2022.02 Uncover Kagoshima’s Samurai Heritage Through Martial Arts and a Visit to Sengan-en [PR]
Try Jigen-ryu, the martial art practiced by Satsuma’s samurai
The samurai of the Satsuma Domain were known to be some of the strongest in Japan, and they trained every day, practicing a martial art called Jigen-ryu. Their strength is credited to the techniques of Jigen-ryu and the mindset it promotes.
Jigen-ryu instructs its followers that “swords should not be drawn,” and strongly cautions against unnecessary killing. However, it also emphasizes that when danger strikes, a warrior should be prepared to cut an enemy down in a state of mind free of all thoughts and desires. Jigen-ryu places importance on making the first move and putting everything into that first strike to bring about victory in a quick, sharp slash. The martial art was established between the late 16th and early 17th century and has a history of over 400 years. The teachings of Jigen-ryu were considered secret, and the Satsuma samurai had a duty to prevent the techniques from becoming known outside of the domain.
At the Jigen-ryu Swordsmanship Museum, you can bring both your body and mind closer to that of the samurai. Try out tategi-uchi, a basic and essential form of training in which the swordsman hits an upright wooden pole with a wooden stick the same length and weight as a katana. This helps a warrior to swing a katana confidently and with strength, without unnecessary movements of the body. The samurai of Satsuma were instructed to strike the tategi 3,000 times in the morning and 8,000 times in the evening. Visitors to the Jigen-ryu Swordsmanship Museum can experience tategi-uchi with an advance reservation. Loose fitting clothing and a towel is recommended.
Yakumaru Jigen-ryu is a style of swordsmanship that combines the Yakumaru family’s traditional sword techniques with Jigen-ryu. At the beginning of the 19th century, Yakumaru Kanetake, a renowned swordsman and the ninth generation of the Yakumaru family, founded his own Yakumaru school, which produced many famous students. Both the Yakumaru Jigen-ryu and Jigen-ryu schools have continued to pass on their techniques and philosophies to the present day.
Experience life as a samurai at Sengan-en, a historic villa with a beautifully landscaped garden
Sengan-en was built in 1658 and was one of the residences of the Shimadzu family who ruled the Satsuma Domain (present-day Kagoshima). The villa is surrounded by beautiful grounds and has a landscaped garden with views of Kagoshima’s iconic volcano, Sakurajima. Sengan-en was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2015 and is part of the Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution.
The garden at Sengan-en is magnificent. While many Japanese garden landscapes feature artificial hills or ponds, the garden at Sengan-en borrows natural scenery, taking Kinko Bay as its pond and Sakurajima, in the distance, as its hill. The garden blends landscaped features and natural views to create a grand impression.
In the garden, there is a large, 11-meter-tall rock carved with three large Chinese characters: Senjingan. The Satsuma domain engaged in trade with China, where it is common to engrave stones in places of scenic beauty. The rock is a symbol of cultural exchange.
After visiting the garden, tour the house lived in and loved by generations of the Shimadzu family, including Shimadzu Tadayoshi (1840–1897), the 29th generation of the Shimadzu clan and last lord of the Satsuma Domain. Moving from room to room, visitors can get a feel for the way of life of the Shimadzu family at Sengan-en.
Visitors can try on samurai attire, including replica armor, and have their photos taken on the grounds of Sengan-en. Small sizes are available for children, and staff are on hand to help with the fitting. The samurai attire is modeled on the actual designs worn by members of the Shimadzu family.
Continue your samurai experience on a hike, following a path trod by many generations of the Shimadzu family. The 30-minute trail behind the garden leads to a lookout with a view of Sakurajima. Both temperate and subtropical plants grow natively along the route. From the Kansuisha viewing platform partway along the hike, there is a view of a waterfall (Shigure-no-taki). The goal of the hike is the Shusendai viewing platform, located 130 meters above sea level. From there, visitors have a breathtaking view of Sakurajima, an iconic symbol of Kagoshima City.
After returning from the hike, visit the onsite Jumbo Mochi Shop to enjoy a simple treat once eaten by samurai. Jumbo mochi rice cake is a Sengan-en specialty. Freshly pounded mochi is lightly toasted on both sides and skewered with two bamboo sticks, then glazed with a sweet soy, miso, or kokuto caramel sauce. The two bamboo skewers are symbolic of the blades samurai wore on their waists, one large and one small.
Trace the path of modernization pursued by the Satsuma lords
View traditional glassworking, visit former gold-mining offices, and explore a museum with exhibits explaining how the international relations forged by the Shimadzu clan led to the development of industrial modernization in Kagoshima City and throughout Japan.
Housed in a historic western-style building (which is a Registered Tangible Cultural Property), the Shimadzu Satsuma Kiriko Gallery Shop displays colorful glassworks with intricate patterns cut into them. Satsuma Kiriko cut-glass was developed by the Shimadzu clan for export, to help develop national prosperity. Satsuma Kiriko cut-glass products were displayed at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris, the first in which Japan participated.
At Shimadzu Satsuma Kiriko Glassworks, visitors can watch Satsuma Kiriko cut-glass being created by master craftspeople.
Follow the course of the Shimadzu family over 800 years at the Former Shuseikan Machinery Factory (current Shoko Shuseikan Museum), which includes exhibits on international trade and the new technologies that were acquired through it. The museum is housed in the oldest stone factory building to be constructed in Japan, built in 1865. The building is one of the UNESCO Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution. Near the museum building, there is a grand Western-style home. Visitors can tour the home, which was used to accommodate visiting engineers from England.
Finish off a visit to the Sengan-en area with a stop at the local Starbucks Coffee (Kagoshima Sengan-en Store), located in a renovated building that used to house gold mining offices. Gold mining supported the prosperity of the Satsuma Domain, and the building is a reminder of this history, as well as a Registered Tangible Cultural Property.
Kagoshima City is a 2-hour flight from Haneda Airport (Tokyo), or 1 hour and 15 minutes from Osaka International (Itami) Airport and Kansai International Airport (Osaka). Buses operate from Kagoshima Airport to the downtown area and take around 50 minutes. By Shinkansen bullet train, Kagoshima City is 3 hours and 50 minutes from Osaka without changes, or 1 hour and 20 minutes from Fukuoka (Kyushu’s biggest city). The Jigen-ryu Swordsmanship Museum is 10 minutes from downtown Kagoshima City by bus or car, and Sengan-en is 30 minutes from the museum.
VISIT KAGOSHIMA CITY
SNS account (welcomekagoshima）
Shimadzu Samurai Armour Experience
「People of Kagoshima “British Samurai in Japan?”」