The Samurai Museum in Kabukicho, Shinjuku is a fairly recent museum that has quickly become very popular with foreign visitors (despite the relatively high entrance fee). As well as exhibits of samurai swords, armour and other weapons including guns, visitors can try on samurai armour and try their hands at samurai cosplay.
The Samurai Museum is on two floors. Visitors are given a tour of the exhibits by enthusiastic English-speaking guides who at first demonstrates a number of samurai sword moves and lets out a blood-curdling scream for good measure. The detailed explanation includes information on the weapons on display and what was happening in Japanese history at the time of the rise of the samurai including the Mongol invasion of Kyushu in the 13th century. Visitors learn that samurai warriors used disposable blades as after a few strikes the blade was no longer sharp.
Most of the suits of armour on display are not antique pieces, however, but more recent reproductions. If you want to see the real things you will need to head to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. As well as the swords there are also guns on display. Guns were first introduced by the Portuguese and other Europeans and were soon being copied and produced in Japan. Their use on the battlefield was to chance the dynamic of samurai conflict in such battles as Sekigahara in 1600, which lead to the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate after the victory of Ieyasu.
Overall, the Samurai Museum is more of a fun activity for young people and parents with kids than the serious scholar of samurai culture and history. The museum also features classes that you can take throughout the week, like calligraphy and sword handling. On specific days, you can also have a professional photo shoot while dressed up in armour or a kimono. There’s even child-sized clothing. Optionally, you can visit the souvenir shop. The katana in sale are breathtaking. It is better than those found on Nakamise-dori in Asakusa. You can also pick up some ninja-related trinkets, including foldable ninja socks.
If you are looking for an easy to view museum in the middle of a major tourist point, then head to the Samurai Museum. Though there is not a lot on display, the armour and weapons are rare finds. The information is detailed, but slightly scattered, in my opinion. There doesn’t seem to be a set order to how the history is explained. It’s befuddling if you don’t have some basic knowledge on samurai and the eras throughout Japanese history, but the museum does what it sets out to do: to enlighten those curious about the samurai.
Eiwa Dairoku Bldg 1F, Kabukicho 2-25-6, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0021
The Samurai Museum is an 8-minute walk from the East Exit of Shinjuku Station on the Yamanote Line and various other subway and railway lines or 4 minutes from Seibu Shinjuku Station.