The Japanese armor was only worn by the shogun, highest military class, samurai and emperors. The samurai armor over the centuries was incredibly varied yet throughout the samurai age the principles of the armor remained largely the same, except for a few minor changes.It consisted of a kabuto (helmet) for the head; a do; a pair of sode (shoulder guards); one or two kote (armoured sleeves) for the arms; a kusazuri (armoured skirt or apron) to protect the upper thighs; and a pair of suneate (shin guards.) Haidate (thigh guards) were added in around the 14th century and by the 16th, the mempo (face mask) was introduced.
The first prototype for Japanese samurai armor came about in the form of the yoroi during the Gempei War of 1181-1185. Each piece of armor consisted of a set of small iron plates called kozane laced together by leather cord. The resultant strips were then lacquered to protect the material against rust and then a series were tied together horizontally with silk cords called kebiki-odoshi to produce a light and fairly resilient armor plate.
The ‘Do’ was the name of the upper-body armor of the samurai. This comprised of the ‘Sode’, the suspended shoulder and upper-arm protection plates. The Sode had hoops by which silk cord was tied and then fixed to the back of the armor in an ‘agemaki’ / decorative knotted tassel. Guards were also placed over the shoulder cords, and a leather plate placed across the bow cords to prevent them from been cut or becoming ensnared during a skirmish.
Samurais had protective helmet, known as kabuto. It was formed of eight to a dozen plates all fixed together with cone shaped bolts. In the eleventh century the type of helmet Hoshi Kabuto were characterized by large, high standing, rivet heads. Also, as many samurai had long hair, in the centre of the helmet’s crown was made a gap for the ponytail. Like in many other cultures, a samurai’s helmet had not only a protective role, but it was also meant to show the samurai’s rank, and that is why the kabuto was often be very elaborate and decorative looking.
The kabuto with its characteristic fukigaeshi (winglets or turnbacks) at the front of the shikoro (neck guard) and the kuwagata (twin horned crest) above the helmet’s peak gave the samurai its enduring and appealing image. Shikoro is the name of the thick five-plated protector of the back of the head, neck and the cheekbone which was fastened to the bowl of the helmet. The top four plates of the Shikoro would be upturned to create the fukigaeshi. The fukigaeshi are useful in the prevention of the vertical slicing of the shikoro’s horizontal fastening chords.
A visor is also on the front of helmet and is known as the mabisashi. the mabisashi is not only meant to protect the samurai from the light of the sun, but to also protect him from the extended and downward strike of the enemy’s sword.A silk cap-like headgear was worn under the helmet. Up to the 14th century the o-yoroi or ‘great armour’ was standard for the samurai. Its box-like appearance, large square sode, and equally large kusazuri was ideal for mounted warfare.
As the samurai during this early time of the Gempei War fought much on horseback and utilized bows and arrows, the right arm of the standard samurai soldier had no restricting protection to allow for the drawing back of the bow. A light protective sleeve was worn on the left arm. Not all fighters during the Gempei War were of the samurai class, and therefore were equipped differently and wore a different style of lighter armor called the ‘Do Maru’ By about the 14th century warfare in Japan was changing. Samurai were more and more fighting on foot and campaigns were becoming more protracted and lengthy. the samurai armor needed important changes because the traditional o-yoroi was getting too heavy for this. As a result the proud samurai has chosen to wear do-maru (literally ‘torso round’) as well as it was lighter and easier for the wearer to move and fight in.
In the 16th century Japanese body armour made a gradual transition, starting from kozane (many small scales laced tightly together), evolving to larger plates still laced together (lamellar armour), and finally to few large plates riveted together, or even solid breastplates.
Cheaper armours of tatami or kikko design continued in use throughout this period, sometimes even for high nobles. Mail was in common use as a component of other armour (armpit protection, for example), but not for body armour or full suits.
Throughout this period shino (splint) armour was the most common protection for vambraces and greaves. Cheap shino gave minimal protection. Regular shino filled the spaces between splints with mail. In extreme cases the splints might overlap, giving excellent protection equivalent to plate armour.
