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Phoenix Art Museum: Samurai Armor, Part 1

Earlier this spring, I read a notice in the paper about an upcoming exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum — Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection. I immediately put that on my list of places to photograph for Life After HP. I also asked Johnny if he would like to go with me and he responded with a resounding "YES". So we picked a Wednesday date (school is out at 12:30 PM) and headed downtown.

Standing in the hallway outside the display room are a few appetizers. Shown here is the armor of the Yokohagido type. The helmet is from the 14th century and the suit is from the 18th century. This exceptional suit belonged to the Ikeda clan, one of the wealthiest and most important daimyo families in Edo-period Japan.

Next up is a flat military hat (Ichimonji Jingasa) from the late Edo period, 19th century. It features a shallow bowl with a wide brim. It was originally intended as headgear for foot soldiers since it was more comfortable than regular helmets in warm weather. For that same reason, the commanders also adopted it.

This unusual looking helmet was actually worn by firemen during the early Edo period in the 17th century. Firefighting was one of the most important tasks assigned to the samurai during that peaceful period. They were tasked with protecting the shogun’s castle and other important structures.

This display features a bow with arrows for use in a lord’s palanquin — a covered litter for one or two passengers, consisting of a large box carried on two horizontal poles by four or six bearers. These are smaller than battlefield weapons so that they could be used effectively from inside the palanquin if attacked.

Next up is a stand holding a dagger from 1572 and a small sword (wakizashi) also from the 16th century. Note that during the Edo period, the samurai were honored with the exclusive privilege of wearing two swords, the shorter wakizashi displayed here and the longer katana.

During the samurai period, a sword was more than a weapon: It was an extension of the soul. Japanese blade-making reached legendary heights which, in some ways, continues today with very high quality Japanese knives and other cutting utensils. I own a pair of fingernail and toenail clippers that are extraordinarily sharp and they maintain their edges for years without sharpening.

This display features a pair of stirrups from the Edo Period (1615 to 1868). They are decorated with cherry blossoms, which were a powerful symbol for the samurai. Like the cherry blossoms which fall from the tree at the height of their beauty, so the samurai were willing to accept death in service to their lord even in the flower of their youth.

This is obviously a saddle (c.1750) but so different than western saddles. It was fabricated with iron, silver and wood then finished with crushed abalone shells. Extraordinary!

This display shows a surcoat which is a loose-fitting garment that is worn over armor. It is from the 18th century and made of wool, cord and brocade.

Here is a display case containing a fully-equipped samurai from about 1600. He carries a sword, long bow (hard to see in this photo but check the next one) and arrows — as well as a full complement of armor. I love his helmet but not sure what good the fan will do.

Here is the same samurai as the previous photo but you can better see his long bow — so long, in fact, I failed to get all of it into the photo — sorry.

Wow! This is one fierce helmet. In Japanese folklore, oni demons are cruel but protective spirits. They are often depicted as menacing, horned wild creatures. They were thought to be invincible, making them a logical choice for portrayals on armor. This helmet is from the mid-Edo period — 17th-18th century.

Another amazing full-figure samurai warrior — his armor is from the late Edo period around 1854. The helmet represents the head of the menacing creature Tengu, with its characteristic beak, golden eyes and striking eyebrows. The chest armor and sleeves imitate human muscle structure. Atop the helmet is a small black hat resembling ones worn by mountain warrior-monks, practitioners of Shugendo.

Last for today is a closer view of the helmet seen in the previous photo.

To be continued...

For those of you who live in the Phoenix area, this exhibit will be on display until July 16, 2017. There is a charge of $5.00 in addition to the regular admission. I thought it was well worth it.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com