For much of the thousand years before the late 19th century, Japanese history was marked by civil wars and factional power struggles. In Japan's insular and highly stratified social structure alliances shifted between the Emperor, the Shogun or supreme military commander and the daimyo or powerful landholders. Much of the fighting was carried out by the warrior class, or samurai.
In this society where power was underpinned by military might, martial arts were extremely important. The highly respected samurai developed an elaborate code based on discipline, ritual and symbolism generally referred to as Bushido or The Way of the Warrior. Accordingly, the samurai's armour, weaponry and horse tack developed along lines that combined practical necessity and symbolism. The codification and enforcement of samurai practices and appearance were most pronounced during the Edo period from 1603-1868. This period, in which Edo (present day Tokyo) took over from Kyoto as the centre of power, was the last of several epochs in Japanese history before the country openly embraced Western culture and technology.
Despite many subtle variations in material, technique and decoration, Japanese armour changed relatively little over the centuries. It was a lamellar type armour meaning that it was constructed of metal or leather plates or lames laced together in overlapping rows. The Japanese disliked the look of untreated non-precious metals, therefore metal plates were often lacquered or subjected to other aesthetic processes. These lames were interwoven with rows of textile cord or brocade, often silk.
Armour was made of many pieces and elements, each with its own particular name, covering most parts of the body. For instance the ensemble of plates protecting the torso was called the do. The thigh protectors were the haidate. A helmet or kabuto protected the head. This typically had horns or blades called kuwagata at the front and a plated neck guard called a shikoro at the back. The face was protected by a mask called a mempo or men gu. This was often lacquered metal or leather covering the face from the eyes down. It was moulded to simulate facial features cast in an angry countenance. The inside of the mempo was often lacquered with red to reflect upon the skin of the wearer thereby enhancing the terrifying visage. A simulated bristling moustache made from animal fur was frequently attached to the mempo. A plated and laced throat protector or yodare kake was attached to the bottom of the mempo. The overall effect of the decorated armour, horned helmet and horrifying face plate was awesome, as indeed it was intended to be.
History of Japanese Samurai Kabuto
The natural progression of design from the eleventh century of the Japanese Samurai Helmet or Kabuto known as Hoshi Kabuto (helmets with large, high standing, rivet heads), to a steady reduction in size of the rivets, to kabuto with rivets filed flat in the fifteenth century.
Early sixteenth century saw the introduction of multi plate helmets frequently referred to as Suji Bachi (Multi-plate helmet of which the rivets are counter sunk, leaving the flanged edges of the plates prominent). Suji directly translates into English as rib or flange. These multi-plate helmets from the five plate head shaped Zunari to as many as two hundred plate helmets in the early seventeenth century that would have surely rocked the traditionalist’s boat, became in vogue. No sooner had they do so than Kabuto adornment and fancy crests known as Maedate and horns known as Kuwagata appeared that caused a major stir on the battle field, and the race was on to see who could produce the most outrageous Kabuto.
The seventeenth century was the golden era for the armorers that allowed free reign of design expression and every conceivable object, foreign influences Namban kabuto and the extraordinary Kawari Kabuto Particularly those auspicious from dragons to bats and conch shells attracted the eye of the armorer and our now ever receptive fashion conscious Samurai. There are certain theories regarding just how this fashion trend actually evolved none of which have actually been proven factual.
Economics and the fact the Japanese Master craftsmen realized that their fine quality workmanship was walking advertising, soon listened to the undercurrent of chatter and with unquestionable certainty knew this market trend was going to become more in vogue The Kabuto is the crown upon the Samurai’s Armor. The pinnacle of technical and artistic skill and must be considered the central focus of the entire armor. Samurai Kabuto were considered of prime importance and thus the armorer lavished his greatest attentions upon it, much to the delight of today's discerning collectors.
Japanese Kabuto (兜, 冑) is a Helmet used with traditional Japanese armor as worn by Samurai. It features a bowl, the "hachi", which protects the crown of the head, a suspended series of articulated plates (the "shikoro") to protect the neck, and often a crest of the clan.
A Kabuto was usually constructed from 3 to over a hundred metal plates, riveted together. The plates are usually arranged vertically, and radiate from an opening in the top called the "tehen" or "hachiman-za" (seat of the war god, hachiman). The original purpose of the tehen was for the warrior to pass his top knot through. Although this usage was largely abandoned after the kamakura-muromachi period, the tehen remained as a feature of most helmets, and was decorated with a "tehen kanamono", or ring of intricately worked soft metal bands surrounding the opening of the tehen. The rivets that secure the metal plates of the kabuto to each other could be raised, creating a form known as "hoshi-bachi," or hammered flat, leaving only the flanges of the plates protruding, a form known as "suji-bachi." Some of the finer helmets were signed by smiths, usually from one of several known families, such as the Myochin, Saotome, Haruta, Unkai, and Nagasone.
Another form of Kabuto is the Kawari Kabuto, or "strange helmet." During the Momoyama period of intense civil warfare, the production of helmets was simplified to a 3 or four plate design that lacked many of the ornamental features of earlier helmets. To offset the plain, utilitarian form of the new helmet, and to provide visibility and presence on the battlefield, armorers began to build fantastic shapes on top of the simple helmets in "harikake," or lacquered paper over a wooden armature. These shapes mimicked forms from Japanese culture and mythology, including fish, cow horns, the head of the god of longevity, bolts of silk, head scarved, ichi-no-tani canyon, and ace heads, among many others. Some forms were realistically rendered, while others took on a very futuristic, modernist feel. A definitive show of Kawari Kabuto was mounted by the Japan Society in 1985. The book, entitled "Spectacular Helmets of Japan"
Most Kabuto incorporate a suspended neck guard called a "shikoro". This is usually composed of semi-circular lacquered metal or oxhide lames, attached and articulated by silk or leather lacing. This system of lames is the standard technology of defense employed, along with mail, for the body protection in Japanese Armor.
Kabuto are often adorned with "Maedate" (front crest,) "Wakidate" (side crests) or "Ushirodate" (rear crest.) These can be family or clan emblems, or flat or sculptural objects representing animals, mythical entities, prayers or other symbols. Horns are particularly common, and many helmets have "Kuwagata", or stylized deer horns, as seen in the photo.
Upon the return of general peace under the Tokogawa Shogunate in the Edo Period, Armor became more elaborate and ceremonial. Many very luxurious armors were produced during this period, as well as a great number of simpler armors for lower ranking Samurai and foot soldiers. Fine armor continued to be produced up to the end of the Edo period in 1867, and slightly beyond. Later armors often emulated the look of the romanticized Kamakura-Muromachi warriors.
A stunning and rare Edo Period Samurai Kabuto. Inquire for details.
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