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Tale of a Modern Samurai

Chris Glenn
A room in Glenn's office is a virtual museum of Japanese antiquity.

Text and photos by Everett Kennedy Brown

Castles and samurai have a special place in the life of Nagoya disc jockey Chris Glenn. The 33-year-old Australian native exhibits a passion for things Japanese that goes beyond the ordinary. Glenn's private office, located just a short walk from the studios of ZIP-FM Nagoya, offers the visitor a remarkable glimpse into Japanese antiquity.

Here amidst a collection of many thousands of CDs covering the gamut of rock and pops genres, one can also find an assemblage of samurai armor, warrior banners, sculptures, and a replica of a Japanese castle. Glenn is quick to point out the set of samurai armor standing at attention in a back room. It is over 400 years old, he explains. But what is more impressive is a set of green-laced armor by the wall that Glenn himself assembled with his own hands, a task that took a full year of dedicated effort.

Glenn's interest in things Japanese came to life in 1985, while a high school student living in Sapporo for one year as a Rotary Club exchange student. The high school that he attended had a strong kendo team, the Japanese bamboo-sword sport, which attracted the young Australian. During his year in Japan he became accomplished in the sport and developed a consuming interest in Japanese martial history.

After returning to his hometown of Adelaide, where he finished his education and began working as a radio disc jockey and television announcer, his interest in Japan did not diminish. His dream was to someday return. Following the meeting of his future wife, a young Japanese exchange teacher living near Adelaide, Glenn's connection with Japan became even deeper.

In 1992 Glenn and his wife moved to Tokyo where he found work as a DJ and copywriter, but several months later he heard that a new radio station, ZIP-FM in Nagoya, was looking for a DJ. For Glenn, this was more than just an opportunity. It seemed like destiny. While in Sapporo seven years earlier he had been shown photos of Nagoya taken by a close friend of his host father. The images were of a samurai parade in front of Nagoya Castle. "Looking at those photos I thought Nagoya was a place where Japanese history is alive. It seemed like a great place to live," Glenn explains.

Nagoya has been Glenn's home for eight years now, and when asked what he thinks of the city he points out, "There's no better place than Nagoya for me to live. Not only was Aichi a big battlefield in the Warring States period (1467–1568), the people here are more friendly and open than in other big cities. I feel this in the faxes and e-mails that we get at the radio station and when walking down the street. Strangers will greet me, saying, 'Hi, Chris! How are you doing?' It's the people who really make me feel at home here."

In Japan there are only a handful of artisans who continue to make samurai armor in the traditional way, and one is in Nagoya. Through an introduction, Glenn met the local craftsman and was surprised when he asked Glenn if he would like to make his own set of armor. "This had actually been a dream of mine. I already owned an antique set, but I was not satisfied. I wanted to experience the process of making armor with my own hands." Over a period of one year, the artisan helped Glenn plan the design, choosing the colors and materials. Using a 400-year-old set of armor as a model, they then set about constructing armor that was just the right size for Glenn to wear himself. "The hands-on experience took my appreciation one step further. The whole process became the focus of my life, and through that experience I gained a much greater understanding of samurai and their warfare."

Glenn's interests are not limited to samurai and castles. His occupations are indeed eclectic. As a child it was his wish to become a helicopter pilot someday, a dream that he fulfilled by earning his pilot's license while living in Japan. His passion for flying is found on one wall of his office where a vast collection of helicopter memorabilia are exhibited on a floor-to-ceiling shelf. Objects include a sundry of helicopter models, various gauges, and his helmets. Adjacent to the shelf are a stack of canvases— skillful paintings that Glenn has created over the past few years and that he exhibits regularly at local galleries. Before leaving Glenn's office, the visitor may have the opportunity to see the various books authored by him. There is a series of children's books and witty joke books that he has written in Japanese. There is also the unfinished English manuscript detailing the history of the great battle of Sekigahara, an event that Glenn has a particular fascination for. When asked about the remarkable diversity of his interests, the Nagoya disc jockey bashfully comments: "I simply want to live an interesting life." And that, this Nagoya resident certainly does.