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Phoenix Art Museum: Samurai Armor, Part 3

Continuing our tour of this special exhibit, we encounter a samurai on horseback featuring the armor of the Tachido type from the early Edo period (17th century). Here the chest, shoulder guards and skirt are fabricated by rows of iron plates which are heavily coated with black and gold lacquer then laced together with silk cord. This type of armor was lighter and easier to maintain than previous versions.

The horse's armor is made with pressed leather lacquered with gold then sewn into cloth. I love the horse mask.

Speaking of horse masks, take a look at this one from the Momoyama period in the late 16th century. Now if they could have just figured out a way to have the mask (or the horse) spitting fire — now that would have been impressive!

The placard claimed that there are tiny monkeys on these stirrups but darn if I could spot them initially. A friend pointed out that there is one on the metal at the front where it connects to the stirrup itself.

Monkeys were believed to be protective spirits for horses, saving them from potential illnesses. In fact, live monkeys were kept in the stables to help keep the horses calm.

Statuettes discovered in tombs suggest that Japanese warriors relied on horses as early as the Kofun period (250-538 AD). Battles between provincial lords were common and samurai mounted on horseback provided a definite advance in the state of the art in warfare.

Prior to 1600, horses did not wear armor. Gradually, the benefits of armor became apparent while elaborate horse masks, saddles and stirrups were added for ceremony.

Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu described the sword as the soul of the samurai. This example is from the early Edo period (1660-1670). During that time, samurai were permitted to wear swords but after 1876, only officers of the imperial army were permitted that honor.

This sword is a tachi — featuring a curved blade just over 26 inches in length. In battle it was worn on the left side, attached to the warrior's belt. It was specifically intended for mounted combat.

Next is an example of a Japanese War fan. There were three types — (1) Gunsen, a folding fan for warriors to cool themselves; (2) Tessen, a folding fan made with heavy plates of iron and used as a weapon where weapons were not allowed; and (3) Gunbai, a large solid iron fan used to ward off arrows, as a sunshade and to signal the troops.

This one is a Gunsen.

Here we see a surcoat made of leather coated with lacquer. It is embellished with the image of a Saihai which was used to signify rank and also to signal to the troops.

This is a war drum which was used to broadcast orders to the troops in battle. The shell was carved from a single piece of Zelkova wood (from the elm family).

In this display we find a battle banner which was worn by warriors to identify the military unit they were part of. Most often they were smaller flags — this larger one was probably worn by the lord or his lieutenant on a pole.

Here we see a box of arrows. They were fabricated from bamboo and duck feathers, featuring an iron tip.

Interesting detail from Wikipedia — "The no [shaft] are made from yadake bamboo and can have different shapes – straight, or tapering – depending on the use of the arrow in long-distance shooting or target practice. Lighter arrows can lose their stability when shot from a strong bow, heavier arrows have a trajectory that arcs more. Typically they use bamboo from the Kanto area. This is for a purely practical reason. Bamboo will not grow fast enough in a cold area, and the joints are too close together and in a warm area the bamboo grows too fast and the joints are too far apart. So the Kanto area has a moderate climate which makes the joints the perfect distance apart. The joints of your shaft help with the balance. After harvesting bamboo it still changes size and shape, so you have to wait 2 ½ to 3 years after cutting it to use it. When it has aged the proper time the bamboo should provide a good tight grip around the tang of your Yanone [arrowhead]. They would temper the bamboo in a special kiln similar to the Viking beehive style and straighten it with a tool called a tomegi, or "tree tame," which is also used when creating bamboo fishing pools. The appearance of the No varies. Some were plain, while others glistened with red lacquer. The proper length is measured from the archer's throat to five centimeters beyond the tip of the outstretched left hand."

The next two photos show armor of the Tatehagido type from the Edo period (early 17th century and 18th century). It features a chest piece made of vertical strips of iron riveted together which would actually protect the warrior from firearms. This particular set armor was tested with three bullets fired at the chest — they left dents (and in one case, a residue of lead) but the wearer would have been unharmed.

Front view.

Back view.

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