The weight of Samurai Armor: is samurai armor heavy?
The Samurai, a term that resonates with honor, courage, and unwavering determination, were the esteemed warriors of feudal Japan. Their armor was not just a protective gear but also a symbol of their identity and status on the battlefield. Many times we seen from movies and anime (especially anime) that samurai were moving quickly even with full armor. This raises the question: Is this portrayal accurate? in real world, how much does samurai armor weight?
Samurai armor is considerably heavy, a full set of samurai armor usually weight more than 25kg ( 55 lbs ) . The weight could differ from one cuirass to another, depending on the materials used to construct the yoroi, such as the blend of tetsu-zane (iron scales) and kawa-zane (leather scales). Typically, a yoroi style cuirass, paired with a waidate, kyūbi-no-ita, and sendan-no-ita, weighed around 16–18 kg. Additional armor parts like the helmet (kabuto) and shoulder guards (Sode) could bring the total weight up to 26–30 kg. This was a considerable load, especially considering the average Japanese male weighed around 55 kg.
World Armor Weight Comparison :
Samurai Armor(Oyoroi): 30 kg
European Plate Armor: 25 kg
Chain Mail Armor: 10 kg
Mongol Armor: 15 kg
Persian Armor: 20 kg
Full set of samurai armor (Yoroi) could be more heavy than other armors in their times, like Chinese armor, plate armor. This is because in Heian period, battles were mainly fought on horseback, with archery playing a significant role. Individual duels, known as ikkiuchi, were common, highlighting personal skill and honor over large-scale strategy. The primary weapons used were bows (yumi), spears (Yari). And the design of the Yoroi was indeed suitable for the Heian period battles, despite its significant weight, a warrior could comfortably bear the Yoroi armor when on horseback. The design of the Yoroi was intentionally larger than the wearer, allowing the majority of its weight to rest on the shoulders. This created a protective buffer between the interior of the cuirass and the warrior’s body, safeguarding the wearer from the protruding tips of lodged arrows. Moreover, when the warrior was mounted, the horse bore the weight of the armor, not the warrior. This design aspect made the Yoroi practical for mounted combat, despite its hefty weight.
Because the weight, and the weight distribution of the Oyoroi, it’s not suitable for long period wearing, and wear it on foot is not comfortable. So after Heian period, there was a shift in Japanese warfare from primarily cavalry-based combat to infantry-based tactics. This transition occurred during the late Kamakura and into the Muromachi period. On foot battles gradually became mainstream, Ashigaru plays a more important role than samurai. At this time, Oyoroi was replaced by lighter armors like Doumaru, Haramaki and Haraate.
Doumaru, Haramaki and Haraate, they are unique types of armor, each designed with specific features for different roles. They were primarily created for the use of retainers and lower-ranking warriors. These armors were designed with additional skirt plates and were made to fit more snugly to the body, eliminating the need for a waidate. The Doumaru is designed to open under the right arm, while the Haramaki has its opening at the back. Compared to the Oyoroi, these armors were lighter and offered more comfort, compare with Oyoroi, their weight can be drop to under 20 kg.
Later on, The emergence of firearms (Tanegashima), innovative combat strategies, and the demand for enhanced protection contributed to the rise of Tosei gusoku. This armor, which evolved from the doumaru lineage, incorporated itazane - large iron plates or platy leather - to bolster its defenses. The simplification of the armor’s structure facilitated its production, enabling armor makers to concentrate more on its design. Tosei gusoku is also designed for on foot battles, and the total weight is usually under 25kg, a bit lighter than Oyoroi, but the weight distribution is more optimized, these armors are typically designed with hinges on one or more sides to maintain their rigidity and prevent collapse. This design allows the weight of the armor to be rested on the hips instead of the shoulders. Makes it more comfortable and effective.
In conclusion, the weight of Samurai armor varied significantly depending on the type and period. The Yoroi, used during the Heian period, was heavy, weighing up to 30 kg with all equipment included. Its design, however, allowed the weight to be borne by the horse during mounted combat, making it manageable for the Samurai. As warfare evolved and foot battles became more common, lighter armors like the Doumaru, Haramaki, and Haraate were developed. These armors, designed for lower-ranking warriors and retainers, were more comfortable and practical for infantry-based tactics. The advent of firearms and new combat strategies led to the development of the Tosei Gusoku, which incorporated large iron plates or platy leather for enhanced protection. Despite its weight, the design of the Tosei Gusoku allowed the weight to rest on the hips, making it more comfortable and effective for the warriors. Therefore, while Samurai armor was indeed heavy, its design and evolution over time ensured it was practical and effective for the changing demands of warfare..