Are you an enthusiast, collector or curious about samurai armor? This article will give you the historical basis of samurai armor, the main parts of a samurai armor, and finally, we will give you some advices if you want to get a samurai armor.
The Samurai armor: a strong symbol
For many centuries, samurai warriors fought for land and power on the islands of Japan on behalf of the daimyo, the shogun or the emperor. During this period, samurai warriors developed a culture and way of life whose teachings can still be seen today in modern Japan.
However, internationally, the image of the samurai is not seen so much through the teachings of the bushido code (the way of the warrior) but is symbolized, perhaps more than any other warrior in history, by the armor he wore. Samurai armor is so intricately and uniquely crafted that it is able to tell the story of these warriors in great detail, making these ancient pieces a true glimpse into the turbulent history of Japan.
What is samurai armor?
Samurai armor is a piece of steel armor that covers the body of the samurai. Samurai armor has changed over the centuries in response to the different types of weapons introduced to Japan. Early armor was relatively light and often constructed to allow the wearer to move quickly.
However, over time, the weapons of the enemy evolved. As a result, samurai armor became heavier and thicker, making it slower but also more resistant to attacks with swords or arrows.
Until the 19th century in Japan, samurai armor was still used in battles between opposing forces. This practice ended when firearms replaced bows and arrows as the main weapons of war.
Samurai armor has many variations and additions. The pieces that constituted a samurai's protection in battle were all intricate and specifically made, both for the symbolism and image they projected and for the protection they could offer in battle.
In this regard, a samurai's armor, from head to toe, was unique to that warrior and told, in many ways, his story as well as that of the clan he fought for.
Traditional armor includes the kabuto (helmet), dou (main torso armor), kusazari (leg armor), kote and kogake for the arms and finally, perhaps the most iconic piece of all, the katana sword. Over the centuries of civil war and conflict that engulfed Japan, samurai from different clans modified and changed their armor. This included the addition of certain pieces such as the menpo (chin strap).
Main parts of a Samurai armor
1. Samurai helmet (kabuto)
Perhaps the most distinctive and recognizable piece of samurai armor is the helmet or kabuto. The unique design of the Japanese warrior's helmet makes him immediately recognizable as a samurai and symbolizes the intricate skill and craftsmanship required to design each suit of armor.
In early Japanese history, these helmets were usually made of leather; later they evolved into iron with leather padding and even iron scales to deflect arrows or katana. A samurai's helmet was often topped with a crest to show his allegiance and which lord he was fighting for.
As in other cultures, the kabuto helmet was an incredibly important part of the samurai's armor, both physically and spiritually. In fact, there is an old Japanese saying "Katte kabuto no o wo shimeyo" which means "tighten the strings of your kabuto in victory" (which is roughly equivalent to "do not rest on your laurels"). Also, the symbolic act of removing a kabuto meant surrender.
Kabuto helmets often had an added menpo, a chin strap that could be attached by two hooks to the side of the kabuto helmet. Originally, menpo chin guards were little more than chin straps, but as the design of samurai armor became more sophisticated, menpo began to have their own designs, especially those that covered the entire mouth and were carved into particularly frightening facial patterns.
2. Torso armor (dou or dō)
Torso armor was one of the largest items a samurai could wear. The breastplate differed from its European counterparts in that it was primarily designed for mobility, and to protect the samurai's torso in battle without impeding his movements. While European knights preferred thicker and heavier metal plates for protection, the samurai breastplate or chestplate was often made (like the kabuto helmet) of leather, and later of scales or iron plates. The effect of scales gave the armor durability while creating resistance that protected against violent blows.
The armor was also often coated with a lacquer finish to make it weather resistant and not cause damage or weakening when exposed to the elements.
3. The "skirt" armor (kusazari)
The kusazari is another piece of armor specific to Japanese warriors. This piece of chain mail is designed to protect the thighs and upper legs, and gives the appearance of a skirt that was worn under the dou. This aspect of the samurai's battle gear, however, was an ingenious way to protect a rider's legs from being hit when riding his horse into battle.
4. Samurai armor (kote)
The feet and hands of the samurai were equipped with specially designed and manufactured individual protections. The main function was to allow the samurai to be light on his feet while protecting them from injury and, for his hands, to be able to wield his katana with devastating effect while having the means to protect himself from another warrior's counterattack.
