Under the armor - What did Samurai wear?


What Did Samurai Wear Under Their Armor?

The samurai, Japan’s noble warriors, are renowned for their distinctive weapons such as katana and armor. This armor, a symbol of their status and bravery, was not just for show. It was a practical necessity, designed to protect them in battle. But have you ever wondered what the samurai wore beneath this armor? Similar to Western knights who wore chainmail under their armor, the samurai had a different approach. This article will delve into the details of what lay beneath the samurai’s armor.

The samurai armor, the most famous one is called Yoroi, was a complex assembly of various components, each designed to provide maximum protection while allowing the warrior to move freely. Beneath this intricate exterior, things samurai wore are called the Shitagi (下着). Shitagi in Japanese literally means “underwear”. We will introduce the various Shitagi a samurai will wear.

Fundoshi (褌):
We will begin from the bottom, the Fundoshi (褌). Fundoshi is a traditional Japanese men’s underwear, it is fundamentally a loincloth, that wraps around the hips. The Japanese word “fundoshi” combines symbols for “clothing” and “military”, linking it to battle attire. During Japan’s Warring States period, you could tell a fallen samurai’s rank by whether they wore a fundoshi, as cloth was pricey back then. Initially, these were mostly made from hemp, but during the Edo period, cotton became more common, making fundoshi popular among ordinary people as well as warriors. Some upper class even wore fundoshi made from crepe fabrics.

Yoroi Hitatare (鎧直垂)
The Yoroi Hitatare (鎧直垂) is a specific type of clothing that samurai started wearing under their armor towards the end of the Heian period. Samurai who served the court and the kuge class typically wore suikan under their armor during this period. However, other samurai preferred to wear their everyday clothes, known as hitatare (直垂).

This outfit was more comfortable and soon became the preferred choice to wear under armor. The design of the hitatare was modified for this purpose, with the sleeves being made shorter and narrower. Despite these changes, the hitatare remained a flashy piece of clothing. Its color, material, and decorations were chosen based on the personal preferences and financial means of the wearer. During the early Kamakura period, silk hitatare were usually only worn by high-ranking military leaders.

Kyahan (腳絆)
Kyahan (腳絆) is a type of traditional Japanese leg coverings or gaiters. They’re used for protection and comfort during travel or battles. There are various kinds of Kyahan, such as gama-kyahan and yama-kyahan, also known as mountain gaiters. The material used to make these gaiters can differ. Both types have cords at the top and bottom. The top cords are standard, while the bottom ones have clasps. Gama-kyahan are woven from the gama plant and are primarily found in the Shinano region. Regular gaiters typically have buttons. Kyahan are suitable to wear under Suneate, the shin guard for samurai armor.

Hakama (袴)
Hakama (袴) is a type of traditional Japanese clothing. It’s like a skirt-pants combo that you wear over your kimono. It’s used in martial arts training and also for formal occasions. It’s tied at the waist and falls to the ankles. It’s great to wear under armor because it allows you to move freely and stay comfortable.

Tabi (足袋)
Tabi (足袋) are traditional Japanese socks. They are unique because they have a separation between the big toe and the rest of the toes. This design allows them to be worn comfortably with sandals. When it comes to samurai armor, Tabi were an important part of the outfit. They were worn underneath the armor to provide comfort and protection for the feet. This was especially important in battles, where footwork and mobility were key. The Tabi would help to prevent blisters and other discomforts that could distract a samurai during combat.

Eboshi (烏帽子)
Eboshi (烏帽子) is a traditional Japanese hat that’s been around since the Nara period. It’s usually made from black cloth, like hemp or even paper sometimes. It’s called “bird hat” because it looks like black bird feathers.

At first, these hats were soft and could be shaped to fit the head, covering the hair. This style, called nae-eboshi (flexible eboshi), was popular among regular folks. But over time, the fabric was made stiff and shiny to stand tall.

For samurai, the style of the eboshi changed based on their rank and role. As samurai gained power, they started wearing fancier versions of the nae-eboshi, like the hikitate-eboshi, which was easy to wear under a kabuto (helmet).

When fashion started favoring a sharper look, the samurai began wearing a folded hat called the ori-eboshi. This became the go-to hat for samurai and was also known as the “samurai-eboshi.” The ori-eboshi was folded in different ways and then made shiny to keep its shape.

So, there you have it - a peek into the hidden layers beneath the samurai’s armor. Each piece, from the Fundoshi to the Eboshi, was not just practical but also a reflection of the samurai’s status and personal style. It’s a testament to the samurai’s meticulous attention to detail and their unwavering dedication to their role as warriors. The samurai’s under-armor truly is a fascinating aspect of Japan’s rich cultural history.

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