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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 Tsuba with Lovers Behind Sliding Doors

Tsuba with Lovers Behind Sliding Doors

1830 (Edo period)
51.399
On view
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Image for Tsuba with a Tiger

Tsuba with a Tiger

1831-1871 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.196
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Image for Fuchi with Sparrows

Fuchi with Sparrows

ca. 1845 (late Edo)
51.1056
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Image for Kozuka with Two Squirrels Among Grape Vines

Kozuka with Two Squirrels Among Grape Vines

ca. 1845 (late Edo)
51.676
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Image for Tsuba with a Fox in Buddhist Robes Inside a Gong ("Mokugyo")

Tsuba with a Fox in Buddhist Robes Inside a Gong ("Mokugyo")

1833 (Edo period)
51.394
On view
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Image for Tsuba with Squirrels in a Grape Vine

Tsuba with Squirrels in a Grape Vine

ca. 1845 (late Edo)
51.325
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Image for Kozuka with Hawk Hunting a Goose

Kozuka with Hawk Hunting a Goose

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Image for Tsuka with Hawks and Crane

Tsuka with Hawks and Crane

Japanese Artist
1834 (Edo)
51.1240.2B
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Image for Tsuba with a Hawk, Sparrows and Chrysanthemums

Tsuba with a Hawk, Sparrows and Chrysanthemums

1834-1896 (Meiji)
51.390
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Image for Tsuba with a Hawk, Sparrows and Chrysanthemums

Tsuba with a Hawk, Sparrows and Chrysanthemums

1834-1919 (Meiji)
51.389
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Image for Fuchi with Heron and Autumn Flowers

Fuchi with Heron and Autumn Flowers

1836-1904 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.1092
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Image for Tsuba with Clams and Conch

Tsuba with Clams and Conch

1836-1904 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.324
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Image for Tsuba with a Hawk and a Sparrow

Tsuba with a Hawk and a Sparrow

1836 (late Edo)
51.381
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Image for Kashira with Sparrow and Orchid

Kashira with Sparrow and Orchid

1836-1904 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.1093
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Image for Tsuba with a Chinese Lion on Rocks under Peonies

Tsuba with a Chinese Lion on Rocks under Peonies

1836-1904 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.289
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Image for Tsuba with Seasonal Flowers

Tsuba with Seasonal Flowers

1838-1863 (late Edo)
51.97
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Image for Kashira with Seven Sages in a Bamboo Grove

Kashira with Seven Sages in a Bamboo Grove

ca. 1850 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.987
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Image for Kozuka with the Queen Mother of the West Carrying Peaches

Kozuka with the Queen Mother of the West Carrying Peaches

ca. 1850 (late Edo)
51.757
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Image for Kozuka with Mountain Ascetics' Implements

Kozuka with Mountain Ascetics' Implements

ca. 1850 (Edo)
51.667
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Image for Tsuba with Lattice Pattern

Tsuba with Lattice Pattern

Japanese Artist
ca. 1850 (late Edo)
51.316
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Image for Kozuka with a Cricket and a Fan

Kozuka with a Cricket and a Fan

ca. 1850 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.705
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Image for Tsuba with Gate Guardian

Tsuba with Gate Guardian

ca. 1850 (Edo)
51.1241.2
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Image for Kozuka with Rats and Fans

Kozuka with Rats and Fans

ca. 1850 (late Edo)
51.770
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Image for Fuchi with Seven Sages in a Bamboo Grove

Fuchi with Seven Sages in a Bamboo Grove

ca. 1850 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.986
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Image for Kashira with the Chinese Immortal Tobosaku (Ch. Dong Fang Suo [Tung Fang So])

Kashira with the Chinese Immortal Tobosaku (Ch. Dong Fang Suo [Tung Fang So])

ca. 1850-1875 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.941
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Image for Tsuba with a Heron under a Winter Willow

Tsuba with a Heron under a Winter Willow

ca. 1850 (late Edo)
51.368
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Image for Kozuka with Kannon Sitting on a Rock

Kozuka with Kannon Sitting on a Rock

ca. 1850-1875 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.803
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Image for Fuchi with Peaches in a Basket

Fuchi with Peaches in a Basket

ca. 1850-1875 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.940
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Image for Tsuba with Autumn Flowers

Tsuba with Autumn Flowers

ca. 1850 (late Edo)
51.127
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Image for Kozuka with Gate Guardian

Kozuka with Gate Guardian

ca. 1850 (late Edo)
51.1241.4
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Image for Kogai with Cherry Blossoms

Kogai with Cherry Blossoms

ca. 1850 (Edo)
51.1208.5
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Image for Kozuka with Mule Emerging from Gourd

Kozuka with Mule Emerging from Gourd

ca. 1850 (Edo)
51.1208.4
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