Today I had decided that I would finally go to Toei Studios, a place that contained a small town of period Japanese streets and buildings, as well as filming for many Japanese samurai films and dramas, and also contained many ninja themed attractions like a ‘training area’, shuriken throwing and a ninja house full of hidden passages!
I was really looking forward to it as I needed a break from shrines and temples, don’t get me wrong, their great, but you need a break in between!
Arriving at Toei Studios
I ended up leaving a bit later than I wanted to, but still ending up arriving at around 10am which wasn’t all that bad. There were two JR line stations I could have got off at, both being about a 5-10 minute walk away, I jumped of at Hanatouro and enjoyed the walk in the morning sun.
Arriving at Toei I paid 2100 yen to enter the area, this seemed high compared to temple entry fees of 500 yen, but I assure you this is well worth the money!!! Entering the lobby there was a large collection of anime characters to my left, I have no idea what series they were from.
The actual lobby area was very modern and more like a new hotel or shopping mall, I headed into the left section first which contained a large range of shops, wandering around I tried some various Japanese sweets before making my way into the costume hire shop. I had decided early on that while I was here I was going to wear some form of period outfit!
Entering the shop I found some brochures on the counter of the available outfits you could hire, there were loads available and you could be anything from a simple townsperson to a ninja or shogun. Various geisha and kimonos were also available. I scrolled through the book and the second I saw I could become one of the Shinsengumi I knew what I wanted!
I asked in Japanese if the lady at the counter spoke Japanese, she replied that she spoke a little, so between her speaking a little English and me speaking a little Japanese we managed to get things arranged. When the lady asked which outfit I wanted she was surprised when I replied Shinsengumi! I think that most foreigners they get maybe haven’t heard of them.
I ended up paying 4500 yen for the outfit and 3000 yen for a photoshoot where I got a professional print. I hadn’t actually meant to order the photo part but accidently replied hai (yes), and by that time it seemed to complicated and impolite to change things.
After paying I was directed to some changing rooms where a lady told me to remove my t-shirt, jeans and socks, after doing so she then brought the various layers of Shinsengumi attire and proceeded to dress me. It was a bit strange at first being dressed by someone else, but I’m actually glad for it as due to the various layers and how things were tied it seemed like it would have been difficult to do myself, I probably wouldn’t have even known the process for the layers and ties!
Once I was fully dressed I was feeling pretty cool, seeing myself in the mirror fully kitted out as a Shinsengumi was awesome! Things got even better as after I exited the changing room the lady brought over a katana and wakizashi and equipped them on me! I was now fully kitted out!
I was then gestured through to the photoshoot area where I had a photo taken against a background, here I was also kitted out with the final piece of the outfit, the shoes, which I think might be called Geta? They are a wooden sandle with two large wooden ‘teeth’ at the base. The photo guy put me in a pose and took a few images on the main camera and my phone also. I was then free to go out and roam wherever I wanted!
Into the Meji era!
Heading out of the store I walked through the main building toward the Meji town area, walking took a bit of getting used to as the Geta teeth where at the rear of the shoe it meant not putting your toes forward at any time (otherwise you would end up tipping forward). It didn’t take long to get used to them though, and soon I was outside and in the Meji era!
The town was brilliant!! As things were often used for filming everything was authentic and true to the era, there were old streets with loose dusty floors, and plently of old buildings from bars to houses (all of which you could enter!). Various banners were around, there were small streams, a large wooden bridge and even the Shinsengumi HQ!
Walking around a section of feudal Japan as a Shinsengumi has to be the best thing I’ve ever done! The experience was incredible! Also having timed it in the morning there were very few other people around, which meant I could walk around a very quiet (almost abandoned town!), a great time for photo taking and exploring!
Within a few minutes of walking around a person in full samurai outfitting passed me by, giving a respectful nod of the head as he went past, I returned the gesture also. It was really surreal having a samurai nod their head in respect to me! It made me feel like I had time travelled and was in not just a different country, but a different time. The immersion was great!
I honestly cannot express just how cool, epic and amazing the start of this day was!
The day was not overly sunny, but not cold either, and walking around all the old streets and buildings in the morning warmth with a slight breeze, while being fully dressed as a Shinsengumi was defiantly my favorite moment in Japan so far!!! (And this is after Nara!)
After I went to Nara a week ago I couldn’t imagine any experience that would top it, but this managed to! I was living the dream! Somehow Japan keeps finding ways to top the last experience!
After about 20 minutes of walking around more people started to appear, a few of the women and girls had opted to dress in kimonos, but most of the male visitors were just wearing normal street clothes. However having people in street clothes didn’t really lower the immersion as I was already well invested into my role and enjoying the smaller narrow side streets of the Meji ear!
