By Andy Grilz
On my first day of work as Operations Manager at MTS I happened to mention that I had done some research into the family crest seen in an earlier blog post by Michelle Drummey entitled A Warrior in our Midst. Naturally, I was conscripted to share my discovery with you.
Detail of Samurai helmet, or kabuto
This mon, or kamon, is a family emblem found on the Samurai helmet currently being treated at MTS.
Courtesy of SamuraiWiki
A quick search of the web identified it as one of the kamon of the So clan, established on the Island of Tsushima in the Korean Strait. The So are believed to be an offshoot of the Koremune clan (although there is claim to lineage tracing back to historical hero Taira no Tomomori). In 1274, leader So Kukekuni heroically perished defending Tsushima against the Mongol invasion of Japan.
Given the geographic proximity and the mountainous terrain of Tsushima, the So have been a prominent fixture in Japanese-Korean trade and relations since the late 12th century. Despite years of mutually beneficial trade, So clan members did participate in the unsuccessful invasions of Korea in the 1590s. But in the early 1600s So Yoshitoshi, Han of the Tsushima Shogunate, actively worked to restore diplomatic and economic relations between Japan and Korea of his own accord, despite having participated in the invasion. His efforts were continued by his successors, with no less than 12 embassies traveling to Korea between 1611 and 1800.
The efforts of the So clan were critical in maintaining relations with Korea during the Edo period. The Tokugawa Shogunate entrusted their official diplomatic relations with Korea to the clan. Following the arrival of Admiral Perry and the ‘Black Ships’, the So clan took a progressive position and fought against the ‘Revere the Emperor/Banish the Barbarians’ movement, supporting the Shogunate. In 1871, with abolition of the Han system, the head of the clan was named governor of the prefecture.
Is this level of historical research required, or even possible, for most conservation treatments? No. Do we enjoy it when we can do it? You becha.
by Michelle Drummey
When talking about textiles, armor may not be the first word that comes to mind. One may conjure up pictures of heavy metal plates and mail. This is not the case for a suit of Samurai armor that has recently been brought to MTS for treatment. Although it consists of iron mail, plate and brass, the armor contains a wide variety of cotton and silk fabrics, as well as hide and leather.
The set consists of a helmet, or kabuto, in the suji-bachi style featuring a maedate, or frontal crest, of the wearer’s clan. Within the helmet is a menacing ho-ate (half-mask) which rests about the dō (cuirass) with attached sode (shoulder guards), kote (sleeves), and a kusazuri (skirt) made in the sugake style, using double rows of lacing between intervals. The set most likely dates to the Edo or Tokugawa Period (1603-1868).
Although there is some mention of the word Samurai in Japanese literature as early as the 10th century, it was during the 12th century that the Samurai class was truly created, serving as vassals to powerful shogun retainers until the abolishment of the Samurai class in the late 19th century. In a similar manner of the famed chivalrousness of European knights, Samurai were also romanticized. During times of war, men lived by a code known as Bushido, dictating everything from loyalty to grooming habits. Perhaps the most extreme part of the code was being willing to die for one’s lord, to the extent of committing suicide, or seppuku, which was considered to be a noble death. During times of peace, wealthy Samurai were well known as patrons of the arts. They enjoyed tea ceremonies, various forms of theatre, and some were also poets and scholars.
The crests on the samurai armor currently being treated at MTS requires more research to discover what family or clan it may have belonged to. For now we can only wonder: was the wearer of this suit of armor as interesting and complicated as the layers of hide, silk, plate, and mail, decorating its surface? Let us hope we will uncover more about this fabulous object in the coming weeks!
Read more about Preventative Conservation of Samurai Armor in this article by Director Camille Myers Breeze.