On March 7, five volunteers from the Rotaract Club
at HPU were poised to participate in the Honolulu Festival. Our
role was to be samurai in a Japanese traditional ceremony called
Iimori Toryu Busha Sai. Wearing full armor, we paused in front
of the Shinto Shrine altar while twelve Samurai archers shot
arrows toward targets made of wood to gain good luck for the
Asked to join in this event, I was not sure if I wanted to
go. I wondered what participating in this event would bring
culturally? After all, I am Japanese. To my surprise, it was
one of the most exciting and significant events in my life.
At 8:30 in the morning, we gathered at the convention center.
The only thing we knew when we got there was that we were going
to be a part of something to do with Japanese traditional archery.
Being led into the back room, I grasped for air. The big conference
room was filled with suits of Samurai armors, each with its
own swords and flags. I had never seen such authentic armor
I asked myself, “Will we really get to wear those?” As
I watched, each volunteer was assigned a set of armor. Looking
closely, I noticed that each set was unique, with different patterns,
shapes, and colors. On labels on the wooden cases placed next
to each set of armor were different names: “Ashigaru” (light
feet), “Dogyo” (child shape), “Hatamochi Busha” (flag
holders), etc. I was assigned “Fukusho,” sub-general.
I was lucky.
Those who finish wearing armor can have lunch!” said the
translator in a loud voice. Ladies of my mom’s age came
up to me, told me to take off my cloths, and put on a kimono,
and then the armor. By the time all the volunteers were armed
(which took about an hour per person), sweat rolled off both
the volunteers’ faces and the people from the Busha Sai.
It was no wonder, as one set of armor is made up of nine different
parts and the total weighs about 66 pounds. Each part comes with
strings (not buttons or hooks) that have to be tied in a certain
way to make knots so that the armor won’t get loose during
battle. I was amazed at the speed and precision with which
each knot was tied.
The ceremony was carried out on the roof of the convention
center. With much solemnity, the priest purified the site,
and we bowed
toward the shrine altar. Then the 12 Bushas (archers) shot
arrows towards the targets set 20 meters (65.6 feet) away.
The Busha Sai’s origin dates back to the Kamakura period,
which is approximately 1,200 years ago. Some feudal lord in Fukuoka
held this ceremony, wishing for a battle’s success, before
taking off to war. Later, it was sanctified and formalized
as it is today. The 20 meters was the distance the archers
reach, the actual distance the samurais had between themselves
and their enemies. If they missed the first shot, the next
moment would see their enemies in front of them, swords raised
While my feet struggled to hold the weight of the armor in
the heat, my mind traveled back 1,200 years. I imagined how
hope the samurais placed in their armor, with the battle
starting, sword-wielding enemies 20 feet away. This armor
was the only
protection that they had against arrows and swords. How many
men had to give up their lives to their sorrow? And how many
women shed tears for losing their loved ones?
Our long day ended with the Grand Parade down Kalakaua Avenue.
Finished marching, we collapsed on the grass of Kapiolani
park. We had no more energy. And my shoulders were numb from
weight of the chest piece.
Mr. Suzuki, who played the chief Busha’s role in the ceremony,
said he had been doing this ceremony for 17 years. I was impressed
at their commitment in bringing this cultural tradition to Hawai‘i
and showcasing it to the islands’ people. Just participating
in the Honolulu festival is a big commitment. Who will clean
the sweaty costumes that 80 people wore today? Since they are
made from silk, one cannot just throw them into the washing
machine. Who will pack and unpack all the armor and swords?
Each of them
is very precious, and they cannot just be thrown into one box,
but have to be packed carefully in their individual cases.
What motivates these people to do all of this?
The next day at Kapiolani Community College, I found the
answer. I attended a lecture on the samurai spirit given
by Mr. Matsushima,
one of the members of Busha Sai. He talked about the basic
principles of “Bushido,” (military-knight-ways.) Among them
was “Giri,” (rectitude) and “Meiyo” (honor).
It is this “Giri” for the community and their ancestors,
and this “Meiyo” as a Busha that motivate them
as enacting these qualities, they bring them to life.
The people who performed in the Busha Sai are all from the
same area. When someone runs out of rice, a neighbor will
provide it. Perhaps vegetables will be offered in return.
of caring, “Jin,” is what the society is built upon,
and it is why this event is possible. Without this voluntary
support from the people in the community, the ceremony of Busha
Sai would never have survived as long as it has, and would certainly
never have been brought to Hawai‘i.
My experience was not just about wearing the samurai armor.
It was the weight of the armor, as well as the pride of the
that showed me how our ancestors lived and their immense
respect for others as for themselves. Isn’t this something that
we have almost forgotten in today’s society? Rectitude,
courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, loyalty, and a
sense of honor? The people from the Busha Sai are certainly
the spirit of samurai along with their traditional ceremony
Living in Hawai‘i may be comfortable, and you may even
feel at home. Yet, you cannot feel at home fully until you
know where you come from, your roots. I had never felt as strongly
as I did that day that I am Japanese. Wherever I am, whatever
I do, it will be a never-changing fact that I am built on the
millions of hearts and souls of my ancestors. I found my origin.
I found my belonging.