Samurai armor from … Toropets!

The building of the Toropetsky Museum of Local Lore is located in the Church of the Epiphany

What is the noise in the yard?
This scarecrow rumbled
falling off the garden bed!

Armor and weapons of the samurai of Japan. Finally, significant changes have begun to take place in our country in the field of museum affairs. You apply, but you are not kicked off, because “it is difficult to open a shop window”, and they do not break crazy prices, they just really help. However, it was not without scientific and technological progress. Previously, it was difficult to photograph objects of the exposition and people often simply did not want to get involved with it, whereas today almost everyone can take photographs on a mobile phone. And the Internet will help us all: last time in the comments someone wrote about samurai armor in the Toropets museum. I looked on the Web: yes, there is such armor there, and there are photos of them, albeit of poor quality.

Close up you can see that the building of the church / museum needs good repair, but from a distance … From a distance it is very beautiful

It remains only to write to the administration of the museum, which I did. And soon I received a reply from the head of the Toropetsky branch of the State Budgetary Institution of Culture and Education, E.N. with beautifully taken photographs and even the attached text of an article dedicated to the armor on display. Well, great, it would be like this always and everywhere, because this is how museums should work. You can’t hit it everywhere, I, for example, will never go to the same Toropets, but thanks to this we all, readers of VO, will learn about the armor that is exhibited there.

And from above too! Real Russian nature in all its natural and man-made charm!

Well, we will start with the history, with how this armor appeared in the ancient Russian city of Toropets. It turns out that they entered the museum in 1973 from the descendants of the Minister of War of the Russian Empire and the commander-in-chief of the Manchurian Army in 1904-1905. Adjutant General N.A. Kuropatkina. In 1903 he made an official visit to Japan, where they were most likely presented to him. That is how they got to his Tver estate Sheshurino, and from it, already today, to the museum. There is no more detailed information about their appearance in the museum.

Samurai armor from ... Toropets!

Samurai armor in the Toropets Museum of Local Lore. Front view

Of the armor, the cuirass, helmet, face mask, kusazuri legguards, bracers, leggings and shoulder pads are missing. Without a doubt, these are the so-called “modern armor” – tosei gusoku, made in the Edo period, that is, until the middle of the 19th century. The cuirass is assembled from long horizontal plates, so the full name of such an armor in Japanese will be quite intricate: byo-toji-yokohagi okegawa-do. The rivet heads are clearly visible on the cuirass, therefore it is also a type of kakari-do.

The same armor. Back view

Both sections of the cuirass, front and back, are intact and also have their own name: the front one is yoroi-no-saki, and the back is yoroi-no-ato. Such plates were usually made of steel with a thickness of 2 mm and covered with the famous Japanese varnish in several layers (up to eight!). Together with the gessan (the name of the “skirt” of the kusazuri in the armor of tosei gusoku), the weight of such a cuirass could be 7.7-9.5 kg.

Cuirass. Front view. Pay attention to the top forged plate oni-domari (formerly called muna-ita), the edges of which are curved outward, and not only the outer, but even the edges of the holes. All this served the purpose of increasing the protective functions of the armor: hitting such a plate, the spearhead, if it slid off it, then went to the side

Breastplate close-up. Rivet heads are very clearly visible – kakari

On the back of the cuirass of the tosei gusoku, a detail such as a gattari was usually installed – a special bracket for attaching koshi-sashi (for officers) and sashimono (for privates), an identification mark that could have the appearance of a flag on a long bamboo shaft and … what, that would be understandable to Europeans. For example, it could be a carefully crafted … turnip (a hint of perseverance), a prayer tablet suspended from a pole, a fan of feathers, or three multi-colored fur balls, although if we talk about a flag, then it usually depicted just the may (coat of arms) of their suzerain.

Cuirass. Back view. On the top plate of boko-no-ita (formerly called oshitsuke-no-ita), to which the watagami shoulder straps are attached, the mark of a sharp blow is clearly visible. Small dents are also visible on the plates of the cuirass itself. A lacquered “pencil case” with a round hole for a flagpole – uke-zutsu – was inserted into the square hole of the gattari. The lower attachment piece, machi-uke, is missing. Only a small hole remains …

Traces of damage can be seen on the cuirass: on the upper front plate, on the left side of it, there is a clear mark from the blow, which, however, did not cause much damage to the armor. And on the back section of the cuirass and also at the top there are dents that could occur when falling from a horse onto stones or from blows with a spear.

“Modern armor” usually had a gessan “skirt” consisting of 7-8 trapezoidal kusazuri sections, each with five stripes of plates. All of them were attached to the cuirass using tight kebiki-odoshi lacing. In this armor, the gessan consists of seven sections (three sections in front and four in the back) with five rows of plates in each.

Kusazuri. Front view. On the right, there are traces of repair: the cords were tried to be replaced

Color con lacing close up

All cords are dark blue (in Japanese – con), for which indigo dye was used. This color was most popular in later periods as it was resistant to fading. But colors such as red (madder coloring) and purple (soy coloring), although they looked spectacular, were not very popular due to the harmful effect of these paints on the fabric of the cords. Both the one and the other paints quickly fade, and the cords, impregnated with them, were torn, so they had to be replaced often, and this was a very expensive pleasure.

