How were samurai armor and swords made

protective gear

coat of arms


European knights attached great importance to a high stab- and bullet-resistant effect of their armor and over time they had them made from increasingly thick sheet metal. The whole body was more and more encased in plate armor. At the end of the 14th century, full plate armor came into use in Europe, weighing 20-25 kg. Elaborate pomp and tournament armor could even weigh up to 50 kg. In the heyday of European chivalry, the armored rider was well protected on his armored horse, but his movements were restricted. On the battlefield he was not infrequently pulled from his horse by peasants with polearms and killed.

However, it should be noted at this point that a trained knight could very well handle his weapons skillfully in full-body armor and that his "restricted" movement is often greatly exaggerated in older specialist literature and in many films.

With the advent of ever stronger crossbows and finally the first firearms, even a strong armor no longer offered enough protection and further reinforcement of the sheet metal would only have increased the weight unnecessarily.

The armor developed in Japan was on average, at around 9-15 kg, lighter than the European armor and plate armor. However, some did O-Yoroi ever to almost 30 kg. Due to the low weight of the armor, the fighter could even climb steep slopes or walls or, in an emergency, swim through a river.
The sometimes extremely colorful and imaginative armor was made in such a way that it optimally adapted to the body and gave the warrior the greatest possible freedom in the use of his weapons.
They mostly consisted of lamellas that were held together by leather or silk cords. The materials used were hardened sheet metal, chain mesh, hardened leather, a wide variety of lacquered materials and tightly woven, multilayered fabrics.
In places that had to be specially protected, small metal plates, steel lamellas or even the finest chain mesh were incorporated for reinforcement.
The individual armor parts were only connected to one another by straps, which meant that they could slide over one another with every movement. Up to 300 meters of cord was required for a single armor. Armor ribbons were woven very tightly and additionally watered, which made them even more robust. The colors of the cords gave, among other things, information about the clan membership, for example purple was the color of the imperial family.

The traditional colors of the cords also have their own symbolism:
  • White - sun
  • Light yellow - moon
  • Orange - fire
  • Dark blue - water
  • Golden brown - earth
  • Lime green - trees
  • Purple - was reserved for the imperial nobility and was not allowed to be worn by simple samurai or citizens.

The individual parts of the body armor were:
  • do - the breastplate
  • Sod - Shoulder and upper arm protection
  • Haidate - an apron or petticoat that covered the thighs
  • Kusazuri - a tank apron
  • Kote - Arm protection
  • Suneate - Shin guards
  • Kabuto - the helmet
After the samurai had put on an undergarment for padding, he put on the individual parts in a precisely defined order. Depending on the circumstances, the components were also worn separately or under everyday clothing. Often only armguards or breastplates were put on. Since a complete set cost a small fortune, many simple samurai wore colorfully thrown together armor that consisted of loot and even self-made parts.
The more the armies fought organized in formations, the more emphasis was placed on a uniform appearance. The numerous conflicts of the Sengoku period made it necessary to equip large armies with simple armor quickly and cheaply. From the 14th century onwards, the light foot soldiers mostly wore plain body armor, Hara-ate called, which only protected the torso and the groin area.
There was also a large banner on the back (Sashimono) attached with family crests or identification marks of the troops, so that one could easily distinguish one's own soldiers from the enemy in the turmoil of battle. Another identification symbol was a large balloon-like structure, Horo called that was attached to the back of certain riders. The exact purpose is no longer clear today, so it may also have served as a backstop.
Fads also played a role. With the use of new black dyes around 1570, black armor became very popular. The "Red Devils", a feared elite unit on the side of the Tokugawa fought, had uniform red armor.
The Portuguese brought a new type of armor to Japan. Mostly it was Spanish armor, which certainly did not offer the comfort of Japanese armor, but a slightly better protection against musket balls. The foreign armor was extremely expensive, but very popular with some samurai. Perhaps fashion also played a role, but it can be assumed that the samurai who converted to Christianity, with the European cuirass, wanted to show everyone their new faith. From the time of Christian proselytizing, many armaments are known that were imitated in full or in some details of the European style.
With the advent of firearms, the bulletproof properties of traditional Japanese armor also had to be improved. To test the quality of the sheet metal, test shots were fired at new armor. The resulting dent was not considered damage, but a quality feature.

