Rare hand-colored photos of Japanese samurai in the late 1800s

Mashable (by Alex Q. Arbuckle):

The military-nobility caste known as samurai — roughly meaning “those who serve” — emerged in medieval Japan as provincial warriors, and rose to control the country in the 12th century.

As the enforcement arm of the ruling shogunate, the samurai were elevated to a position of privilege. They followed a code of honor called bushido, informed by Confucianism and Zen Buddhism. Bushido emphasized martial fearlessness, discipline and loyalty, as well as general kindness.

These photos, made in the years after Japan finally opened its ports to international trade, capture samurai in their final days. With the 1868 Meiji Restoration and the end of feudalism, carrying swords was prohibited to all but the new national armed forces.

The samurai class was dissolved, but bushido survived as the national moral code of the new Japan.


c. 1865

c. 1865

Two samurai in firefighter dress.

c. 1864


c. 1867



c. 1880

c. 1880





c. 1865



c. 1865

c. 1860

10 Horrifying demons and spirits from Japanese folklore

 Mental Floss:

Oni (demons) and yurei (ghosts) have played a role in Japanese culture for thousands of years, and stories of new spirits continue to be told today. Much of this list is comprised of hannya, which in Noh theater are women whose rage and jealousy turned them into oni while still alive. Here are just a few tales of demons, ghosts, and women you don’t want to mess with.


Kiyohime was a young woman scorned by her lover, a monk named Anchin, who grew cold and lost interest in her. Realizing he had left her, Kiyohime followed him to a river and transformed into a serpent while swimming after his boat. Terrified by her monstrous form, Anchin sought refuge in a temple, where monks hid him beneath a bell. Not to be evaded, Kiyohime found him by his scent, coiled around the bell, and banged loudly on it with her tail. She then breathed fire onto the bell, melting it and killing Anchin.


There are many variations of this popular Japanese tale. Yuki-onna is usually described as having white skin, a white kimono, and long black hair. She appears in snowfall and glides without feet over the snow like a ghost. She feeds on human essence, and her killing method of choice is to blow on her victims to freeze them to death and then suck out their souls through their mouths.


Shuten Dōji is described as more than 50 feet tall with a red body, five horns, and 15 eyes. There’s no need to fear this demon, though. In a legend from the medieval period, warriors Raikō and Hōshō infiltrated Shuten Dōji’s lair disguised as yamabushi (mountain priests) to free some kidnapped women.

The oni greeted them with a banquet of human flesh and blood, and the disguised warriors offered Shuten Dōji drugged sake. After the demon passed out, the warriors cut off his head, killed the other oni, and freed the prisoners.


Also originating in the medieval period, yamauba are generally considered to be old women who were marginalized by society and forced to live in the mountains—who also have a penchant for eating human flesh. Among many tales, there is one of a yamauba who offers shelter to a young woman about to give birth while secretly planning to eat her baby, and another of a yamauba who goes to village homes to eat children while their mothers are away. But they’re not picky; they’ll eat anyone who passes by.

Yamabuas also have mouths under their hair. Delightful!


In another tale of a woman scorned, Uji no hashihime prayed to a deity to turn her into an oni so she could kill her husband, the woman he fell in love with, and all of their relatives. To accomplish this, she bathed in the Uji River for 21 days, divided her hair into five horns, painted her body red with vermilion, and went on a legendary killing spree. Besides her intended victims, anyone who saw her instantly died of fear.


Tengu are impish mountain goblins that play tricks on people, featured in countless folktales and considered purely evil until about the 14th century. They were originally depicted as birdlike, with wings and beaks, though now the beak is often replaced with a comically large nose. They are known to lead people away from Buddhism, tie priests to tall trees and towers, start fires in temples, and kidnap children.

Many legends say the tengu were hypocritical priests who must now live the rest of their lives as mountain goblins as punishment. Locals made offerings to the tengu to avoid their mischief, and there are still festivals in Japan dedicated to them today.


A revenge story made popular by the famous kabuki drama Yotsuya kaidan, Oiwa was married to a rōnin (masterless samurai) named Iemon; he wanted to marry a rich local’s daughter who had fallen in love with him, and, in order to end their marriage, Oiwa was sent a poisoned medicine. Though the poison failed to kill her, she became horribly disfigured, causing her hair to fall out and her left eye to droop. Upon learning of her disfigurement and betrayal, she accidentally killed herself on a sword. Her ghostly, deformed face appeared everywhere to haunt Iemon. It even appeared in place of his new bride’s face, which caused Iemon to accidentally behead her.

Oiwa’s spirit followed him relentlessly to the point where he welcomed death.


This story begins as so many horror stories do: With an overly-confident man who boasted to his friends that he didn’t fear to cross Agi Bridge or the demon rumored to reside there. As oni are known for their ability to shape-shift, the demon at Agi Bridge appeared to the man as an abandoned woman. As soon as she caught the young man’s eye, she transformed back into a 9 foot green-skinned monster and chased after him. Unable to catch the man, the demon later changed into the form of the man’s brother and knocked on his door late at night.

The demon was let into the house and, after a struggle, bit off the man’s head, held it up and danced with it before his family, and then vanished.


In an urban legend from 1979 that swept through Japan, Kuchisake-onna wears a surgical mask and asks children if they think she is beautiful. If they say yes, she takes off the mask to reveal her mouth slit from ear to ear and asks the question again. The only way to escape is to give a noncommittal answer, such as “you look OK.” Barring that, you can distract her with certain Japanese candies. But if the children say yes again, she will cut their mouths to make them look like her.


With a demon for just about everything, why shouldn’t the Japanese have a few for their bathrooms? Aka Manto, one of the more popular demons, hides in women’s bathrooms. In one version of the story, Aka Manto asks women if they would like a red cloak or a blue cloak. If the woman answers “red,” Aka Manto tears the flesh from her back to make it appear she is wearing a red cloak. If she answers “blue,” then he strangles her to death. Unfortunately, if you encounter Aka Manto, there may be no escaping: Some versions of the story say if you don’t answer or if you pick a different color, he will immediately drag you to hell.

Additional Sources: Japanese Ghosts & Demons: Art of the SupernaturalJapanese Demon Lore: Oni, from Ancient Times to the Present; “How the Demon at Agi Bridge in Omi Province Ate Somebody,” from The Demon at Agi Bridge and Other Japanese Tales.


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