December 2006


Kamakura is a city located about 50km south-west of Tokyo and was the capital of the feudal military dictatorship of the Minamoto shogunate from 1185 to 1333. Today it is a popular tourist destination famous for its Buddha statues, temples, shrines and beaches. The most famous of the Buddha statues is the gigantic outdoor bronze statue of Amida Buddha.

But there is more to Kamakura: It is also home of one of Japan’s famous family samurai swordsmith, Masamune. The 24th generation of the family Masamune, Tsunahiro Yamamura may be the last in the line of Masamune swordsmiths as his son, who is studying lyric opera in Italy, is not interested in continuing the family tradition.

photo: Tsunahiro Yamamura forging a samurai sword at his workshop in Kamakura


Short history: The sword is considered to be the spirit of the Samurai. The master forger is usually under the patronage of the Lords during the Medieval period. When the Shogun Yoritomo Minamoto founded the government in Kamakura in 1192, sword forgers smithers from all over Japan went there to forge swords for the samurais.

During this time, the swords formed were not easy to use and were at risk of breaking. A young forger smither named Goro Masamune of Sagami (1264-1343) who came to Kamakura, perfected a combination of two types of steel which made the sword both supple and hard, making it a far more superior sword. Swords forged by Masamune were admired and he became known as Master forger.

The tradition of forgery smithing is handed down in the family, from father to son. Tsunahiro Yamamura is the 24th generation, descended from the first Masamune.

Wikipedia: Masamune


Window display of Masamune samurai swords in Tsunahiro Yamamura’s workshop.


Autumn leaves along a side road by the Yokosuka train railway line in Kita-Kamakura.


Wafer cookies, a gift from the Hachimangu Shrine.


From the Hachimangu shrine on the way to a house where a biwa recital was held, we passed through the garden of a museum.


An apprentice of the Hachimangu shrine in the garden of a house where the biwa recital was held.


The biwa is a Japanese traditional musical instrument. In Kamakura, we attended a recital of the haunting story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi by Ms Ban Reisui.


The Hachimangu is Kamakura’s most significant Shinto shrine. We happened to be there when a traditional wedding was taking place.