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Specialists in Fine Japanese Arms and Armour

A splendid example of a Byō Toji Yokohagi Okegawa-dō Gusoku, complete with a signed Kabuto and Uma-jirushi battle standard

The evolution of Japanese armour reflected the nation’s historical shifts between wartime and peacetime conditions. Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and the decisive Siege of Osaka in 1615, where the Toyotomi clan succumbed to the Eastern armies, Japan transitioned into an era of peace ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Armour crafted in the middle of the Edo period retained its practical functionality and battlefield effectiveness. However, the necessity to wear armour for battle had diminished during this period.

Instead, armour became reserved for special occasions like ceremonies or parades, allowing owners to showcase their wealth through the quality of their armour. This suit of armour serves as an illustration of this shift. Several factors distinguish it from those used during the Warring States period, where bright colours primarily served to be easily seen and identified from a distance, whether by friend or foe. This transition encouraged the incorporation of intricate engravings, stencilled deer hide, imported fabrics, gold accents, and elaborate embellishments on the helmet attached to the cuirass.

The focus shifted entirely to intricate details, emphasising that armours were meant to be examined up close. Nearly every component of this armour has been adorned to mirror the elevated status of its original owner.

Age: Edo period 18th century 

Japan: Iron, lacquer, gold, copper, silk

School: Saotome. Signed Ieoya

Provenance: Private collection in Japan

Exhibition: Mononofu London 2022, Asian Art in London 2022, LAPADA Fair London 2023

Authenticity: 国際日本甲冑武具振興協会
The International Society for the Promotion of Japanese Armour. Certificate of Provenance  No.526013

Status: Available

The Kabuto (helmet)
The helmet is classified as a tetsu-sabiji roku-jū-ni ken suji-tate bachi tetsu kinpaku urushi-nuri kiritsuke ko-zane kebiki odoshi ko manjû-shikoro. Crafted by a katchū-shi of the Saotome school and signed Ieoya. Saotome helmets are highly sought after and esteemed, both in the present day and during the Edo period when initially commissioned. Noteworthy characteristics set Saotome helmets apart from other schools. They employ an advanced system of overlapping each tate-no-ita plate on the helmet bowl, a technique pioneered by Myōchin Yoshimichi. This overlapping method adds an extra layer of iron, believed to offer enhanced protection against musket shots. Other distinctive features include the tombo-jiri shinogi dragonfly tail at the base of the haraidate-dai frontal device holder, a tsuke mabizashi visor shaped like a horse’s hoof, and the heichōzan-hachi style of the bowl with a simple tehen-no-kanamono crown. The shikoro is crafted in the wide ko-manju style from five solid ita-mono plates, modelled with dry lacquer to achieve the kiritsuke-kozane effect found on the dō. It is coated with kinpaku gold leaf and laced in the intricate kebiki-odoshi style using a dark blue silk odoshi-ge braid. The first upper plate, hachi tsuke-no-ita, features medium-sized fukigaeshi winglets with a decorative panel surrounded by a gold fukurin edging. Inside the panel, two types of stencilled egawa deer hide are applied, joined by a stitched band of jabara flat silk cord. At the top is a gilded copper disc reflecting the clan crest, suemon. The outer section is adorned with three rows of braid: a multicoloured single row called uname and two rows of hishi-nui laced in orange, staggered with the uname above and between the first row of hishi-nui. This traditional lacing style dates back to the mid-twelfth century, when individual hon-kozane scales were securely laced together. The same decoration extends to the lower kata-zuri-no-ita plate on the main section of the neck guard. Ko-manju shikoro are common to Saotome hachi due to their size.

Menpo (face mask)
The distinct face mask follows the me-no-shita men style, crafted from russet iron. Embossed shiwa wrinkles on the upper cheekbones accentuate the focused, stern expression. The detachable hana nose features a sizeable yak hair moustache along the hana-no-ita. The open kuchi mouth lacks ue-ba teeth. Standard mimi ears are riveted to the edges. The lower hiya-zuri jawline is beautifully embossed, iron oda-yoroi-kugi posts were utilised to secure the shinobi-no-o helmet cord. The mask’s interior is lacquered in a deep red shu-urushi nuri, and a basic ase-nagashi-no-ana drain hole is under the chin. The tare throat protector aligns with the other armour components, constructed from solid iron ita-mono plates modelled into kitsune-ko-zane and adorned with gilding. The same decorative elements of uname and hishi-nui are present.

The Dō (cuirass)
The body protector is identified as a tetsu-sabiji-urushi-nuri byō-toji yoko-hagi go-mai-dō. This description centres on the utilisation of countersunk protruding rivets known as byō. The term go-mai indicates that the cuirass comprises five main sections joined by hinges. The absence of these rivets would categorise the dō as an okegawa type. The iron plates are coated with a russet iron lacquer effect called tetsu-sabiji-urushi-nuri, protecting against rust. The upper front and rear plates feature stencilled egawa deer hide depicting playful shi-shi dogs with floral motifs. These sections are bordered with a gilt copper fukurin edge. Notably, the front displays what seem to be double nipple rings. In the Warring States period, most had a single ring, saihai-no-kanamono, to secure a commander’s signalling baton. However, in the Edo period, another ring, called tenugui-no-kan, was added to hold a head-towel. As armour was primarily worn for ceremonies, the wearer could remove their helmet and dry the head towel before the return journey. At the back of the dō, a sizeable silk age-maki bow is affixed to a gilded and engraved ornamental anchor known as age-maki-no-kan. The bow serves a practical purpose, as its large loops can be employed to fasten sode-fusa cords if safeguarding barrier between the surface and the uke-zutsu holder (not visible) responsible for securing the battle standard in position. The kusazuri armoured skirt comprises seven pendants, each with five sections made from nerigawa dried rawhide, crafted to resemble individual scales known as hon-kozane. Solid ita-mono plates eventually replaced hon-kozane for better protection against edged weapons and musket shots. The lames are reinforced with a dry lacquer compound called kokuso, creating a kiritsuke-kozane effect. In this case, the kiritsuke-kozane is gilded in kinpaku and laced in the kebiki-odoshi style with silk odoshi-ge braid.

Sode (shoulder guards)
Medium-sized sode shoulder protectors were customary in high-level armour, typically equipped with two sets of shoulder guards. The smaller set was used when the wearer sought to reduce the weight of the armour. Constructed with solid ita-mono iron plates featuring kinpaku kiritsuke-kozane, there’s evidence of re-lacing, noticeable in the odoshi-ge of the uname not matching other parts. However, the jabara on the sode aligns with the jabara used on the fukigaeshi of the kabuto. Which would indicate to this change being required as a part of the armours maintenance.

Sangu (armour for the limbs)
The sangu consists of three armour components: kote (protective arm guards), haidate (protective apron), and suneate (protective shin guards). The inari-type kote, known for their flexibility and favoured by samurai using bows, incorporate small iron ikada splints and a defensive elbow area with a circular hiji-gane plate surrounded by an outer ring of fluted matsu-ba plates. The haidate and kote feature chain mail is based on European design, with the haidate adorned with stencilled deer hide on the vertical chika-gawa bands supporting the lower panels. The suneate, in the shino style, consist of seven black lacquered iron plates joined with chain mail. The top of the guard has a knee pad made of small hexagonal iron plates covered in deer hide, separated by decorative stitching and tiny hishi-nui cross knots between each segment. The differing ire-ji silk backing materials of the suneate from the haidate and kote suggest replacements or recovery at some point. It’s important to note that during the original crafting of the sangu, the assembler had access to a bolt of imported silk bodice. When a section wore out, it could not be replaced with silk from the original batch.