Sunday 19 January 2020

Samurai Camp: Japanese women vent their fury in the fight on flab

'Katana Exercise' student Ayako Tomomitsu practices during a fitness lesson at a studio in Tokyo. Photo: Getty Images
'Katana Exercise' student Ayako Tomomitsu practices during a fitness lesson at a studio in Tokyo. Photo: Getty Images

Leo Lewis in Tokyo

Aerobics is for wimps, marathons are for the uncommitted and kickboxing is yesterday's game. If you really want to lose your flab, no exercise can compete with an hour of vigorous feudal massacre.

Welcome to Samurai Camp, a fitness regime that fuses ritualised 16th-Century swordsmanship, an imaginary bloodbath and throbbing techno music and which has captivated the 21st-Century Japanese woman.

The traditional 'katana' swords may be plastic and the slaughter imaginary, but the sweat and fury of battle is real and exhausting. There is a sense that every grimaced slash is meant for someone -- a boyfriend, perhaps, or an intolerable boss. The drum-and-bass score intensifies the rage.

Ayako, a student, has a part-time job in a cafe facing the incessant demands of customers. Yukiko, a housewife, describes her tedious battle with intransigent neighbours.

Both however denied -- while undertaking 40 consecutive disembowelment strikes -- that they had any particular person in mind.

Devised late last year, the growing popularity of Samurai Camp has already outpaced the expectations of Takafuji Ukon, the young choreographer who founded the sport. The nightly classes have reached their maximum capacity and new instructors are being hastily trained to export the craze to other cities.


One of the stranger aspects of the class is that its devotees are entirely women. "When the class started, it was all men coming to symbolically cut the fat from around their middles," said Mr Takafuji, "but they weren't like real samurai, and quit. The women stick to it."

The sessions follow Mr Takafuji's original, punishing take on 'kenbu' -- a macabre sword dance that he said was historically performed by samurai around the remains of their recently cleaved opponents.

For some classmates, who are mostly in their early thirties, the attraction is the intensity of the workout. The exercise regime offers to lop 5kg (11lb) from a generous samurai gut after a mere month of classes.

For others, the class is another facet of a wider craze for all things 16th Century that has chiefly affected Japanese women.

"I think that, when they are in their 20s, Japanese turn outwards," said Mr Takafuji. "They want to travel, and they are fascinated by the outside world. But in their 30s they turn inwards again and think about Japan and its traditions." (©The Times, London)

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