What a lot of armour (01)! It really is beautiful! This is parade armour. The feudal lords (daimyō) wore it during their journeys from the capital city, Edo (today's Tokyo), to their estates. The armour was made in the period between 1600 and 1868. In that period Japan was divided up into feuds; the emperor lived in Kyoto and the country was governed in fact by a shōgun, a supreme commander, the most powerful of the feudal lords who, in that period, belonged to the Tokugawa family and lived in Edo, over three hundred miles away from the emperor! In 1700 Edo had over one million inhabitants, almost as many as in Milan today! The Tokugawa family managed to keep the peace in Japan for two centuries and a half. How did they manage it? Easy! They forced all the lords to build a house in Edo where they had to leave their family; they also had to live for a year in Edo and a year in their territories. And so, if they wanted to organise a war against the shōgun, their wives and children in Edo would have been killed. In order to be impressive during the journeys, they displayed all their riches, with fine armour, horses, sedan chairs, suitcases... Just as you can see in this painted scroll (02)!
They also brought their followers along with them: just think that the more powerful lords had to shift some twenty thousand men: the size of a town. They all had to eat and sleep. In other words, the daimyō spent a great deal of money for these journeys and so they didn't have any left to make war...
The suits of armour (yorois) (03) are very different from those in Europe: they allowed the warriors to move with ease. The warriors wore a helmet, a kabuto (04), and a metal mask (08) which were designed to protect the face and frighten the enemy. There was also a cuirass, a do (09), which could be made of platelets of iron or lacquered leather held together by silk laces. The shoulders were covered with sodes (10), and the thighs were protected by a kuzazuri, a kilt of metal or lacquered leather plates; the arms had silk and metal mesh sleeves, kotes (11), and the legs were protected by suneates.
But if a mask was worn, how could you tell who was the warrior and who he fought for? You could tell this by the family crest, the mon (12),
which was shown on the banner or the armour cover (jimbaon).
How were they made? They were stylised designs arranged in a geometrical form. In the Edo period only the feudal lords could own two of them. The emperor's represented a chrysanthemum; the Tokugawa family's had three hollyhock leaves inside a circle.
During the Edo period no contact with foreigners was allowed in Japan. Only on a small island at Nagasaki were the Dutch allowed to trade.
Wow! An unbeatable katana (14)! A splendid Japanese sword.
In Japan there were not only katanas, that were over sixty centimetres long, but also tachis, longer swords, and wakizashis, short swords that the samurai always carried together with their katana. The set consisting of a katana and a wakizashi was known as a daimyō, a combination of swords that represented the power and honour of a samurai, a warrior who obeyed a feudal lord (daimyō). A Japanese sword, a nippontō, has a curved blade with a cutting edge on only one side. The blade is resistant and flexible and is made of very strong steel. A lengthy and complex technique, unique in the world, was used to make them. The steely iron, alternated with carbon, was bent and hammered some fifteen times in order to eliminate any impurities and to distribute uniformly the metal and carbon. At this point the blade was covered with different kinds of clay, of various thicknesses, which resisted the heat in different ways; then it was heated until it became incandescent when it was suddenly cooled in warm water. The thinner the layer of clay, the harder the steel became when it was cooled. The difference in tempering the back of the blade and the cutting edge created an irregular line of a slightly different colour on the sharp part, known as a hamon. By looking at the form of the hamon a sword expert can tell where and when the sword was made. Finally the sword was polished with a rough stone and bars of steel.
The shank of the sword (nagako) (21), where the sword maker put his signature, was inserted into the hilt which was separated from the blade by the handguard, tsuba.
Tsuba (22) was a disk with two holes. The blade went through the larger one and in the other two were a sharp knife (kosuka) and a big pin (kogai).
The tsubas were decorated: see how many stories there are!
What an odd-looking old man! (23) He is Jurōjin, one of the seven gods of fortune. His main characteristic is his lengthened head on which he wears a funny hat. He is accompanied by a crane, a symbol of wisdom and long life. In front of it is a bowl of food. Jurōji carries a parchment tied to a rod, a symbol of wisdom.
Help! What an ugly monster! (24)
It is an oni, a giant creature with sharp claws, crazy hair, and a long horn. He is a Japanese demon, a guardian of hell. They have a rotten character and it is best to keep away from them!
What are these two old people (25) gathering? Just look: pine needles! They are Jō and Uba, two old people who are very much in love. Just think: when they died they were changed into two ancient pine trees which grew close together on the sea coast with their branches touching. And this is how they remained for ever.
When the sword (30) is not in use it is placed in its scabbard (saya). Just look how elegant the sword and scabbard are! And how beautiful the hilt is too! It could be covered with fine leather and bound with silk or leather thongs. It also has decorated ornaments... These are called menukis, and they have relief figures on both the sides covering the pin that blocks the sword in the hilt... the base of the hilt has a fine metal pommel, kashira,
and at the top, before the tsuba, is a hilt collar called a fuchi.
Besides being useful, these accessories (32) were also very beautiful: they were decorated with flowers, animals, as well as figures from ancient legends that the samurai knew well and that gave them courage in battle and trust in their lords. The samurai always carried their swords with them. In order to atone for a sin committed, or in order not to die in a dishonourable way, or so as not to fall into enemy hands, at times the samurai committed hara-kiri or seppuku with his wakizashi: he killed himself by pointing the sword at his stomach. Why the stomach? Because it was thought to be where the soul resided. While he wounded his abdomen, a samurai friend behind him was ready to cut off his head so that the pain of the stomach wound would not disfigure his face. Many samurais killed themselves when their lord died.