[From February Issue 2010]
Interests traditionally considered manly in Japan such as trains and history are attracting an increasing number of women. The trend has seen the creation of several new Japanese phrases such as “tetsu-ko” to describe women who like trains (“tetsudo”), “reki-jyo” for women who like history (“rekishi”) and “butsu-jyo” for women who like Buddhist statues (“butsuzo”). Of these, the word “reki-jyo” (“history girls”) has become so well known to the public that it ranked in the top ten of the 2009 Ryuukougo Taishou (an award for words that were newly created and became common in the year). Many reki-jyo are uniquely fascinated by swords and Japanese traditional suits of armor (yoroi) and helmets (kabuto), as well as historical characters, in contrast to their male counterparts who focus mostly on historical backgrounds.
At Takase Dojo in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, women-only lessons for tate are gaining popularity. Tate is a series of movements for attacking and defending with a sword, which is often seen in period dramas. Takase Dojo is also a training center for actors and has long been incorporating tate as a way of instructing them. The dojo opened its doors to the public in 2001, and when a tate class exclusively for women was started on a trial basis in the autumn of 2007, it soon became very popular. In July 2009, women-only tate classes began in earnest.
The classes for women are divided into two levels, beginner and intermediate, each with around 12 students. The students are mostly in their 20s and range from college students to office workers and housewives. “Being a fan of period drama actors, I wanted to try tate,” says AOKI Kaori in the beginner class about her reason for taking up the new hobby. Both beginner and intermediate classes use takemitsu, wooden swords covered with silver foil to look like real swords, but weighing only 350 grams.
“Women concentrating on swordsmanship all look beautiful. They should be more aware that they are beautiful and have more self-confidence,” says instructor TAKANO Utako. Being paired up makes it possible for each student to practice attacking and defending with a sword. Learning to manipulate a takemitsu also improves posture and makes people more alert to their surroundings.
Meanwhile, women are found among the visitors at the Japanese Sword Museum in Shibuya Ward these days. “The world of swords was originally dominated by men and women could never set foot in it. That’s the reason why swords were not familiar to women,” says chief curator KUBO Yasuko. Kubo herself is the first female curator at the museum since its founding.
In olden times warlords cherished swords as family treasures and also used them as weapons in fights and to protect themselves. Until the end of the Edo period, Japan saw a lot of fighting and swords were very familiar to the Japanese.
There are a number of expressions in Japanese that originate from swords. For example, “Ittou ryoudan” means to slash something into two in a single sweep of the sword. Because of this, the phrase is also used today in the sense of making a quick decision without paying attention to other people’s opinions.
Text: MUKAI Natsuko