Antique Edo Period Ō-Yoroi Samurai Armor
Period: estimated Late Edo Period
The Ō-Yoroi (大鎧) is a type of Japanese armor. It was considered to be the most prestigious formal armor and was called the Shikishou-no Yoroi (式正の鎧) around the Muromachi period (1336-1573). And people called this style of armor the Honshiki-no Yoroi (本式の鎧) in the Edo period (1603-1868). Since ancient times, it also has had a beautiful name: Kisenaga (着背長).
From the Heian period (794-1185) to the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the Kishasen (騎射戦) was the mainstream battle method. It is a fighting method in which horse-riding warriors who face each other on a one-on-one basis call each other, draw a bow, and shoot with an arrow while passing each other. Since this tactic became an orthodox battle style, the armor’s form had to change to match Samurais’ demands. They attached importance to how easy to move on horseback wearing armor; they wanted to pull the bow smoothly and have excellent defenses against the arrows shot by the opponent. Ō-Yorois have several practical gears as follows: Ō-Sode (大袖), Wai-Date (脇楯), Kyu-bi-no Ita (鳩尾板), Sendan-no Ita (栴檀板), Kusazuri (草摺), etcetera. And also, Samurais wore the Kabuto (兜, Samurai helmet) with Fukikaeshi (吹き返し) to repel enemies’ arrows.
As infantry warfare became mainstream, armors were required to be simplified and lighter. With such changes in tactics, Ō-Yorois eventually disappeared from battlefields. In the Edo period, the number of battles decreased. And the chances of Samurais wearing armor and going to the battlefield were much reduced. Therefore, the decorativeness of how beautiful the armor is to be displayed has become more important than the practicality of how convenient it is to wear. Under these circumstances, since the Edo period, armors that reproduced the style established by the Warring States period, called the Hukko-Chou (復古調, retro style) became popular.
The Kabuto (兜, helmet) is a protector for the head. When people started using the Kabuto, it was initially designed for practical use. However, the principal purpose of its design has changed with time; Samurais tried to express their dignity, personality, or religion by wearing the characteristic design Kabutos. According to a theory, these unique designed Kabutos were made from the late Muromachi period to the Edo period. This type of Kabuto is categorized as the Kawari Kabuto (変わり兜), and a variety of materials were used to create them. For example, animal fur, seashells, plants, and papers were used as materials for decoration.
Here we would like to introduce to you a little bit more about the history of Kabutos. Before the Kawari Kabuto’s production, the Suji Kabuto (筋兜) has appeared during the Nanbokuchou (南北朝, 1337-1392) period. At that time, the tactic was gradually changed from the piggyback fight style to battle with the Tachi (太刀) sword and the Naginata (薙刀, Japanese halberd) on the ground. Therefore, there was a rise in demand for the weight saving of the Kabuto. Also, in order to turn the attack by swords, a new type of structure was invented; it is the Suji Kabuto (筋兜). Its form slides swords’ attacks when weapons hit the Kabuto. It is said that the production of the Suji Kabuto prospered in the Muromachi (室町, 1336-1573) period.
■Shikoro (side neck guard):
Golden plates laced with orange threads.
■Fukikaeshi (side neck guard):
The Fukikaeshi (吹き返し) is both ends of a helmet. It protects the face from swords and also shows its beautiful workmanship. Family crests are sometimes designed on this part as you see in this work. You would find a golden mark on each side of the Fukikaeshi. This crest is called the Sumikiri Kakuni Mokkou (隅切り角に木瓜) and is categorized in the Mokkou (木瓜) pattern. According to a theory, this motif represents the prosperity of future generations. There are a variety of types of Mokkou designs, and many families use one of them. The famous Samurai, Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長, 1534-1582) also used the Mokkou pattern for his crest and is called the Oda Mokkou (織田木瓜).
