How to dress a Samurai

Have you seen our Samurai about town? If so, you’ve probably marveled at his costume and how complicated it is to put on.

The real suits of armor featured in Lords of the Samurai are even more complex.  Samurai armor consists of many pieces arranged to provide maximum body coverage without (ideally) sacrificing mobility. If you haven’t already checked it out you can learn about armor parts by visiting Know Your Armour on our Lords of the Samurai web page.

Lords of the Samurai features six suits of armor. Each one takes as much as a full day to assemble, largely due to the fragile nature of the centuries old materials.

The first step in installing a suit of armor is to unpack the individual pieces. Armor is transported disassembled, with each section carefully packed into a custom box with appropriate support and protective padding.

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While each piece is condition checked for signs of stress or damage, the storage box (yororbitsu) is placed on the display platform. Each suit of armor has a yororbitsu. When the Samurai traveled, the yororbitsu containing his armor followed, like a sort of Samurai suitcase. When displayed, a suit of armor sits on top of its yororbitsu.

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On top of the yororbitsu a body support (yoroikaka) is set — this will hold the body of the armor (do). Both the yororbitsu and the yoroikaka are secured to the display platform with a seismic mount, to protect the armor in the event of an earthquake. Once the do is placed on the yoroikaka, additional parts such as the sleeves (kote) can be attached.

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With the addition of the shoulder guards (sode) and thigh guards (haidate) the armor starts to really come alive! These pieces are secured to the do using toggles, elaborate lacings, and decorative knots.

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The face mask (mempo) and helmet (kabuto) top everything off. With its sharp chin and intimidating profile, this mempo highlights the drastic transformation from elegant artist to formidable foe.

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A set of stylized horns (kuwagata) and a fierce dragon detail accent the helmet. Originally, this helmet also featured a plume of feathers (not shown in the exhibition).

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Finally, the shin guards (suneate) are placed  and secured with custom mounts. This suit of armor has particularly impressive lacquered suneate in a beautiful red-gold color.

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The result: a powerful presence. Seriously, would you mess with this guy?

Domaru gusoku-type armor, red cord lacing, worn by Hosokawa Nobunori (1676–1732), Japan. Edo period (1615–1868), 18th century. Iron, leather, lacquer, silk, and gilt metal. Eisei-Bunko Museum, 4098. © Eisei Bunko, Japan.

7 Responses to “How to dress a Samurai”

  1. xensen  on June 4th, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Excellent tutorial. Next time I dress a samurai I will now be able to do it right!

  2. hungrysquirrel  on June 6th, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Gosh…this is really neat. I love the behind the scenes approach and the photography. Reminds me of when I used to get suited up for my lacrosse games.

  3. hungrysquirrel  on June 9th, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Over the weekend I visited the Asian. Definitely excitement in the air! I was so excited I persuaded a museum staff member to let me try on a Samurai helmet in the museum shop!

    I learned a few things from this experience:

    1) The staff at the museum are really interesting and creative people. The woman that helped me with the helmet dressed both Samurai in the gift shop without instructions!

    2) My head now fits a Samurai helmet, it did not before I entered the Asian:)

    3) My nose is just too big, but it was totally worth it to to finally get the face-plate on!

    4) Dressing in just one small piece of history transformed me and left a lasting impression upon my visit to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

  4. xensen  on June 9th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Squirrel, regarding no. 2, we are trying out a new institutional tagline, “we shrink heads” — what do you think?

  5. bittermelon  on June 10th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Hungry Squirrel, thx for your comments and good words about your museum experience. Glad you were able to try on a helmut. Our own museum director even admitted that wearing just our humble custom made armor gave him an unusual empowering feeling.

  6. cris  on July 17th, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    nice tutorial that i’ve learned… hope that someday ill be dress one of those suit

    great movie “the last samurai”

  7. cris  on July 17th, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    hope I can learn more deeper… about the samurai… and his organization.


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