Lamellar armour was in common use even after plate breastplates came into favour in the later 16th century. Sode (pauldrons) and Kasazuri (tassets) were almost invariably of lamellar construction.
ARMOUR EQUIPMENT LIST
BODY ARMOUR: DO (Cuirass) and KUSAZURI (Tassets)
Tatami do: (folding armour)
Kikko do: (brigandine)
Kozane do: (scale armour)
Mogami do: (lamellar)
Kiritsuke kozane: (mock scale armour)
Okegawa do: (tub-sided armour)
Hara-ate: Plate half-armour. Breastplate and front tassets (locations 10-13, front only).
The okegawa do and hara-ate could be made proof against shot (DEF 8).
ARM ARMOUR: KOTE (Sleeves) and SODE (Pauldrons)
Cheap kote: Fabric sleeves protected by simple splints sewn to the outer part of the arm. This is common cheap armour for ashigaru, not fancy or very protective. Locations 6-9, all with activation roll 11-.
Full Kote: Full sleeves of tatami armour, or less commonly of kikko (brigandine). Mostly made for ashigaru, although sometimes worn as light armour by high nobles. Protects locations Locations 6-9. Location 6 has activation roll 11-. DEF 4. The inner arm was often unarmoured, giving activation roll 14- for locations 7-9. Not worn with sode (pauldrons).
Oda-gote: Sleeves of mail with attached tiny plates. Could be full sleeves as described here or worn with sode (pauldrons) as described below. Protects location 6 on 11-; locations 7-9 without activation roll. DEF 5.
Sode and Kote: Pauldrons and vambraces. The vast majority of sode were of lamellar construction; similarly, most kote were splints connected by mail or overlapping (DEF 5). Sode protect location 8 (upper arm) and 9 (shoulder); kote worn with sode protect location 6 (on 11-) and 7 (lower arm). Some samurai wore a manjuwa; an additional protective garment which covered the armpit with mail. Without a manjuwa, sode should be given an activation roll of 14- on locations 8-9. Similarly, many kote were unarmoured on the inner arm, so should be given an activation roll of 14- on hits to location 7. Shino (splint) kote that enclosed the forearm in a full protective tube were called tsutsu-gote, and have no activation roll on hit location 7.
Sode (lamellar) and manjuwa DEF 6, locations 8-9 Sode without manjuwa DEF 6, locations 8-9 (on 14-) Shino Kote DEF 5, locations 6 (11-) and 7 (14-) Tsutsu-gote DEF 5, locations 6 (11-) and 7 Oda-gote DEF 5, locations 6 (11-) and 7 Lamellar Kote DEF 6, locations 6 (11-) and 7 Plate kote DEF 7, locations 6 (11-) and 7
LEG ARMOUR: HAIDATE (Thigh-armour) and SUNEATE (Greaves)
Haidate: Haidate (thigh-plates) was additional thigh protection for foot combat. It was not always worn; many samurai preferred to keep greater mobility. Haidate give no protection against attacks from behind. They might be strapped to the leg or left flapping loose, in which case they might not protect against all attacks from the front either. Haidate were usually made of multiple small plates laced together, although tatami, kikko, mail and decorated mail versions were also constructed.
Tatami or kikko haidate DEF 4, locations 14-15 (front only) Mail or Oda-haidate DEF 5, locations 14-15 (front only) Lamellar haidate (most common) DEF 6, locations 14-15 (front only)
Sumeate: Suneate (greaves) were usually made to match the kote (vambrace). The vast majority of suneate were of shino (splint) construction. Cheap greaves gave no protection to the back of the leg; even fancier greaves still left much of the back of the leg unprotected. Armour marked `front only' will give no protection to attacks from behind. The foot (location 18) was invariably unprotected.
