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Japanese Samurai Armor

Samurai were highly regarded in Japanese culture for their loyalty and dedication as well as for their prominent social status.
Kobayashi Kiyochika, Warrior Departing for a Battle, 1880–99, color woodblock print, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Bequest of Louis W. Hill, Jr.

A large praying mantis adorns the helmet of this suit of armor. Looking closely, we can see its razor sharp legs and threatening pose.

The Japanese tea ceremony, which grew to become a famous feature of Japanese culture, was first patronized by the warrior class.
Yasuimoku Komuten Company Ltd., Teahouse (Chashitsu), 2001 (constructed), Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of the Friends of the Institute, the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, the Commemorative Association for the Japan World Exposition (1970), The James Ford Bell Foundation, Patricia M. Mitchell, Jane and Thomas Nelson, and many others

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Serving in Style

From the 14th to the 19th centuries, Japan was ruled by a feudal government system. Regional families known as daimyo ("dime-yo") controlled vast territories of land and workers. Frequently at war with one another, daimyo employed highly skilled warriors, known as samurai, to protect their riches.

Samurai get their name from the Japanese word "saburau," meaning "to serve." These warriors were famous for their bravery, loyalty, and commitment to duty. They were also known for their distinctive armor. This suit of armor includes a helmet topped with a praying mantis. Known for its fearlessness, this insect would have symbolized the wearer's bravery on the battlefield and embodied his threat to the enemy.

Over the centuries, samurai gained elevated status within feudal Japan's tiered society. Most were wealthy and educated, and their interests in and patronage of art forms such as architecture, calligraphy, poetry, and the unique Japanese tea ceremony helped to develop, enhance, and define Japan's artistic culture. Objects like this suit of armor emphasize the importance of beauty and artistry of even the most functional objects, values that continue to be important in Japanese society today.

The artist of this 19th century Japanese woodblock print was inspired by the beauty of samurai armor.
Katsushika Hokusai, Warrior's Armor and Arrow Through Scroll, 1830–34, color woodblock print, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Louis W. Hill, Jr.