The samurai era has captivated both Japanese and foreigners alike for hundreds of years. The era, which spanned the Kamakura, Warring States and Edo periods, was characterized by the indomitable warriors of the time and their extravagant armor. At Samurai Armor Photo Studio, visitors have the chance to transform themselves into one of these warriors for a day, dressing up in authentic replica armor, and taking the photos to capture the moment.
We speak with Takemura-san, director of the Samurai Armor Photo Studio about how it came to be, what visitors can expect, and plans for the future.
When did the Samurai Armor Photo Studio open?
It opened 3 months ago in May, but it’s been a work in process for 6 months before opening. We invited friends and families during the pre-opening period to practice dressing customers in samurai armor.
We also had to come up with many poses for photoshoots, and narrowed it down to 15 poses which we thought would deliver the most authentic representation of real samurai.
How did the Photo Studio come to be?
It’s actually quite a funny story. A few years ago, there was a discussion between myself and the CEO of the call centre where I was working to open a “Tameshigiri* Dojo” for tourists, but we couldn’t get the required permission.
When I heard that part of our office would become vacant, I proposed to build a studio where visitors can dress up in historical outfits and have their photos taken, combining my passion for Japanese history and my CEO’s passion for photography.
Conveniently, the office is located only a 10 minutes’ walk away from Shibuya station, one of the most iconic places in Tokyo.
*Tameshigiri is the test of both one’s ability to wear a katana sword, and the sharpness of the blade.
How are photos taken, and are they only inside the studio?
Pictures are taken in a very natural way. Thanks to all experience we’ve gained from working with many different customers, we are now able to dress a person up in a full set of samurai armor in about 10-15 minutes. The armors are able to be adjusted to fit many sizes, for a natural look, and we have two custom-built larger-sized armors. Once we had a customer who was about 2 meters tall, but he was able to fit into our armor and have photos taken just as smoothly as any other person.
Soon after we started our service, customers started asking if they could walk around the town in the armor. So we added this to our offering, and customers can now choose to walk down the streets of Shibuya and have as many photos taken as they wish!
How many photos do customers receive per session?
We take a minimum of 150 pictures per session, in many poses that brings out the best out of the wearer in samurai armor. All of these are given to our customers on a SD card.
Why samurai? Why not ninja or something else?
We wanted to take the coolest and pictures possible for our customers, and for them to experience true Japanese culture. Of course we considered other Japanese historical costumes, like ninja outfits or kimono, but venues offering kimono-wearing opportunities are already quite common, and the popular image of the ninja–the black suit and mask–is not based on history but rather on fiction from later times.
How many customers have visited so far from the opening of your studio?
Since we opened in May this year, we’ve had about 180 visitors, and 95% of these come from overseas. Over half of them come from European and American countries such as the United States, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia, Russia, France, Spain, Mexico. Another major portion of our customers come from Asian countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Most people visit our studio with their family or friends, although coming alone is ok too!
Why did you choose Marutake Sangyo armor for your studio?
Because in our opinion, Marutake Sangyo is the only company that produces armor to this level of quality. We believe there is no other company with the same level of samurai armor craftsmanship.
What do customers say about wearing samurai armor?
Well, as the whole set of armor is pretty heavy, weighing around 20 kg, people are often surprised about this! Customers also seem to especially like the Menpo mask. Even though wearing a metal mask can feel a little stuffy, they love it because it really makes them feel the part of a samurai warrior.
How do you ensure your samurai armor is kept clean and in good condition?
There are special clothes worn underneath the armor during each photo shoot session, which are thoroughly washed after use in a laundry machine. Most of those underclothes come from Marutake Sangyo also, to retain the sense of authenticity. Given the preciousness of the materials used in the armor, these are wiped with special cleaning solvents and then sun-dried.
In terms of wear and tear, if there’s the damage that we can’t fix, we send it to the Marutake Sangyo workshop for a quick repair. The chain mail part of the kote (arm armor part), especially around the elbow, can get broken if arms are bent too rigorously.
What do you enjoy most about working in this Samurai photo studio?
I enjoy getting feedback from happy customers, and am motivated by reading all the honest comments. The customers who visit the studio have been very polite, showing great respect to Japanese culture. At the beginning of each samurai photo shooting session, we explain the contents of the session and give a short lecture about Japanese history. Some people even listen to the introduction in seiza (traditional Japanese sitting position)! Our customers are people who genuinely love Japan. I think some of them believe that I am really a bushi (samurai), a Japanese person wielding a samurai sword in public!
Do you have any big plans for the Samurai Armor Photo Studio for the future?
Right now the studio is located on the 7th floor of an office building, but I would like to move to street-level, near Shibuya station. That would provide the opportunity for many more people to stop by, and we’d be able to expand our business. I would also like to open more stores one day.
Also, I would like to have more Japanese customers. At the moment we are heavily focused on providing services for visitors from overseas, but I believe there are opportunities in the domestic market as well.
If dressing in samurai armor sounds like an experience you would like to have in Tokyo, you can make reservation from A-Janaika Japan. When booking you will receive some special Samurai-themed gifts! Find out more here
2016 Sep 29
Written by Hiro Kano, with special thanks to Takemura-san of Samurai Armor Photo Studio for this interview.