■ Front decoration (Maetate):
A Kuwagata (鍬形) is attached to this helmet. It is a kind of Maedatemono (前立物, front decoration) to dignify the appearance. This helmet’s Kuwagata has a shape in which its tip is bifurcated. If you focus on the Kuwagata Dai (鍬形台, base part to insert Tatemonos), you will find that chrysanthemums are engraved. A long time ago, the chrysanthemum was used as a medicine for obtaining a long life, and it was brought to Japan from the continent with this thought in the Nara period (648-781). Chrysanthemum symbolizes fall, and people have greatly appreciated it since ancient times. As its petals form radially, the chrysanthemum has been likened to the sun. That is why this flower pattern is treated as the symbol of perpetual youth and longevity or good health.
■Ō-Sode (shoulder guards):
Golden plates are laced with orange thread. In Japan, horse-riding warriors attacked enemies on horseback with both hands, such as bows and swords. They used the Ō-Sode (大袖) as an alternative to a shield held in one hand. The cavalry warriors protected themselves by twisting their bodies and being attacked by enemy arrows with these large sleeve protectors.
■Kyu-bi-no Ita (board to protect the left chest of the person wearing armor):
The Kyu-bi-no Ita is made of one iron plate. When a horse-riding warrior shoots a bow on a horse, placing the enemy on his left side is the natural position to pull the strings. However, this positioning leaves the left chest closest to the enemy unprotected. What do we have, the critical organ on the left chest? It is the heart. If the opponent’s arrow hits this key point, it could be fatal and had to be strongly defended. That is why Samurais had to protect their left chests carefully using sturdy protective gear.
■Sendan-no Ita (board to protect the right chest):
In contrast to the Kyu-bi-no Ita, which was made of a single piece of hard material, the Sendan-no Ita was threaded and flexible. Samurais made fine adjustments with the right hand when handling the bow on a horse. Therefore, a flexible structure was required so as not to interfere with the movement of pulling the strings.
■Kusazuri (skirt of plates attached to the cuirass):
The Kusazuri (草摺) is a protector to guard a lower body. Gold-colored metal Kusazuris are laced with orange thread and look elegant.
■Kote (armored sleeves):
Intricate iron chain mail with silk.
■Haidate (thigh protection):
The Haidate (佩楯) is a thigh guard.
■Suneate (shin guard):
The Kikkou (亀甲, turtle’s shell) pattern is used for the cloth of the leg guard. It is a continuous geometric pattern connecting regular hexagons up and down. A theory says that this design was brought from China and the Korean Peninsula during the Asuka (592-710) and Nara (710-794) periods. A proverb says turtles live long lives; therefore, turtle and turtle’s shell pattern represent longevity. In addition, as this continuous hexagonal pattern does not get out of its shape, it is said that people wished for eternal prosperity by using this design.
Also, please look at the shoes. It is covered with black hair; it is bear fur.
■Agemaki (string tied to a cross):
The Agemaki (総角) is a string tied to a dragonfly cross and attached to the back of the torso. You would find a golden ring; it is the Agemakitsuke-no Kan (総角付の鐶), and thread the Agemaki through this ring. The Agemaki connects the threads of Ō-Sode. This structure makes it easier for the armor wearer to move his arms.
■Kacchu-Hitsu (wooden armor box):
A family crest is designed on the side of this wooden box. There are many kinds of Ume (梅, Japanese apricot blossom) patterns, and the mark which is depicted on this box is categorized in the Umehachi (梅鉢) pattern. Because of its shape, we think it is the Youken Umebachi (幼剣梅鉢) pattern. It is said that the Kaga domain Maeda (加賀藩前田) family used the same family crest.
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【How to make sure the condition】
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【How To Preserve Antique Samurai Armor】
Dryness, humidity, and bad ventilation might deteriorate the condition of antique Samurai armor. The best temperature to preserve Samurai armor is around 20℃ in Celsius, and humidity should be about 60%. Direct sunlight should be avoided. We recommend storing armors in a room with good ventilation. If you like to display them outside the boxes for a prolonged time, we suggest using a glass case in order for dust not to be accumulated easily. In case you don’t use a glass case, please make sure to regularly dust off from the armor by using a soft brush made of delicate cloth or brush for painting.
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