“Kawari kabuto” is a catchall term meaning “unusual kabuto”; for this reason this definition includes many kind of helmets. The origin of the kawari kabuto dates to the Momoyama Period, during the sixteenth century, when samurai generals wanted to be well recognizable on the battlefield. Shapes could be really extravagant and dimensions could reach more than one meter in height.
In order to be practical to use, kawari kabuto were generally built using a simple iron bowl on which an elaborate decoration would be added. Materials for this decoration had then to be very light and often a sort of papier-mache mixed to lacquer was used. In this case we can speak of harikake kabuto, while other categories are:
- Tetsubari kabuto, made in iron only.
- Uchidashi kabuto, made with embossed iron.
- Nanban kabuto, built using western shapes.
- Saiga kabuto, typically made in the Saika province.
Sometime just an oversize maedate would be enough to classify a helmet as kawari kabuto.
The maedate is the main ornament for a kabuto. Literally, it means “front decoration”, and it could bear a religious symbol, the coat of arm of the samurai clan or just a figure of a symbolic animal or plant.
The maedate was frequently little more than a simple cut-out metal or wooden silhouette but some time it could be a more elaborate and three dimensional sculpture, made of lacquered or gilt wood.
Decoration for the back side of the kabuto are called ushirodate, while those to be put on the sides, like horns, are called wakidate. Sometimes these applications were so large that the helmet wearing them can be classified as a kawari kabuto.