• Shona McCarthy

The Ryozen Museum of History: Spending Time With Ryoma Sakamoto

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Since I was already in Ryozen, visiting Ryoma Sakamoto's grave and a restaurant where he often ate, I decided to make the most of the time and visit a nearby museum containing the sword with which Sakamoto was assassinated.

The first warning I'll give about this museum is that everything is in Japanese. The second warning I'll give is that photos aren't allowed in most of the museum, with one exception I'll explain later. But supposing you are a consummate Instagrammer with horrible memory like me, or if you don't know Japanese and it bothers you, you mightn't have a fantastic time here. However, this may have changed since my visit, since the museum's official website seems to be in English. And even if it hasn't changed yet, you can use the website as a guide for what is around you. I only wish I could have read this information before going. I would have rightly appreciated what I was seeing.

But if you love samurai and you want to experience true samurai history, this is a great place for you to visit. As I mention above, the sword that killed Ryoma Sakamoto is right in the lobby in a display case. When I saw it, I was surprised it wasn't larger, in fact. But it turns out that samurai had many styles of weapon at their disposal, and the "katana" or long curved sword we're used to seeing in movies is only one.

(A picture of the sword believe to have killed Ryoma Sakamoto. Borrowed from, 21/8/2020)

The Museum itself is very beautiful to look at, and perfectly visible from the graveyard where Ryoma Sakamoto and many of his contemporaries are buried. In face, you'll likely pass it on your way to the graveyard if you arrive via public transport the way I did.

(Borrowed from, 21/8/20.) The photo above is a common view taken of the museum, because this is how it looks as you are coming down from the mountain. I love the way it really looks like an old Samurai yashiki or old Japanese house. But on the inside, it is very modernist, like most museums.

(Borrowed from, 21/8/20.) I was able to use the Google Translate app to view some of the information on the placards. But even then I feel like knowing more about samurai before you go would make the experience much more thrilling. One of the things that stood out to me was the life-size wax model they had of Ryoma Sakamoto in one of the display cases. I was surprised to see how tall and stocky he was, even accounting for the raised platform.

Other fascinating things I saw were displays of real, historic weapons. The cases had a hole in them so that you could reach your hand inside and feel the weight on the item.

There were also miniatures of samurai towns and samurai movie sets with electric lights you could turn on and off. Within, some of the tiny figures were posed to depict scenes of killings. The one area I was able to take photos was in a little room dedicated to Shinzengumi, a special kind of historic warrior that played an important role in Japanese history. They had items one could dress in for photos. I can imagine it would be a good activity for couples and friends. If you'd like to see the latest entry fees and hours, I recommend looking at their website's own information page.

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