Samurai Helmet

Samurai Helmet


The Brutality and Delicacy of Samurai Armor: Superior Protection with a God-like Aesthetic

The Samurai class was officially dissolved over 150 years ago. Nonetheless, the warriors’ elaborate armor is still recognized globally as an iconic emblem of Japanese military strength and virtue. The samurai were an elite group of strictly trained and well-armored soldiers – even the horses were armored.

The beauty of the samurai armor stems from a visual culture that valued a unique blend of brutality and delicacy – iron plates paired with fine silk ropes, a fierce fighter who was also chivalrous. Each element of a samurai’s armor was significant and personalized for him. Each suit took months to make. Unfortunately, few have remained intact over the centuries. But those that have survived are as wondrous to behold as they were hundreds of years ago.

Photograph of Japanese samurai in armor, 1860s. ( Public Domain )


Table of Content

Like many aspects of Japanese history and culture, the roots of its armor craft can be traced back to mainland Asia. From China and Korea trends and technologies were imported into the island empire, adapted and improved by centuries of innovation. Some of the earliest known examples of body plates and helmets manufactured in Japan have been dated by experts all the way back to the 4th century. Still, it is known that there was a tradition of armour making going back still further. How many of these wonderful pieces were lost in battle, we will never know.


(Image: kitazawamuseum.kitz.co.jp)

The ‘Japanese’ style of armour crafting is said to have emerged in form during the Heian period (794-1185 AD), marking the stark distinction between Japanese and continental traditions. It is important to note that today’s piece, the Aka-Kawaodoshi Samurai Armour Set is a Japanese craft from precisely this period.


(Image: ja.wikipedia.org)

With a mix of leather and lacquered components, hinges, and joints, these sets offered breathable, flexible, weatherproof protection from the enemy. Still, the main component remained heavy steel despite their small, almost delicate-looking components, the metal scales add up. The Aka-Kawaodoshi Samurai Armour comes in at a hefty 25 kilograms (55.1 pounds). That’s more than a full sack of potatoes. Imagine putting that on and charging into battle!


(Image: yoroikatchu.jugem.jp)


By Paul 'Batman' O'Brien B.A., N.C.E.H.S., Dip. Acu., Adv. Dip. OBB, Cert Clin. Med. M.AFPA, M.ETCMA, M.C.Th.A.

Samurai Masks have always been a source of fascination for me and it seems, for many others given the influence they continue to have in popular media culture. In this article I'll explore the common varieties of samurai masks from the historical  Kabuto (兜, 冑) , the helmet worn by the samurai, and the  menpō / mengu  (face mask) in particular, to the theatrical masks of popular culture.

The kabuto or samurai helmet is easily identifiable and immediately striking in appearance. However, they weren't always like that pictured below opposite. The kabuto developed over a series of centuries in direct reaction to the changes in battle and warfare the samurai experienced.

The first of what would become samurai masks debuted in Japan between the 5 th – 10th Century AD. Imported and adapted from China. There were 2 helmet types

  • Mabizashi (keiko). This helmet had a horizontal peak, like a Roman centurion's. It was designed to defend against direct downwards or diagonal downward blows.
  • Shokaku (tanko) was a beaked helmet. It was cheaper to make and thus more popular. Both have "sane" (small plates) hanging from the sides to create neck and cheek guards.

By the 8th -12 Century AD, known as the Heian Period or classical period we see the start of the typical samurai like helmets known as ikaboshi kabuto. These helmets were characterised by large winged side's called fukigaeshi. The helmets also developed radial segments to create the rounded shape and were characterised by the visible rivets holding them in place. The helmet or kabuto also had a 4cm hole at top for the top-knot, part of the traditional hair style worn by the samurai. It was also used for ventilation. There was no inner liner and it wasn't the most comfortable. The design of this helmet was for defence against overhead attacks from those mounted on horseback and against arrows from above.

By the 12th-14th century warfare had changed in Japan. Mounted warriors were no longer the dominant threat and bladed weapons were increasingly being used in battle. The armour of the samurai changed to reflect this. The kabuto helmet went from 15 triangle segments to 32 with centred rivets. They also closed the top hole and replaced it with a circular ornament, sealing up a potential weak point. The Shikoro,the helmet neck guard which had always hung straight down now was designed in a curving outwards ark. In addition the wing like fukigaeshi were sharply upturned, producing a better view for bowman and better defence against cuts. This however did create more exposure of the face and so the samurai masks, the   menpō   were introduced.

