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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 Snail and Insects

Tsuba with Snail and Insects

1840-1889 (late Edo, Meiji)
51.335
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Image for Kozuka with Peonies

Kozuka with Peonies

Nobutoshi (Japanese) Metalworker
mid 19th century (Edo)
51.828
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Image for Kozuka with Mt. Fuji

Kozuka with Mt. Fuji

1840 (Edo)
51.844
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Image for Kozuka with Mt. Fuji and the 53 Stations of the Tôkaidô

Kozuka with Mt. Fuji and the 53 Stations of the Tôkaidô

1841 (late Edo)
51.644
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Image for Tsuba witha Scene of Whale Hunting

Tsuba witha Scene of Whale Hunting

1841 (late Edo)
51.161
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Image for Tsuba with Boat and Moon

Tsuba with Boat and Moon

1841-1918 (late Edo-Meiji-Taisho)
51.1260.2
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Image for Tsuba with a Large Carp and Two Small Fish

Tsuba with a Large Carp and Two Small Fish

1841-1884 (Edo)
51.114
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Image for Tsuba with Buddha and Demon in Mountains

Tsuba with Buddha and Demon in Mountains

1842-1873 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.304
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Image for Kozuka with Chrysanthemums and Butterfly

Kozuka with Chrysanthemums and Butterfly

1842-1887 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.1144.4
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Image for Kogai with Mist Flower and Butterfly

Kogai with Mist Flower and Butterfly

1842-1887 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.1144.5
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Image for Tsuka with Autumn Flowers

Tsuka with Autumn Flowers

1843-1900 (Meiji)
51.1144.3B
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Image for Tsuba with Fish

Tsuba with Fish

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Image for Tsuba with Peacock and Peahen among Peonies

Tsuba with Peacock and Peahen among Peonies

1843 (late Edo)
51.404
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Image for Fuchi with Fishermen and Landscape

Fuchi with Fishermen and Landscape

ca. 1855 (Edo)
51.1233.3A
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Image for Kozuka with Castle Tower and Mt. Fuji

Kozuka with Castle Tower and Mt. Fuji

ca. 1855 (Edo)
51.1233.4
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Image for Kogai with Moon and Fishing Nets

Kogai with Moon and Fishing Nets

ca. 1855 (Edo)
51.1233.5
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Image for Tsuba with Dragon Ascending Through Clouds

Tsuba with Dragon Ascending Through Clouds

1844 (late Edo)
51.330
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Image for Tsuba with a Wine Jar, Ladle, and Young Woman with a Fan

Tsuba with a Wine Jar, Ladle, and Young Woman with a Fan

mid-19th century (late Edo)
51.132
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Image for Tsuba with Deer Caught in a Storm

Tsuba with Deer Caught in a Storm

1846-1876 (late Edo-early Meiji)
51.407
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Image for Tsuba with the Mule of the Taoist Immortal Chokaro Emerging from a Magic Gourd

Tsuba with the Mule of the Taoist Immortal Chokaro Emerging from a Magic Gourd

1846 (Edo)
51.221
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Image for Tsuba with Birds in a Spring Willow

Tsuba with Birds in a Spring Willow

1846-1876 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.364
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Image for Tsuba with a Carp

Tsuba with a Carp

1848-1898 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.248
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Image for Kashira with Cherry Blossoms in Clouds

Kashira with Cherry Blossoms in Clouds

1848-1898 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.1103
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Image for Kozuka with a Monkey with a Battledore

Kozuka with a Monkey with a Battledore

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Image for Tsuba with Fireflies among Grass

Tsuba with Fireflies among Grass

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Image for Tsuka with Sparrows and Quail

Tsuka with Sparrows and Quail

Japanese Artist
ca. 1860 (Edo)
51.1183.2B
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Image for Kozuka with Cherry Blossoms

Kozuka with Cherry Blossoms

1848-1898 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.658
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Image for Kozuka with a Figure in Heian Period Court Dress

Kozuka with a Figure in Heian Period Court Dress

1848-1898 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.809
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Image for Tsuba with the Bodhisattva Kannon

Tsuba with the Bodhisattva Kannon

1848-1898 (Edo-Meiji)
51.218
On view
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Image for Tsuba with a Hawk Stalking a Monkey

Tsuba with a Hawk Stalking a Monkey

1848-1898 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.100
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Image for Tsuba with a "Ja-kago" (Gabion) and Reeds

Tsuba with a "Ja-kago" (Gabion) and Reeds

1848-1868 (late Edo)
51.91
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Image for Tsuka with Animals

Tsuka with Animals

2nd half 19th century (Meiji)
51.1244.3B
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