So I just read this post by -C of Hack & Slash on John Carter and fantasy locations being fantastic and just not worrying about it.
And it seemed familiar to me. Lo and behold, I'd blogged about just that nearly 4 years ago.
And I'm still erring on the side of pseudo-historical when I world build. I think that may be one of the things slowing me down on the world building section of Chanbara. There are hints of odd, magical realms and locations, but they aren't the focus. Or rather, I have been focusing on trying to file the numbers off of historical Japan, mixing events and political situations from the Genpei War, Onin War, Kenmu Restoration, Warring States period, and the Azuchi/Momoyama unification wars, along with some Edo-jidai style wandering ronin/ninja fiction.
And even if you have no idea what all those periods of Japanese history entail, I'm sure you can imagine how much of a pain it is.
Time to let my imagination loose, read some Japanese ghost stories, and work up some Island of Oni/Tengu-yama/Dragon King's Palace style weird locations and focus the setting on those. Small scale weird locations, like Sadako's well or a haunted latrine work, too. Not to mention fantastic landscape features - there aren't enough of them (yet). That's where the cool adventuring will be. If some DM wants to focus on the wars between the daimyo or political machinations in the capital, let them do their own research.
Chanbara needs to be focused on the weird/mystical.