These masks known as mengu came in many different forms . Some known as Somen covered the entire face. Others known as Hanbo covered only the chin and part of the neck while Happuri covered the forehead and cheeks in a similar fashion to Roman infantry. The most distinctive of the these however were the menpo, which covered the face from below the eyes to the chin. These incredible masks featured exaggerated snarls and grimace's, and even fierce fangs or teeth, detachable noses and the famous bristled moustache, often made from horse tail hair.

These masks were made primarily from iron or even leather and often given a lacquered finishin for both beauty and practical weather protection. Practical as always the samurai mask offered excellent defence against blades and arrows, but also acted as counter balance to the top heavy kabuto helmet. They often had a small hole for drainage at the bottom (fierce combat can work up a sweat) and were tied on with a number of different intricate knots by a chin cord called a "Shinbobi-no-o".

These types of helmet and samurai masks became an enduring symbol of the samurai power and rank. They achieved such perfection of purpose that little more advancement was necessary. By the 14th-16th century the only major addition was that of a throat protector, called a nodawa that hung from the  menpō .

With the 16th century the Samurai had achieved a level of peace in Japan, the battle of Sekigarara in 1603 brought an end to the many years of conflict faced by the feudal Japanese warrior. Over time the practical aspects of samurai masks became distorted. Self conscious commanders wanted distinctive armour and helmets and strove to display their prestige with incredibly large ornament fixed to the kabuto. They made the helmet cumbersome and offered no practical benefit as they were often made from paper or bamboo.

Samurai Masks are still incredibly impressive and even today are featured prominently in our culture. Today one of the greatest characters of the cinema screen is defined by his samurai mask complete with a jet black kabuto helmet, curving Shikoro neck guard and an fearsome futuristic  menpō .


Samurai Helmet - History

Introduction and Slide Show Index

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world, with a collection that encompasses nearly 450,000 works of art. The museum welcomes over a million visitors each year, including numerous schoolchildren, who experience art from ancient Egyptian to contemporary, along with special exhibitions, and innovative educational programs.

Recently, the museum hosted the spectacular exhibition &ldquoSamurai! Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection&rdquo featuring more than 140 objects illuminating the life, culture, and pageantry of these revered and feared Japanese warriors&mdashfrom one of the best and largest collections in the world.

Highlights included helmets of lacquered metal adorned with emblems often inspired by nature&mdashwhich signaled the status of the wearer, differentiated samurai from each other, and also frightened the enemy on the battlefield&mdashand full suits of exquisitely crafted armor, weapons, horse armor, and accoutrements used for both battle and ceremonies.

The exhibit showcased 21 full suits of armor, including one formerly owned by the Yoshiki branch of the Mōri clan, a prominent family whose origins date to 12th century Japan. Three life-size horses clad in armor illustrated the pageantry of samurai and their mounts in battle or procession.

About Samurai Culture

The history of the samurai begins in 792, when Japan ended its policy of conscripting troops. This led provincial landowners to assemble their own forces for defense, giving rise to the samurai class. By 1185, warlords became the military elite, ruling in the name of the emperor. Leading them was a shogun, commander of the most powerful family or clan. Under him were daimyo, heads of other families, who were served by samurai warriors. Through the centuries different clans vied for power. However, in 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu became shogun and established a lasting peace that extended some 250 years (Edo period, 1615&ndash1868). During the subsequent Meiji Restoration in 1868, the emperor reasserted his authority as supreme ruler and the samurai as an official elite class was dissolved.

Over the course of their long rule, the samurai clans marshaled legions of formidable warriors who cut down their enemies on foot and horseback on the battlefield. To protect the infantry and mounted samurai, armor became increasingly complex and varied, depending on its use and the status of the wearer. It also developed into an intricately designed work of art that served as a symbol of protection, ceremony, and prestige.

Creating samurai armor was a highly specialized art form overseen by an armorer, who recruited a team of blacksmiths, softmetal (gold and copper) craftsmen, leather workers, braid makers, dyers, painters, and other artisans. The armor they produced protected the wearer and incorporated motifs reflecting samurai spirituality, folklore, and nature. Nine main schools were established, and in the Edo period (1615&ndash1868), armorers were elevated to the rank of artists. The Myōchin school, which is well represented in the Barbier-Mueller collection, still exists and has been maintained by the same family for generations.

