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.