Extraordinary treasures of samurai art from the 8th to 19th centuries are on display at the new Samurai Museum, which houses the largest collection of samurai artifacts outside Japan. Inspired by his passion for martial arts and Japanese culture, Peter Janssen acquired his first katana over thirty years ago and has been collecting samurai artefacts ever since. Today, his extensive collection comprises more than 4000 objects.
They date from the late Kofun to the early Meiji period (6th-19th century) and offer fascinating insights into the development of Japanese culture and craftsmanship. The collection is unique in its size and scope. It consists not only of weapons and armour, but also objects of samurai culture, such as textiles, paintings, woodcut prints, tea utensils and Buddhist sculptures.
Highlights of the collection include an 18th-century palanquin, 17th-century armour of the Matsuidara clan and tea utensils from the time of Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591).
Peter Janssen opened the Samurai Art Museum at Villa Clay in 2017, driven by a desire to share his passion and fascination for these extraordinary examples of traditional Japanese craftsmanship. Only a few years later, the constant growth of the collection required a new location. This was found in Auguststraße in Berlin Mitte. The new museum should unfold as a journey of discovery. Therefore, Peter Janssen decided to use the latest technological developments in the field of museum presentation and the display of exhibits to enable visitors to immerse themselves in the world of the samurai.
But who were these samurai really? And what were their lives like? Until now, there have been very few collections of samurai art open to the public. With its unique Janssen Collection, the Samurai Museum Berlin gives visitors an insight into the cultural life of Japan in a past age and makes these impressive works of Japanese art available to a wider audience. In particular, the museum aims to show visitors that there is more to objects such as armour, masks, helmets and swords than just their function. Far more importantly, they are unique, timeless works of art, made with the utmost precision.
Medieval Japan was shaped by terrible power struggles and blood-soaked family feuds. In this period, a warrior- and arms-based culture unlike any other in the world developed in Japan. Initially, the samurai were simply soldiers employed to serve the emperor and noble clans. Then, through the increase in status of certain clans and the establishment of a military aristocracy, the samurai rose to become a ruling class. They held the highest rank in the military society in which they lived and were an influential force in politics, art and culture.
At the heart of samurai art and culture is their way of life, called Bushido. Bushido translates as ‘the way of the warrior’ and, in premodern Japan, was the source from which the samurai’s code of honour, moral principles and virtues stemmed. Much of Bushido philosophy is taken from the teachings of Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism. These virtues were first identified all the way back in the Heian period (794-1185), but continued to develop, becoming properly established during the Edo period (1615-1868). From then on they served as the social and moral code of the Japanese people.
Each bushi (warrior) thought and acted according to the ‘seven virtues’ of rectitude, courage, benevolence, courtesy, honesty, honour and loyalty. These virtues also influenced the combat skills, such as sword fighting, archery and handling a spear, that were essential to the samurai, as well as entirely peaceful activities such as the tea ceremony (chado) and calligraphy (shodo). These virtues live on today in modern Japan.
The Samurai Museum Berlin aims to offer insight into this cultural life that is such a fascinating part of Japanese history. In addition to this, the museum acts as a location for encountering and interacting with other cultures.