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Japanese Samurai Armor

The presence of the hollyhock, the crest or coat of arms of the Tokugawa family, may indicate the importance of its owner.

This acorn-shaped helmet was made with an impressive 124 plates of metal.

Red dye, made from safflower, was an expensive luxury and emphasizes the status of the armor's owner.

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A Sumptuous Suit

In 1600, the Tokugawa family took control of Japan. Their rule brought 250 years of peace and stability to the country, an era known today as the Tokugawa or Edo period. This suit of armor was made early in this reign in the Kii Province, which was headed by Tokugawa Yorinobu (1602–71), the tenth son of the dynasty's founder. Although the identity of the armor's original owner is uncertain, it is possible that the suit was made for Yorinobu himself; a hollyhock, the crest of the Tokugawa family, can be found in multiple locations on the armor.

Even during the peaceful Edo period, military skillfulness was practiced and protective armor was produced. However, greater attention was placed on appearance, as craftsmen combined the most striking features of older styles into stunning new suits of armor.

From top to bottom this suit of armor features outstanding embellishments that indicate the status of its owner. An impressive number of crimped metal layers make up the helmet, or "kabuto," which is topped by a delicately carved and gilded praying mantis. Gold is also lacquered onto the hundreds of metal plates, or "sane," which form the suit's protective coverings. Delicately painted scenes on protective leather back-and-chest plates illustrate animals traditionally associated with luck and longevity. Some of the expensively dyed silk cords fasten the sane together, while elegantly knotted others hold the protective layers in place.

This protective leather back plate is painted with images of tortoises covered with trailing strands of algae, suggesting longevity or long life.