Armor of the Land of the Rising Sun: the beginning of change

Samurai: on the left in the Haramaki-do armor, on the right in the classic o-yoroi armor. Yamaguchi Bushi, 1848 (Tokyo National Museum)

To forget about the heat, I will probably draw
Even though it’s snowing on Fuji!

Armor and weapons of the samurai of Japan. To begin with, remember that all photographs that do not have a signature on the belonging of a given exhibit to a particular museum belong to the Tokyo National Museum. So we will continue our acquaintance with his collections today.

Last time we stopped at Japanese armor from the Nambokucho era (1336-1392). Which, however, did not bring peace to the country. The Kamakura shogunate made a serious mistake, allowing the local nobility to strengthen to a dangerous level. The emperor, who had long dreamed of regaining power, made a bet on the disaffected, and a great turmoil began in the country. The large daimyo landowners became practically independent of the shogunate’s authority and were able to support entire armies. There were no longer enough samurai to serve in them, and they began to en masse to recruit peasants into their troops. And the peasants just needed this. Having learned to wield weapons, they began to organize one uprising after another: in 1428, 1441, 1447, 1451, 1457 and 1461. Peasant detachments of pre-ikki even broke into the streets of Kyoto, and the government made concessions to them. And then a war began between the clans – the Onin-Bummei war (1467-1477), and it was then that it became clear that the old armor needed a number of improvements.

The Nambokucho era and what happened afterwards

The samurai did not take them off for weeks now and fought a lot, not as horsemen, but as infantrymen. And they have clearly increased their enemies! They just became the armed peasants – ashigaru (“light-footed”), albeit armed somehow, but strong in their numbers. Many of them fought half-naked, but used large swords – no-dachi, with which they struck terrible blows.

The genesis of samurai armor in the XIII-XIV centuries. From left to right: 1. A samurai in traditional 13th century armament: he wears an o-yoroi armor with one kote sleeve and simple suneate leggings without knee pads. 2. Samurai early XIV century. His o-yoroi already has two kote sleeves, and tate-oge knee pads are added to his suneate; the neck is protected by a Nodov collar, and a half-mask of a hambo appeared on the face. 3. Samurai early XIV century. He wears a maru-do-yoroi armor without chest plates, but with a traditional leather cover; leather plates are sewn on the pants; on his face is a frightening mempo mask with the face of a long-nosed goblin tengu. 4. Samurai XIV century. He wears a dô-maru armor without covering the carapace with leather (that is, he rarely has to shoot from a bow), but with plates from an o-yoroi armor. The ends of the haidate legguard are tied at the back of the thighs and under the knees in such a way that it seems as if he is wearing armor-clad pants. Hoate mask or saru-bo (“monkey face”) with collar. And more and more often the samurai’s weapon is no longer a bow, but a naginata (literal translation – “long blade”), a weapon very effective in battle with opponents poorly protected armor

A real samurai prefers real records! Or not?

Need is the best engine of progress. And the history of military affairs in Japan confirms this once again. After the war, Onin-Bummei, the first armor appears that meets the new conditions of warfare. They began to be called mogami-do (this was the name of the area where they first began to be produced), which differed from all the previous ones in that their cuirass began to consist not of plates connected with cords, but of five or seven metal strips on the chest and on the back. They were also connected by lacing, but more rare, called sukage-odoshi. The armor began to use large plates of kiritsuke-kozane and kiritsuke-iyozane, the upper part of which resembled a “fence” of separate kozane and iyozane plates, but below these “teeth” there was already solid metal! Naturally, wealthy samurai at first despised these “deceptive armor”, they say, we can order ourselves hon-kozane do – “armor made of real small plates”, but gradually mogami-do became a very popular type of protective weapon. It is clear that the armor made according to the old patterns was much more expensive! After all, Japan has always been a country of good old traditions!

Armor of the Land of the Rising Sun: the beginning of change

Mogami-haramaki armor and an etchu-zunari-kabuto helmet with an upper longitudinal plate that goes under the brow. Royal Arsenal, Tower

Another transitional type from the old armor to the armor of the new time, which then became known as “tosei-gusoku”, that is, “modern armor”, turned out to be nuinobe-do. In it, large fake yozane plates were connected by a rare weaving of sugake-odoshi. Then the imagination of the Japanese gunsmiths created a completely unusual armor – dangage-do, in which there were small plates at the bottom of the cuirass, in the middle of the strip of false plates, and at the top – two rows of kiritsuke-kozane plates.

Mogami-do transitional armor scheme

The first half of the 16th century in Japan’s arms industry was a time of a kind of revolution associated with the appearance of okegawa-do armor. In them, horizontally located plates for the first time began to be connected not by cords, but by forging, which, however, led to the appearance of a large number of their varieties. For example, if the heads of the rivets connecting the stripes were visible, it was kakari-do armor.

Before us is just one such armor with stripes decorated with decorative rivets from the exposition of the Metropolitan Museum in New York (its other name is to-toji okegawa-do). The kozane plates from which his o-sode shoulder pads are made are also clearly visible. The cuirass consists of eight horizontal stripes connected by decorative rivets. One of the features of this armor is its extremely rare color scheme on the lacing of the kusazuri (skirt). Usually the color of the lacing changes between rows, for example, from light at the waist to dark at the bottom, then this pattern is repeated on each of the segments of the skirt. Here, however, the colors change between the seven segments, starting from the right side where the kusazuri segment is white, then red in front, then yellowish green and finally black. To give the impression of symmetry, the neck guard (yodare kake) duplicates the red lacing of the center piece of the skirt, while the shoulder guard (o-sode) and neck guard on the helmet (shikoro) are completely white, but have a red border along their lower rows of cords. Made by craftsmen of the Bamen school. Belonged to the Okabe family

Back view of this armor

“Modern armor” of the XVI-XIX centuries.

