life. Follow the way of the sword and discover the hidden wonders of Omuta, city of swordsmiths and ancient tradition.