Suit of Armor and Helmet, 17th century
Gold-lacquered iron and leather plates with scarlet silk lacing 1956.11.5.a
The increased prominence of military families in 9th-century Japan gave rise to the warrior class (samurai) that governed the islands through the Edo Period (1603–1867). The ethical warrior code (bushido), which was systematically formulated in the 17th century, embraced an appreciation of beauty as well as knowledge of military strategy and proficiency in battle. The Edo Period was a time of peace, and the arms and armor that had become increasingly elaborate during the earlier periods continued to be refined.
Each samurai’s arms and armor presents an individual statement. One indication of who might have worn this armor is the shape of the helmet, which copies the shape of a nobleman’s ceremonial hat (eboshi). This helmet is made of metal, which was then covered in papier mache and lacquer, media that allow great plasticity in forming imaginative decoration. Another indication of the owner is the family emblem on the box in which the armor is stored, in this case an abstracted mulberry leaf, which has associations with Shinto shrines. It is not possible to identify the exact family of the owner, as the mulberry was a common motif on emblems.
The style of this armor is called tosei gusoku (modern equipment), a type developed in the 16th century. The makers achieved maximum protection and flexibility through the use of lightweight materials, such as the small pieces of leather that are laced together. They also avoided excess decoration.