Armor was crafted depending on whether the samurai fought on foot or horseback and what types of weapons were in use at the time. Spears, arrows with quivers, swords, and a matchlock gun are on view in the exhibition. Until the end of the Kamakura period (1185&ndash1333), bows and arrows were the samurai&rsquos primary weapons. During the Nanbokchō and Muromachi periods (1333&ndash1392 and 1392&ndash1568), more battles requiring hand-to-hand combat made lances and swords the more effective weapons of choice until the introduction of the matchlock gun in 1543 by &ldquosouthern barbarians&rdquo (nanban), Portuguese mariners who brought firearms with them when they landed in southern Japan. Their influence, and that of the Dutch, can be seen in a variety of masks and helmets in the exhibition. European army equipment eventually impacted the styles of Japanese armor, and construction had to adapt to protect against the new weapon introduced by the Portuguese.

The spectacle of high-ranking samurai dressed in full regalia for battle, procession, and ceremony comes to life in a display of three warriors on horseback. Of particular note is armor of the tatehagidō type (early Edo period, 17th century), shown with horse armor (bagai), a horse mask (bamen), and horse tack (bagu, early to mid-Edo period, 17th&ndash18th century). Horse armor was made of small tiles of pressed leather lacquered in gold and sewn onto cloth. A mask crafted of boiled leather that was shaped and lacquered to represent a stylized horse or dragon protected the horse&rsquos head. The saddle was made of lacquered, decorated, or inlaid hardwoods, and saddle pads protected the horse from the heavy metal stirrups. The samurai were accomplished mounted archers, outfitting their horses with wide stirrups made of iron, wood, and copper or silver these served as sturdy platforms on which the archers could stand and shoot. Before the 17th century, samurai horses did not wear armor. Subsequently, the armoring of horses conveyed the prestige and power of their owners during ceremonies that paid tribute to highranking leaders or marked special occasions.

When not in use, samurai armor would be showcased for guests to see in the shoin, or special reception room of a daimyo&rsquos home, on the 11th day of the first month of each year. A highlight of Samurai! is the presentation of helmets and suits of armor not only as symbols of power and authority, but also as beautiful works of art. Exquisitely decorated helmets, such as Flame helmet (kaen kabuto) representing the flaming jewel (hōju no tama, early Edo period, about 1630), appear in a dramatically lit, jewel-box display, one of numerous helmets adorned with fanciful shapes, including horns, shells, bamboo, and Buddhist iconography.

To fully appreciate the world of the samurai, the exhibition also introduced visitors to bushidō, the &ldquoway of the warrior.&rdquo This code of conduct incorporated martial and ethical traditions, including honesty, courage, honor, and loyalty, as well as the warrior&rsquos acceptance of death, either at the hand of the enemy in battle, or through ritual suicide should he break the code.


Samurai Helmet - History

This section is dedicated to provide an in depth view at various topics that directly relate to the history of the Japanese military forces.

JAPANESE SAMURAI SWORD HISTORY This section provides information about the different periods of the sword. A brief description of the history of Japan is also discussed.
SAMURAI SWORDSMITH SCHOOLS The sword makers are a crucial component of the history of the Samurai. This section provides information about the various schools that trained swordsmiths.
SAMURAI SWORD ANATOMY This section of the web site provides a break down of the sword and the names given to each component.
SAMURAI ARMOR ANATOMY The Samurai armor is a very unique piece of equipment used by the warrior. This page provides the visitor with a break down of the anatomy of the armor along with a brief history of its use.
SAMURAI ARMOR - MODERN REPLICA The Samurai armor is a very interesting piece of history. Its intricate construction required very skillful craftsmen to build. The armor featured here is a well made copy of the Samurai armor.
SAMURAI HELMET ANATOMY The helmets worn by the Samurai were a very distinct component. Similar to an indivisual's signature. This page discusses its history and anatomy.
READING SAMURAI SWORD SIGNATURES The Samurai sword was often signed by the master who made it or the factory it produced it. This section provides an understanding of how to interpret the signatures.
JAPANESE BLADE MARKINGS A comprehensive study of the different military markings stamped on the Japanese blades. From the Samurai swords to the bayonets.

The Samurai swords are often signed on the tang of the blade. This section of the website explains the basics of how to read the signatures.