Rear view of the kusazuri

Pay attention to the length of the cords between the cuirass and the gessan plates. They were long so as not to impair the warrior’s mobility. However, there was an unprotected space under the cords where a blow could be struck. Therefore, some samurai began to sew pieces of cloth covered with chain mail to the lower edge of the cuirass to close it.

Fastening the lower plates of the breastplate (nakagawa) on cords

Nakagawa leather plates and kebiki-odoshi lacing

Interestingly, the gessan plates, which look “completely” metal, are actually made of leather. This was done to lighten the weight of the armor. But leather is not just dressed. It is also varnished, so what kind of material is in front of you, you can’t tell right away. At the same time, the gessan plates still have a comb-like upper part, as if they were all composed of small plates. Such was the power of tradition, there’s nothing you can do about it! By the way, the plates themselves are somewhat curved. To do this, a shikigane iron rod was laced to them before varnishing.

Chain sleeve kote (oda-gote type)

Mail kote sleeve close-up. The ikada plates and the Japanese weaving of chain mail – so-husari, in which one large ring was connected to others of the same type with the help of four thinner rings, are clearly visible. This weaving made sense, since it made it easy to weave additional details into the chain mail fabric.

Hiji-gane elbow plate and four matsuba-wa plates with radial grooves

Both the cuirass and the gessan plates are dark brown in natural Japanese lacquer. Moreover, not only the plates were lacquered in this armor, but even the chain mail, which, however, is not surprising, given the climate in which such armor was used.

The shoulder pads on the armor have not survived, but we can say that they were small and curved to better cover the shoulder. They usually consisted of 5-6 all-metal curved plates. By the end of the XVI century. they often consisted of only 2-3 plates covering only the shoulder itself. Between themselves, the plates were connected by cords, and both types of weaving were used and the frequent weaving of kebiki-odoshi and the rare, with cross-knots, sugake-odoshi. The first type of lacing should have been used on the soda of this armor, since it was also used on other parts of it.

Gosozan-suji-kubuto helmet. Left view

Helmet. Right view

The helmet is in fairly decent condition, although it lacks a shikoro collar and a hammered rosette around the tehen hole on the top of the head. Let’s look at it in profile. It is obviously a type of goszan-suji-kubuto helmets, since its back is higher than the front. Well, “suji” means that it is ribbed, but the rivets on its surface are not visible. The crown of the helmet is made of 32 plates, which suggests that he could only belong to an officer, since the number of plates for privates started from 6 and ended with 12 and 16 maximum, but officers could have 32, and 64, and 72, and even go up to 120! What jewelry could be located on this helmet, alas, it is impossible to say. The Japanese who created it were people with limitless imagination.

Helmet back view

Suji-kabuto with a crown of 62 plates. Dated to 1538. Tokyo National Museum

A mask for the helmet is also available and belongs to the type of half masks – hoate. That is, she does not cover her face entirely, but leaves her nose, eyes and forehead open. The dark color of the mask and the light of the naked skin made the face of a man in a hambo look like … the face of a monkey. The Japanese noticed this and gave this mask a second name – saru-bo, or “monkey face”. All masks, called men-gu, had a yodare-kake neck cover, but this armor does not. Apparently lost.

But in this photo, they are also clearly visible in the watagami – the attachment of the cuirass on the shoulders, which on the “modern armor” tosei gusoku began to be made metal and fastened on hinges

The hoate mask itself is very interesting. From the inside she is covered with red varnish, but in her chin a special hole, asa-nagashi-no-ana, was made through which … sweat flowed out! It also had special hooks for cords. The mask was attached to the face again with cords that came from the helmet and which, if properly tied, connected the helmet to the mask literally tightly. There were many ways and instructions on how best to tie the cords on certain masks, and it was often possible to determine by the way the cords were tied, to which clan a particular warrior belonged.

Let’s turn to Mitsuo Kure and take a look at this illustration taken from his book Samurai. Illustrated history “

It is interesting that this armor nevertheless attracted the attention of … a fourth-year student of the history faculty of Tver State University A.M. Snegirev, who wrote on it an interesting work “Armor” tosei gusoku “for a collection of scientific and practical conference in 2004, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905.

Cover of the collection of the scientific-practical conference in 2004, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

As already noted, the article submitted by A.M. Snegirev was very well prepared for this collection. A solid list of sources was used, consisting of the works of famous authors. Unfortunately, the picture placed in it as an illustration leaves much to be desired. That is, the armor depicted on it is not at all the armor that is present in the museum! But this is the misfortune of many of our authors, who have to use not what follows, but what is at hand.

Illustration from the article

The article discusses this armor in detail, and it is interesting that the author mentions a throat cover, which was missing about 25 percent. But in the photographs, there is no cover at all, so over the past 16 years, it seems to have simply been lost. Well, how could this armor look if it was looked after and restored on time? About this, as well as about many other things concerning samurai armor and weapons, we will tell you next time.


1. Kure M. Samurai. Illustrated history. M .: AST / Astrel, 2007.
2. Bryant E. Samurai. M .: AST / Astrel, 2005.

PS The administration of “VO” and the author express deep gratitude to Elena Pokrashenko, the head of the Toropets branch of the State Budgetary Educational Institution of Tomsk State Medical University, for the photos and materials provided.

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