When you think of 'traditional' Japan, what images come to mind? Geisha, Ninja, Samurai, Katana...
Geisha still exist, but are becoming increasingly obsolete in today's society. In addition, fewer and fewer young women today see becoming a geisha as a viable career. Here in our town, Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, there are still 35 geisha, down from a peak of over 350 in the Showa heydays. It's a struggle, but efforts are being made to preserve the living geisha heritage in our town.
Ninja schools also continue to exist in Japan in pockets here and there. In Nagano, we are fortunate to have the Togakure Ninja School's heritage, kept alive by a group of active practicioners. They offer free access to their weekly lessons where you can experience real, honest, actual, wouldn't-be-unusual-to-break-a-bone ninja lessons every Sunday night in Togakshi -- for Free!
Samurai were officially ended with the Meiji Restoration. However, their memory is kept alive by their descendants all across the country. Our neighbor across the street from Kamesei have a museum-like room in their house that includes the battle armor of their great-great-great ancestor.
Katana swords you would also think would be on the verge of extinction. However, in Nagano Prefecture alone there are 5 or 6 swordsmiths that continue to make katana today. In neighboring Sakaki Town, there is the "Museum of Tetsu (Steel) in Sakaki" dedicated to Living National Treasure Hirayuki Miyairi. Miyairi-sensei has since passed on, but his apprentices as well as his son carry on the sword-making tradition today.
The museum occasionally offers Knife Making By Hand lessons. My buddy Matt and I took our kids yesterday to experience it ourselves, under the traditional teachings of junior Miyairi-sensei. Using traditional tools and methods, we each made our own little knife.
The next lesson is scheduled for 22-November (Sunday) from 10am and again 1:30pm (each lesson runs about an hour and a half). Cost is 500 yen per person. For info, contact the museum at 0268-82-1128 or on the web at http://tetsu.town.sakaki.nagano.jp.
Hammering the steel flat
Grinding it to an edge
Sharpening the edge
Making the Handle