A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Tsuchiura City Museum Drawing Unusually Large Crowds For its Special Exhibition of BASARA- decorative battle armor worn by some of Japan`s most famous 16th Century Warriors (thru May 6th)

By Avi Landau

BASARA armour and helmet at the entrance to the exhibition


Since it first opened 25 years ago, the Tsuchiura City Museum, has drawn about 10, 000 visitors per year. Well, it has attracted that many in just one MONTH`S time since the opening of its most recent special exhibition called BASARA- a word which is used to describe the showy armour and other paraphanelia worn by Japan`s traditional warriors. And it is not only the number of visitors which catches attention- it is the varied range of people who can be seen at the exhibition (men, women, young, old and in between, and plenty of children, too) and also FROM HOW FAR some of them have come ( the local media has reported how some young women flew in from Kagoshima Prefecture and then waited outside the museums doors before opening time!)

BASARA helmet

It is not only because studying about and travelling to places related to Japanese History has become trendy among Japanese young women ( the words for these female history buffs is REKI JO – 歴女) that the exhibition has been such a hit. There is a tie in with a game soft-ware company which has produced a series of computer games and an animated film called  (you guessed it) BASARA. The characters they created are said to have been based on actual decorative armor worn by Japan`s greatest Sengoku Warriors ( though these characters look more like Hollywood action stars than the actual historical personages as can be seen in extant portraits).

These games , by the way, can be played at the exhibition (for ten minutes each if there is a line- but with no time limit if no one is waiting behind you)

A helmet which reminds of a killer whales fin

The armour worn by Arima Tadayori

Having said that, I want to reassure purists who might be put off by the exhibition`s connection to the computer game industry, that this exhibition is WELL WORTH SEEING- and in fact quite remarkeable. The decorative armour of many of Japan`s greatest names have been assembled from all over Japan- the real things, and NOT replicas!) This apparently was accomplished only after the curators of the Tsuchiura Museum were able to state their case for holding such an ambitious show to the various owners of the pieces, many of which are Important Cultural Properties held by museums and private collections throughout Japan. They did so by explaining how the Tsuchiya Family, the rulers of the Tsuchiura Domain throughout the Edo Period (and whose swords and tea ceremony paraphernalia make up the foundation of the museums permanent collection) were closely connected to may of Japan`s better known warlords- and remained influential (especially in the field of GUN-MAKING) right up to the time of the Meiji Restoration (1868).

Japan has long been a country in which fashion statements have been important. Its classical works of literature (including the world`s first novel- The Tale of Genji) contain an astounding number of lines, sentences and paragraphs dedicated to describing clothing and hairstyles- even (or should I say ESPECIALLY) when describing warriors and battle scenes (see the Tale of the Heike). This use of what ones wears as a form of expression for warriors probably can be said to have reached its zenith during the Warring States Period (Sengoku Jidai- from the mid 15th- early 17th century) when Japan`s leading generals wore armour which not only protected but also let each great man strut his stuff to the fullest. Many of the motifs seem to me to have been taken from natures own forms of MALE POSTURING- stags, stag beetles, peacocks, and whales etc….. plus various allusions to Buddhist or Hindu (the word BASARA actually derives from a Sanskrit word VAJRA) mythology and iconography which would been worn not only to inspire awe but also to provide protection as an amulet would.

The costumes worn by the characters in the game BASARA have been based on the real BASARA armor on display at the exhibition

BASARA armor and helmet worn by Uesugi Keisho

Stag-like motif on a helmet worn by Honda Tadakatsu

One of the more unusual sets of armor- in that it looked cute rather than imposing- worn by Satake Yoshishige

The armor of the great warrior Sanada Masayuki

The present exhibition is actually perfect for the Children`s Day season (which ends on May 5th) because they have set up a corner on the second floor where kids (or adults for that matter) can dress up in replica armor and have their photos taken.

Just next door the museum is the site of the old Tsuchiura Castle (nicknamed KIJO, the Turtle Castle, because in times of flooding only the castle remained above water like a turtle in a pond) in which there are many Carp Streamers (large and small) on display in recognizition of the festival- and at the moment many flowers are in beautiful bloom- wisteria, iris, etc.

Thru May 6th visitors to the museum will be able to try on some replica armour

If the weather is nice a stroll around this park would be just right (exceot for the fact that there are some monkeys kept in a not very comfortable looking cage there).

This exhibition has been very hard to put together and the crowds have proven it to be a great success.

The price of admission has been raised accordingly. It is 600 Yen for adults and 200 Yen for school children (pre-schoolers are free)

The museum will be OPEN on Monday the 29th, but closed on Tuesday the 30th.

Then the show will run straight through the 6th

A poster advertizing the exhibition


Here is a map showing how to get to the museum:


Early 20th century fire-works launchers at the entrance to the museum (Tsuchiura is famous for its fireworks competition)

and here is an article I wrote about another great exhibition I once saw there:


Near the museum white wisteria (among other flowers) are in bloom

Turtles jockeying for the best sun-bathing position in the moat of olt Tsuchiura Castle- note the carp streamers in the background

A ewconstruction of one of the gates to Tsuchiura Castle`s main turret


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