After Japan surrendered there was a large cache of weapons and equipment that was captured by the Americans. Some of the items were brought back by GI's as war souvenirs. Others were destroyed.

This photographed was taken by Clinton O. Daly. While he was in the Mariana Islands he got to witness barges being filled with Japanese weapons and equipment, they were floated to the deep waters of the lagoons where they were sunk.

There are basically four striking points allowed in a Kendo match. Using the bamboo sword the fighters can strike the top of the head, the wrist, the ribs and a straight thrust to the throat. All of this areas are protected by an armored structure whose components include canvas, wood and metal.
Kendo matches are very lively and action packed. Fighters move swiftly striking with deadly accuracy as they yell the name of the technique they are executing. This action is reminiscent of the begining days of the Samurai warrior where opponents at war would face each other and yell out their resumes (name of school where they learned to fight, family name, number of battles, etc.) as they charged towards each other with sword in hand.

You may call us at (623) 934-8181 or contact us via email.

We offer a quick tutorial on how to photograph a Samurai sword . we point out the things we need to see in order to review the sword.

You may call us at (623) 934-8181 or contact us via email.

The field of military antiques and collectibles is growing. Some people get involved in the field out of their passion for historical items. Other individuals happen to come across military antiques by pure chance. sometimes items are purchased at yard sales, flea markets, etc. Other times a person may inherit militaria from a relative.

Regardless of its point of origin, this website can provide you with information that will help you identify the items, and in many cases, find the value of the item.

After WWII, US Soldiers brought back an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 swords back with them.

This section of the web site is dedicated to providing detailed information regarding the Samurai sword. It provides the visitor with a way in which to identify a sword and determine its value in the market, answering one of the most common questions asked: How much is my sword worth?

1 WWII KATANA - PRE-1900s HAND MADE BLADE
2 WWII KATANA - MACHINE MADE BLADE
3 WWII KATANA - HAND MADE BLADE
4 WWII KATANA - MACHINE MADE BLADE, SIGNED
5 WWII KATANA - SIGNED
6 WWII SAMURAI KATANA
7 WWII KATANA - NCO SWORD
8 WWII SAMURAI KATANA
9 1800's SAMURAI KATANA
10 1800's WAKISASHI - NO SCABBARD
11 1800's SAMURAI WAKISASHI
12 1800's WAKISASHI - WOODEN STORAGE
13 1800's SAMURAI WAKISASHI
14 WWII SAMURAI KATANA
15 WWII JAPANESE KATANA - SIGNED
16 WWII JAPANESE ARMY KATANA
17 1800's WAKISASHI - LACKERED
18 1800's SAMURAI WAKISASHI
19 WWII NCO KATANA - MACHINE MADE
20 WWII KATANA - MACHINE MADE
21 WWII KATANA - MACHINE MADE
22 EARLY 1900's KATANA - HAND MADE
23 Showa Period KATANA - Machine MADE
24 WWII KATANA - HAND MADE
25 WWII KATANA -
26 WWII KATANA - Ishido Teruhide blade
27 WWII KATANA - Koto blade
28 WWII KATANA NCO Sword

More swords are available for viewing.

Japanese soldiers took their family swords to battle with them, in very much the same way the shogun did hundreds of years before. If a soldier did not have a family sword or did not want to take it, the government would provide him with a machine made sword. After defeating the Japanese battles throughout the South Pacific, GIs would collect the swords from the battle field and send them back home. Unfortunately, many of these swords were used as tools for working around the yard, which would damage the blade severely.

Many other swords met a fiery end at the hand of foundry workers who were ordered to melt them at the end of the war or during the last days of the war when the Japanese military was running out of metal.

Most of the samples shown here are for the WWII period. However, blades from other eras are also featured.

Most of the samples shown here are for the WWII period. However, blades from other eras are also featured.

This information helps identify military collectibles. It also contains information regading the value of Japanese military uniforms.

This information helps identify military collectibles. It also contains information regading the value of Japanese military hats and helmets.


Portrait of samurai warrior Genkuro Yoshitsune and monk Musashibo Benkei

The famed samurai warrior and Minamoto clan general Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189), shown here standing at the rear, was the only person in Japan who could defeat the fierce warrior-monk, Musashibo Benkei. Once Yoshitsune proved his fighting prowess by beating Benkei in a duel, the two became inseparable fighting partners.

