Kawari kabuto, extraordinary helmets

13 June 2017

 

The Japanese word "kawari" can be translated in many ways: unusual, extraordinary, eccentric, strange. When we associate it with the japanese word "kabuto" - helmet - all of these are true.

The kawari category of helmets counts actually many different types that avoid the traditional classifications or have eccentric shapes and ornaments. Even if there are names that classify different forms, usually inspired by sacred objects or elements of nature, each helmet is virtually unique. It’s possible to find some major categories of kawari kabuto that allow us to better understand this so extensive and often abused definition.

- Harikake kabuto: the most spectacular helmets are generally those with a superstructure made of a mix of papier-mach and lacquer, wood or leather which completely covers the iron bowl. The use of light materials made it possible to create different and fanciful shapes, almost without limits.

- Tetsubari kabuto: this category includes helmets made of iron in unusual shapes. Examples of this kind are the okitenugui helmets of the Saika School and those which are inspired by other headgear.

- Uchidashi kabuto: the embossing (uchidashi) gives unusual and very attractive shapes to helmets built only of one or two plates. this is an extremely complex manufacture, which however, weakens iron reducing its protective power; for this reason the uchidashi kabuto are more common during the Edo period. Ryoei is considered the master of this technique.

- Nanban kabuto: these are kabuto whose design derives from the European helmets imported by the Portuguese during the sixteenth century. They are frequently inlaid with gold and silver.

A last category could be found on those helmets which have a conventional construction but bear a decoration, like a maedate, which covers a great part of it, changing its shape completely.

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