The Legacy of Warlords: Famous Samurai Armors in History

12 January 2024


The great generals who led the battles of the great samurai armies in Japan's Sengoku Jidai, the period of civil wars that inflamed the empire between 1467 and 1603, are often remembered wearing their armor. Such armor is almost always characterized by unique specifications, such as color, style of armor, kabuto fashions, and decorations.
A common characteristic is that of simplicity: since they still had to be functional armor, the elegance of such equipment had to remain second to effectiveness in battle and thus allow for quick movements and protection against enemy samurai attacks.
Among the most famous armors, it is worth mentioning those worn by the following daimyo:


Honda Tadakatsu

The helmet is a simple twelve-plate kabuto with an acorn shape, decorated with two massive wakidate in the shape of deer antlers and an imposing maedate with a Shikami head, also with long horns. All parts are lacquered in black, and Tadakatsu wore it together with a large gilded wooden Buddhist rosary held over his shoulder.
The same antlers were also taken up for an armor intended for a descendant of Tadakatsu, Honda Tadakata.

Date Masamune

Again completely covered in black lacquer, this armor features very heavy cuirass made in five hinged sections. Each section is a single iron plate, resistant to bullets from firearms. The helmet is a suji-bachi kabuto signed by Myōchin Nobuie and dated 1535. It is then distinctive for the Date clan to use an asymmetrical long moon-shaped maedate.

Tokugawa Ieyasu

The great victor of the Civil War had a weakness for European armor and often used elements of Italian or Spanish origin, duly modified, for his own tosei gusoku. The first of those illustrated here was given by Ieyasu to his tenth son, Yorinobu, while the second was given to Sakakibara Yasumasa, one of his most trusted generals. In the latter case, the is probably of Japanese manufacture, made in the nanban style, that is, following European designs.

Ii Naomasa

The samurai armor of the Ii clan is perhaps the most recognizable, being fully lacquered in shu-urushi (red lacquer) and often decorated with two long stylized horns on the helmet.

Kuroda Nagamasa

The extreme simplicity of this great general's armor strikingly contrasts with the size of his signature kabuto, of a shape called ichi-no-tani. The Kuroda clan is indeed renowned for the elegance of its armors and introduced new shapes for the kabuto, including this one and the inverted bowl shape (gōsunari kabuto), as well as popularizing the momonari kabuto decorated with large bovine horns on the sides.

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