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The history of Japanese samurai armor

Ancient Japanese weaponry is famous worldwide for its effectiveness and still has relevance in modern times due to martial arts such as Iaido.

The Japanese warriors, more commonly known as ‘Samurai’ became famous all over the world because of their loyalty, honor, and fierce fighting strategies. However, very little is known about the armor they wore which happened to be an important and complex component of their weaponry.

History of the samurai armor

The basic armor was developed in Japan in the first half of the 4th century. The Japanese armor evolved from the armors that were used in China and Korea during those times.

The samurai armor evolved from armors known as Tanko and Keiko. The first one was used by the foot soldiers and the second one was used by the cavalry. These were the armors which led to the manufacturing of samurai armor as we know today.

Initially, only basic cuirasses were developed in Japan along with the helmets. A cuirass is comprised of 2 pieces, that is, one piece protects the chest and another piece protects the back. Both of these pieces were attached together with the metal strips.

During the Heian period which dated from 794 to 1185, a large focus was put on evolving the armors to accommodate warfare at the time, which led to the samurai armor we are familiar with today. The use of leather and lacquer in samurai armor significantly increased during this period of time.

During the Heian period, the samurai armor was perfected and was extended to cover the entire body rather than just the upper torso.

For a long period of time only leather and iron strips were used to construct the armors but later on, the use of silk lace to connect the individual pieces of armor also became popular. The basic material to construct the armor, however, remained the same which was individual scales made from iron. These individual scales are also known as Kozane.

During the 16th century, however, the Samurai armor changed significantly due to the increasing Japanese trade with Europe.

The Portuguese introduced Tanegashima to the Japanese, which was a primitive form of firearm, due to which the Japanese armor manufacturers had to change the way in which they constructed samurai armor. The armors up until then were unable to protect samurai warriors from firearms, which necessitated the changes.

Instead of the iron strips which were being used earlier, now the samurai armor manufacturers started using iron and steel plates. These were necessary to produce bullet proof armors known as Tameshi gusoku. This enabled the samurai warriors to use the armor and stay protected even in the battles consisting of firearms.

Japan entered a peaceful period after the 1600s and thereafter the samurai armors were used a symbol of prestige and status instead of actual war armors.

Right up until 1877 these various armor types were being used in japan. Their last use in an actual act of war was in 1877 during the Satsuma Rebellion.