Benkei was not only ferocious but also famously ugly. Legend says that his father was either a demon or a temple guardian and his mother was a blacksmith's daughter. Blacksmiths were among the burakumin or "sub-human" class in feudal Japan, so this is a disreputable genealogy all around.

Despite their class differences, the two warriors fought together through the Genpei War (1180-1185). In 1189, they were besieged together at the Battle of Koromo River. Benkei held off the attackers to give Yoshitsune time to commit seppuku according to legend, the warrior monk died on his feet, defending his lord, and his body remained standing until enemy warriors knocked it over.


100% Handcrafted Proudly In Japan

by the world’s preeminent Samurai Armor manufacturer. Our armor is constructed by hand, using multiple iron pieces, beautiful lacings and elaborately crafted chainmail.

Precise Reenactment

Each suit of armor is researched and modeled after examples found in museums, private collections, temples, shrines, hidden storehouses of Samurai clans and other historical sources. All pieces are painstakingly handcrafted by experienced artisans, using authentic methods and materials.

The premier Armory

From television dramas, such as Yoshitsune, to feature films, including Akira Kurosawa’s classics, Ran and Kagemusha, Our armory has shared the spirit of the Samurai with the world. Having produced thousands of suits of armor, their clientele extends from the entertainment industry to temples, museums, and even the Queen of England.

DIMENSIONS & Weight

Our armors are designed to fit average Japanese adults up to 175cm (5 3/4') tall, with up to 41" (105 cm) chests. If you need a larger size, we would be happy to offer you our custom sizing option to ensure the perfect fit. A sizing fee may be charged, depending on your measurements. It will take 1 to 2 additional weeks to complete a custom sized suit of armor.

Completion Time

It takes from 4-16 weeks to finish made-to-order armors, depending on items.

The items listed as "Ready-To-Ship" (in-stock) can deliver within a few business days after the payment completed.

Box and Stand Included

Your armor will also come in a black lacquered wooden storage box that doubles as a beautiful Armor Stand for you to proudly display your armor, along with the wooden stand to have the armor stay sitting straight up on the box.


The Accidentally Couture Life of a Samurai

How do you dress for a dance with death? If you were a 14th century Samurai, the pressure was on to go into battle with a kabuto (helmet) that subscribed to a fiercely maximalist vision. These incredible creations varied in form and detail depending on the owner and era, but they were always big, bedazzled, and meant business on the battlefield. As martial relics, historians have looked to them to trace the aesthetics of war in Japan. As lovers of all things shiny, we look to them as a brilliant lesson in accidental ancient couture…

1890s photo showing a variety of armor and weapons typically used by samurai / Wikipedia

With utility, strength, and utter fierceness as general design requirements, kabuto started emerging as early as the 5th century in Japan, but reached epic heights with the rise of the samurai. As high-ranking model citizens, it was above all a samurai’s job to serve nobility and live in accordance with Bushido: the way of the warrior. They did so for about 1,000 years – no easy feat – and brought the new, 10th century militaristic mind-set of shogunate Japan into the 19th century.

If you’re baffled as to why anyone would go to such lengths to make such complicated head gear, consider this: to be a samurai meant you had officially arrived. You were the cream of the crop in high society – think of it, in loose terms, as being a member of the court of Louis XIV, and having to show up in your finest powdered wig. Well, this was like that, but a lot more militia oriented.

These helmets were feats of craftsmanship reserved for the highest ranking samurai, as well as a visual symbol of whatever clan they represented (hence the various symbols and animals). In the heat of a fight, it was hard to miss your brother when he had a giant squid on his forehead.

Even women, while not formally known as samurai (but onna-bugeisha) could fight alongside samurai in battle wearing kabuto helmets.

As William E. Deal explains in Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan, “Helmets of the Warring States period began to reflect the grandeur of the age in their size, dimensions, and elaborate ornamentation”. Today, your eyeballs are in for a total feast Alexander McQueen-level fabulosity:

(Left) A ceremonial helmet with an octopus and Genji cart wheel crest, 19th century. (Right) A ceremonial fish helmet. Helmet (Zukinnari Kabuto) from the 16th century / The Metropolitan Museum of Art Samurai face Guard and Helmet from Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Two helmets from the Edo Period (16th-17th century)

Maximalism indeed. And yes, we saved the bunny ears for last. At their most basic, which is already quite intricate in itself, the samurai’s helmet evoked the silhouette of Darth Vader:

It goes to show just how much influence the fashion of Japanese warfare has had on global pop culture today. The Star Wars costume designers have always said they were inspired by Nazi helmets for Vader’s uniform, but George Lucas said he pulled inspiration for various Star Wars costumes straight from the classic 1956 film, Seven Samurai.

