Item ref: 3738
Private collection, Japan
Private collection, Belgium
Gifu City History Museum, Renewal commemoration special exhibition: splendour of the samurai, Gifu, 2005, no. 4 岐阜市歴史博物館, ﾘﾆｭｰｱﾙ記念特別展: 武士の誇り, 平成17
This very fine armour laced in blue silk with red highlights in the kebiki or closely spaced style, is edged with decorative mimi-ito (multi coloured braid) and aka-hishinui (decorative red cross knots). The superb 120 plate russet iron suji-bachi kabuto, the helmet, is exceptionally fine and represents the epitome of technical helmet manufacture in Edo period Japan. The bachi (bowl) of the helmet is made from 120 tate hagi-no-ita (narrow triangular plates) with a suji tate (the outer edge angled at 90 degrees), these plates are then rivetted to each other to form an extremely strong and rigid bachi (helmet bowl). Helmets of this technical complexity could only be made by very few of the most skilled katchushi (armourers) and although this helmet is unsigned it shows various traits that it was made by an armourer from the Myochin school.
The bowl is surmounted with a five stage shakudo tehen kanamono (decorative finial), shakudo is an alloy of gold and copper which turns a deep bluish black when patinated. The large O-manju shikoro (neck guard) consists of four rows of black lacquered kozane (false scales) laced in matching blue silk with two large hishinui-no-ita fukigaeshi (front flanges) and edged in aka-hishinui (decorative red silk cross knots) and egawa (stencilled leather). Two shakudo kamon (heraldic devices) are attached to the fukigaeshi representing a Tomoe (whirlpool), this heraldic device was predominantly used by the Saionji clan, who were one of the Kuge or Royal families. The front of the helmet is mounted with an impressive carved and gilded maedate (fore crest) representing a shikami, a vengeful ghost or goblin from Japanese mythology. The fine russet iron me-no-shita-men (face mask) is forged in the ressei (furious power) style and exhibits very fine shiwa (wrinkles) fluting and raised domes along the chin. The mask is fitted with a moustache and imperial of white yak hair and a two lame yodare-kake (neck guard) again laced in blue with matching aka-hishinui and mimi ito. Although the menpo is unsigned the skill of the embossing and certain features again confirm it was made by a skilled member of the Myochin school of armourers.
The ni-mai do (cuirass) is of excellent quality and made in two parts which hinge under the left arm and fasten under the right arm. It is made from tetsu (iron) and lacquered black in a kozane style (false scale) to match the rest of the armour, the various kanamono (decorative fittings and toggles) are finely pierced and engraved with a chrysanthemum design and gilded. It is edged in a matching egawa (stencilled leather) and fukurin (engraved and gilded copper edging strip) matching that on the kabuto, the rear of the do is fitted with a large and impressive silk agemaki bow.
Both the large O-sode (shoulder guards) and gessan (hanging tassets) are made from nerikawa (rawhide) plates and lacquered black with matching kanamono and lacing. The shino-kote (sleeves) and shino-suneate (shin guards) are both fitted with tetsu (russet iron) splints exhibiting yasurime or parallel slanting file marks. These yasurime have been left by the armourer to show his skill in dressing the surface of the iron. The nerkgawa iyo-zane haidate (apron) is made from hundreds of shaped interlocking rawhide scales which are lacquered black and stitched to a fabric backing. The use of nerikawa (rawhide) means these components were much lighter than if they were made from forged iron but interestingly, they were almost as strong. The kote, haidate and suneate are all backed with the same high-quality blue silk brocade which is decorated in gold with the tomoe kamon (heraldic device) of the Saionji clan, perfectly matching the kamon displayed on the kabuto.