The arm guards were cylindrical tubes of cloth that were then reinforced with chain mail and armor plates for added strength. They protected the samurai from elbow to finger. Originally, during the Kamakura period, samurai only used this armor to cover one of their arms so that they could shoot arrows from their bows effectively. However, this changed when the katana gradually became the weapon of choice for samurai.
5. Samurai arrowheads
Although the traditional image of the samurai is that of a sword-wielding warrior, archery has also played a key role in competition between enemies throughout Japanese history. The art of kyudo became one of the key principles of the samurai to instill concentration and discipline. Yabusame were samurai archers who often played a decisive role in the tactics of military commanders, and although the advent of firearms led to a decline in the effectiveness of archers on the battlefield, the samurai tradition of archery is still celebrated today with performances at the annual Aoi Matsuri.
6. Katana de samouraï
The last part of a samurai's armor is perhaps the most important of all. The katana is considered not only a symbol of the samurai warrior, but also a symbol of Japan as a whole. The official use of the Japanese katana by soldiers began in the Kamakura era (1185-1333) and has continued to grow in popularity as a weapon of war (although the use of katanas is documented much earlier in Japanese history).
By the end of the Kamakura era, an entire industry had developed around the creation of the katana. Rival smiths competed for the reputation of creating the best katanas and the quality and design of many of these creations continued to grow.
The katana was considered such an important weapon of war that a complete fighting system (kendo) was designed to train samurai in its use. The 15th century saw the beginning of the mass production of the katana. Many infantrymen in the various armies were equipped with katanas of low quality and simple design.
However, the invention of steel led to a new development in the popularity of the sword. Increasingly, the noble samurai sought to have their katanas custom made, resulting in some of the most complex and unique designs. Even today, an ancient katana can often be associated with the samurai it belonged to and the battles in which it participated.
For many countries, the weapons and armor used by their warriors throughout history are proud relics of the country's past. However, there is no other country where the image of a suit of armor so immediately evokes the image of a nation as the samurai armor does for Japan. In all its intricacies, attention to detail and functional parts, samurai armor truly tells the story of a nation like no other.
Why is collecting samurai armor so fascinating?
Almost all worthy samurai had a taste for collecting katanas, but armor was an even more popular item among the fighting classes. From the 12th century on, armor was made from a variety of materials including leather, silk, paper and lacquer.
A collection of samurai armor is fascinating because it provides a window into the life of an elite class of warriors in feudal Japan. The quality and craftsmanship of these costumes were often exquisitely fine and were worn by samurai on special occasions or in battle.
Buy the right size samurai armor
Wearing armor for the first time can be a daunting task. It is important to get the right size to avoid any discomfort or pinching. When purchasing samurai armor, it is important to know your measurements before buying anything online. This will prevent you from sending items back because they don't fit properly when delivered to your home.
How to display your samurai armor collection as a collector?
Collectors often want to display their collection in a way that is respectful and doesn't take up too much space.
One of the most popular ways to display your collection is with a display case or collection stand. There are many different types of display cases and racks for sale. So the first step is to find the one that will best suit your needs.
The next step is to find a room to put your displays in, but if you don't have room for that, there are other options, such as displaying them on shelves or even grouping them with other samurai items in a home or office.
How do you wear samurai armor?
The most common misconception about samurai armor is that it is simply a metal suit, but in reality it is much more complex than that. Samurai armor has many different parts and it takes years to learn how to put them together properly.
Although feudal Japan has been gone for centuries, there are still many people who make their own samurai armor for fun or for competitions like the World Cosplay Summit.
How to clean and preserve samurai armor?
The samurai armor was a sign of status and a way to display one's wealth. It protected against attacks, but also against diseases.
By properly cleaning and storing your samurai armor, you will be able to maintain its appearance for years. To clean it, you can use a damp sponge or cloth that has been soaked in distilled water. Do not use soap, as this may damage the metal surfaces of your samurai armor. After removing dirt and grime, rinse the armor with clean water and allow it to dry completely before storing.
The key is to store and maintain your samurai armor properly so that it can last for centuries!