With not many other people wearing period clothing I actually became somewhat of an attraction myself! A lot of the Japanese tourists were complementing me on looking cool, and many wanted to take pictures with me, a request I was happy to oblige. I think a fair few were impressed that I was actually willing to get so involved in the experience of things where as others weren’t.
After stopping for a lot of posing and photos with the locals I ended up moving on to explore the rest of the area, there were a few shops around, an old mill and a few other buildings, I ended up exploring the insides of all buildings, when I entered the bar it triggered some really awesome music. I was on a real high at this stage!
After more wandering around and picture taking (more selfies than I’ve done in my life!), I headed for the next area, on the way being complimented by more people saying ‘cool’.
One of the only downsides to travelling alone is that it’s hard to any photos of yourself other than selifes, and the downside is the front camera on my phone is not as high res as the rear one. So in the end I stopped a few people to ask if they would take a photo of me, all of them kindly did so.
After more strolling around I stumbled across a theatre where some performances were being put on by some actors. The one I saw was a actor playing a street performer from the Meji era. His act was in Japanese, I couldn’t understand it all, but from what I could understand it was about a healing cream that could stop a katana cutting flesh and had healing properties.
The act was that he first used the katana to show it’s sharpness by cutting various layers of material, then he reveal the white cream and smeared it across the blade. He then proceeded to slice across his arm to reveal no cut or blood, after which he then wiped the blade clean and tried again, this time he drew blood from his arm. Once he had done so he then applied the cream which smeared the blood but then wiped away to reveal an uncut arm. The actor was great as he did this all in a very funny way with real showmanship, it could really picture the act being done in the traditional streets.
The background from the story I could understand is that the cream was made form a frog that had been blessed by the gods. Now as much as I would love that to be true, I imagine the reality is that there are some form of reacting agents which created the blood (or some scientific thing), but in all honesty I don’t care how it was done, I was just happy to enjoy the great show he put on!
Retiring my Shinsengumi outfit
Eventually the time came where I needed to head back and retire from the Shinsengumi, this was mainly due to the fact that in the ninja training dojo this outfit would not have offered enough mobility (also i don’t think they allowed it). This was indeed a sad time for me, as I had fully enjoyed being a blue wolf of Mibu, and felt like I’d found my calling!
One note I would also just like to make is that the material and the outfit was really great quality! If you go here then be assured you are getting quality clothing and not a cheap costume like you’d buy for a party. It is well worth every penny (or rather yen!) for the feel of the material and the chance to take on the role of someone from feudal Japan. If there had been an option to buy the outfit then I most certainly would have done!! I may have had to return the outfit, but I will remain a Shinsengumi in spirit!
So for now it was so long to the outfit I had become so attached to 😦
The ninja area!
So as I now technically had my battle class reset I was free to head to the ninja area of the park and decided that it was time to become a ninja! The whole area was an amazing sight as all the staff were fully kitted out as ninjas, even carrying various weapons. One female ninja in particular was demonstrating incredible skills with a staff.
Just a quick note with pictures, I couldn’t really take many photos here as all the sections I went in didn’t allow it (which makes sense for ninja secrecy really), so I’ll just drop a few random pics from the area in.
First up on the list was shuriken throwing! For a mere 500 yen I was granted 8 metal shuriken to throw at a target about 4-5 meteres away. 3 practice shots and 5 to score points, a ninja was there to provide proper tutorial on how to correctly throw them as well. I felt I had a slight edge as when my cousin studied ninjutsu he taught me the correct technique and gave me tips.
I landed 3 out of 5 on the target, which was enough to win me a couple of small souvenir prizes. To seemingly prove a point the ninja then threw his 5 and landed 4/5 near the middle of the target. He though was having a good laugh and it wasn’t to serious but more all in good fun.
The ninja house
I had heard about the ninja house and it was a must see, I asked the ninja at the door in Japanese if she spoke English. She informed me that she spoke a little but the staff inside would give information and instructions in only Japanese, I decided I’d try and work it out anyway, so 500 yen lighter I went in.
The idea of this house was great, it was to show all the tricks and hidden access ways that ninjas would use inside houses and how they would build their own with various secret passages they could use to escape or attack people from.
The tour began with a ninja taking me and a few others through a few starting rooms, each room contained another ninja that that would explain and show one of the secret passage ways in the room. What was really cool is again this was all done in a really fun way, most of the ninjas were female and had really bubbly and cheerful personalities in the way they spoke and showed the secret passages. Often one would disappear through a hidden panel to the floor above, while instantly another would appear through a wall and carry on the talk!
After the 3 rooms like this we were held in a room to wait while each party was sent off through a door, through the door lie a maze of rooms and the idea was to figure out the way through each room by finding the hidden doors or passages. Most people were in groups with friends or family in 3-4 people, I of course was on my own. Unfazed when I entered the maze I made quick process of the frist few sections, by the end I’d caught up and overtaken the group that had been sent through ahead of me! In each room a friendly ninja congratulated me when I found the way through.
