Haraate Complete guide to understand the lightest Japanese Armor


What is Haraate

Haraate is a type of Japanese armor mainly made for foot soldiers, As the lightest type of samurai armor, it provides the greatest mobility. Haraate (腹当) in Japanese literally means "belly protector”as the name suggested, it offers limited protection on the chest and abdomen only.

Edo Period Haraate

History of Haraate

Haraate was appeared and mainly used during the Kamakura period to the Muromachi period. A time of major transformation in Japanese warfare. During this period, mainstream way of war changed from mounted archery, where samurai in full armor used bows (Yumi), to infantry battles involving groups of lower-ranking samurai and foot soldiers using long range weapons like yari, nagamaki, tachi(太刀) , etc.

During this time, an army's strength was judged by its size. You need as many soldiers as possible. However, arming all soldiers with expensive Oyoroi or Doumaru is not practical. Thus, there was a need for cheaper armor that offered basic protection, even if it wasn't as strong. This the time when Haraate was created.

Haraate is basically a simplified version of the Doumaru. it covers only the front and sides of the torso with three short kusazuri. Its design allowed for mass production, unlike the high-quality, heavily armored "o-yoroi." As a result, samurai did not offer Haraate to shrines, and since it was used by lower-ranked soldiers as consumable armor, few relics could have survived to today.

Features of Haraate

The Haraate is the lightest and cheapest type of Japanese armor. It covers the front of the body and slightly protects the sides. The front has a chest plate and two layers of tateage, with only 3 sections of small kusazuri hanging down. The most notable feature is that the Haraate does not protect the back.

Having protection on your back is always useful, but at the time, people were so committed to bushido, the samurai code, that they believed "a samurai never turn his back to the enemy." Strangely, the lack of back protection was acceptable then. Even when the haramaki added a back plate for protection, it was called the "coward's plate."

By the Muromachi period, in occasions that don’t need to fully armed with the heavy Oyoroi, some high-ranking samurai will wear the Haraate under their clothes because it was light and easy to put on and off. Like a modern bulletproof vest, the Haraate was used for self-defense and was also called "kigome harate" (着籠腹当).

Lower-ranking samurai in the Kamakura period wore the Haraate over kosode (short-sleeved kimono) and kohakama (short trousers). Their typical attire included a samurai hat (eboshi), leggings, barefoot sandals (ashinaka), a Naginata in hand, and Uchigatana (打刀) at the waist. Some lower-ranked soldiers wore the Haraate directly without any inner clothes.

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