I LIVE IN JAPAN / Matt Okuhara / Interpreter for the Matsumoto Castle Gun Corps

March 2024 (VOL.197)

Matt Okuhara

  • Home country/state/city: United Kingdom Cotswolds
  • Occupation: Gunner/Interpreter for the Matsumoto Castle Gun Corps
  • Duration of living in Japan:7 years
  • Why do you live in Japan?: Japanese Spouse
  • Instagram:@Gun.Samurai

Were you hesitant to relocate to Japan?

I saw it as a good opportunity to start a new chapter in my life. I knew that it would be challenging at times and that a lot of the activities that I took part in, in the UK would come to an end. But I also knew that I would be able to develop new interests and pursuits – which in and of itself is an exciting prospect.

What do you do in Japan?

Currently, I work with the Matsumoto Castle Gun Corps, a samurai display team that specializes in feudal-era matchlock guns. Matsumoto Castle has an impressive collection of samurai-era guns (often called tanegashima or hinawaju). I help with research, lectures, and keeping the guns in working order. I also take part in public displays along with the rest of the team around Japan. I provide commentary for the many English-speaking guests who come to see us and also take part in the shooting. When I have time I try to run the English language social media and website for the team as well (GunSamurai.com).

I first got into shooting after seeing a display at Mastumoto Castle when I visited as a tourist around twelve years ago.  By chance I noticed an advert in the local newspaper after I had moved to Japan, recruiting new team members.  As I had previously served in the military, I was able to use that knowledge and experience to pass the interview and selection process.  I have been taking part in activities with the team for six years.

Which places in Japan do you recommend that foreigners see?

Nagano Prefecture is definitely worth seeing and easy to get to from some of the major cities such as Tokyo and Nagoya. Aside from Matsumoto Castle, there is a lot to do, especially if you like to be outside. In Nagano, you can ride horses in the summer and ski in the winter. You can climb mountains in the spring and enjoy the changing colors of the autumn. Kamikochi is on the doorstep of the city along with famous resort towns such as Hakuba, Karuizawa, and Naraijuku.

What do you find different about living in Japan over the term compared to when you first arrived or came as a tourist?

When I first arrived in Japan my language skill was very low and my cultural ability was non-existent. Even though I had studied Japanese for several years before moving, I found that the class room or tourist situations are completely different to ‘everyday’ Japanese. It took a while but I think that I got the hang of it! Having said that – I still learn something new every day.

What do you appreciate most about Japanese culture?

I am very interested in Japanese history as well as martial arts. Currently, I practice Karate, iiado, and hojutsu (Japanese gunnery). I also ride horses and spend a lot of time training outside. Being in Nagano Prefecture, there is a lot of space and opportunity to practice these arts without the need to travel too far. It also means that I have to use Japanese in lots of different situations with lots of different people; a great way to develop communication ability (I still struggle with kanji though!)

At Matsumoto Castle, I have to opportunity to not only handle some of the priceless artefacts of the feudal era, but I also get the opportunity to talk about them; use them in demonstrations, and answer questions from visitors who are keen to learn more about history. The castle itself is a national treasure and I feel very lucky to be a part of the team that brings history to life.

Are there any aspects of the Japanese culture or its people that you find bizarre or unique?

There are so many unique and bizarre festivals in Japan – even locally in Matsumoto we have a fire festival where participants drag burning rice chaff up a hill. In neighboring Suwa, the world-famous onbashira festival takes place every six years and it involves groups of men riding a huge wooden pillar down a hill, and then dragging it through town to the shrine!

Writer: Minobu Kondo
Photojournalist in Tokyo, writing for Japanese and American magazines. Publishing an essay “101 of green stories” with the other Japanese artists such as Kosetsu Minami. Languages: Japanese, English and French.

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