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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 Marishiten

Kozuka with Marishiten

18th century (mid Edo)
51.861
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Image for Tsuba with Chrysanthemums

Tsuba with Chrysanthemums

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1229.2
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Image for Kashira with Sea Bream and Bamboo

Kashira with Sea Bream and Bamboo

18th century (?)
51.1115
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Image for Kozuka with a Bird in a Stream with Lotus Leaves

Kozuka with a Bird in a Stream with Lotus Leaves

18th century (?) (Edo)
51.700
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Image for Kozuka with Mounted Samurai under Cherry Blossoms

Kozuka with Mounted Samurai under Cherry Blossoms

18th century (Edo)
51.1253.4
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Image for Tsuba with Plum Blossoms

Tsuba with Plum Blossoms

18th-19th century (?)
51.358
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Image for Kozuka with Yoshitsune and a Tengu

Kozuka with Yoshitsune and a Tengu

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.715
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Image for Kozuka with "Oni" Carrying a Bucket

Kozuka with "Oni" Carrying a Bucket

18th century (?) (Edo)
51.879
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Image for Fuchi with Millet and Straw Basket

Fuchi with Millet and Straw Basket

18th-19th century
51.1104
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Image for Kashira with Dragon in Clouds

Kashira with Dragon in Clouds

18th century
51.1131
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Image for Kashira with Chrysanthemum

Kashira with Chrysanthemum

Yoshichika Artist
18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1007
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Image for Fuchi Remounted at a Box with Legendary Figures

Fuchi Remounted at a Box with Legendary Figures

Original: 18th century (?); Mounted: late 19th-early 20th century (Edo-Meiji)
57.1330A
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Image for Kashira Remounted as a Box Lid with Taoist Immortal Koreijin

Kashira Remounted as a Box Lid with Taoist Immortal Koreijin

Original: 18th century (?); Mounted: late 19th-early 20th century (Edo-Meiji)
57.1330B
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Image for Umabari with Waves

Umabari with Waves

18th-19th century
51.1211.4
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Image for Tsuka with Dragons

Tsuka with Dragons

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1255.3B
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Image for Kozuka with Chinese-style Lions

Kozuka with Chinese-style Lions

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1255.4
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Image for Kogai with Chinese-style Lions

Kogai with Chinese-style Lions

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1255.5
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Image for Tsuka with Dancing Figures and Shôki

Tsuka with Dancing Figures and Shôki

18th century (Edo)
51.1253.3B
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Image for Tsuka with Samurai Lord

Tsuka with Samurai Lord

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1254.3B
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Image for Tsuka with Dragon, Chokaro, and Mules

Tsuka with Dragon, Chokaro, and Mules

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1268.3B
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Image for Kashira with Seated Figure

Kashira with Seated Figure

18th century (?) (Edo)
51.1117
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Image for Fuchi with Chrysanthemum

Fuchi with Chrysanthemum

Yoshichika Artist
18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1006
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Image for Fuchi with a Chinese Immortal on a Crane

Fuchi with a Chinese Immortal on a Crane

18th century (Edo)
51.952
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Image for Suit of Armor with the Buddhist Deity Fudo Myo-o

Suit of Armor with the Buddhist Deity Fudo Myo-o

Myochin Metalworker
Armor: 18th-19th century; Assembled: ca. 1900 (Meiji)
51.602
On view
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Image for Tsuba with a Temple Guardian Statue

Tsuba with a Temple Guardian Statue

1st half 18th century (Edo)
51.222
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Image for Kozuka with a Hollyhock Creast

Kozuka with a Hollyhock Creast

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1188.4
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Image for Tsuba with a Tiger and a Dragon

Tsuba with a Tiger and a Dragon

18th century (Edo)
51.199
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Image for Tsuba with Chrysanthemums

Tsuba with Chrysanthemums

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.276
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Image for Tsuba with Chinese Star Gods

Tsuba with Chinese Star Gods

1st half 18th century (mid Edo)
51.336
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Image for Kashira with a Thatched Hut and a Waterfall

Kashira with a Thatched Hut and a Waterfall

Naoyoshi (Japanese) Metalworker
18th century (Edo)
51.910
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Image for Kashira with Herons and Reeds

Kashira with Herons and Reeds

Hironao Artist
18th-19th century (Edo)
51.929
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Image for Kojiri with Cricket and Cockroach

Kojiri with Cricket and Cockroach

18th-19th century
51.1135
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