Namban helmet: design or influence?

A testimony to the curiosity and fascination the West aroused in 16th and 17th century Japan, this helmet is a symbol of a civilizational encounter

Namban Helmet (Namban boshi) Namban Helmet (Namban boshi) (Momoyama /Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1600) by unknown authorMuseu do Oriente

Namban Helmet (Namban Boshi)

Japan, Momoyama | Edo period (c.1600). Japanese paper (washi), lacquer

Fascinated with the hats of Portuguese men, the Japanese copied their design, adapting it to the traditional lacquering techniques of armor. 

As the hat was associated with social status, the Japanese transposed its design to the universe of the great warlords, creating a helmet. This would indicate that it was manufactured not for Europeans, but for the internal market.  

This piece thus combines two perspectives: the Japanese and the Portuguese.

The most visible part has a mon (family emblem) known as Maru ni Tachi Omodaka mon, which was used by several daimyo families (great lords) who established contact with the Portuguese. 

Made of alternate layers of paper and lacquer, the Helmet’s gilded interior contrasts with the brown hue on outside, which must originally have been a lustrous black. 

Did you know that, in the 16th-17th century, it became fashionable among the Japanese to dress “European style”, and even wearing crucifixes as accessories, though they weren’t Christians?

Credits: Story

© Fundação Oriente - Museu do Oriente

CURVELO, Alexandra, “Capacete Namban (Namban Boshi)”, In, Presença Portuguesa na Ásia. Testemunhos, Memórias, Coleccionismo, 2008, pp. 122.

MARQUES, Inês, O Espaço do Português no Japão – Presença, Evolução e Futuro da Língua Portuguesa no Estado Nipónico. Lisboa: Dissertação de Mestrado apresentada à Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa, 2017, p. 11.  
Photography: Hugo Maertens, BNP Paribas

Credits: All media
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