In the interests of protecting the secrets and keeping it a surprise for should anyone reading this go there, I won’t disclose the types of secret doors and access points that are used. What I will say is that it really was a great thing to do, even if you can’t speak fluent Japanese to understand every word that is spoken in the early explanations.
The ninja dojo
The idea here is that it is a large building which contains a series of ninja skill based challenges on the route through, more of a ninja obstacle course if you like. Obviously it is not any real form of ninja training in which you can emerge as a expert ninja after completing it 10 minutes later! To be fair it’s probably aimed more at children, but being a big kid I was really keen to give it a go!
Again I won’t list everything exactly how it was in there, just incase any readers go in the future, it will end up being more fun when you don’t know what to expect. Essentially though it was made of balance, climbing, agility and flexibility based tasks. One of the sections I will mention was a series of ropes tied with bells, the traditional get through with no noise challenge. I triped the first rope by accident, but other than that had a perfect run, even finishing with a roll under the last rope which actually impressed the two ninja staff watching! I got a lot of congratulations and applause from them!
After wandering around the ninja area a little more I found myself wandering back through the Meji section, this was great timing as a stage fight was about to be put on by some of the staff. A fight was going to take place in the streets of feudal Japan, something I’ve always wanted to see!!!
I was very close to the action with no one in front of me, the show started with an actor running in as a samurai, he was saying he was looking for a Shinsengumi! He was then joined by another who seemed to be also searching, shortly after they then both ran off to look further.
A Shinsengumi then appeared and gave a speech to the crowds that had gathered, sadly I did not fully understand what he said, however the other two then returned and a fight was imminent!
The Shinsengumi held his own fighting both at the same time, had I still been donning my Shinsengumi outfit and katana I would have been tempted to jump in and fight by his side! However unarmed I could only cheer on from the sides.
After repelling the two back, one of the samurai went to the audience threating to kill or take a girl hostage in order to have the Shinsengumi give up. However the other samurai feeling this dishonorable then killed him and challenge the Shinsengumi to a one on one duel.
The fight continued with both warriors evenly attacking and defending at a fast pace, eventually both charged their blades toward each other in dramatic fashion, pausing at the end of the strike to give suspense who would fall! The Shinsengumi then dropped to his knees holding his arm while the other samurai stood and walked toward him laughing, however as he went to raise his katana for a final blow a pain on his side stopped him, looking down he realised he had been sliced as well.
Staggering back he started laughing madly trying to shake off the pain as the Shinsengumi rose back to his feet ready to fight again. The two then traded more attacks before the Shinsengumi finally cut the samurai down, in the seconds before falling the samurai spoke a well done to the Shinsengumi before dropping to the floor.
The Shinsengumi calmly and coolly sheathed his blade and nodded to his fallen opponent in respect.
At the end of the show all three actors reunited to a huge applause from the crowds, the change in acting was also great, as where the samurai actors had been aggressive and angry in their roles, they instantly became the most cheerful and funny people you see!
With the show over they then picked out 5 volunteers to act in blocking one attack and then returning an attack, I really wanted to do this but it was mostly very small children that were picked. The children were funny to watch as one even held the katana the wrong way around (maybe he was going for Kenshins reverse blade), but the actor who was doing the pretend act of fighting was really funny and turned almost into a childrens clown to get things done.
After finishing all three actors had time to pose for a photo, it was really great to do, I just wish that I still had my Shinsengumi attire as I stood with my brother from the blue wolves.
Few last surprises
After I had taken my photo and given my praises to all three actors I decided it was now time to make my way out, heading through the main building I noticed there was an upstairs.
Heading up I discovered a wall which seemed to have large statues of various incarnations of power rangers! Or possibly variants of Ultraman, the two kind of blend together.
Further on there was a wall which then seemed to detail the whole history of Ultraman.
This led me through to a tour of large figures which comprised of mostly Power Rangers and Ultraman, and various monsters that they fought. It could have been just Ultraman, but I’m sure the red ranger was featured a lot!
It was a strange exhibit, in some ways I wish I hadn’t seen it as it kind of brought me back out of the Meji era I had been living it for the day, but then something had to, and the impact of seeing all of these figures did it in the strangest way possible!
Achievement Unlocked – Fire Coffee! 50G
This might be a strange thing to end on, but it completed the day nicely. Those following my Instagram my have seen me post a fairly large amount of pictures of cans of coffee that I buy from vending machines. One range in particular has taken my liking and that is the Fire coffee range, I have been on a mission to try one of all the ones available from this range, and on the way out the vending machine had the last one I needed!
So barring any limited editions, I have now hit the whole range (certainly all the ones I’ve now seen to date)! A great way to end the day!