In an age of passive computer games, one group is on a quest to put the fight back into roleplaying. Mejiro’s Castle Tintagel is a European medieval martial arts training center that allows valiant warriors to enact the fantasies in their heads in the real world.
“This is an otaku ‘recreation’ center,” says Jay Noyes, who founded Tintagel in March 2008. “We are active otaku, nerds of adventure. Our goal is to revive lost medieval arts and create a communal space where people can learn and make friends.”
Having begun life as a school for living history classes, the Castle has since become the haunt of Avalon, a historical recreation group that started in Japan in 2001 as a sister organization of the venerable Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) in the US. Avalon now has branches in Osaka and Niigata, with Gifu and Hokkaido groups also in the pipeline. Still, they have a long way to go before they catch up with the SCA, which boasts a 40-year history and tens of thousands of members—enough to conduct annual “wars” in the Pennsylvania countryside.
“My goal is to have that kind of activity in Japan,” confesses Noyes, a Missouri native who came to Japan 16 years ago on the JET program. He opened Castle Tintagel to that end, hoping to teach lost medieval skills and authentic knightly arts—and to help Avalon grow beyond the limitations of its previous fair-weather-only, restricted-access jaunts at American military bases and Tokyo parks.
The center doesn’t focus too much on attracting dedicated martial artists, who often prefer better-known “traditional” disciplines, but rather on artists, manga-ka, computer programmers and engineers. More than half of the students in the 15th-century long sword classes work in creative fields. This ratio holds true in Avalon as well: when the group got special permission in 2005 to bring weapon simulators and conduct a demonstration at Comike, the biannual market for amateur comic books, there were conventioneers lining up from 4am just to get a gander.
“They are as much interested in the style as the skills,” Noyes says. “This is a very geek-friendly environment.” As testament to this, one Japanese student explains his hobby by simply declaring, “I ‘like Star Wars.’” He apparently came to one practice dressed as Darth Vader.
Events at the Castle attract anything from a handful to as many as 70 people, with participants ranging in age from 20 to 65 years old. And before you ask, it isn’t just guys, either: the ladies are also strapping on their armor and kicking royal rump. One Avalon fighter who attends the center’s practice sessions and is known for her ferocious game took second place at an SCA competition in the United States.
This ain’t child’s play, but every effort is taken to make classes as safe as possible. The weapon simulators employed in long sword and sword and buckler lessons are safe and functional, weighing in at a mere 2.5 kgs. Moreover, safety trumps authenticity when it comes to the armor, meaning that fights are actually much less hazardous than might be expected.
Noyes teaches classes in authentic 15th century two-handed sword and sword and buckler on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays for a flat rate of 2,500 yen. Avalon’s practices on Wednesdays and Sundays, meanwhile, require only a modest 1,000 yen fee, which covers the use of the space. Armor can also be borrowed at the Castle while you accumulate your own gear—which is a godsend, seeing as how each piece will set you back roughly 10,000 yen, and a decent suit will run you at least 100,000 yen.
Other classes include Renaissance court dancing and Victorian corsetry, and this month sees a new addition to the center’s lineup: Tintagel’s Academy of Chivalry, the goal of which is to provide intensive training for those wanting to fight as a fully armored knight. Students will learn to use the knightly weapons—sword and shield, long sword, poleaxe, dagger and spear—as well as study the chivalric philosophies of the knightly order. Although participants can use their own armor, Castle Tintagel will be providing a full basic kit to each as part of the class, for his or her exclusive use.
Honestly, living in the past has never felt so good.
4-13-3 Mejiro, Toshima-ku. Tel: 090-1114-7843 (English). Nearest station: Mejiro. See http://castletintagel.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).