The Japanese Sword Museum, a museum filled with both history and art. It is filled with swords, sword mountings, armour and other sword related items. The museum has swords created by famous craftsmen such as Nobuyoshi (Ryumon school), Kuniyuki (Rai School) and another Kuniyuki (from the Taima school). It also has swords created by Nobufusa (an, “Important Cultural Asset) and Sanekage (another important swordsmith, from ancient times).
The museum is located in a very quiet neighbourhood of Shibuya ward, just a few minutes’ walk from Hatsudai station which is on the Keio New Line. The area is fairly typical of urban Japan. But within that neighbourhood is an absolutely superb gem of a museum. It is small, but filled with quality. You could walk through that museum in a very, very short time. But if you take your time, looking at each sword in detail, as you would a beautiful picture painted by one of the great masters of art, you could be there for hours.
And that is one of thing that must be understood about swords in modern Japan, is that they are regarded not as weapons but works of art and cultural assets. Japanese swords are said to reflect the sensibilities of Japanese aesthetics. And the museum is charged with keeping the knowledge of sword making alive as the art is considered a part of Japanese culture. The museum is there to preserve traditional crafts and help modern craftsmen to improve their skills and pass them on to future generations.
When you make your way up to the second floor, where the display area is located, you`ll notice the presentation is perfect. The emphasis is on the swords themselves, not their history. Each sword is set on a mounting with a small plaque next to it explaining who made it, where it was made and when it was made. Some swords have a little about their history written about them, but those are in the minority. The plaques are written in Japanese, but most of the swords have an accompanying explanation in English (some of them are rather limited though).
The quality of the swords is absolutely superb. There are swords created in modern times so their condition is great. Some swords have always been in collections and have also been kept in good condition. But some swords suffered from years of neglect. Neglected swords have undergone restoration by the staff at the museum and have been returned to mint condition. The results of the restoration techniques are just amazing.
As well as the swords themselves, the whole process of making them is explained on the first floor. It`s an incredibly elaborate and lengthy process to make one sword. You`ll soon understand why the apprenticeship takes so many years.
At the reception area, make sure to pick up the pamphlets on offer as they explain many details about the swords. Find out why they are regarded as pieces of art – the combination shape, quality of the steel and the beauty of the patterns that can be found on the hardened edges of the swords (i.e. hamon). And you`ll also find out the differences between the swords – the katana, tachi, tanto and wakizashi.
They say good things come in small packages. That certainly is the case with the Japanese Sword Museum, it is small but everything inside is a gem. If you have an interest in Japanese history, swords or art this museum shouldn`t be missed. And for some more information you can see the museum`s homepage here.
How to get there
The Japanese Sword Museum is in Shibuya ward, but quite close to Shinjuku. The easiest way to get there is by using Hatsudai station which is on the Keio New Line (and you get this line from Shinjuku). From Hatsudai, leave via the South Exit and it will be about a 7 minute walk. We also have a Google map here to help you get to the museum:
View The Japanese Sword Museum in a larger map
Admission times and costs
The Museum is open from 10am to 4:30pm (with last entry at 4pm), and closed on Mondays (excluding National Holidays). The price of entry is 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for students. Children under 15 are free.
Best time to go
Being an indoor museum, any time of year is good.
How long would you expect to spend there?
It depends on you. You could stroll through this museum in as little as 10 minutes. But if you went there and viewed it as an art museum, you could be there a couple of hours.