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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 Chrysanthemums and Basket Weave

Fuchi with Chrysanthemums and Basket Weave

late 19th century (late Edo-Meiji)
51.1144.3A
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Image for Kozuka with Monju (Sk. Manjushri)

Kozuka with Monju (Sk. Manjushri)

2nd half 19th century (late Edo)
51.756
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Image for Tsuba with the Gods of Wind and Thunder

Tsuba with the Gods of Wind and Thunder

2nd half 19th century-1st quarter 20th century (Edo-Meiji-Taisho)
51.166
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Image for Fuchi with Travelers' Accessories

Fuchi with Travelers' Accessories

3rd quarter 19th century (late Edo-Meiji)
51.1008
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Image for Tsuba with a Tiger and Bamboo in Rain

Tsuba with a Tiger and Bamboo in Rain

2nd half 19th century (Meiji)
51.207
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Image for Tsuba with the Taoist Immortals Tekkai and Gama

Tsuba with the Taoist Immortals Tekkai and Gama

1850-1923 (Meiji)
51.315
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Image for Kozuka with Chinese Immortal with Peaches

Kozuka with Chinese Immortal with Peaches

2nd half 19th century
51.662
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Image for Tsuba with Autumn Grasses with Spider and Butterflies

Tsuba with Autumn Grasses with Spider and Butterflies

1850-1871 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.401
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Image for Kozuka with Fan and Baton

Kozuka with Fan and Baton

Japanese Artist
2nd half 19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.1238.4
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Image for Sword Guard (Tsuba) with the Rabbit in the Moon

Sword Guard (Tsuba) with the Rabbit in the Moon

late 19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.206
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Image for Fuchi with Armor

Fuchi with Armor

Japanese Artist
2nd half 19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.1238.3A
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Image for Tsuba with the Treasures of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune

Tsuba with the Treasures of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune

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Image for Kogai with Ladle and Bamboo Pole

Kogai with Ladle and Bamboo Pole

Japanese Artist
2nd half 19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.1238.5
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Image for Tsuka with Sumo Wrestlers and Helmet

Tsuka with Sumo Wrestlers and Helmet

Japanese Artist
2nd half 19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.1238.3B
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Image for Tsuka with Flowers

Tsuka with Flowers

Japanese Artist
late 19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.1234.2B
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Image for Fuchi with Chrysanthemums

Fuchi with Chrysanthemums

Japanese Artist
late 19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.1234.2A
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Image for Tsuba with Silver and Shakudo Coils

Tsuba with Silver and Shakudo Coils

Japanese Artist
2nd half 19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.1238.2
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Image for Tsuba with a Peasant by Looking at the Moon

Tsuba with a Peasant by Looking at the Moon

ca. 1864 (late Edo)
51.117
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Image for Kogai with Bird and Reeds

Kogai with Bird and Reeds

ca. 1864 (late Edo)
51.1183.4
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Image for Kogai with Autumn Flowers

Kogai with Autumn Flowers

ca. 1866 (Edo-Meiji)
51.1258.5
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Image for Kozuka with Autumn Flowers

Kozuka with Autumn Flowers

ca. 1866 (Edo-Meiji)
51.1258.4
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Image for Tsuka with Autumn Flowers

Tsuka with Autumn Flowers

ca. 1866 (Edo-Meiji)
51.1258.3B
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Image for Fuchi with Autumn Flowers

Fuchi with Autumn Flowers

ca. 1866 (Edo-Meiji)
51.1258.3A
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Image for Tsuba with Autumn Flowers

Tsuba with Autumn Flowers

ca. 1866 (Edo-Meiji)
51.1258.2
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Image for Tsuba with Blossoming Magnolia with Sparrows

Tsuba with Blossoming Magnolia with Sparrows

1855 (late Edo)
51.302
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Image for Tsuba with Temple Bell and Sparrows

Tsuba with Temple Bell and Sparrows

1855 (late Edo)
51.1233.2
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Image for Kozuka with Orchids

Kozuka with Orchids

1857-1904 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.896
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Image for Kozuka with Beach, Pine Tree and Rising Sun

Kozuka with Beach, Pine Tree and Rising Sun

1857-1867 (late Edo)
51.1207.3
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Image for Fuchi with Deer and Maple Tree

Fuchi with Deer and Maple Tree

1858 (late Edo)
51.1183.2A
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Image for Kozuka with Cherry Blossoms

Kozuka with Cherry Blossoms

ca. 1871 (Meiji)
51.1244.4
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Image for Fuchi with Crab and Water Plants

Fuchi with Crab and Water Plants

ca. 1871 (Meiji)
51.1244.3A
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Image for Tsuba with Openwork Fan and New Years Decorations

Tsuba with Openwork Fan and New Years Decorations

1859-1910 (late Edo-Meiji)
51.354
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