Which one is more difficult to dress: a knight or a samurai?

A helmet from the do-maru armor of the Muromachi era. The armor is classified as an important cultural property of Japan. Tokyo National Museum

And the young messenger said: “Look,
This is a shirt: sleeps in it from dawn to dawn
My lady. And you take away
Shield, chain mail and helmet, and soar with your soul,
And work wonders in this linen shirt,
You fight like heroes fight,
Cover yourself with glory or … die. “
The knight takes the shirt without hesitation.
He pressed the gift of the young maiden to his heart: “Ladies order
I will fulfill, – said, – and for show everyone,
I will fight without armor, fearing nothing,
But if I don’t die this time,
The hour will come for the lady. “
Walter Scott. The ballad of bloody clothes

Clothing culture. We continue our story about the clothing culture of different peoples of different historical eras. The theme of Japan will continue. Only now it will not be about kimono, but about how samurai were equipped for battle. This topic is interesting in itself. But it becomes even more interesting if we compare the Japanese and the Europeans, that is, we look at how the knights of the West were equipped for the battle, and only after that we turn to the samurai. After all, the most interesting information is of a comparative nature. Indeed, where there is nothing and nothing to compare with, correct conclusions simply cannot be expected. Well, as illustrations we use drawings from the book by David Nicolas “Medieval knight” (L., Reed Educational and Professional Publication Ltd., 1997), illustrations from Mitsuo Kure’s monograph “Samurai” (M., AST, Astrel, 2007) and photographs from the funds of the Tokyo National Museum.

How do we know what knights wore under chain mail and armor? But we know, although it is clear that the underwear did not reach us, and very few chain mails from the same XII century have come down to us. But there is embroidery of the famous Bayesque canvas, there are miniatures of the “Bible of Matsievsky” (all of them have already been cited in my articles on “VO” devoted to knightly weapons, so we will not repeat them), and from them it is clear that at first there were no special clothes under the knights did not wear chain mail. Apparently, the very wearing of chain mail had a certain magical meaning for them, which came from the depths of centuries.

Well, now let’s look at the first two drawings by D. Nicolas, just referring to the knights of the XII century, the era when in the same Japan the plate armor o-yoroi, most of all similar to a four-sided rigid box, already dominated.

In this picture we see what the knights of the 12th century wore “underneath”. Usually these were the linen pantaloons of the bre (1), the figure of a young man on the right, and the same shirt (2), worn by the older knight on the left. No other linen was required. But here they put on the legs (3) – stocking pants made of separate tight-fitting trousers tied to a belt. They could be cloth, silk (among the nobility), as well as leather. Only after putting on all this, the knight could start putting on armor, and first of all, they put on chaussies again, but only this time from chain mail (4) sewn onto a thin leather lining. For the poor knights, or shall we say, not the richest, the highway only covered the front of the leg. For the most-most and for the kings, the chain mail covered the legs entirely. But over time, almost everyone began to wear such highways.

On top of the shirt, one should first put on a long-length tunic (5), and over it – a quilted gambison stuffed with something soft (for the knight on the left it lies on the lid of the chest, for the knight on the right it is visible between the surcoat floors. A hauberk chain mail was worn over the gambison (6 ) and a chain mail hood – a coif (7), and then a surcoat – a very specific attire of heraldic flowers. The helmet, as you can see, is very simple: “pill”, but with a casing, that is, typical for this time. it was shortened in fashion, sleeves were sewn to it, chain mail was often covered with fabric outside, but in general everything shown in these two figures is quite typical. It is important to emphasize that such equipment could be put on by a knight himself, without outside help


The XIV century came, the era of chain-plate armor, extremely well reflected on the effigies (there was also about them on “VO”, and more than once!), And it became more expensive and at the same time more difficult for the knights of Western Europe to dress.

The helmet became completely closed (14), and under it was a chain mail hood (15). The chain mail began to be complemented by a brigandine made of metal strips (10), over which a shortened surco-jupon was now worn (11). Hands and feet began to be protected either by overhead “shields” (12,13), or by “pipes” (a term of that time), with knee pads and elbow pads. A helmet-comforter – a servilera or (later) a bascinet – could also be worn under a large helmet (the servant on the right takes it out of the chest)

The shirt (17) and underwear remained the same, but since the spear became very powerful, the chain mail was supplemented by steel plate armor, in particular the same brigandine, often covered with expensive fabric on top, on which the gilded rivet heads looked very impressive. Plate and leggings appeared. Gambizon and chain mail did not undergo any special changes. It became much more difficult for a knight to put on such equipment alone, especially if some parts of the armor had ties on the back.


Well, now that we have looked at the Western European knights, let’s be curious about how mountain samurai were equipped for battle. And here everything will turn out to be not at all as simple as it is written about it on many sites, and even in books. And there it is written that the armor of the samurai was much lighter than the European ones, that the samurai could easily put on and take them off without outside help, in a word, he gave his European counterpart a hundred points ahead! However, was it really so? Let’s see…

Before us is a samurai of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), who dresses in the armor of the o-yoroi. The Kara-Bitsu box is open, the servant takes out the equipment parts from it. But first, the samurai should have put on a kosode lower kimono and oguchi-hakama pants, tie an obi belt, and tie an eboshi hat on his head. The Yukage battle seals were also the first to wear. Moreover, in a hurry, only one right glove should be put on so that you could shoot from a bow, but the left one could be neglected (1). Now the servant or the wife of the samurai (she also had to understand all this perfectly, she was taught this from childhood) helped her husband put on the hitatare – a robe with wide sleeves and top hakama pants, the legs of which had to be tied up at the bottom. Now it was the turn of suneate – leggings, and it was necessary to start with the left foot! After that, shoes were to be worn over the socks – tsuranuki shoes made of deerskin. Moreover, it was also necessary to tighten and tie up the left sleeve! (2)

