samurai armor

 History of the Japanese Armor

A Japanese armor consists of protectors to protect the torso and a helmet to protect the head.
In Japan, the first two types of armor were initially produced as tanko (short armor) and keikou, with the first divergence occurring in the Heian period (794-1185). Under the influence of the national culture, the production of "Dai-yoroi" (large armor), a typical Japanese style of armor, began, and evolved into the unique "Japanese style armor".

Later, simplified versions of the great armor were produced, such as "domaru", "haramaki" and "harato". Japanese style armor had a second turning point during the Muromachi and Sengoku periods, when warfare spread throughout the country.

As mass warfare became the norm, the "Tosei Gusoku" (当世具足) was introduced, designed to be lightweight and fully functional, in response to the demand for greater mobility and defensive capabilities.

Tosei Gusoku was also influenced by the Azuchi-Momoyama period, which was a period of opulent splendor, and was more individualistic, reflecting the wearer's philosophy and worldview. From this time on, armor became more than just protective gear; it also took on the connotations of the warrior's official attire.

During the Edo period (1603-1867), when the country entered a period of peace and tranquility, armor became a tool to display the dignity of a warrior. Since it was no longer used in actual battles, armor was decorated in various ways. And in the period from the end of the Edo era to the Meiji Restoration, Japanese-style armor, unable to keep up with the evolution of weapons, ended its role as protective equipment.

Today, it is an art object filled with ancient Japanese techniques that is popular not only in Japan, but also in the rest of the world.

samurai armor

Types of Japanese armor

As mentioned above, armor has evolved over time. By observing the process of evolution, it is possible to classify armor into categories.

1.  Tanko and Keiko armors

Tanko armor

Tanko armor is a type of short armor made of iron or leather plates connected by rivets or leather in the Joko period (usually before the Taika reform).
It is said to be a unique Japanese form, usually hinged open and closed on the right side of the body and worn together at the front of the body.

The oldest short armor in Japan is believed to be a wooden armor, dating back to the Yayoi period and excavated from the ruins of Iba in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Keiko Armor

Keiko armor was produced by binding iron or leather "tags" with wire or leather. Unlike short armor, keiko armor is thought to have been heavily influenced by the mainland, as similar armor was produced by northern mainland tribes who fought on horseback.

The method of odoshi (stacking tags) and binding them together to form the body and other parts, seen in keiko armor, was later inherited by Japanese-style armor. In this sense, it can be said to be the origin of Japanese style armor.

2.  Large armor

Large armors have been worn by mounted warriors since their appearance in the Heian period (794-1185). A warrior on horseback was, in other words, a superior warrior. At that time, the main method of fighting was "kishi-shusen", in which mounted warriors shot at each other with bows and arrows in single combat.

The kusazuri (armor skirt), which protected the lower half of the body, was divided into only four parts, front, back, left and right, and completely surrounded the lower half of the body like a box when the wearer rode a horse. It was therefore not suitable for dismounting and walking.

In addition, the "fukikaeshi" (front part of the helmet) and the "oosode" (large sleeves worn on the shoulders) were produced in large sizes, which made the large armor effective in defending against bow and arrow attacks.

3.  Domaru, belly armor and abdominal armor

Domaru Armor

Domaru was a type of armor worn by middle and lower class warriors.

At a time when mounted warfare was the norm, middle and lower class warriors traveled on foot rather than on horseback and conducted "kachi-dachi-sen" (foot battles) on the battlefield. As a result, soldiers wore domaru, a lighter armor, compared to a larger armor, and could move more nimbly.

Later, during the Northern and Southern Dynasties, when battles shifted to large-scale "uchimono-sen" (battles with swords, spears and naginata) between large armies, it is said that high-ranking warriors also began to wear domaru.

Belly armor

Originally, the belly armor was mainly worn by lower rank warriors and protected the body from the waist down. It was even lighter than the Domaru. As was the case with the large armor and domaru, with time, the weight of the body was supported not only by the shoulders but also by the waist, so that the waist became significantly narrower.

From the Muromachi period onwards, as for the domaru, high ranking warriors wore the belly armor more and more often.

Abdominal armor

Abdominal armor was the simplest type of armor, protecting only the chest, abdomen and sides, and was worn mainly by lower-ranking soldiers. It would also have existed during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), where high ranking warriors sometimes wore it under their clothes as light armor.
The body of the armor consisted of a breastplate and a small piece of "nagagawashi" (a protection that went from the front to the back of the body), to which a small kusazuri (a small sliding belt) was attached.

4.  Tōseigusoku armor

The Tōseigusoku armor can be described as a new type of armor that differs from the Japanese-style armor that has existed since the great armors of the time. It is true that some aspects of the armor, such as the joined body on the right side, were inherited from the Domaru style, but improvements were made so that the armor could withstand attacks from new weapons such as spears and guns and could move with agility in group battles. The yurugiito was lengthened to allow the wearer to move with agility in mass battles.

It also differed from previous Japanese-style armor in that it embodied the ideology and worldview of the warlord who wore it on the battlefield.

Appreciate a real Japanese armor

The kanji characters in the armor indicate the type of materials used, how it was made, in what form, and the approximate period in which it was made. Knowing the type of armor is the first step in appreciating it.

Armor has evolved and developed over a long period of history and has been handed down to the present day. They are, so to speak, historical relics of Japan. Many events have taken place in the process of transmission to the present day, and as you learn about them, you may feel familiar with the armor before your eyes. In this sense, learning the terms around Japanese armor is also learning the history of Japan.

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