What is Wakidate of Samurai Armor?
The term "Wakidate" refers to decorative objects attached to both sides of the bowl (Hachi) of a helmet (Kabuto) in modern armor (Tousei Gusoku). These decorations often represented buffalo horns or were U-shaped with pointed ends, soaring towards the sky, known as "Tentsuki".
Wakidate provides practical protection and aesthetic appeal. They shield the temples and can deflect combat strikes. their design varies from simple to elaborate, often symbolizing the wearer’s identity or family crest. Together with the maedate and other kabuto elements, they personalize the samurai’s armor, reflecting Japanese cultural and historical significance.
Many wakidate designs often resemble animal horns, with many designs inspired by deer or cow horns, which were common animals in the past. Famous Sengoku warlords like Honda Tadakatsu and Kuroda Nagamasa are known for their deer horn and large buffalo horn Wakidate respectively.
There are also unique Wakidate that adopt the Chinese character “eight”. This design is said to honor the war god Hachiman and may interest residents of Nagoya city, where the city emblem is a circle with the character for “eight”.
In “Jozan Kidan”, a collection of warlord anecdotes written by Confucian scholar Yuasa Jozan during the Edo period, there’s a story about Hosokawa Tadaoki and helmet decorations. When asked for advice on helmet design, Tadaoki handed a letter to the messenger, suggesting the use of paulownia wood for the decoration. When the messenger questioned the durability of this easily broken wood, Tadaoki scolded him, saying a warrior heading into battle doesn’t plan on returning alive, so why worry about a broken decoration? He argued that light decorations are better, and breaking them in battle is not shameful but rather upholds a warrior’s honor.
Indeed, heavy decorations can make movement and balance more difficult, and sturdy ones can get caught on enemy weapons or obstacles, posing a risk. Therefore, while decorations are often adorned with gold and silver foil or rare feathers, they are typically made of light, easily broken materials like wood or leather, and are considered expendable. Few of these decorations from the Edo period have survived to the present day, making them extremely valuable.
See more terms related to samurai armor in this samurai armor glossary