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.
Monte Schumacher is the owner of Shogun Art. For the past 25 years he has been considered one of the world's most knowledgeable experts in authentic Japanese Samurai Armor.