In January 2018, the Samurai Art Museum of the Janssen collection presents a historical insight into the warfare of the samurai and the related design, production and usage of armors (yoroi). The permanent exhibition displays with a range of Japanese pieces the development stages of armors, helmets and masks from the beginning of the military rule of the samurai class in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the age of warring states at the beginning of 15th century up to a period of peace ruled by the Tokugawa clan during the Edo period (1615-1868).
Through the predominance of the Yamato people from the 3rd century the first weapons as well as cuirasses and helmets were imported to Japan from the Asian mainland. The strengthening of the warrior class in the early Heian period (late 8th century) leaded during the following centuries to the development of different types of armor. The “great armor” (ō-yoroi), with big shoulder guards, a box-shaped cuirass and a helmet’s protruding neck guard was used to give a protection against arrows during horse mounted warfare. The lighter armor type (dō-maru) was wrapped around the torso and closed the right-hand side and which was initially used by infantry. From the 13th century on, the horse mounted warfare of the samurai using bow and arrow gradually decreased. Because the ō-yoroi made walking difficult, the samurai began to wear a better quality version of the dō-maru and afterwards a similar type of the lamellar armor, the haramaki has been introduced. As the near-constant military conflicts and the introduction of matchlocks by the Portuguese during the Sengoku period (c. 1477-1600) influenced the armors of the samurai, easy and quickly to produce and more practical helmets were designed. At the same time, bulletproof plates made of iron or leather have come into usage for the “new armors” (tōsei gusoku). Through the 250 years of peace, initiated by national isolation of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) in the early 17th century, the samurai armor became a symbol of the feudal lord’s status and traditional armors were no longer necessary for battles.
The exhibition offers a historical overview of the various development stages of samurai armor and which are combining the aspects of Japanese aesthetics, craftsmanship and the art of warfare.