Angels have descended upon Matsue. Perhaps even worse, so have the Evas.

The signs have been here since summer, and have only grown more in the past month or so. When we take visitors around, I’ve seen them whip around to do double-takes to be sure that they saw what they think they saw.

Here at city hall, there’s been some ongoing confusion as people are unsure what to make of it.

“So, are these characters famous?”
“Among anime fans around the world, yes, they’re pretty famous.”
“It’s got giant robots, but do they use katana?”
“Does it have something to with Japanese swords?”
“That’s a good question.”
“What’s it about, anyway?”
“That’s an even better question.”

To be honest, I found the idea of a Neon Genesis Evangelion themed exhibit about Japanese swords to be a little odd as well, though it’s been a while since I’ve watched the series and nothing really stood out in my mind about the weapons they used in the series (don’t shoot me?). In particular, this exhibit celebrates the New Theatrical Edition, including design work and promotional art for those works. At first I thought they were simply added to the traveling exhibit to draw the attention of people who know the characters but otherwise would not have been interested in seeing the historical blades. I also could not help but find it funny that Evangelion would be seen all over Matsue, as the only connections I could think of were the wealth of Tatara sword forging history in the surrounding area that we have a large body of water called Lake Shinji. But, haha, the main character of the series isn’t even used in the promotional art. Poor Shinji.

There’s also a special wafuku-style Kaworu illustration, as shown below.

Turns out this is part of a traveling exhibit that’s gotten much more attention than I was aware of since it began touring Japan in 2012, and it does blend the concepts of traditional Japanese sword forging techniques and iconic giant robot (or not!) anime. As much as we should never, ever hope to see real life Evas, we now can see real life versions of their weapons, such Progressive Knives, as well as other weapons directly inspired by weapons used in the show, such as the Counter Sword, Magoroku Sword, and Bizen Osafune. I was amused that there was a tanto (short sword) with the theme of Second Impact, which had Hitatsura pattern in the blade to harken images of the ominous sky.

The Lance of Longinus, or rather, a 3m, 22kg replica of it, was hand-forged from Damascus steel, and was so big that the sword-smith had to build a bigger workshop to produce it (Takanori Mikami, who led the project and is known by his craftsman name Sadanao, happens to be from Ohnan here in Shimane!). In addition to other weapons directly modeled on weapons used in the anime, there is also an array of blades inspired by characters in the series, including intricate artistic details and carvings. Even Shinji gets some love here! Well, no, not Shinji. Just Unit 01. Sorry, Shinji.

It’s difficult to fit its full length and details in a photo.

Using the Tanto-Makinami Mari Plugsuit model as an example, but the Shikinami Plugsuit Tanto (based on Asuka with Asuka herself as a feature) and the Dragon and Lance Wakizashi (based on Rei’s Eva) are the most popular pieces in this part of the collection.

By popular fandom demand, Kaworu and Rei had much larger swords based on their character designs, and there were also five tousu (little blades more like stationary tools than like weapons) based on the youth of the New Theatrical Version. If the other works had not yet been a chance for the craftsmen to show off their skills, these were at least a chance for them to flex their aestheticism.

The Ayanami Rei Sword

The Nagisa Kaworu Sword

While not nerd enough to want swords to display at home, these small ones were classy, decorative, and seemingly useful enough to make me think, “Ooh! Pretty! I want one!”

This is the exhibit’s first showing back in Japan after its successful tour of Paris and Madrid. It is hosted at the Matsue History Museum, just outside of Matsue Castle, from November 21, 2014, to January 18, 2015. Admission is a little pricier than the usual temporary exhibits, but like many of the attractions in and around Matsue, foreign passport or foreign resident card holders can get half price admission (for adults, ¥450 yen as opposed to ¥900).

The museum is open throughout the New Year holiday, so please pass along this info on now to people looking for someplace to new to go in Japan during that vacation period.

Seems there will be new pieces included in this triumphant homecoming exhibition, including a so-called naginata called Natayanagi which was designed by Ikuto Yamashita (the mecha designer for Neon Genesis Evangelion), who believed it would be impossible to create. A large team of sword smiths from around the country rose to the challenge to prove him wrong. Note that this is not the sort of naginata I could use, but rather, it is a like a chimera of ten traditional style Japanese weapons.

