Japanese Armour

Tachibana Museum

Japanese armour is closely associated with a variety of traditional techniques that were extremely complex at the time, such as black smithery, gold smithery, dyeing, leatherwork, and woodwork. Each suit of armour reflected the social status of the samurai and his code of ethics. They also gave insights into the wearer's intentions, taste, will, and faith. The armour was constructed with an aim to be practical as well as aesthetically pleasing. Furthermore, it is linked to historical dramas and eloquently conveys the culture of the samurai to future generations.

A type of Armor “Ooyoroi”
Ancient Japanese suit of armour was made of iron. It was called Tankou and Keikou and was replicated from Chinese and Korean armour. Departing from influences on the continent, the distictive form of manufacturing “Ooyoroi” (great armour) was began in the latter part of the Heian Era (the 12th century). In later periods, medieval armour was classified as Ooyoroi, Do-maru, and Haramaki.  Ooyoroi usually had larger components and was better equipped than Haramaki and Do-maru as they came with a Kabuto (a helmet) and Oosode (long-sleeves).
A type of Armor “Do-maru”  
Do-maru opens on the wearer’s right side. Haramaki opens down the center of the back. Both do-maru and haramaki just cover the torso. Do-maru and Haramaki were worn by low-ranking Samurai until the Kamakura era (the 14th century). After warfare changed, high-ranking Samurai also wore Do-maru and Haramaki equipped with a helmet and long-sleeves.
A type of Armor “Tousei-Gusoku”
In the Warring States Period (the 15th century), gun-power and incessant warfare altered the form of armour to “Tousei-Gusoku” which used more metal to cover larger surfaces of the body. Thereafter, this type of armour became mainstream.
Components of Armour
Armour was mainly made from lacquer, iron, ox, horse and deer leather, and braids, with other materials for ornamentation and attachments. For instance, leather came from dogs, bears, boars, or sharks. The metals used were gold, silver, copper, and alloyed copper (Brass, Shakudo – gold, copper alloy - etc).  Dyed and woven materials and braids were made from silk, cotton, brocade, damask, linen, velvet, wool, etc. Also, depending on the armour, some required horns, antlers, turtle shells, ivory, feathers, fur, and a variety of different wood.
Production of Armor
The most important process was blacksmithing, odoshi (lacing), and assembling the components. In addition, gold smithing, woodworking, lacquering, sewing, and other arts were necessary in production. Occasionally, it required several years to complete one suit of armour. In addition to the advanced techniques, extensive labor and expense were required as well.

Major suits of armour are assembled with small plates (kozane) and simple plates (itamono). Each of which are made from metal or leather and laced together vertically with braids or leather cords.

This vertical lacing process is called “odoshi,” the most important process in making armour. The connected plates become basic components of the trunk, long-sleeves, or helmet, after they are laced together with other attachments.

Tosei-Gusoku usually has more attachments. It is equipped with a kote (a gauntlet) and haidate (thigh guards). Both of these are formed from metal plates sewn onto underclothes. In order to wear the armour, a variety of cords are required. They mainly used braid or leather and there are a large number of braided patterns and methods of dyeing. A multitude of techniques are necessary to produce armour.

Nishioka Koubou has been applying astonishingly high quality techniques to replicate Japanese armour from earlier times. The restoration of armour is troublesome work, and requires someone well versed in traditional crafts, and history. It is very expensive, and years of practice are essential to attain a minimum set of skills. Hence, there are only a few professional armorers in Japan. The rise of a successor is also required, and there is no public funding. Younger generations have to devote large amount of time and money to become professional armorers because it is a severely demanding occupation. Yet, handing down and maintaining Japanese culture is an essential job. An understanding of historical and cultural values can only be passed down to future generations by “repairing and reproducing.” Japanese armour exhibits sophisticated craftsmanship, unique aesthetics, and reflects the samurai’s code of ethics, as well as the faith of the commissioner and creator. Continuing the work ensures the continuity of cultural and historical values to coming generations of Japanese as well as others around the world.
I take care of the producing and restoring processes. My wife is in charge of the braiding part. She has exhumed some ancient and obscure braiding and silk dyeing techniques, and contributes to the restorations and reproductions. We work towards demonstrative restoration of Japanese armour, which requires restoration for the appropriate reappearance of armour for future generations. Because of the many components to a suit of armour, it is critical to understand all the materials and a variety of applied techniques. This entails profound historical knowledge and a need to take into consideration techniques from different eras. Occasionally, we commission scientific research in order to exhume techniques and materials. A number of specialists, including private research firms, universities, and enterprises, contribute to the scientific verification of materials. Based on the research, we employ the same techniques used in the period the armour was made. 
We study the original armour in detail, and reproduce it as authentically as possible.