Cheap shino (splint) suneate DEF 3, locations 17-16 (front only) Tatami or kekko suneate DEF 4, locations 17 (front only) and 16 Oda-gote suneate DEF 5, locations 17 (front only) and 16 Shino suneate (most common) DEF 5, locations 17 (front only) and 16 Lamellar suneate DEF 6, locations 17 (front only) and 16 Plate suneate DEF 7, locations 17 (front only) and 16
Kabuto: Full helmet, almost always including shikoro (a lamellar skirt protecting the nape of the neck). Often worn with a nodowa (gorget) protecting the front of the neck. Mempo (face masks protecting the lower half of the face) were often worn, but full face armour (somen) was very uncomfortable and rarely worn. Although the somen was a single shaped metal plate, no padding was worn beneath it, so it gives much less protection than it would otherwise do.
Kabuto could be very fancy, with up to 120 plates. Simple kabuto were unfashionable because of their simplicity, even though they were much better armour and could be made shot-proof. Some helmets and shikoro were made of tatami armour as well, although these would only have been issued to ashigaru and low-ranking samurai.
Simple kabuto (shot-proof) DEF 8, locations 4-5 Simple kabuto (normal) DEF 7, locations 4-5 Fancy kabuto DEF 6, locations 4-5 Very fancy kabuto DEF 5, locations 4-5 Tatami kabuto DEF 4, locations 4-5 Somen DEF 4, location 3 Jingasa DEF 6, location 5
FULL ARMOUR: Most samurai would wear a kabuto, do and kusazari, sode and kote, plus suneate. Haidate might be worn or not. Kote and suneate were usually of similar construction, most commonly shino (splint). Full kote (rather than sode and kote) was less common.
Cheaper armour for ashigaru could be a kabuto or jingasa (or tatami kabuto with tatami armour), do and kusazari (both possibly of tatami construction), full kote, and suneate.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Tatami: folding armour. Common for lowest-born warriors, but sometimes used even by high nobles. Small metal plates connected by mail, usually over a lightly quilted lining. DEF 4. Even helmets could be made this way.
Kikko: hexagonal brigandine. Perhaps the most common type of non-solid armour. DEF 4.
Mail: Japanese mail was more loosely woven than European, and often incorporated intricate patterns. DEF 5.
Kozane: scale armour. DEF 5.
Lamellar: Most common armour for the Japanese warrior. The vast majority of Kusazuri (tassets) and Sode (shoulder protection) were of multiple lames laced together. Many Do (breastplates) were also constructed this way. DEF 6.
Shino: Splint armour. Commonest form of armour for the Kote (sleeves) and Suneate (greaves). DEF 5.
Suneate: greaves. Protection for the lower leg (locations 16-17). Usually of splint. Give reduced protection from behind (either no armour, or in some cases location 16 but not 17, only when struck from behind).
Haidate: thigh-shields. Protect location 14-15. Used for foot combat; many samurai didn't wear them, preferring to keep greater mobility. They do not protect against attacks from behind.
Shikoro: Lamellar neck-guard, depending from the helmet. Protects location 4.
Kote: armoured sleeves. Most commonly splints. Protect location 6-7. Location 6 is only protected on an 11-. With many kote the inner arm is not armoured, giving location 7 a 14- activation roll.
Kiritsuke Kozane: mock scale armour. Plate armour riveted together, but carefully cut to look like scale armour. DEF 7.
Do: Cuirass: body armour. Protects locations 10-12.
Kusazuri: Tassets. Protect locations 13-14.
Sode: similar to Kusazuri, but they protect locations 8-9. The inner arm and armpit are not armoured; this can be reflected by giving the armour an activation of 14- for Samurai who do not wear an additional protection for those areas (such armour existed, but was not commonly worn)
Okegawa do: plate cuirass. Used for the cuirass (locations 10-12), sometimes also with tassets (locations 13-14). DEF 8. Very popular and relatively inexpensive.
Hara-ate: plate half-armour. Breastplate and front tassets (locations 10-14, front only). DEF 8.
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