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Japanese Military Armor

Most of the Japanese military objects William and Henry Walters collected were made during the Edo (1615-1867) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods. During these years, Japan was largely at peace. There was still a military class (the samurai), but they rarely engaged in active battle. Arms and armor became an outward symbol of status among the military class. Once Westerners were able to freely enter Japan after 1854, swords and sword fittings became popular items to collect. Some of the fittings in the Walters collection were made specifically for sale to Westerners and were never mounted on swords.

One of the most popular sword fittings among collectors was the “tsuba” or sword guard. Tsubas are placed at the end of the sword handle, or “tsuka,” to protect the bearer’s hand from being cut. Adjacent to the tsuba is a small decorated ring called the “fuchi.” This surrounds the opening on the handle and is usually paired with a “kashira” that covers the pommel end of the handle. On either side of the handle were “menuki.” These were originally developed because they helped the bearer maintain his grip on the handle, but later became strictly decorative adornments. The scabbard covering the blade is called the “saya.” In addition to shielding the sword, it often has openings along the outside to hold a utility knife and a hairpin, chopsticks or a tool designed to spur a horse. The decorated handle of the utility knife is called the “kozuka.” The other items are called “kogai,” warikogai” and “umabari.” In some cases all of these fittings were made as a set by one artist, but more frequently three or four different artists would make the pieces used in one mounting.

Special Thanks

The study and photography of the Japanese Arms and Armor collection was made possible through a generous grant provided by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

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Image for Kozuka with a Sparrow and a Basket

Kozuka with a Sparrow and a Basket

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.741
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Image for Short Sword ("Wakizashi") with Dark Brown Saya

Short Sword ("Wakizashi") with Dark Brown Saya

ca. 1300 (Kamakura)
51.1216
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Image for Long Sword ("Katana") with Dark Brown Saya with Silver Dragons and Clouds

Long Sword ("Katana") with Dark Brown Saya with Silver Dragons and Clouds

Sword: 14th century; Gold Inlay: 1840-1849 (Muromachi; late Edo)
51.1226
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Image for Dagger in Scabbard with Butterflies and Peonies

Dagger in Scabbard with Butterflies and Peonies

ca. 1320 (Kamakura)
51.1237
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Image for Helmet ("Kabuto")

Helmet ("Kabuto")

Japanese Artist
1400-1575 (early Edo)
51.607
On view
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Image for Tsuba with Autumn Flowers

Tsuba with Autumn Flowers

16th century; 19th century goldwork (Muromachi; late Edo; Meiji)
51.224
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Image for Tsuba with Flowers and Butterflies

Tsuba with Flowers and Butterflies

Japanese Artist
16th century (Muromachi)
51.150
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Image for Kozuka with a Firefly and a Frog by a Stream

Kozuka with a Firefly and a Frog by a Stream

1529-1620 (early Edo)
51.698
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Image for Sword (katana) with black lacquer with green netting

Sword (katana) with black lacquer with green netting

1824-1863 (late Edo; Meiji; Momoyama)
51.1259
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Image for Tsuba with Gingko Leaf, Plum Blossom and Chrysanthemum

Tsuba with Gingko Leaf, Plum Blossom and Chrysanthemum

1558-1631 (Momoyama; early Edo)
51.408
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Image for Helmet ("Kabuto")

Helmet ("Kabuto")

late 16th century (Momoyama)
51.625
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Image for Dagger with Wisteria and Puppies

Dagger with Wisteria and Puppies

Tsunahiro (Japanese) Metalworker
Blade: ca. 1590; Scabbard: 19th century (Momoyama)
51.1213
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Image for Kozuka with Kadori Myôjin and the Earthquake-fish

Kozuka with Kadori Myôjin and the Earthquake-fish

1586-1683 (Muromachi-Edo)
51.736
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Image for Breastplate  (Dō)

Breastplate (Dō)

early 17th century (Momoyama; Edo)
51.595
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Image for Kozuka with the Dôjôji Temple Bell

Kozuka with the Dôjôji Temple Bell

1600-1631 (early Edo)
51.805
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Image for Kozuka with Heron and Lotus Plants

Kozuka with Heron and Lotus Plants

Japanese Artist
17th century (?) (Edo)
51.749
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Image for Kozuka with Cranes and Reeds

Kozuka with Cranes and Reeds

Japanese Artist
17th-18th centuries (Edo)
51.702
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Image for Kozuka with Dragonfly

Kozuka with Dragonfly

Japanese Artist
17th century (?) (Edo)
51.751
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Image for Tsuba with Autumn Flowers

Tsuba with Autumn Flowers

Japanese Artist
17th century (Muromachi)
51.294
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Image for Tsuba with Samurai Warriors Watching the Flight of Wild Geese

Tsuba with Samurai Warriors Watching the Flight of Wild Geese

Japanese Artist
17th century (?)
51.343
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Image for Helmet

Helmet

Myochin Artist
1st half 17th century (Momoyama-early Edo)
51.608
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Image for Kozuka with a Kingfisher on a Reed

Kozuka with a Kingfisher on a Reed

Japanese Artist
17th-19th centuries
51.706
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Image for Kozuka with a Man Fishing under the Moon

Kozuka with a Man Fishing under the Moon

Japanese Artist
17th-18th century (?) (Edo)
51.726
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Image for Kozuka with Carp on Bamboo

Kozuka with Carp on Bamboo

Japanese Artist
17th-19th centuries (Edo)
51.704
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Image for Tsuba with the Eight-plank Bridge (Yatsuhashi) from the "Tales of Ise"

Tsuba with the Eight-plank Bridge (Yatsuhashi) from the "Tales of Ise"

Japanese Artist
17th-18th century (Edo)
51.172
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Image for Kozuka with the Chinese Immortal Gama

Kozuka with the Chinese Immortal Gama

17th century (early Edo)
51.897
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Image for Kozuka with a Bird on Flowering Plum Branch

Kozuka with a Bird on Flowering Plum Branch

1628-1708 (early Edo)
51.688
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Image for Kozuka with a Bamboo Carrier for Eggs

Kozuka with a Bamboo Carrier for Eggs

1635-1699 (early Edo)
51.725
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Image for Tsuba with a Fallen Grave Maker

Tsuba with a Fallen Grave Maker

ca.1650-1700 (Edo)
51.232
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Image for Kozuka with Two Bowls of Go Pieces

Kozuka with Two Bowls of Go Pieces

1641-1693 (early Edo)
51.724
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Image for Kozuka with Scroll and Prayer Beads

Kozuka with Scroll and Prayer Beads

1642-1708 (Edo)
51.665
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Image for Kashira with Benkei

Kashira with Benkei

late 17th-early 18th century (Edo)
51.1053
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