One of the other things I signed us up for was a samurai kembu performance. Kembu is a ritual that samurai used to do before a battle in order to prepare their body and mind. Samurai don’t exist anymore, but there are kembu groups around Japan who try to keep the samurai beliefs alive (not the part about killing themselves, but more the morals and values that the samurai had, as well as their skill with swords and fans).
We weren’t allowed to take photos of the performance, but it was a great experience. Each performance was only a couple of minutes long, and set to a Japanese poem. Between the performances, one of the actors would come on to the stage and explain what was going on, and give some background on the life of a samurai, or the way that they live.
We found out that samurai were not supposed to show any emotion when others are around, which was reflected in the performances as all of the actors were expressionless throughout the entire thing.
I had no idea samurai also used fans, although it makes sense why Kenshin was carrying one in the anime now. We learned that the fans were used to show respect to others, as you would lay down your fan in front of you. It was also used amazingly in the performances, with the actors twirling them around, and folding and unfolding them with great effect. The fans were also used to illustrate different things in the show, like blood falling, or being shot with an arrow.
The middle actor was called Hitomi. Which means that’s the first name of a cute Japanese girl that I’ve managed to get so far. I wasn’t able to get her phone number though. And the fact that she gave us her name as part of the performance isn’t relevant either…
She told us that there technically weren’t any female samurai in fuedal Japan, but the wives of samurai often had to learn to fight in order to defend the family home in the event of an invasion, so they would often train with the male samurai, and instead of katana, they used a blade with a longer handle called naginata. They would also hide small knives in the folds of their kimono, so even though they looked harmless, they could inflict quite a lot of damage to an unsuspecting foe.
Despite the fact that there were children at the performance, they discussed the fact that samurai would participate in a ritual called harikiri, where they cut their own stomachs as a form of suicide. It is used to avoid falling into enemy hands, and also as a punishment for a serious crime, or if the samurai has brought shame upon themselves. They will stab themselves and cut across with a smaller blade, and in order to lessen the suffering, another samurai (if they were around), would cut their head off. I thought the whole thing was a bit gory at first, but as MrFodder pointed out, samurai are given a great amount of power, and the thought that they may have to kill themselves if they abuse that is a good way to moderate how they use it. The samurai honour code, bushido, also seems like a really respectable way of life, and I can appreciate it, even though it might be difficult to live like that in the modern age.
It was a really entertaining performance, and at the end, we even got to swing a katana, which made MrFodder so happy, as he said he has always wanted to do that. It was even a metal katana (although the blade wasn’t sharp), and not a wooden one, so it was actually quite heavy.