Also a very difficult weapon to try to fit into a single photo.

In addition to pieces and videos focused on the New Theatrical Edition production, there is also a large part of the exhibit dedicated to historical Japanese swords and their progression from the Heian Period on. Furthermore, in collaboration with the iron working tradition still alive in Unnan (just south of Matsue), the museum is putting on a few day-trip tours of blade-themed exhibits at both museums and some experience making paper knives in Tatara style. Sounds like there will be a temporary exhibit about this in Matsue following the Eva exhibit.

The humble origins a Tatara style sword

The exhibit will have some other fun stuff for the Eva fans. A rental audio guide to the exhibit provided in Misato’s voice, photo opps, an Eva goods store, and some Kaiyodo Revoltech figures in diaramas for fun. Even though Eva doesn’t make it into my list of favorite anime, I was highly amused by a lot of the items they had for sale, especially the more subtle ones like shoes based on Unit 01 and other character designs. Funny how all of sudden I felt I wanted a metal bucket because it said NERV on it (I resisted, though). I might be going back for a bilingual text about Japanese swords, though.

Can you spot Gendo?

Shoes!? Buckets!? First-aid kits!? Angel tofu molds!? …Hello Kitty???

I got a chance to speak with Sofu Kinoshita, an engraver who worked on seven of the featured Evangelion-inspired blades. At first I didn’t know how he was involved until I said how impressive the Natayagani is, and he replied, “Thanks. That was really hard to pull off.” (The videos of the making of Natayanagi and the Lance of Longinus show part of the process–well worth a watch!). As much as I try to be more of a nerd–I mean, try to be more knowledgable about Japanese swords and their classifications and parts, I told him I was embarrassed to know so little but that I find them impressive anyway. He responded, “You don’t have to know that much about Japanese swords to appreciate their beauty. They are weapons, but they are created as art.”

Bilingual explanation of the sword-making process posted at the exhibit.

Photos of the process of making the Lance of Longinus

He elaborated more eloquently on that, but I’d hate to put misremembered words in his mouth here. Both he and Mr. Sadanao expressed their hope that they can get more children, women, elderly people, and people from all around the world interested in the art of Japanese swords by presenting them in this fashion, as many usual exhibits are only visited by grown men.

Mr. Kinoshita appreciated this chance to work on so many pieces in collaboration with the Evangelion franchise, but he was rather unfamiliar with the work before Kadokawa (which owns Eva) approached the All Japan Swordsmith Association with the idea. His comments mirrored those of many other people involved. “I watched it all right away. Erm… I had trouble understanding the story. But it was still a great project I’m really excited to be a part of!”

Some other articles with nicer photos:
Osaka Museum of History
Anime News Network
Otaku Mode
Tubby Gaijin

One evening at naginata practice, we did an exercise in which one person would hold a shinai (a bamboo sword used for kendo) and the other would strike it with their naginata to work on their accuracy. This is also something you can practice with both people holding naginata, but since we have many short people with limited reach, the shorter shinai was a little easier. Some of the girls were giggling and imitating kendo strikes and intrigued by how flimsy the shinai seemed to be in comparison to our beloved naginata.

As a few of us learned later that night, the shinai is worthy of some respect for the damage it can do.

After our usual practice session, those of us with armor and time stayed later to get some sparring practice in with A-sensei, who happens to be Nihon-ichi (number one in Japan), now three years running! She is awesome. The fact that I get to practice with her is also pretty awesome, although I’m still a sparring beginner. Even the elementary school girls have to take it easy on me, but they are really hardcore and tough to begin with (and I can’t stress enough how cool they all are!).

As we were packing up our armor and only a few of us were left, A-sensei asked to borrow some shin guards–not for her, but for someone else suiting up in armor across the dojo. This man was usually around at that time practicing iaido, the art of drawing a katana and overall looking pretty cool and samurai-like, but apparently he was also a kendo practitioner. While I don’t know who prompted it, he was suiting up for a duel with A-sensei.

