Printer Friendly Version

Japanese Samurai Armor

Unlike rigid Western armor, this Japanese suit is light and flexible and allowed the wearer a greater range of motion in battle.
Italy, Half Armor, c. 1570–80, steel, leather, cloth, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Wayne and Rosalee MacFarlane

Hundreds of metal plates, lacquered and gilded, are laced together with red and blue silk cords to produce a flexible shield capable of protecting the warrior from an enemy's sword.

Hand and arm guards add to the full-body protection of the samurai.

key idea
Fully Functional

Though this stunningly decorated suit of armor was unlikely to have been worn in battle based on its near-perfect condition, it was made to be practical and battle-ready. Its components are fitted, lightweight, and very flexible, allowing for freedom of movement as a samurai fought with his sword. Even the helmet's fanciful praying mantis would have torn away easily in battle so as not to entangle the warrior with his enemy.

A distinguishing feature of Japanese armor are the hundreds of tiny iron and leather "sane" plates stacked together and covered in lacquer and gold leaf, then laced together with silk cords. Sane panels flexed and moved with the warrior, protecting him from the sword of his enemy. The skirt, or "kusazuri," was also made up of sane to protect the lower body. It is divided into eight sections to allow the wearer ease of mobility. Fancifully knotted silk cords are not only beautiful, but they also function to keep the plated shoulder guards in place while enhancing freedom of movement. Further shielding its wearer, this suit of armor includes additional features such as a facemask, helmet, throat protector, hand and arm guards, leg guards, and boots.

A fierce, grimacing bronze facemask, complete with a bristly mustache, would have covered all but the eyes of the warrior.