what is samurai armor made of

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The samurai, Japan’s iconic warrior class, were not only known for their martial prowess but also for their distinctive armor. This armor, a testament to the samurai’s status and skill, was a marvel of design and craftsmanship. It was not a single, uniform type, but rather a collection of different styles, each with its own unique characteristics and purposes.

Among the various types of samurai armor, such as Haramaki, Haraate, and Gusoku, the most iconic and widely recognized is the Oyoroi. Each type, while bearing a resemblance to the others, has its own unique features that set it apart in professional terms.

A common misconception about samurai armor, particularly the Oyoroi, is that it is made of wood or bamboo. This belief likely comes from the armor’s color and texture, which can give it a wooden or bamboo-like appearance. But actually samurai armor parts are mainly made of two things, rawhide and metal (iron), no bamboo was used.

Image: 黒桟革 source

Rawhide, in Japanese is nerigawa, and metal, is tetsu (iron). These elements were expertly combined to build the armor. For example, the helmet bowl (Hachi) of a kabuto was typically made from tetsu, while the neck guard was often put together from lames made up of many rawhide scales. Each samurai armor might use different proportion of metal to rawhide.

Image: Kozane Source

Rawhide and iron were made into small scales, called Kozane (小札). Kozanes were laced together and form the armor. When making a samurai armor it was common to use around 3,000 small scales, especially in the 14th century for the haramaki style, it will need about 1,000 more kozane than what was used for similar armor in the 13th century.

Kozanes were coated with lacquer for several reasons. First, the lacquer protected the kozane from getting wet. This was crucial because kawa-zane, or rawhide scales, could change shape and size if they got too damp before being lacquered. Even a little bit of change could cause small cracks in the lacquer on a kozane, and these cracks could let in more water. This could make the lacquer break even more.

Second, the lacquer made the kozane look like shiny black satin. This look was created by polishing the scale with a special mix of deer antler ash, charcoal dust, and a bit of vegetable oil after the lacquer was put on.

Lastly, putting lacquer on the kozane made the armor harder and stronger. This was really important for parts of the armor that needed to be strong and provide protection.

Kozane is one of the fundamental parts for a samurai armor, and there are other 4 parts, they are 縅毛(Odoshiito) cords, 金具廻 (Kanagu) Metal fixtures, 韋所 (Kawa) Leather parts and 金物 (Kanamono) Metal Parts.

縅毛(Odoshiito) : Odoshi-ito is a kind of string or lace used in Japanese armor. It’s used to join the small scales, called kozane, of the armor.

Usually, odoshi-ito is made from silk or leather. The silk string is often colored in different shades to make the armor look more attractive.

There are many ways to lace the string, one of them is the shikime odoshi style. This style uses two different colors of odoshi-ito in short parts that switch colors back and forth.

Odoshi-ito comes in many colors. Some usual colors are red (aka ito), light blue (hanada ito), orange (hi ito), dark blue (kon ito), black (kuro ito), green (moegi ito), purple (murasaki ito), white (shiro ito), and light green (yomogi ito).
In the Sengoku period, the most common color seems to have been dark blue, also known as kon-ito odoshi. But the color of the odoshi-ito can change based on the time period and the specific style of the armor.

金具廻 (Kanagu):

Image source

Kanagu, or 金具廻 in Japanese, refers to the metal parts used in traditional Japanese armor. The creation of these parts requires a technique called “tankin”, which involves heating the metal and shaping it by hammering. These metal parts play both a functional and decorative role in the armor.

韋所 (Kawa)

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All leather parts in a samurai armor are called 韋所 (Kawa). For example in a Yoroi, there are several parts that are made of leather. One of these is the tomegawa, which are leather thongs used to secure the sane-ita, or armor plates. Another is the kawa-odoshi-ge, or ‘leather lacing hair’, which are narrow strips of leather used to lace the armor together. Shikka-gawa, or deer hide, is also used in the construction of the armor.

金物 (Kanamono)

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Kanamono is a term for any metal piece used in armor. These metal pieces, or Kanamono, are used for practical, structural, and decorative reasons. They are important for building the armor and making it work. Here are some examples of Kanamono:

Aida kanamono: These are fancy metal decorations in the middle of a do or sode. They also help keep the kesho no ita (化粧板) in place.


Agemaki no kan: This is a spinning ring on the back of a do, where a big agemaki is hung.


Kan: This is a spinning ring used in the armor.

In conclusion, the samurai armor is a fascinating blend of functionality, craftsmanship, and art. Each component, from the rawhide and metal scales known as Kozane, to the various parts like Odoshiito cords, Kanagu metal fixtures, Kawa leather parts, and Kanamono metal parts, plays a crucial role in the armor’s construction, functionality, and aesthetic appeal. The intricate design and the attention to detail reflect the samurai’s status, skill, and the cultural significance of the armor in Japanese history. The evolution of the armor’s design and materials over time also provides a glimpse into the changing tactics and technologies of warfare. The samurai armor is indeed a testament to the samurai’s martial prowess and a symbol of their honor and tradition.

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