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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 Kozuka with Flower Cart with a Praying Mantis

Kozuka with Flower Cart with a Praying Mantis

1695-1742 (Edo)
51.640
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Image for Tsuba with Three Samurai Attacking a Courtier

Tsuba with Three Samurai Attacking a Courtier

1696-1769 (mid Edo)
51.287
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Image for Kashira with Crane

Kashira with Crane

1696-1769 (mid Edo)
51.959
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Image for Tsuba with the God Hotei with his Sack

Tsuba with the God Hotei with his Sack

1696-1769 (Edo)
51.130
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Image for Kashira with the Face of a Man

Kashira with the Face of a Man

1696-1769 (Edo)
51.1137
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Image for Tsuba with a Heron Perched on a Boat under a Full Moon

Tsuba with a Heron Perched on a Boat under a Full Moon

1696-1769 (Edo)
51.250
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Image for Kozuka with a Man Holding a Blow Pipe

Kozuka with a Man Holding a Blow Pipe

1696-1769 (mid Edo)
51.787
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Image for Fuchi with Flowering Plum Tree

Fuchi with Flowering Plum Tree

1696-1769 (mid Edo)
51.958
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Image for Tsuba with the Taoist Immortal Bukan and his Tiger

Tsuba with the Taoist Immortal Bukan and his Tiger

1696-1769 (Edo)
51.296
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Image for Tsuba with Gourd with Grasshopper

Tsuba with Gourd with Grasshopper

1696-1769 (Edo)
51.145
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Image for Tsuba with a Snake on Tree Trunk

Tsuba with a Snake on Tree Trunk

1696-1769 (mid Edo)
51.233
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Image for Tsuba with an Owl on a Stone Lantern

Tsuba with an Owl on a Stone Lantern

1696-1769 (Edo)
51.238
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Image for Fuchi with Eibsu's Fishing Basket

Fuchi with Eibsu's Fishing Basket

1696-1769 (Edo)
51.998
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Image for Kashira with Daikoku's Rice Bale

Kashira with Daikoku's Rice Bale

1696-1769 (Edo)
51.999
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Image for Dagger in the Form of Rotting Wood

Dagger in the Form of Rotting Wood

18th century (Momoyama)
51.1181
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Image for Tsuba with Tanabata Festival Decorations

Tsuba with Tanabata Festival Decorations

early-mid 18th century (mid Edo)
51.387
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Image for Helmet ("Kawari Kabuto") with Conch Shell ("Horagai") Shape

Helmet ("Kawari Kabuto") with Conch Shell ("Horagai") Shape

18th century (Edo)
51.620
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Image for Tsuba with Taoist Immortals and Their Animals

Tsuba with Taoist Immortals and Their Animals

1st half 18th century (mid Edo)
51.103
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Image for Tsuba with Chrysanthemums

Tsuba with Chrysanthemums

18th century (mid Edo)
51.393
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Image for Box for Japanese Armor

Box for Japanese Armor

18th century (Edo)
51.1365L
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Image for Helmet Ornament

Helmet Ornament

Myochin Metalworker
Armor: 18th-19th century; Assembled: ca. 1900 (Meiji)
51.602.1
On view
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Image for Tsuka with Wasps and Chrysanthemums

Tsuka with Wasps and Chrysanthemums

18th century (?) (Edo)
51.1196.3B
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Image for Kogai with Paulownia and Thunderbolt Design

Kogai with Paulownia and Thunderbolt Design

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1196.5
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Image for Kojiri with a Man and a Bowl

Kojiri with a Man and a Bowl

18th-19th century
51.1136
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Image for Tsuka with Floral Design

Tsuka with Floral Design

18th-19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.1189.3B
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Image for Kogai with Peony

Kogai with Peony

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1260.5
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Image for Tsuka with Dragons in Clouds

Tsuka with Dragons in Clouds

18th century (Edo)
51.1219.3B
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Image for Tsuka with Flowers

Tsuka with Flowers

18th-19th centry (Edo)
51.1217.3B
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Image for Tsuba with the Chinese Immortal Gama Sennin

Tsuba with the Chinese Immortal Gama Sennin

18th century (?) (late Edo)
51.123
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Image for Kozuka with Sankan on a Mule

Kozuka with Sankan on a Mule

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1268.4
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Image for Tsuba with Autumn Flora and Insects

Tsuba with Autumn Flora and Insects

18th century (mid Edo)
51.392
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Image for Tsuba with Ômori Hikohichi Crossing a Stream with a Demon

Tsuba with Ômori Hikohichi Crossing a Stream with a Demon

early 18th century (Edo)
51.307
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