Japan's 'Samurai' performers stage 'sword fights', clean up Tokyo's streets

Members strike a pose to the sound of wooden clappers in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
Members strike a pose to the sound of wooden clappers in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - "Who did this?!" People walking in a busy shopping district in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, turned their heads to look in the direction of the booming voice.

Casually dressed in felt hats and kimono, the members of a samurai performance group, Jidaigumi Basara, drew fire tongs from their waists as if they were unsheathing swords. They then gracefully picked up trash on a street and put it into a bamboo basket held by another member while performing a sword fight.

After watching their performance and hearing their closing line, "We punish anyone who has no morals," people passing nearby applauded, with some saying things like, "You guys are doing great."

The performance group consists of six members in their 20s and 30s. In April, they started picking up trash on streets in areas around Shibuya Station, Shibuya Public Hall and Shibuya Center-Gai street for about two hours every Sunday afternoon.


The group was started by actor Ikki Goto, who used to be a street performer in traffic-free zones in the Harajuku and Shibuya districts, both in Shibuya Ward, in the 1980s and 1990s.

The performances have become a social phenomenon these days, but traffic-free zones in the areas were abolished as residents there filed complaints about noise and trash tossed away on streets.

"The culture created by the young people was destroyed by the young," he said. Reflecting on what he did, he thought of starting to pick up trash.


The group performs the sword fight wearing kimono in a conspicuous manner as it wants to attract many people to have them pay more attention to making the town cleaner.

Some foreign tourists said their performances represent the Japanese mentality. Some people also pick up trash together with them, an act that makes the members feel their activities are valuable.

"I feel what I do is really a challenging activity that raises awareness (about social problems) more than performing at a theater," said Jidaigumi Basara member Yasuteru Matsushima. "I hope to raise the effort level of the Japanese people to keep the streets clean."