Now it’s time for everything else!
Here we see how the samurai himself pulls the left plate sleeve of the kote over his arm. So that he did not run away, one or more loops for the fingers were provided on it – a good idea, unknown to European knights. But in order not to interfere with the wide sleeve of the hitatare, it should have been pulled down and tucked into the obi belt. It was also possible to wear haidate legguards, which were tied at the back under the knees. Then a waidate plate was put on the samurai, which protected his right side, after which he again sat on his yoroi kara-bitu, and the ribbons from the Nodawa plate necklace were tied around his neck at the back (3). All that was left was to put on the armor itself, or rather, the rest of it together with the o-sode shoulder pads over the head, and tie the takahimo laces over the voidate. Then the obi was tied again, behind which was inserted the short sword of the Koshi-gotan (4)


However, this was not all, although it can be said that with a short sword, the samurai was already actually dressed!

Now attached to the belt was a large sword of tachi, a quiver with ebir arrows, and a ring with a spare bowstring – tsurumaki. Now the samurai vassal put on a helmet on him, and the servant tied his ribbons under his chin. Or his wife did it, she was also allowed to do it. All that was left was to pick up a fan and a bow and … you could go to war! (five)

The commander could not do without this – the saikhai rod. Tokyo National Museum

The akaito-odoshi armor – o-yoroi of the Heian period, held together with a red cord, was restored during the Meiji period, but is still considered a national treasure


Their characteristic box-like shape is evident. It was difficult to get a mortal wound in such armor. Of course, they defended better than the European chain mail worn on the gambison, but putting on the armor was a long and difficult business, requiring several people to participate in this process. In addition, the battle of warriors in such armor often ended with the fall of one of them to the ground. Then the enemy’s foot soldiers rushed to the fallen one in order to strike him with short wakizashi swords in the unprotected parts of the body. It is clear that his retinue was already in a hurry to help the fallen man, a fight began “for the head” of a still living person, and in this situation, bulky box-like armor only prevented him from getting up, and even about throwing them off and saving himself in case of something light, even and there could be no question. But for the soldiers of Europe, throwing off their chain mail was as easy as shelling pears!

Another samurai armor. Now it is the Muromachi period. It is also an important cultural asset. The type is dô-maru. And this armor was completely impossible to put on without help, because they were tied on the back! The helmet is adorned with huge Mitsu-kuwagata, a typical decoration of this period. Tokyo National Museum


Since the moment firearms began to be used in Japan (and this happened in the middle of the 16th century), armor has also changed. Now they began to be called tosei-gusoku (“new armor”), and they also had to be worn somewhat differently than the old o-yoroi. Let’s look at the most important differences of this “process”, and at the same time at the most intimate parts of the clothes of the then samurai.

Dressing in tosei-goose armor


Here is a samurai putting on an etchu-fundoshi loincloth. Its length could have been 1.5 m. Now (on the left) a lower kimono is put on, then (in the center) hakama pants with a length slightly below the knees. This was followed by tabi socks and kahyan greaves. The shoes were now completely different – waraji straw sandals, which were beneficial in that they did not slip on soggy ground (1). Over the windings, suneate leggings made of metal strips connected by chain mail were fastened. Then they put on haidate legguards, which were also fixed under the knees. True, now they were buttoned up there. Now (in the center) it was necessary to put on the yukage glove, but only one – the right one! The kote bracers are now two. And often they were connected to each other by a kind of armored vest – manju-va (on the right). But to protect the neck and chest, an uva-manjira collar (left) was worn (2). Then a cuirass with shoulder pads was put on (the samurai himself could have done this), and it was tied on the side, so that here, too, it was possible to do without a servant. The mask was also worn by the samurai himself, as was the helmet, which was the last to cover his head. It turns out that those who consider Japanese equipment more convenient than European equipment of the same time are wrong. The abundance of cords led to the fact that they were packed with dirt and insects that annoy the samurai, and it was not easy to clean the lacing. Armor with cords (even tosei gusoku, where they were used to a minimum) easily got wet, froze in the cold, and the cords broke. It was impossible to take off the frozen armor, just as it was impossible to put it on! And without the help of servants, it was almost impossible for a samurai to put on classic Japanese armor.

Warlord Takeda Shingen figurine wearing a jinbaori cape

… and without it. Since he was a monk, such details as a rosary over his shoulder, a gumbai utiva fan and a saihai rod were provided.

Takeda’s constant opponent is Uesuge Kenshin!


If you really want to undress a samurai or dress him … Today, a lot of samurai figures are produced in a scale of 1:12 and 1: 6. There are a lot of firms that produce such “soldiers”: Hot Toys, Damtoys, Coomodel, Soldier Story, DID, Phicen and others. The bodies of these figures, especially the latest releases, are made of silicone and look real, as do their faces and hair. The hands are removable, and there are several of them in sets in different versions. The clothes are beautifully sewn, but the most wonderful thing about them is the weapons and armor. Their weapons are metal, with a hardening pattern on the blades, and the parts of the armor are somewhere plastic, but painted like metal, and somewhere they are metal. Horses in full equestrian equipment, typical of noble samurai, are also produced for the figurines. True, the price of people and horses is not at all a toy, but there’s nothing you can do about it.

PS Photos of samurai figurines are provided by gsoldiers.ru.

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