The main types of armor:
  • The Tanko was in use in the Kofun period, around the 8th century. It was made from sheet iron and tanned leather. It was tied at the hips to fit the body. This armor was certainly influenced by Chinese models.
  • The Domaru was developed in the 11th century and was mainly worn by foot soldiers. The body armor was placed around the torso and tied under the right arm. She belongs with the Oyoroi and the Haramaki one of the three most important types of armor of this era and was adopted by the Doseigusoku replaced.
  • Developed for mounted fighters Oyoroi (or O-Yoroi, with the prefix O for large, "large complete armor") offered relatively good protection against arrow fire and sword blows. It was almost box-like in shape, covered only the back, left, and front bodies, and was tied on the right side. The right side was protected by a separate part. To the complete O-Yoroi always belonged to them Sodwho have favourited Large Shoulder and Upper Arm Shields. In times of crisis you could leave this armor tied up and quickly slip into it from below. Since the main weight of the armor rested on the shoulders and the armor aprons consisted of four relatively stiff elements, it was not particularly suitable for foot soldiers.
  • The Haramaki became the simple bodyguard (Hara-ate) the Kamakura-Time developed. She was that Domaru very similar, but tied behind the back. Just like that Domaru, this armor offered a high degree of freedom of movement and was mainly worn by foot soldiers.
  • Under the name of Doseigusoku (often also Tosei-gusoku written) more modern armaments were summarized, which should offer considerably more security with the advent of firearms in the 16th century.
  • As Nanbando Japanese armor is used, the appearance of which is strongly influenced by the European cuirass. They were considered extravagant and modern at the time.
The term Yoroi Basically stands for Japanese armor in general and does not exactly describe a specific type.

Many of the preserved to this day Yoroi cannot be clearly assigned to a specific type, parts have been replaced, changed or exchanged over the centuries. Some gentlemen, for example, gave theirs to a particularly brave samurai as an award Sod. A Yoroi which has been preserved in its original composition to this day is very rare.
Likewise, there were many mixed types that appeared with the transition to the more modern armor. Some splendor armor was only used to donate it to a Shinto shrine and was never worn on the battlefield.

It is noteworthy that the samurai practically never wore shields.
The reason for this was that the sword was often wielded with both hands and thus defended against blows. Occasionally two swords were used for fighting, one of which could be used to block each sword.
In addition, the large shoulder protection plates took on the function of a shield. However, large, wooden erecting or setting signs were used (Tate), similar to a pavese, behind which the archers and musketeers holed up. These shields were used very successfully in sieges.


Helmets (Kabuto) was available in a wide variety of designs. They were also designed in such a way that they guaranteed maximum protection and still optimal mobility. Since the helmet itself, as a rule, had no interior padding, a cloth was used Hachimaki wrapped around the head before putting on the helmet.
The old shape of the helmets had a hole in the middle through which the braid of hair could be pulled, which gave the helmet an additional hold.
High-ranking samurai valued an individual appearance. Above all, the helmet should have a high recognition value. Often it was over the forehead or to the side Kuwagata, a kind of antler attached. These antlers could be stylized or depicted realistically and sometimes had almost absurd dimensions. Crest that was attached to the top of the helmet was Kashiradate called. The emblems attached to the front of the helmet were Maedate called. Wakidate was the name given to the decorative elements attached to both sides of the helmet. Ushirodate was the crest that was worn on the back of the helmet.

The emblems had the most varied of shapes such as crescent moon, demons, animals, antler-like structures or horns, large ears like those of a hare or the representation of insects.
The decorative elements are so diverse that you can hardly list them all. To understand this often mysterious symbolism, it is important to know that animals in Japan are usually ascribed completely different character traits than in our culture.
The monkey is considered to be clever, agile and strong, but also as deceitful; Dragonflies embody courage, strength and intransigence and were very popular as symbols of luck with the samurai; the rabbit is associated with the moon and stands for longevity; Turtles, cranes and deer are also symbols of longevity and good luck charms.

The crest was sometimes so enormous that it was more of a hindrance in combat and was actually only worn as a symbol of power by commanders, generals and military leaders. Further helmet decorations were e.g. long feathers, manes made of horse hair, structures reminiscent of insect wings, characters cut from sheet metal and various religious or mythical symbols that were intended to intimidate the opponent or conjure up the gods. These eye-catching helmets are also called Kawari-Kabuto denotes, which means something like "grotesque" helmet. Members of the imperial family often wore the imperial dragon (Ryu). So you should be able to see who you are dealing with from a great distance. Some helmets were decorated with large, flashy rivets.

The neck was both at the front through the neck protector (Nodowa), as well as through the large neck shield at the back (Shikoro) particularly well protected, as the warriors often tried to sever the opponent's head with a single blow of the sword.