In the yokohagi-okegawa-do, the cuirass plates were located horizontally, but in the tatehagi-okegawa-do – vertically. Yukinoshita-do, the armor by the name of the place where the famous gunsmith Miochin Hizae (1573-1615) lived at one time, differed from all others in a box-shaped form, since it consisted of one-piece forged sections connected by hinges, which was very convenient. since they were easy to disassemble and it was convenient to store them. Moreover, the watagami were already all-metal, including gyyo plates and small kohire shoulder pads attached to this armor, also on hinges.

Sendai-do armor. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A helmet from the sendai-do armor is a suji-kabuto (“helmet with ribs”). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The simplest sandan is until the 17th century.

Especially this armor (which also had the names kanto-do and sendai-do) became popular in the Edo period, when the famous commander Date Masamune (1566-1636) dressed his entire army in sendai-do. And he did not just put it on: all the armor was the same, for warriors of higher and lower ranks, and differed only in the quality of finishing! Armor with a forged cuirass was called hotoke-do, but there were also very curious varieties of them. For example, the armor of nyo-do, or “Buddha’s torso” is known, with a cuirass depicting a naked human torso, moreover, of an ascetic build, and even painted in a flesh color.

Morohada-nougat-do armor. An excellent specimen, covered with a thick layer of brick-red varnish. Front view. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

But this armor is a rare example of the “new armor” of the early Edo period (17th century) with a cuirass imitating a torso with a bare chest. It is believed that such cuirasses were not only a means to somehow show themselves on the battlefield, but were made with the aim of … to scare the enemy or, at least, to surprise him[/center]

Morohada-nougat-do armor. Back view. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Breastplate katahada-nugi-do (“half-naked shell”) was a combination of two styles: ne-do and tachi-do. Imitates the act of a Buddhist monk: the ne-do plate on the right depicted the body, and on the left it was fastened to a regular shell made of sané plates, imitating a monastic robe. Edward Bryant, however, believed that in fact it was just a kimono torn in a fierce battle …

This is how the armor looked with a katahada-nugi-do cuirass (Azuchi-Momoyama era), presumably belonging to Kato Kiyomasa, one of Hideyoshi’s military commanders in the Korean campaign of 1592. The helmet (hot-kabuto) is trimmed with bear fur, but the one-piece forged part of the cuirass is made in the form of the “emaciated body of a Buddhist ascetic monk”

A hotoke-do cuirass armor from the Tokyo National Museum. The Sengoku era. Supposedly belonged to Akechi Samanosuke. The helmet is decorated with horse ears and a moon. The cuirass is of the European model, but of local manufacture. Decorated with a relief image of a small skull (right) and a Chinese character “10” or “sky” in the center. Front view

The same armor. Back view

Trade with the Portuguese allowed the Japanese to become familiar with European armor. They did not completely borrow them, but they liked the cuirasses and helmets. Using them as a basis, Japanese gunsmiths created a very original type of armor, called namban-do (“armor of the southern barbarians”), which, although made according to the European model, but with all the traditional Japanese details. For example, the hatamune-do armor consisted of a European cuirass with a stiffening rib, but had a “skirt” attached to it – kusazuri. And again, the surface of European armor has always been varnished and painted. Moreover, the most popular colors were black and brown. Japanese craftsmen did not recognize pure white metal!

Namban-gusoku, or namban-do gusoku, owned by Sakikabara Yasumasa (1548-1606)

The cuirass and helmet are imported, and for some reason a cabasset-type helmet is turned 180 degrees! This armor was given to him by Tokugawa Ieyasu just before the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), and from then on it was in the Sakakibara family until it got to the Tokyo National Museum. The armor had Japanese shikoro (neck guard hanging from the helmet) and hikimawashi (shikoro adornment) made from white yak hair. The iron breastplate has the same shape as the European breastplate, but both sides of the waist are cut to make it shorter. The helmet is complemented by a local hoate, kote (bracers), haidate (thigh and knee protection) and suneate (shin protection) masks. On the left and right of the helmet, the family coat of arms of Sakakibara “Genjiguruma” (varnish sprinkled with gold powder) is depicted. However, since it is unlikely that these coats of arms were made before Ieyasu gave this armor to Sakakibara Yasumasa, they were probably placed on him later. It belongs to the important objects of cultural heritage.

Sakikabara Yasumasa’s armor kote, outer side

Sakikabara Yasumasa’s armor kote, inner side

Haydate of Sakikabara Yasumasa’s armor

Suneate of Sakikabara Yasumasa’s armor

This is how they were tied on the leg from the back (left view), and this is how (right view) they looked from the inside …

History has preserved for us not only the armor itself, but also their images. For example, a samurai Watanabe Moritsuna in armor with a European-style cuirass


1. Kure M. Samurai. Illustrated history. M .: AST / Astrel, 2007.
2. Turnbull S. Military history of Japan. M .: Eksmo, 2013.
3. Turnbull S. Symbols of Japanese samurai. Moscow: AST / Astrel, 2007.
4. Shpakovsky V. Atlas of the samurai. M .: Rosmen-Press, 2005.
5. Shpakovsky V. Samurai. The first complete encyclopedia. M .: E / Yauza, 2016.
6. Bryant E. Samurai. M .: AST / Astrel, 2005.
7. Nosov K. Armament of the samurai. M .: AST / Polygon, 2003.

To be continued…

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