Kumamoto was historically an important samurai town, signs of which still exist today. In fact, there’s now an industry around samurai tourism in Kumamoto. This includes several half- and full-day tours, offered by professionals.
An exclusive option is the Samurai Experience Tour. Provided by a national government-licensed English guide interpreter in a charter vehicle, it is available for single groups of two to four people. Over the course of four hours, you’ll learn about samurai history and tradition through three activities. The first is a Japanese archery experience, where you’ll have the chance to shoot at the target yourself after watching the instructor. The second is learning to make namagashi sweets, after which you’ll sample them with some matcha. The final activity is a lecture about sake brewing with a tasting.
Where: Pick up from Hotel Nikko Kumamoto, 2-1 Kamitoricho, Chuo Ward (map)
Cost: 27,000 yen
Miyamoto Musashi was one of the most famous samurais. A top activity in Kumamoto is visiting the cave where he lived until the end of his life and where he wrote “The Book of Five Rings.” His teachings include instruction in the martial art iai, which uses a sword. Iai was important for helping samurais learn modesty and etiquette. At the Iai Experience, beginners can learn the basics for themselves. You’ll also be treated to a performance from a professional sword master.
During the experience (which lasts around 100 minutes), you’ll learn how to handle a sword, including the technique for unsheathing it and placing it back in the scabbard in a clean movement. You’ll also practice yelling “Ei!” like a true samurai and breathing techniques to keep your focus. For the session, you’ll wear a hakama, which is part of the formal dress in Japan. The experience ends with matcha, Japanese sweets, and every participant receiving a certificate.
Another experience that includes a chance to feel like a samurai yourself is the Samurai Swords Tour. The half-day option last three hours. It consists of a visit to swordsmith Matsunaga Genrokuro, who has a collection of antique swords and armor. You’ll see artisans craft new swords in the forge and have the chance to hammer a piece of red hot steel yourself. Next, you’ll head to the dojo for a sword cutting demonstration before you try out target practice and cutting with the swords. If you choose the full-day tour, you’ll also visit Tatsuda Nature Park, which is home to Musashi Miyamoto’s sacred Reigando Cave as well as Unganzenji Temple.
Where: Meeting spot of your choice
Cost: From 10,000 yen to 30,000 yen (depending on group size and tour length)
If you have an interest in samurai, Kumamoto is a place you must visit in Japan. Whether you just visit the castle and watch the actors dressed as samurais perform in Sakuranokoji Shopping Arcade or you sign up for a full samurai experience, you’ll feel more connected to this part of history.