War masks

The complete equipment also included iron face masks, Menpo or Mempo called, which either protected the entire face, or only forehead and temples or chin and cheeks.
Not only was iron used, some masks were molded from hardened leather. Sometimes they depicted terrifying demons or gave the warrior a creepy, grim expression. Beards made of horse or boar hair were often attached to them.
The war masks are divided into different groups:
  • Somen - a whole mask that covers the entire face; one or more parts
  • Menpo - One-part or multi-part half-mask that reached under the eyes; the nose part was mostly removable.
  • Hanbo - a chin and cheek mask
  • Hoate - protected the face below the eyes
  • Happuri or Sarubo (lit. monkey cheek) - only protected the forehead and cheeks
  • Tsubamegata - (lit. swallow pattern) also a chin guard
The simple foot troops (Ashigaru) wore a kind of plate helmet without a mask, the Jingasa. In addition to metal, hardened leather, lacquered wood, paper, bamboo or rice straw were used as materials for these simple helmets.
The painted ones Jingasa became part of the everyday clothing of the samurai in a more elegant form. They were worn for hunting, ceremonial or formal occasions. Sometimes a simple straw hat was worn as a helmet, because the braided rice straw was surprisingly robust.

coat of arms

The Japanese coat of arms, Mon or Ka-Mon (Ka for family and Mon for coats of arms), probably had their origin in the patterns of clothing fabrics, whereupon the word Mon indicates what pattern also means. The first Mon appeared around the 11th century. However, some researchers date the first coats of arms to around the year 900. Initially, the use of coats of arms was for the nobility, warrior families or various others Kami (Shinto deities [or the respective Shinto shrine]) reserved. From the EdoAt the time, bourgeois families, craftsmen and artists also had their own coats of arms.
Actually, only personal family coats of arms were known, city or state coats of arms, as in Europe, were rarely used. Exceptions are among other things the city arms of Osaka and Kobe.

The motifs of Japanese coats of arms mostly consisted of a single figure, which was often enclosed in a circle. The heraldic images often came from nature.

From the plant world:
Various flowers and leaves such as cherry blossom, plum blossom, lotus blossom, mallow leaves, oak leaf, clover leaves, ivy, bamboo, or various fruits.

From the animal world:
Butterfly, millipede, tiger, hare, deer, horse, crane, wild goose, sparrow, falcon (or falcon feathers), turtle, snake and also mythical creatures like the phoenix (Japanese. Hoo or Foho) and the dragon were popular symbols.

Other motives were:
Sun or moon, various everyday objects such as fans, umbrellas, ladders, jugs, hatchets and hammers. or weapons like bows, arrows, swords.

In addition to these symbolic representations, there are also the "talking" coats of arms, in which the name of the family corresponds to a certain term. For example: - the temple gate (Torii), in the family coat of arms Torii.

Lots Mon consist of simple, abstract, purely geometric shapes such as crossbars, crosses, diamonds, simple lines, circles, triangles or the Drudenfuß, also known in Europe. The swastika too, yeah. Manji, known to us as the swastika, originally a Buddhist symbol of luck and protection, was used.
As heraldic symbols, eagles, fish or representations of people are almost never found. The colors play practically no role in Japanese coats of arms. There are multi-colored coats of arms, but these are quite rare and more of a fad. Colored representations are occasionally found as a contrast to the background on which the coat of arms is depicted.

At the end of the 12th century, the chrysanthemum blossom became the coat of arms of the Tenno, as well as the entire imperial family and has been preserved to this day.
The number and size of the coats of arms on the clothes were always subject to the respective fashion. Men usually had five coats of arms on their jackets. One on the back and one on the sleeves and two on the chest. For women there were usually three coats of arms. One each on the sleeves and one on the back. Rich families showed their coat of arms on all kinds of household items and utensils. The servants of the nobles and the craftsmen wore ancient Chinese characters on the backs of their clothes.

The long standards with the standard or the Mon of the liege prince Sashimono called. From the 16.Century used. That was to be found Mon of the samurai also on the helmet, the breastplate, the handguard, on his weapons, i.e. the sword scabbard (Saya), the guard sheet (Tsuba) and the individual parts of the handle, the bow, the quiver and often on the arrows, the saddle, the horse blanket and all other equipment that should be clearly marked as his property. The general's coat of arms was also on the large curtains (Maku), which were used to enclose the camp, as a privacy screen and also as a simple arrow catch. The coats of arms could also be seen on the wooden shields of the foot troops.

As soon as a woman got married or the sons started new families besides the firstborn, that was Mon changed. So it was often with other familyMon combined or slightly modified. Families with the same name could have a similar coat of arms and thus be recognized as members of the same parent company. Families with different names could also have the same or similar coats of arms. This is due to the fact that the family originated from a parent company and later changed the family name or was given a coat of arms, which often happened during the feudal period.
The Taira-Clan carried the coat of arms Age ha no cho "Butterfly with erect wings" the same coat of arms can be found on the Oda and Seki, the ones from Taira-Clan. The Oda-Clan had the melon blossom as a further coat of arms.
In addition to the main coat of arms, family members could, on unofficial occasions, have one or more secondary coats of arms (Kae-Mon) to lead.
The differences between two coats of arms could be so small that they could only be seen on closer inspection.

"Japanese Coat of Arms" by Prof. Dr. phil. Rudolf Lange (1850–1933)