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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 Cranes and Bamboo

Tsuba with Cranes and Bamboo

18th century (?) (Edo)
51.256
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Image for Kozuka with a Bell

Kozuka with a Bell

18th century (Edo)
51.863
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Image for Fuchi with Mt. Fuji

Fuchi with Mt. Fuji

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1048
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Image for Fuchi with Dragon in Clouds

Fuchi with Dragon in Clouds

18th century
51.1130
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Image for Kozuka with Monkeys Under a Cherry Tree

Kozuka with Monkeys Under a Cherry Tree

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.774
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Image for Fuchi with Waterfall

Fuchi with Waterfall

18th century
51.1040
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Image for Kashira with a Pinwheel

Kashira with a Pinwheel

18th-19th century
51.1138
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Image for Kashira of the Chinese General Kanyu

Kashira of the Chinese General Kanyu

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1133
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Image for Kozuka with a Man Holding a Net

Kozuka with a Man Holding a Net

18th century (?)
51.789
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Image for Fuchi with Crests

Fuchi with Crests

18th century (?) (Edo)
51.1196.3A
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Image for Kozuka in the Shape of a Quiver

Kozuka in the Shape of a Quiver

18th-19th century
51.744
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Image for Kozuka with Shôki the Demon Queller

Kozuka with Shôki the Demon Queller

18th century (Edo)
51.858
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Image for Fuchi with Dragon in Clouds

Fuchi with Dragon in Clouds

18th century (Edo)
51.1219.3A
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Image for Fuchi with Thatched Hut and Tree

Fuchi with Thatched Hut and Tree

18th century (?) (Edo)
51.1116
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Image for Tsuba with Chinese Immortal and a Tiger

Tsuba with Chinese Immortal and a Tiger

18th century (Edo)
51.1253.2
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Image for Tsuba with Fudû Myô-ô

Tsuba with Fudû Myô-ô

1701-1761 (mid Edo)
51.362
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Image for Fuchi with Heron, Boat and Reeds

Fuchi with Heron, Boat and Reeds

Hironao Artist
18th-19th century (Edo)
51.928
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Image for Tsuba with Lightning Pattern

Tsuba with Lightning Pattern

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1268.2
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Image for Kashira with a Cricket

Kashira with a Cricket

18th-19th century
51.1139
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Image for Fuchi with Floral Pattern

Fuchi with Floral Pattern

18th-19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.1189.3A
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Image for Kozuka with Autumn Flowers

Kozuka with Autumn Flowers

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1217.4
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Image for Fuchi with Armor

Fuchi with Armor

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1120
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Image for Kogai with Hollyhock Crests

Kogai with Hollyhock Crests

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1188.5
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Image for Kozuka with Dragon and Tiger

Kozuka with Dragon and Tiger

18th century
51.768
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Image for Tsuba with Dragon and Waves

Tsuba with Dragon and Waves

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1254.2
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Image for Kozuka with Cushion, Fan and Tasseled Cord

Kozuka with Cushion, Fan and Tasseled Cord

17th-19th centuries (Edo)
51.683
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Image for Tsuba with Fly and Spiders

Tsuba with Fly and Spiders

1st half 18th century (mid Edo)
51.391
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Image for Kozuka with Lion Dancers

Kozuka with Lion Dancers

18th-19th centuries (Edo)
51.691
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Image for Kashira with Two Figures

Kashira with Two Figures

18th century
51.1041
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Image for Kozuka with Rats and an Umbrella

Kozuka with Rats and an Umbrella

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.753
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Image for Tsuba with Bats and Crescent Moon

Tsuba with Bats and Crescent Moon

18th-19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.229
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Image for Fuchi with Three Yamabushi

Fuchi with Three Yamabushi

18th century (?)
51.1058
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