I’ve seen her duel at naginata matches, but not so much during our practices, during which she is providing instruction while sparring instead of going at it with her full strength. Furthermore, I had never seen a duel between a kendo-ka and a naginata-ka, only duels against the same weapon. The remaining students and teachers and I were of course very excited to watch this match.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to make do with my sloppier than usual sketches I made after returning home late that night, as I didn’t even have my phone on hand to snap pictures–not that they would have done justice to seeing it in person anyway! They were both attacking aggressively, using strikes that are only used by experienced practitioners for their increased chance of injury, such as throat strikes. While the rest of the iaido class and the judo class on the other side of the dojo of the Shimane Prefecture Martial Arts Hall calmly continued their classes as usual, we watched and listened as they traded shouts and strikes.

For all I could tell, it looked like A-sensei was winning, as she was getting more accurate strikes in without them getting blocked. However, something very unexpected happened:

The naginata she was using snapped in half!!

I don’t mean the part where the bamboo blade is attached to the (usually) oak portion, as that is meant to be easily replaced as it gets beaten up during fierce matches. I mean the oak itself! I didn’t see exactly how it happened, but it was a clean, diagonal break down the middle.

A-sensei, cool as ever, shrugged it off, saying that it looked like it was going to break soon anyway. I have no idea how much experience she might have with pushing weapons to their limits, but nonetheless my other teachers were very surprised to see it happen. She had a spare ready and the match continued, with another classy break later for the kendo-ka to readjust his mask. A-sensei’s performance implied she wasn’t shaken at all by the broken naginata, but it made the rest of us even more fired up.

Men! Kote! Sune! The strikes picked up speed, but A-sensei was making most of them!

Her opponent was not quite as fast, but still got a number of powerful strikes in. After the match, we saw that she didn’t escape a couple of light injuries.

At last, they stepped away from each other and bowed, indicating the formal end of the match. It was A-sensei’s win!!

As the kendo-ka removed his mask, he was sweaty and smiling, shaking his head and commenting on how hard it was to match her speed. She was smiling and sweaty as well, as they thanked each other for such an invigorating duel.

You could say that, although they were both very skilled, A-sensei turned out to be the better opponent. However, as my younger classmates were celebrating her victory, one of the teachers remarked, “Of course, the naginata has better reach, after all.” No need to pick on katana and shinai users, as both have their merits, but I do wish naginata could be even half as popular as kendo. With more practitioners, we’d see even more skilled naginata-ka like A-sensei. For now it’s just a pleasure to train with her, but seeing as the other competing adults I’ve seen in the region have trained just as much, I don’t think my odds would be very good in a real match quite yet!

I have just returned from vacation, so new content and the usual update schedule will resume soon. Thank you to my new watchers and visitors, and to everyone who has continued following this blog thus far!

I am currently on vacation and will return to reply to comments and provide new content later. Until then, please enjoy an excess of doodles and comics about my daily life in the San’in region. See you in mid January!

Thankfully this is an old doodle from February of last year, but this moment was a turning point at my naginata lessons. Until that point there was an odd shyness around everyone even though they knew I could speak Japanese. Unlike ALTs, who work in schools, I usually only see kids briefly for a single presentation or event, and then I never see them again. However much fun and however insightful those visits can be, you don’t get to know the kids very well.

However, thanks to little things like playing tag for a few minutes before lessons, I now get to relax and have a lot of fun with my naginata classmates, their families, and my teachers. I look forward to it every week, and leaves me energized!

I am currently on vacation and will return to reply to comments and provide new content later. Until then, please enjoy an excess of doodles and comics about my daily life in the San’in region. See you in mid January!

Hello, my name is Brittany. You can call me amberjack.

Fresh from the Sea of Japan along the northern coast of Matsue.

Fresh from the Sea of Japan along the northern coast of Matsue.

I did have someone mistake my name for “purin” once. Pudding is cuter, so I’ll take it.

I am currently on vacation and will return to reply to comments and provide new content later. Until then, please enjoy an excess of doodles and comics about my daily life in the San’in region. See you in mid January!

