Study: fixing maedate on a kabuto, the samurai helmet

08 July 2019


On a kabuto we can generally see ornaments of various kind, called tatemono (literally "standing things"). Among them, the maedate (front decoration) is probably the most common and it is difficult to imagine a samurai helmet without some kind of rich ornament on front. We can however find also kabuto with decoration on the sides (wakidate), on the back (ushirodate) and on top (kashiradate), such as the pheasant feather used by the Hosokawa clan for their samurai armor.

Origin of maedate is very old and we can see them already on samurai armor from the Heian period, where we find long and flat stylised horns (kuwagata) fixed above the kabuto's visor. Everything changed during the Sengoku jidai and maedate became smaller and simpler, to be used in battle. 

Maedate can be fixed then with three kind of techniques:

  • Kuwagata-dai. Fixed on the visor of the kabuto, this is the holder for the flat stylised horns of the medieval samurai helmets (kuwagata). This element, often gilded, was the richest decoration part of the kabuto and would often include in the center another maedate, such as a dragon or a ken (ritual Japanese sword).
  • Haraidate. Made in iron with an elegant shape and fixed on the visor of the kabuto, this support was part of the samurai helmet, so that its shape can ofter help us in identifying the age, the school and sometime the actual maker of the kabuto. The top part of the haraidate is made to receive a maedate with a "male" connector, while the next one will need a maedate with a hole in it.
  • Tsunomoto. This is a simple "L" shaped connector. Single or double (on older kabuto), it is be be inserted inside the tatemono. This is the only maedate connector that is fixed on the kabuto-bachi and not on the visor.

Some of these tatemono were real sculptures, which denotes how aesthetic was important for samurai. An interesting analysis can be done on the materials of these sculptures: while it is certainly true that the most used material is wood, we can find also other peculiar natural elements, such as the whale's baleen, which are very light but resistant and very useful for large decorations that would break easily if made in wood.





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