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2022.02 Uncover Kagoshima’s Samurai Heritage Through Martial Arts and a Visit to Sengan-en [PR]

Kagoshima City is in southern Kyushu, and surprisingly, it is closer to cities in East Asia like Shanghai and Seoul than it is to Tokyo. It has a rich samurai heritage and was ruled for many centuries by the Shimadzu, a powerful samurai family. The Shimadzu clan controlled the Satsuma domain (modern-day Kagoshima), ruling from Kagoshima Castle. The domain was one of the most powerful and prominent of the Edo period (1603–1867), and the samurai from Satsuma were some of the most formidable. Explore the legacy of Satsuma’s samurai with a visit to the city.


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.


The dojo at the Jigen-ryu Swordsmanship Museum, where you can try tategi-uchi and learn about Jigen-ryu.


Shigetaka Togo, 13th generation Jigen-ryu master, practicing tategi-uchi. He is holding a wooden stick the same length and weight as a katana. (ⒸJigen-ryu Togo Foundation)


The entrance to the Jigen-ryu Swordsmanship Museum, which is attached to the dojo.


Yakumaru Jigen-ryu


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.


Demonstration of Yakumaru Jigen-ryu


Yakumaru Jigen-ryu sword training


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.


The garden incorporates Sakurajima (in the background) into its design, a view enjoyed by many generations of the Shimadzu family.


Senjingan. It is common to carve characters into stone at places of scenic beauty in China, but this is a rare feature in a Japanese garden.


The reception room used to receive important guests, including royalty from overseas.


The study commands views of the garden. Tadayoshi, the 29th generation of the Shimadzu family and the last lord of the Satsuma Domain, spent many of his hours in this room.


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. 






Try on samurai armor and pose for photos. Adults can choose from two different designs, and a special set has been custom-made for younger visitors.


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.


The Shigure-no-taki waterfall as seen from the midway viewing platform


Kinko Bay and Sakurajima as seen from the Shusendai viewing platform at the end of the trail


Jumbo mochi rice cakes, a simple treat once enjoyed by samurai


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.




The beautiful patterns of Satsuma Kiriko cut-glass


The Shoko Shuseikan Museum is housed in Japan’s oldest Western-style stone-constructed factory building.


The Former Kagoshima Foreign Engineer’s Residence (Ijinkan) accommodated visiting engineers in the 19th century and blends Japanese and Western styles.


Gold mining offices once operated in this historic building which has been renovated and is now a Starbucks Coffee (Kagoshima Sengan-en store).


The interior of the Kagoshima Sengan-en Starbucks Coffee store


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. 


Related Links


Kagoshima City Tourism Guide


SNS account (welcomekagoshima)


Jigen-ryu Hyoho




Shimadzu Samurai Armour Experience


「People of Kagoshima “British Samurai in Japan?”」


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