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4 Things to Know About Samurai Armor or Japanese Armor

The samurai of Japan were more than bloodthirsty warriors. They were even…fashion icons?  Here are four things you ought to know about samurai armor.


1. Designed for Mobility

A typical old English suit of armor was thick, sturdy, and sluggish, like a wartime Tin Man. Medieval armor and medieval helmets are much heavier than Japanese armor. For samurai warriors, however, plates of metal or leather, bound together with laces, served as the basis for their armor. The construction was lightweight for many reasons, including traveling speedily on horseback. Shoulder shields hung over but did not inhibit a warrior’s lightly sleeved arms. This allowed for sword use as well as archery, giving as much freedom of motion as possible on the battlefield. A traveling outfit would consist of wide trousers and a kimono with sandals or clogs.


2. The Original “Helmet Hair”

Samurai kabuto helmets are known for being ornate and (to us) odd-looking, but each piece of the helmet served a particular function. Metal plates were riveted together to form the helmet’s base, with a second piece of armor tied beneath to help protect the forehead and face. A neckpiece served as another barrier against attack, guarding the oft-exposed and susceptible point between one’s head and chest. Finally, leather served as padding, with small masks or other ornaments used for decoration.


For comfort, and in order to help keep their helmets in place, samurai warriors began shaving the top of their head and pulling back and tying up the remaining hair. This top knot hairstyle grew as a distinctive fashion of the samurai class. Variations are still used by sumo wrestlers, although most no longer shave their heads.


3. Set of Swords for Samurai Use Only!

Samurai weaponry is well known, with swords including tanto, katana, wakizashi, and nagamaki. At the time, however, only members of the samurai class were allowed to wear the set of swords known as the daisho. This status symbol distinguished the warriors from all other social classes. In addition, samurai warriors had the power to kill anyone whom they felt had offended their honor and dignity.


As the samurai enjoyed power through many centuries, other weapons included straight blades, other curved blades, spears, a yumi (longbow), and, eventually, rifles and cannons. Visit Swords of The East to learn more about traditional samurai weaponry.


4. Fashion Icons?

You might find this strange due to their importance as combat warriors, but the samurai were considered fashion-forward and influential in their time. In addition, the structure and styling of samurai armor has been highly influential in modern times. Although significant changes were made to the armor throughout the centuries, the overall style of a samurai’s protective gear remained the same because it was well designed and effective. One of its biggest influences remains the first flak jacket (now bulletproof vest) developed by the U.S. Army. In pop culture, samurai helmets heavily inspired Darth Vader’s costume design. The samurai’s armor served many purposes and continues to influence us today.