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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 Kashira with Shôki the Demon Queller

Kashira with Shôki the Demon Queller

18th-19th century
51.1127
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Image for Tsuba with Cormorant Fishing at Night

Tsuba with Cormorant Fishing at Night

18th-19th century (Edo-Meiji)
51.183
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Image for Tsuba with the Taoist Immortal Taishin O Fujin

Tsuba with the Taoist Immortal Taishin O Fujin

18th century (Edo)
51.216
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Image for Kashira with Sea Bream and Bamboo

Kashira with Sea Bream and Bamboo

18th century (?) (Edo)
51.1125
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Image for Tsuba with Bamboo

Tsuba with Bamboo

18th century (Edo)
51.357
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Image for Tsuba with Abstract Plant Motif

Tsuba with Abstract Plant Motif

18th century (?) (Edo)
51.1196.2
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Image for Kashira with Asahina Saburo Grasping Soga Gorô's Armor

Kashira with Asahina Saburo Grasping Soga Gorô's Armor

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1049
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Image for Tsuba with a Dragon Holding a Pearl

Tsuba with a Dragon Holding a Pearl

18th century (Edo)
51.236
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Image for Kozuka with a Flowering Plum Branch

Kozuka with a Flowering Plum Branch

18th-19th centuries (Edo)
51.699
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Image for Kozuka with Waves

Kozuka with Waves

18th-19th century (Edo)
51.1260.4
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Image for Kozuka with Bow and Arrows

Kozuka with Bow and Arrows

18th-19th century
51.1304
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Image for Tsuba with a Sparrow and Autumn Foliage

Tsuba with a Sparrow and Autumn Foliage

early-mid 18th century (mid Edo)
51.258
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Image for Kozuka with a Dragon Holding a Jewel

Kozuka with a Dragon Holding a Jewel

1710-1744 (Edo)
51.865
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Image for Kozuka of Two Birds Flying over the Sea

Kozuka of Two Birds Flying over the Sea

1710-1747 (Edo)
51.777
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Image for Kozuka with a Parrot Perched on Bamboo

Kozuka with a Parrot Perched on Bamboo

ca. 1725-1750
51.771
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Image for Kozuka with Shoko Reading a Book by Moonlight

Kozuka with Shoko Reading a Book by Moonlight

ca. 1725-1750 (late Edo)
51.721
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Image for Tsuba with a Chinese Immortal

Tsuba with a Chinese Immortal

ca.1725-1750 (Edo)
51.267
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Image for Tsuba with Geese and Reeds

Tsuba with Geese and Reeds

1715-1769 (Edo)
51.126
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Image for Tsuba with Carp

Tsuba with Carp

18th century (mid Edo)
51.226
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Image for Kozuka with a Dog Chasing a Pilgrim

Kozuka with a Dog Chasing a Pilgrim

1721-1784 (Edo)
51.730
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Image for Tsuba with a Monkey Teasing an Elephant with a Stick

Tsuba with a Monkey Teasing an Elephant with a Stick

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Image for Tsuba with a Gate Guardian at a Temple

Tsuba with a Gate Guardian at a Temple

1725-1769 (Edo)
51.135
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Image for Tsuba with Hotei and His Boy Attendant in a Boat under a Full Moon

Tsuba with Hotei and His Boy Attendant in a Boat under a Full Moon

1725-1761 (mid Edo)
51.282
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Image for Tsuba with the Chinese General Komei Changing the Direction of the Wind

Tsuba with the Chinese General Komei Changing the Direction of the Wind

mid 18th century (Edo)
51.242
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Image for Fuchi with Chinese Warrior

Fuchi with Chinese Warrior

mid 18th century (Edo)
51.1032
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Image for Kashira with the Chinese Generals Kanyu, Gentoku and Chohi

Kashira with the Chinese Generals Kanyu, Gentoku and Chohi

mid 18th century (Edo)
51.1033
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Image for Tsuba with Kanzan and Jittoku

Tsuba with Kanzan and Jittoku

1725-1761 (mid Edo)
51.286
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Image for Kozuka with a Spiny Lobster

Kozuka with a Spiny Lobster

1729-1791 (Edo)
51.872
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Image for Kozuka with Branch with Persimmon

Kozuka with Branch with Persimmon

1730-1744 (mid Edo)
51.657
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Image for Kozuka with Hotei

Kozuka with Hotei

1730-1744 (Edo)
51.685
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Image for Tsuba with a Dragon Emerging from Waves

Tsuba with a Dragon Emerging from Waves

1730-1798 (mid Edo)
51.331
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