You must never doubt the consideration that goes into any given piece of cloth in Japan. Even if they aren’t as fancy as the furoshiki (which are coming back into fashion as eco-gift wrap instead of just an appropriate way of carrying clothes), the tenugui has uses not limited to the martial arts, and can come in any kind of print and pattern. There are proper methods of caring for them if you want them to stay usable for years and years to come, especially if you receive them as gifts (which, thus far, I always have).

Speaking of, this is one I received from one of my naginata instructors, printed in Izumo region style with an Izumo Taisha and Yamata-no-Orochi design.


Let me start by saying naginata armor is a big investment, and nonetheless I had been thinking about buying my own anyway, though struggling over what to do with it when I eventually leave Matsue. However, the teachers at the Shimane Martial Arts Hall knew of my interest in eventually taking part in competitions and rounded together some used armor for me! At this point, I still lack a helmet/mask similar to the ones used in kendo, but I have a torso-guard, gloves suited for changing your grip on a long weapon, and shin gaurds for the ankle strikes.

So far I’ve only practiced in armor a few times, and have yet to spar. The main difference being that my partners–usually elementary school girls who are far more experienced than I am–hit my ankles directly instead of having me block them. I still need to gaurd my head, but since they all have helmets, I hit them directly when we practice. Of course, this has startled my friends who have come to watch my practices.

Ah, summer practices in the steaming hot dojo… well, it’s either that or the frozen dojo in winter. A warrior endures both stinky sweat and numb toes.

In case anyone is wondering, here is where I found the instructions. Thank you, Southern California Naginata Federation! I can now do it without looking at instructions.

Another idea I finally came up with to keep my pleats as neat as I can while they are hanging up to dry is to pin them in place at the bottom with clothespins. Hasn’t really helped the wrinkles, though… anybody have any hakama laundry tips to share?

As mentioned in the previous entry, a week after making my public tea ceremony debut (as in my first time attending in kimono and expected to know what I was doing), I went to watch my first naginata match. A number of my classmates and teachers were competing at dojo in a high school in Izumo that is well-known for their naginata-team, so I tagged along to cheer them on. Since the population of Shimane is relatively low the number of people practing naginata is also fairly low, but Shimane is known for having very strong naginata wielders anyway.

The competition was held by the Shimane Naginata Federation (you can read more about the International Naginata Federation here). It consisted of matches for elementary school students, middle school students, high school students, and adults. There are two ways to compete: engi-kyōgi and shiai-kyōgi.

At my level, I’ve only done engi (non-competitively). If you practice karate or the like, you would understand this as a kata, but in layman’s terms, it is a set series of strikes and blocks to focus on practicing correct form. In naginata, this is done in pairs. So far I’ve learned five out of the eight basic shikake-ōji engi.

Shiai is sparring in armor–think kendo, only with a longer weapon so you can hit your opponent’s ankles. I’ve seen my classmates practice this, but it was my first time seeing regulation matches. I don’t have armor, though, I haven’t even tried this myself!

As you can imagine it is very difficult to take pictures of these matches on a smartphone. I tried anyway! Note the variety of ways to hold the naginata:

It may look cool, but this is not a clean hit! To get a point, you need to hit your target with the curve of the blade closer to the end of the weapon, and you need to call out the name of your intended target. In this case, the strike to the shin was done too deep.

One of our teachers is the best in Japan two years running, and she defended her title here at the local level, too. Good job, A-sensei!

Good job, Shimane Martial Arts Hall team!

If I have the opportunity, I would like to try competiting or test taking while living here and practicing among this group. Depending on where I live in the future there is always the chance I could continue practicing, after all. The only problem would be trying to take armor home with me… hmm. Not to mention those are a little pricey… I suppose my teachers and I will just have to keep an eye out for used gear or something I could rent. Hmm, come to think of it, I would be placed at the adult level among teachers–winning probably wouldn’t be in the cards, but I hope I’d at least put up a good fight! There’s always the option of competiting just with engi, too.

That said, kimono competitions already keep me plenty busy, and I’m really happy just to see myself progressing with the naginata. Whether I compete with it or not, I’m not particularly as focused on that as I am on channeling some of the samurai spirit left over here in this city.

Please enjoy this daily series of comics about my tea ceremony adventures while I’m on vacation! This is the last one, I’ll be back in a couple days with replies and other content.

See some of those blurry naginata photos here!