Samurai bling: Crazy armor and helmets from medieval Japan

RocketNews 24:


gamou ujisato

When people think of Japan, they often think about anime or giant robots or giant robot anime. They are also likely to think of Japan’s medieval version of giant robot anime: the samurai. For many of us, the first introduction we got to Japan was through the amazing films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, leaving with us images of unrelenting master swordsmen.

While the world may mostly be entranced by the swords, it’s impossible to deny the beauty of the armor we also saw on the silver screen. Though surely nothing so fancy was everactually worn during the years of Japan’s civil wars, right??


Actually, quite the opposite! Though we doubt that the more extravagant armor and helmets you’ll see below could be found in the storehouses of lower ranked soldiers, there is no doubt that high-ranking members of the warrior class would gladly splurge on a little bit of bling. After all, no one wants to be the last guy on the battlefield to get a rabbit-ears helmet! Here are some of the craziest armor and helmets we’ve seen from medieval Japan!


gamou ujisato

Though it may look a little bit like Darth Vader strapped a catfish tail on his head, this set of armor was actually worn by Ujisato Gamou, a daimyo (basically a warlord), during the 16th century. We imagine facing him in battle felt like facing the final boss of a video game without getting the chance to level up.

katou kiyomasa

This vaguely skeletal armor, faceplate, and helmet belonged to Kiyomasa Kato, a daimyo during the 16th and 17th centuries. He was also one of the leaders during the Seven-Year War, when Japan invaded the Korean Peninsula. We guess he had a…bone to pick.

katou yoshiakira

This beautiful, squid-like set of armor was owned by Yoshiaki Kato, one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s greatest retainers and, after Hideyoshi’s death, a loyal warrior for Tokugawa Ieyasu. Allegedly, it was based on Mt Fuji, but we can’t see anything but Lovecraftian glory in it.

kuroda josui

Here’s a real “pot-head” for you! This helmet, worn by Yoshitaka Kuroda, a master strategist for Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late-16th and early-17th centuries, looks as if it were grabbed off of the dinner table just after finishing a nice big bowl of rice.

matsudaira nobukazu

Meow! It seems that even the warriors of medieval Japan loved lolcats! This armor belonged to Nobukazu Matsudaira, a well-respected, fierce warrior who received rewards from Nobunaga and Ieyasu. Apparently, his helmet was actually supposed to be based on a horned owl, but once you see them as cat ears, you just can’t see anything else!

Yamauchi toyomasa

This bunny-eared helmet was worn by Toyomasa Yamauchi, a feudal lord during the Edo Period, a time of relative peace. Even though he was considered a masterful swordsman, it’s unlikely that this helmet ever saw combat. Which is just as well! It’s far too cute for that.

Toudou Takatora

This helmet was owned by Takatora Todo, a daimyou who started out as a regular foot soldier. In addition to his snazzy fashion sense, Takatora was also famous for designing excellent castles, like Imabari Castle in Ehime. Though this helmet looks like a dragonfly, it’s apparently supposed to be based on a cap worn by officials during China’s T’ang dynasty.

Akechi samanosuke

Another bunny-eared helmet, this beautiful piece of armor belonged to Samanosuke Akechi, who you may know from Onimusha. Though we don’t think we wore anything quite so cute in the game.

Matsudaira chikatada

This one, which looks like it belonged to a very enthusiastic furry instead of its real owner, Chikatada Matsudaira, is one of the rare helmets with fur on the outside. Usually the leather or fur is on the inside for comfort. We guess Chikatada was just too badass for comfort!

rabbit helmet

The owner of this rabbit helmet is unknown, unfortunately. We can only imagine how many crappy hopping jokes he had to put up with.

Tachibana muneshige1

Adorned with the kanji for “big,” this over-sized helmet belonged to Muneshige Tachibana, who is most famous for his “sun” helmet. We can’t help wondering if there are some “small” and “medium” helmets out there waiting to be discovered…

spiney lobster

This helmet is less cute and more “delicious,” if you happen to like Japanese spiny lobster. We’re not sure who this belonged to, but we imagine he got quite a bit of attention on the battlefield. Which, now that we think about it, seems like the opposite of a good idea…

sea snail (turban)

Here’s another seafood inspired helmet! Again, we’re not sure who this belonged to, but we suppose that basing your helmet on a strong, sturdy shell makes sense. Or maybe the owner got his lunch order and his helmet order mixed up.


Boy, it sure seems like those medieval samurai just couldn’t get enough seafood! We don’t know who wore this helmet either, but we think Red Lobster should make all their employees wear replicas!

Kuroda Nagamasa

This water-buffalo-inspired helmet once rested over the brow of Nagamasa Kuroda, son of Yoshitaka Kuroda. Though not a great strategist like his father, Nagamasa was well-known for his military valor, so we imagine he fully earned the horns on his armor.

date shigezane

And finally, we have the centipede helmet! We’re not sure if Shigezane Date, the owner of the armor, was just trying to creep everyone out or if he just had a really weird thing for the insects…

Actually, it turns out that during the feudal period in Japan, it was believed that centipedes could not back down, so they were seen as a symbol of perseverance. A cool concept, to be sure, but we’re not sure its worth it to have a freaking centipede on your face…

We hope you enjoyed this very brief look at some of the unique armor and helmets from one of Japan’s violent periods. The gear might not always have been practical, but at least it looks cool in our museums now!


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Samurai bling: Crazy armor and helmets from medieval Japan

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