From the top of your golden kabuto, to the tip of your fur-trimmed kegutsu (shoes), the samurai channeled a higher place of spirituality when he stepped into uniform. And why, yes indeed that is some matching face and neck gear! Meant to seamlessly meld with the helmet, it shows the truly transformative, all-consuming power of the samurai uniform.

Today, it can be hard to imagine the men behind the grimacing headgear. That’s why we’ll end on our absolute favourite, and most infamous kabuto…

This one belonged to Tadakatsu, known as “the Samurai of Samurais” and “the Warrior Who Surpassed Death”, because he fought over 55 battles without ever sustaining a serious injury. Dating from the latter half of the 16th century, you can imagine how the helmet would’ve looked on Tadakatsu, silhouetted with horns seemingly sprouting from his head on the battlefield…


The Bushido Code: The Eight Virtues of the Samurai

“So, boy. You wish to serve me?” Silhouetted against the blue-black sky, the horse-mounted samurai with the horned helmet towered over me like a demon as I knelt in the dirt before him. I could not see his face but there was no mistaking the authority in his growling tone, nor the hint of mockery in his question. I tried to speak and managed only a faint croak. My mouth had gone dry, as parched as a man dying of thirst. But I had to respond. My fate-and though I didn’t know it then, the fate of all of Japan-rested on my answer. Raising my head just enough to brave a glance at the demonic figure, I saw him staring at me, like a hawk poised to seize a mouse in its talons. When I managed to speak, my voice was clear and steady, and I drew courage with each syllable. “That’s correct, Lord Nobunaga,” I said. “I do.”

It was a time of carnage and darkness: the Age of Wars, when the land was torn by bloodshed and the only law was the law of the sword. A peasant wandered the countryside alone, seeking his fortune, without a coin in his pocket. He longed to become the epitome of refined manhood — a samurai — but nothing in the demeanor of this five-foot-tall, one-hundred-ten-pound boy could possibly have foretold the astounding destiny awaiting him. His name was Hideyoshi, and on that fateful spring evening in the year 1553, the brash young warlord Nobunaga hired him as a sandal-bearer. Driven by a relentless desire to transcend his peasant roots, Hideyoshi went on to become Nobunaga’s loyal protégé and right-hand man. Ultimately he became the supreme ruler of all Japan — the first peasant ever to rise to the absolute height of power — and unified a nation torn apart by more than a hundred years of civil strife.

Hideyoshi’s true story has inspired countless novels, plays, movies — even video games — for more than four centuries. Born the weakling son of a poor farmer at a time when martial prowess or entry to the priesthood were the only ways for an ambitious commoner to escape a life of backbreaking farm toil, he rose from poverty to rule a mighty nation and command hundreds of thousands of samurai warriors. For generations of men, Hideyoshi became the ultimate underdog hero: a symbol of the possibility of reinventing oneself as a man and rising, Horatio Alger fashion, from rags to riches. Hideyoshi was driven by a burning desire to succeed as a samurai. But he differed from his contemporaries in seeking to overcome his adversaries peaceably, through negotiation and alliance building rather than through brute force. Lacking physical strength and fighting skills, he naturally chose to rely on wits rather than weapons, on strategy over swords. An unlikely samurai, indeed. Or was he?

A Brief History of the Samurai

The word samurai originally meant “one who serves,” and referred to men of noble birth assigned to guard members of the Imperial Court. This service ethic spawned the roots of samurai nobility, both social and spiritual. Over time, the nobility had trouble maintaining centralized control of the nation, and began “outsourcing” military, administrative, and tax collecting duties to former rivals who acted like regional governors. As the Imperial Court grew weaker, local governors grew more powerful. Eventually some evolved into daimyo, or feudal lords who ruled specific territories independently of the central government.

