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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 Kashira with Benkei

Kashira with Benkei

late 17th-early 18th century (Edo)
51.1053
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Image for Fuchi with Benkei and Yoshitsune Fighting

Fuchi with Benkei and Yoshitsune Fighting

late 17th-early 18th century (Edo)
51.1052
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Image for Kozuka of a Bridge, Water-wheel and Castle Wall

Kozuka of a Bridge, Water-wheel and Castle Wall

1651-1692 (Edo)
51.784
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Image for Tsuba with Shôki the Demon Queller

Tsuba with Shôki the Demon Queller

ca. 1670-1733 (Edo)
51.152
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Image for Tsuba with Symbols of the Star Festival (Tanabata)

Tsuba with Symbols of the Star Festival (Tanabata)

1662 (early Edo)
51.131
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Image for Kozuka with Shôki the Demon Queller

Kozuka with Shôki the Demon Queller

1663-1721 (Edo)
51.817
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Image for Kozuka with Soldiers and a Palanquin on a Boat

Kozuka with Soldiers and a Palanquin on a Boat

1665-1709 (Edo)
51.637
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Image for Fuchi with Demon

Fuchi with Demon

1667-1736 (Edo)
51.1054
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Image for Kashira with Shoki the Demon Queller

Kashira with Shoki the Demon Queller

1667-1736 (Edo)
51.1055
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Image for Tsuba with Enshi (Ch. Yen Tzu), One of the Twenty Four Paragons of Filial Piety

Tsuba with Enshi (Ch. Yen Tzu), One of the Twenty Four Paragons of Filial Piety

1667-1736 (Edo)
51.305
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Image for Tsuba with the Chinese Poet Tôba (Ch. Su Shi [Su Shih]) in Exile

Tsuba with the Chinese Poet Tôba (Ch. Su Shi [Su Shih]) in Exile

1667-1736 (Edo)
51.159
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Image for Tsuba with the Seven Gods of Fortune

Tsuba with the Seven Gods of Fortune

1669-1712 (early Edo)
51.338
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Image for Kashira with Rat and a Hanging Scroll

Kashira with Rat and a Hanging Scroll

1670-1744 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.967
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Image for Kozuka with Chokaro Summoning a Mule from a Gourd

Kozuka with Chokaro Summoning a Mule from a Gourd

1670-1733 (Edo)
51.712
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Image for Kozuka with Tiger and Bamboo

Kozuka with Tiger and Bamboo

1670-1744 (Edo)
51.707
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Image for Fuchi with Rats and a Fan

Fuchi with Rats and a Fan

1670-1744
51.976
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Image for Kozuka with Chinese Lion

Kozuka with Chinese Lion

1670-1733 (Edo)
51.799
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Image for Kozuka with Scene of Bean Throwing Custom ("Mame maki")

Kozuka with Scene of Bean Throwing Custom ("Mame maki")

1670-1856 (Edo)
51.1308
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Image for Kozuka with Momotaro and a Dog Under a Pine Tree

Kozuka with Momotaro and a Dog Under a Pine Tree

1670-1744 (mid Edo)
51.802
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Image for Kozuka with Tiger and Moon

Kozuka with Tiger and Moon

1670-1733 (late Edo)
51.822
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Image for Fuchi with Rats and a Fan

Fuchi with Rats and a Fan

1670-1744 (Edo-Meiji)
51.966
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Image for Tsuba with a Carp

Tsuba with a Carp

1670-1744 (Edo)
51.291
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Image for Kozuka with a Tiger by a Rock in the Rain

Kozuka with a Tiger by a Rock in the Rain

1670-1744 (Edo)
51.778
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Image for Kashira with Rat and a Hanging Scroll

Kashira with Rat and a Hanging Scroll

1670-1744
51.977
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Image for Kozuka with Two Crabs

Kozuka with Two Crabs

ca. 1695-1733 (Edo)
51.681
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Image for Tsuka with a Dragon

Tsuka with a Dragon

ca. 1700 (early Edo)
51.1154.3B
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Image for Tsuba with Kamatari and the Jewel

Tsuba with Kamatari and the Jewel

ca.1700-1750 (mid Edo)
51.317
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Image for Fuchi with Waves

Fuchi with Waves

ca. 1700 (early Edo)
51.1154.3A
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Image for Tsuba with Catfish and Eel

Tsuba with Catfish and Eel

ca. 1700-1750 (mid Edo)
51.361
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Image for Tsuba with Dragon

Tsuba with Dragon

ca. 1700 (Edo)
51.1154.2
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Image for Tsuba with Shôki the Demon Queller

Tsuba with Shôki the Demon Queller

ca. 1701-1761 (Edo)
51.219
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Image for Fuchi with Curtain near a Maple Tree

Fuchi with Curtain near a Maple Tree

1692-1757 (Edo)
51.1028
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