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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 a Tiger and Dragon

Tsuba with a Tiger and Dragon

1730-1798 (Edo)
51.93
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Image for Kozuka with Sasaki Takatsuna and Kajiwara Kagesue Crosssing the Uji River

Kozuka with Sasaki Takatsuna and Kajiwara Kagesue Crosssing the Uji River

1731-1787 (Edo)
51.717
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Image for Tsuba with a Hunter on Horseback with a Falcon

Tsuba with a Hunter on Horseback with a Falcon

1732-1786 (mid Edo)
51.318
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Image for Tsuba with Scene of Celebrating the Tanabata Festival

Tsuba with Scene of Celebrating the Tanabata Festival

1732-1786 (Edo)
51.237
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Image for Tsuba with the Elegant Gathering in a Peach Orchard

Tsuba with the Elegant Gathering in a Peach Orchard

1732-1787 (Edo)
51.109
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Image for Kashira with a Chinese Archer

Kashira with a Chinese Archer

1793-1852 (Edo)
51.943
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Image for Kozuka with a Boy Trying to Pick a Peach

Kozuka with a Boy Trying to Pick a Peach

1736-1787 (Edo)
51.649
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Image for Kozuka with Kanzan and Jittoku

Kozuka with Kanzan and Jittoku

1793-1852 (late Edo)
51.819
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Image for Fuchi with a Chinese Man on a Horse and a Peasant

Fuchi with a Chinese Man on a Horse and a Peasant

1736-1787 (Edo)
51.974
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Image for Fuchi with a Chinese Boy

Fuchi with a Chinese Boy

1736-1787 (Edo)
51.950
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Image for Kashira with Fukurokujû

Kashira with Fukurokujû

1736-1787 (Edo)
51.951
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Image for Fuchi with a Man Pouring Water or Sake into a Bottle

Fuchi with a Man Pouring Water or Sake into a Bottle

1736-1787 (Edo)
51.942
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Image for Kashira with Chinese Man Holding a Staff

Kashira with Chinese Man Holding a Staff

1736-1787 (Edo)
51.975
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Image for Tsuba with the Chinese General Soso

Tsuba with the Chinese General Soso

1736-1787 (Edo)
51.124
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Image for Fuchi with the Chinese Immortal Kinkô Riding a Carp

Fuchi with the Chinese Immortal Kinkô Riding a Carp

ca. 1800 (Edo)
51.1110
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Image for Tsuba with the Oil Monk (Abura-bozu)

Tsuba with the Oil Monk (Abura-bozu)

ca. 1750 (mid Edo)
51.170
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Image for Tsuba with Hotei with Attendants and Treasures

Tsuba with Hotei with Attendants and Treasures

ca. 1750 (mid Edo)
51.388
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Image for Tsuba with Blossoming Plum and Narcissus

Tsuba with Blossoming Plum and Narcissus

ca. 1750-1775 (mid Edo)
51.95
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Image for Fuchi with a Man Carrying a Gourd

Fuchi with a Man Carrying a Gourd

ca. 1750-1775 (Edo)
51.972
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Image for Kashira with a Chinese Sage and his Attendant

Kashira with a Chinese Sage and his Attendant

ca. 1750-1775 (Edo)
51.973
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Image for Kozuka with Mt. Fuji

Kozuka with Mt. Fuji

1739-1804 (Edo)
51.735
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Image for Kozuka with Chinese Immortal and a Crane

Kozuka with Chinese Immortal and a Crane

1741-1830 (late Edo)
51.820
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Image for Tsuba with a Horse in Negative Silhouette

Tsuba with a Horse in Negative Silhouette

1741-1830 (Edo)
51.119
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Image for Kozuka with Lotus

Kozuka with Lotus

ca. 1750-1775 (mid-late Edo)
51.847
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Image for Fuchi with Chinese-style Lions and Peonies

Fuchi with Chinese-style Lions and Peonies

1742-1807 (Edo)
51.1229.3A
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Image for Tsuka with Chinese-style Lions and Butterflies

Tsuka with Chinese-style Lions and Butterflies

late 18th-early 20th century (Edo-Meiji-Taisho)
51.1229.3B
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Image for Tsuba with Chinese Fans

Tsuba with Chinese Fans

1742-1832 (late Edo)
51.134
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Image for Kozuka with Daruma

Kozuka with Daruma

1744-1801 (Edo)
51.739
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Image for Kashira with Spiny Lobster

Kashira with Spiny Lobster

1744-1801 (Edo)
51.935
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Image for Tsuba with Autumn Grasses and Insects

Tsuba with Autumn Grasses and Insects

late 18th century (mid Edo)
51.382
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Image for Tsuba with Stone Lanterns

Tsuba with Stone Lanterns

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Image for Kashira with the Chinese General Kanyu (Ch. Guan Yu [Kuan Yu])

Kashira with the Chinese General Kanyu (Ch. Guan Yu [Kuan Yu])

1744-1801 (Edo)
51.945
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