In 1185 Minamoto no Yoritomo, a warlord of the eastern provinces who traced his lineage back to the imperial family, established the nation’s first military government and Japan entered its feudal period (1185-1867). The country was essentially under military rule for nearly 700 years. But the initial stability Minamoto achieved failed to bring lasting peace. Other regimes came and went, and in 1467 the national military government collapsed, plunging Japan into turmoil. Thus began the infamous Age of Wars, a bloody century of strife when local warlords fought to protect their domains and schemed to conquer rivals. By the time Japan plunged into the turbulent Age of Wars, the term samurai had come to signify armed government officials, peacekeeping officers, and professional soldiers: in short, almost anyone who carried a sword and was ready and able to exercise deadly force.

The worst of these medieval Japanese warriors were little better than street thugs the best were fiercely loyal to their masters and true to the unwritten code of chivalrous behavior known today as Bushido (usually translated as “Precepts of Knighthood” or “Way of the Warrior”). Virtuous or villainous, the samurai emerged as the colorful central figures of Japanese history: a romantic archetype akin to Europe’s medieval knights or the American cowboy of the Wild West. But the samurai changed dramatically after Hideyoshi pacified Japan. With civil society at peace, their role as professional fighters disappeared, and they became less preoccupied with martial training and more concerned with spiritual development, teaching, and the arts. By 1867, when the public wearing of swords was outlawed and the warrior class was abolished, they had evolved into what Hideyoshi had envisioned nearly three centuries earlier: swordless samurai.

The Bushido Code

Just a few decades after Japan’s warrior class was abolished, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt raved about a newly released book entitled Bushido: The Soul of Japan. He bought five dozen copies for family and friends. In the slim volume, which went on to become an international bestseller, author Nitobe Inazo interprets the samurai code of behavior: how chivalrous men should act in their personal and professional lives.

Though some scholars have criticized Nitobe’s work as romanticized yearning for a non-existent age of chivalry, there’s no question that his work builds on extraordinary thousand-year-old precepts of manhood that originated in chivalrous behavior on the part of some, though certainly not all, samurai. What today’s readers may find most enlightening about Bushido is the emphasis on compassion, benevolence, and the other non-martial qualities of true manliness. Here are Bushido’s Eight Virtues as explicated by Nitobe:

I. Rectitude or Justice

Bushido refers not only to martial rectitude, but to personal rectitude: Rectitude or Justice, is the strongest virtue of Bushido. A well-known samurai defines it this way: ‘Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.’ Another speaks of it in the following terms: ‘Rectitude is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bones the head cannot rest on top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand. So without Rectitude neither talent nor learning can make the human frame into a samurai.’

Bushido distinguishes between bravery and courage: Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of Righteousness and Rectitude. In his Analects, Confucius says: ‘Perceiving what is right and doing it not reveals a lack of Courage.’ In short, ‘Courage is doing what is right.’

III. Benevolence or Mercy

A man invested with the power to command and the power to kill was expected to demonstrate equally extraordinary powers of benevolence and mercy: Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity, are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul. Both Confucius and Mencius often said the highest requirement of a ruler of men is Benevolence.

IV. Politeness

Discerning the difference between obsequiousness and politeness can be difficult for casual visitors to Japan, but for a true man, courtesy is rooted in benevolence: Courtesy and good manners have been noticed by every foreign tourist as distinctive Japanese traits. But Politeness should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others it’s a poor virtue if it’s motivated only by a fear of offending good taste. In its highest form Politeness approaches love.

V. Honesty and Sincerity

True samurai, according to author Nitobe, disdained money, believing that “men must grudge money, for riches hinder wisdom.” Thus children of high-ranking samurai were raised to believe that talking about money showed poor taste, and that ignorance of the value of different coins showed good breeding: Bushido encouraged thrift, not for economical reasons so much as for the exercise of abstinence. Luxury was thought the greatest menace to manhood, and severe simplicity was required of the warrior class … the counting machine and abacus were abhorred.

Though Bushido deals with the profession of soldiering, it is equally concerned with non-martial behavior: The sense of Honor, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai. He was born and bred to value the duties and privileges of his profession. Fear of disgrace hung like a sword over the head of every samurai … To take offense at slight provocation was ridiculed as ‘short-tempered.’ As the popular adage put it: ‘True patience means bearing the unbearable.’

VII. Loyalty

Economic reality has dealt a blow to organizational loyalty around the world. Nonetheless, true men remain loyal to those to whom they are indebted: Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era. Personal fidelity exists among all sorts of men: a gang of pickpockets swears allegiance to its leader. But only in the code of chivalrous Honor does Loyalty assume paramount importance.

