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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 Fuchi with Pigeons under a Pine Tree

Fuchi with Pigeons under a Pine Tree

mid 19th century (late Edo)
51.1084
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Image for Tsuba with Marishiten and Atago Jizô

Tsuba with Marishiten and Atago Jizô

2nd quarter 19th century (late Edo-Meiji)
51.104
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Image for Kozuka with a Spiny Lobster and a Puffer Fish

Kozuka with a Spiny Lobster and a Puffer Fish

mid 19th century (late Edo-Meiji)
51.656
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Image for Kozuka with the Servant from the Play "Suehirogari"

Kozuka with the Servant from the Play "Suehirogari"

mid 19th century (late Edo-Meiji)
51.671
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Image for Tsuba with an Immortal with His Tiger

Tsuba with an Immortal with His Tiger

mid 19th century (late Edo-Meiji)
51.181
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Image for Tsuka with Autumn Flowers

Tsuka with Autumn Flowers

mid 19th century (late Edo)
51.1270.2B
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Image for Kashira with Chrysanthemums, Pampas Grass, and Crescent Moon

Kashira with Chrysanthemums, Pampas Grass, and Crescent Moon

mid 19th century (late Edo)
51.1011
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Image for Kashira with Crane

Kashira with Crane

mid 19th century (late Edo)
51.1057
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Image for Fuchi with Magpies on a Bridge

Fuchi with Magpies on a Bridge

mid 19th century (late Edo)
51.1090
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Image for Kashira with Cherry Blossoms Floating on Waves

Kashira with Cherry Blossoms Floating on Waves

mid 19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.908
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Image for Kozuka with Autumn Flowers and Hidden Shunga Scene

Kozuka with Autumn Flowers and Hidden Shunga Scene

mid 19th century (Edo)
51.1270.3
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Image for Tsuba with a Tiger

Tsuba with a Tiger

mid 19th century (late Edo)
51.118
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Image for Kozuka with Pine Bough and Bamboo in a Boat

Kozuka with Pine Bough and Bamboo in a Boat

1825-1857 (late Edo)
51.853
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Image for Tsuba with Cranes Flying over Waves

Tsuba with Cranes Flying over Waves

mid-19th century (late Edo)
51.92
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Image for Tsuba with Dragon and Waves

Tsuba with Dragon and Waves

1826 (late Edo)
51.386
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Image for Fuchi with Fukurokujû or Daruma on a Boat

Fuchi with Fukurokujû or Daruma on a Boat

1827-1857 (late Edo)
51.956
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Image for Kozuka with a Cormorant on a Boat

Kozuka with a Cormorant on a Boat

1827-1857 (late Edo)
51.882
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Image for Kashira with Birds

Kashira with Birds

1827-1857 (late Edo)
51.957
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Image for Kashira with a Tiger in Bamboo

Kashira with a Tiger in Bamboo

1827-1887 (late Edo)
51.1009
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Image for Tsuba with Orchid and Chrysanthemum Leaves

Tsuba with Orchid and Chrysanthemum Leaves

1828-1891 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.94
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Image for Kozuka with Fudô Myô-ô

Kozuka with Fudô Myô-ô

19th century (Edo-Meij)
51.798
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Image for Kozuka with Taikôbô Fishing

Kozuka with Taikôbô Fishing

1828-1904
51.729
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Image for Fuchi with Cherry Blossoms in Clouds

Fuchi with Cherry Blossoms in Clouds

1848-1898 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.1102
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Image for Fuchi with Cymbals and Hat

Fuchi with Cymbals and Hat

ca. 1841 (Edo)
51.1000
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Image for Helmet ("Kabuto") with Chrysanthemums

Helmet ("Kabuto") with Chrysanthemums

1829-1860 (Edo)
51.618
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Image for Kashira with Gagaku Drum on a Stand

Kashira with Gagaku Drum on a Stand

ca. 1841
51.1001
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Image for Kozuka with Figure in a Bamboo Grove

Kozuka with Figure in a Bamboo Grove

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Image for Tsuba with Doves

Tsuba with Doves

1829-1890 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.350
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Image for Tsuba with the Chinese poet Rinnasei (Ch. Lin Hetsing [Lin Ho Tsing])

Tsuba with the Chinese poet Rinnasei (Ch. Lin Hetsing [Lin Ho Tsing])

1829-1890 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.402
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Image for Kozuka with Daruma

Kozuka with Daruma

1829-1890 (Edo)
51.737
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Image for Tsuba with a Sea Bream and Plum Branch

Tsuba with a Sea Bream and Plum Branch

1829-1898 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.398
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Image for Kozuka with Gourd and Vine

Kozuka with Gourd and Vine

mid 19th century (late Edo)
51.835
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