Aka Ito Odoshi Yoroi (Yoroi Armour with red racing)

This is an “Ooyoroi” produced at the end of the Heian period, and was dedicated to Shigetada Hatakeyama. It is enshrined in the Musashi Mitake Shrine on top of Mitake Mountain in Ome city, Tokyo. It is designated as a National Treasure, and is the most outstanding suit of armour currently in existence in Japan.
"I spent a long time examining the original armour in detail, and reproduced it as loyally as possible. The braiding work was done by Chizu Nishioka and the goldsmithing by Shuji Ueno. The reproduction was painstakingly accomplished and it is an outstanding replica compared to other replicas of this armour."

Aka Ito Odoshi Yoroi (Yoroi Armor with red racing)
back style

Kozakuragawa odoshi yoroi

This is an Ooyoroi (great armour) suit of armour and is enshrined in Sugataten shrine in Ishiwa city in Yamanashi prefecture. It is designated as a national treasure. It is a famous suit of armour without a shield, owned by the house of Kouga Takeda. The armour was assembled in the middle of the Kamakura period (the 14th century) from existing components, which were made in the late Heian period (the 10th century). Then, it was remodelled several times in the Edo Period (the 15h century to the 18th century). The armour has been publicly termed “Kozakuragawa-odoshi”, however according to our research, it was discovered that kozakuragawa was dyed yellow by ‘Kihada’, now identified as “Kozakuragawa- kigaeshi”. Thus, the armour was replicated with the appropriate dyes and methods of the time.

Kozakuragawa odoshi yoroi
back style

We have already restored hundreds of suits of armour including armour owned by private individuals, temples, the house of Tachibana and other feudal lords (Daimyo).

Mogami-do Armour Decorated with a Ring Round the Moon
belonged to TACHIBANA Muneshige 1st
Momoyama period, 16th century
restoration by NISHIOKA Fumio

Hotoke-marudo Armour Covered with Chestnut Leather
belonged to TACHIBANA Muneshige 1st
Momoyama period, 16th century
restoration by NISHIOKA Fumio

Replica for a museum workshop
 We also produce replicas for a museum program, which gives people an opportunity to wear suits of armour. Seeing armour is not enough to understand its real value, actually wearing armour gives a deeper understanding of it. To fully understand its quality and weight it is best to put it on. For instance, touching it gives the feeling of its texture; wearing it lets you feel its weight and the sound it makes in motion. The armour even emits odours. There are a number of replicas of suits of armour made of paper and plastic to enjoy casually, but our suits of armour are assembled from original materials using original techniques as accurately as possible. For example, I replicated “Byakudan nuri asagiitoodoshi Haramaki ” that was commissioned by gusoku of OHTOMO Sourin who was the Daimyo of Bungo; “Gachirinmon mogamido gusoku” TACHIBANA Muneshige, the first feudal lord of Yanagawa province owned; “Gousunari Kabutotuki kuroito odoshi marudo gusoku ” the famous warrior KURODA Kanbei owned.

Haramaki Armour Laced with Light Blue Thread
Replica for Museum workshop

Example of a Japanese military commander armour

Domaru Armour Laced with Black Thread and Vermillion-Lacqured Lid-Shaped Helmet
Replica for Museum workshop

Example of a Japanese military commander in Kuroda Kanbei's armour

By : Tachibana Museum
Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Translate with Google