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Samurai artist Tetsuro Shimaguchi, director of the Kamui Samurai School, trains a new generation of young people around the world in the ways of the sword, as well as the mindset of the warrior.
Tetsuro has visited 140 cities, operates a dojo in several countries, and oversees the largest samurai-centric cultural preservation campaign in the world.
He arrived in Washington DC on Wednesday ahead of his performance at the opening ceremony of the city’s Cherry Blossom Festival. He will also make a special appearance for an NBA halftime show at CapitolOne Arena.
“Even if I die, I want to leave a legacy of samurai culture for the future,” Tetsuro told Fox News in an exclusive interview. “It’s more important than ever.”
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Tetsuro began his study of the samurai tradition as a student. With a background in the performing arts such as kabuki and previous experience with martial arts such as karate, Tetsuro began to understand the samurai lifestyle not just as a discipline of the past to be studied, but as an art form to be revived.
“People think, ‘Ah, I can’t be a samurai. They’re so cool, and I’m just a normal person.’ But it’s not,” Tetsuro told Fox News. “I have noticed that the speed of society is changing much too fast and people have much less patience than before.”
The samurai warrior is one of Japan’s most iconic cultural symbols, past and present. Swordsmen were a class of nobles devoted to serving regional lords as soldiers, diplomats, and guards. As Japan began to modernize in the early 20th century, samurai moved into a more legal and political role in the Japanese peerage system, similar to the House of Lords in the United Kingdom.
After World War II, the Japanese nobility was abolished and official “samurai” status evaporated.
Now the term no longer denotes an office or a privilege. Instead, the Japanese see themselves as the public heirs to the “samurai spirit” and the Bushido coded.
While the affinity for the samurai still exists in Japan, the younger generations are moving further and further away from their classical culture. As American cultural supremacy and the lure of European design and fashion saturate the Japanese market, fewer young Japanese want to interact with the samurai lifestyle.
“Nowadays Japanese people use their smartphones so much. They need to reach out and make more direct connections between cultures,” Tetsuro said. “He has the ability to really move people’s emotions.”
“The problem is that you have to understand and appreciate something that you can’t see or touch,” says Tetsuro. “But with performance, it shows. It’s stronger.”
“It’s not just about the sword,” Tetsuro said. “There is more to samurai than combat.”
Tetsuro’s testimony resembles that of one of the most talented samurai in history, Miyamoto Musashi, who held an unbeaten record of 61 duels. Miyamoto also emphasized the need to know “the unseen”. In his tome of accumulated teachings, Book of Five RingsMiyamoto urges the reader to explore not only combat techniques, but also experiences and knowledge of “mind” and “nothingness”.
Samurai have always been expected to complement their skills as warriors with an extensive skill set in the humanities and religion. The samurai were prolific poets, artists, philosophers and sportsmen.
“The image of samurai slaughtering people is still very strong, but there is so much more to it.” Tetsuro said. “I want people to see that there is more to [samurai] than sword fighting. Education is the most important part.”
Tetsuro is currently working with Japanese regional governments and national groups to revive the samurai tradition, based in his dojo in Aizu – the historic town of the samurai. It runs similar schools around the world and has students from different races and backgrounds.
“The most important thing for samurai – for any powerful person – is honor, responsibility, pride and preparedness for any situation,” he said.
Tetsuro said the experience of foreign cultures from countries like the United States was like a mirror. By observing and participating in the interesting parts of other cultures, he remembered and better understood his own heritage: “It made me realize my own Japanese identity inside of me – seeing and exposing myself to American culture.”
Comparing the American cowboy motif to the Japanese samurai, Tetsuro believes that while both are “cool” and “strong,” there are much bigger lessons beneath the surface.
“While gunfights and swordfights are cool, what’s way cooler is having the responsibility and determination to fight for what’s right,” Tetsuro said. “I want people to start thinking like that.”
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Tetsuro recently caused a stir in the United States after a photo of his cultural collaboration with a Ukrainian official went viral.
Ambassador of Ukraine in Japan, Dr. Sergiy Korsunsky was photographed in traditional samurai armor while preparing for the ongoing Russian invasion of his home country.
“This armor was provided by samurai artist Tetsuro Shimaguchi. He is a friend of Ukraine and a friend of [mine]”, he continued. “It was a cultural project to put on real full armor to feel how Japanese warriors felt in a battle.”
The samurai photo shoot was not originally meant to be a rallying cry for support in Ukraine. However, he said, “When Russia started threatening Ukraine, [I] decided to appeal to Japanese people who remember what the bushido spirit is. It was a simple message very well received by Japan.””This armor was provided by samurai artist Tetsuro Shimaguchi. He is a friend of Ukraine and a friend of [mine]”, he continued. “It was a cultural project to put on real full armor to feel how Japanese warriors felt in a battle.”
The samurai photo shoot was not originally meant to be a rallying cry for support in Ukraine. However, he said, “When Russia started threatening Ukraine, [I] decided to appeal to Japanese people who remember what the bushido spirit is. It was a simple message very well received by Japan.”