The samurai, Japan’s warrior elite for centuries, sported armour that offered both protection in warfare and ornamentation for ceremonial purposes.
Tied to their elite position in society as the ruling class of feudal Japan, a samurai’s armour first offered them a large amount of protection while on the battlefield. Alongside this they also displayed their highly influential culture and traditions, appearing both ornamental and radically stylized.
The armour was a combination of iron, silk, leather and bronze, and consisted of a helmet, cuirass, shoulder guards, shin guards, face mask and skirt.
The armour was created by tying small iron plates together with cord, lacquering the resultant strips to protect against rust, and then joining them together horizontally with silken cords to produce the larger armoured panels. Over this a large surcoat was then adopted, made from silk and heavily embroidered.
The samurai’s helmet was made from iron and bronze and consisted of a forged bowl to which layered armoured plates were riveted to protect the neck. Upon the helmet was then affixed a maedate, a crest that would slot above the helmet’s peak.
While samurai armour evolved over their centuries in power, the golden age of armour creation is considered by military historians to be between the 12th and 14th Centuries, and is referred to as the o-yoroi style. This style was highly ornate with much silk and embroidery – due to their position at the top-end of society’s ladder- but also square and box-like, due to the early engineering being utilised by Japanese armourers.
Parts of samurai armor
Shoulder guards (sode) – These guards consisted of layered scales designed to deflect sword attacks away from the body while in hand-to-hand combat.
Homed helmet (kuwagata cabuto) – Designed to show rank, look impressive and protect the samurai’s head, the helmet was highly ornate and was made out of forged, riveted metal.
Side guards (fukigayeshi) – These mainly cloth pads helped protect the samurai from spear and sword attacks from mounted opponents.
Skirt (kusazuri) – The armour plating was achieved by interlacing silk and leather with lacquered iron scales.
Shin guards (suneate) – Like modem-day footballing shin-protectors, these cloth and iron guards protected the samurai’s legs from damage in the field.
Boots (bu-tsu) – Another element of the samurai’s armour that denoted rank, the boots had little protection.