VIII. Character and Self-Control

Bushido teaches that men should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one that transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification, and a man should know the difference. Finally, it is a man’s obligation to teach his children moral standards through the model of his own behavior: The first objective of samurai education was to build up Character. The subtler faculties of prudence, intelligence, and dialectics were less important. Intellectual superiority was esteemed, but a samurai was essentially a man of action. No historian would argue that Hideyoshi personified the Eight Virtues of Bushido throughout his life. Like many great men, deep faults paralleled his towering gifts. Yet by choosing compassion over confrontation, and benevolence over belligerence, he demonstrated ageless qualities of manliness. Today his lessons could not be more timely.

Tim Clark blogs at Soul Shelter with novelist Mark Cunningham and is the author of The Swordless Samurai.


How effective are samurai armor?

Am currently completely immersed in Total War: Shogun 2. So I was looking at the armor of the general's bodyguards, and I noticed an interesting variation, some have long plates arranged in a lamellar structure, while some seem to be wearing what looks to be scale which I understand to be much smaller plates arranged in a lamellar structure, at least, as it looks to be from the game.

So I have some questions, what are the most common type of armors during the Ashikaga shogunate civil war period of the 16th-century of Japan? What were the premium armors in which only the most elite or rich would don?

The elites of Europeans would don custom-fit steel plated armor during the 16-century which is no doubt the most impressive, but still, how do they compare? For example, how would Gothic plate armor compare to what the elite Samurais would commonly wear? Though not everyone could afford an expensive suit of steel plates.

In which case, how effective were the most common armors during the Ashikaga shogunate civil war period, and how effective were the best armors as compared to their European counterparts?

Am currently completely immersed in Total War: Shogun 2. So I was looking at the armor of the general's bodyguards, and I noticed an interesting variation, some have long plates arranged in a lamellar structure, while some seem to be wearing what looks to be scale which I understand to be much smaller plates arranged in a lamellar structure, at least, as it looks to be from the game.

So I have some questions, what are the most common type of armors during the Ashikaga shogunate civil war period of the 16th-century of Japan? What were the premium armors in which only the most elite or rich would don?

The elites of Europeans would don custom-fit steel plated armor during the 16-century which is no doubt the most impressive, but still, how do they compare? For example, how would Gothic plate armor compare to what the elite Samurais would commonly wear? Though not everyone could afford an expensive suit of steel plates.

In which case, how effective were the most common armors during the Ashikaga shogunate civil war period, and how effective were the best armors as compared to their European counterparts?

If you look at Samurai armor, you will see lacquer. You can still buy Chinese and Japanese lacquer boxes carved in traditional designs. Lacquer is kind of a paint/varnish. They put on dozens of coats to build up the surface.

That's what you see. The lacquer covers metal plates. I've had some rudimentary sword training and we were taught to cut at the gaps in the plate (armpit, elbow, etc.) so it must provide decent protection.

I think you have to evaluate the fighting style plus the armor as a single entity. A guy in European armor could not move like a Samurai (it's a very fluid movement with lots of flexibiity). I'm not sure *WHAT* a Samurai would do against European armor: maybe take an arm or a leg at a joint? A katana *WILL* cut through metal . a couple of times . then it will be damaged beyond repair. A katana is a precision weapon: maybe it could poke through a helmet hole? Since Samurai armor is flexible, I see bones being broken by a broadsword. I see a Samurai easily moving around a heavily armored man, without either making progress. Are there more open spots at the back of European armor?

Samurai plates are thick with lacquer, but it's still "light" armor.


There are many incomplete sets of Samurai armor. Thousands of ex-farmers hacking each other to pieces was one thing. Formal Samurai battle was another. The victor took the head of the defeated .. and kept the helmet (easier to carry, I guess . nicer to put on the mantle piece). Sometimes the defeated's family was able to claim the body, then there would be bargaining to try and get the head&helmet back. Many weren't reunited. I saw a special or something 5 yrs ago where, after 300 yrs, the helmet and rest-of-the-armor were reunited. There's also a very nice movie I think I saw on Netflix that is more of the nuts&bolts of training & participating in war: some soldiers seemed to be paid by-the-head.


Watch the video: The Strangest and Most Beautiful Samurai Helmets - Kawari Kabuto