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.

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Two samurai in firefighter dress.

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Need a set of samurai armor for your cat or dog? This pet supply shop can help

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RocketNews 24 (by Casey Baseel):

Turn your adorable pet into a noble warrior…who’s still adorable!

There seems to be rising demand for samurai fashion, and we’re big proponents of strapping on a set of lamellar whenever the opportunity presents itself. Now, that opportunity has come to pets with wanko kacchu, or doggy armor.

This samurai-style protective gear is offered by Kandaya, a pet supply (or “pet souvenir,” to use Kandaya’s phrasing) in the town of Kurayoshi in Tottori Prefecture.

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If that purple and green color scheme looks familiar, it’s because it’s the same palette used for the Eva Unit-01 giant robot of science fiction anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. There’s also a more traditional set of doggy armor which was first introduced in April.

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Aside from its 50-50 blend of cute and cool, the doggy armor is actually tied into the city’s literary background. Kurayoshi is where the grave of Satomi Tadayoshi is located. A famous samurai, Satomi is said to have been the inspiration for one of the characters in the epic novel known as the Hakkenden, or The Legend of the Eight Dogs.

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Kandaya rents doggy armor out of its shop at a price of 500 yen (US$4.20) for one hour for the original pattern, or 1,000 yen for 90 minutes for the Evangelion-style suit. Granted, the odds of ninja attacking you while you’re strolling around Kurayoshi are extremely slim, but it’s good to know that should you meet with some hostile shinobi, your pet will be properly outfitted.

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Shop information
Kandaya / かんだや
Address: Tottori-ken, Kurayoshi-shi, Uomachi 2568-2
鳥取県倉吉市魚町2568-2
Open 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays
Telephone: 050-3564-0345
Website

Sith lord or samurai lord? Darth Vader becomes decorative “gogatsu ningyo” doll for Boys’ Day in Japan

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RocketNews 24:

A long, long time ago, in a country far, far away, Yoshitoku Taiko made its first doll. Founded in 1711, the company’s history goes back to a time when Japan was ruled by a shogun, and the country sealed off from the rest of the world.

More than three centuries later, Yoshitoku Taiko is still in business, but Japan is now part of the global community. That’s why the company’s latest offerings are two exquisitely crafted dolls of Darth Vader in samurai armor.

In Japan, it’s customary to celebrate May 5, known as either Boys’ Day or Children’s Day, by decorating the home with a doll dressed in a suit of armor. Known as gogatsu ningyo, or “May dolls,” the figures are supposed to represent parents’ desires that their sons grow up to be strong and wise, like the samurai warriors they’re modeled after.

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▼ Simpler displays feature just the helmet.

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Speaking of samurai, it’s been said that Japanese armor was a major inspiration for the iconic design of Star Wars’ Darth Vader. There are definitely similarities, such as the way Lord Vader’s helmet covers the back of the neck, or the face plate he wears that resembles those samurai often went into battle equipped with. So, seeing as how there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out in December, Yoshitoku Taiko decided to make an addition to their traditional line of May dolls fashioned after historical figures such as Date Masamune, Uesugi Kenshin, and Sanada Yukimura, with these Darth Vader gogatsu ningyo.

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Or, if the whole suit of armor is a bit much, you could opt for this Vader helmet set.

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There’s also Yoshitoku Taiko’s Darth Vader bushi ningyo, or warrior doll, which forgoes the volcanic backdrop.

▼ And yes, of course the katana scabbard is red.

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While the noble Jedi knights might seem like more appropriate symbols for the virtues of bushido, they don’t wear armor. So Yoshitoku Taiko’s other Star Wars creation doesn’t draw from Luke or Obi-Wan, but the Imperial Stormtroopers.

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All of these items are currently sold out, despite prices ranging from 140,400 yen (US$1,180) for the Darth Vader bushi ningyo all the way up to 356,400 yen for the full gogatsu ningyo Vader set. But hey, as any collector will tell you, high-grade Star Wars figurines don’t come cheap, and if and when Yoshitoku Taiko does restock the items on its website, you can be sure they’ll be selling out quickly once again.

The Guinness World Record-holding oldest hotel in the world – in Japan, and established in 705 A.D.!

 

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RocketNews 24:

Keiunkan Inn in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture is famous for holding the Guinness World Record for being The oldest hotel in the world. Established in 705 A.D., it boasts such notable former guests as daimyo Takeda Shingen, shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and numerous emperors of Japan.

The inn itself is located in the southern alps of Yamanashi Prefecture, nestled in lush valleys in the very heart of nature. It’s the perfect location for escaping from the hustle and bustle of city life. What’s more, the inn is built upon prime hot springs ground, which means guests are able to enjoy numerous open-air and communal hot spring baths. Each room’s shower, bath and sink facilities are fed by pure hot spring water, which is neither treated nor heated by any artificial means. In fact, except for the toilets,the entire inn uses the hot springs water in its daily running, which makes it a very special and luxurious place to visit.

Our reporter, Yoshio, decided to book a stay in “the oldest hotel in the world” in order t oshare his experiences with the good readers of RocketNews24. Read on for many, many gorgeous photos of his trip!

Here’s Yoshio’s report on everything that Keiunkan Inn has to offer!

The baths

As we mentioned above, the entire inn is serviced by the natural water of the on-site hot springs, including of course the onsen baths and the open-air bathing pools. As you can see from the pictures below, they’re pretty much amazing. Yoshio reports that the quality of the water was top-notch, and the view of the valley from the baths was incredible. What’s more, every single one of the many baths is open for bathing 24 hours a day!

The accommodation

The ultra-Japanese building comprises a total of 35 guest suites. Yoshio was pleasantly surprised to discover that his accommodation consisted of two large Japanese-style rooms, giving him plenty of space to relax. They were also spotlessly clean and neat. The only potential issue for guests could be the price – at 32,000 yen (US$269) per night, it’s a little on the expensive side.

The cuisine

Dinner at Keiunkan is kaiseki style, meaning that your meal is brought to your room and served to you dish by dish. The cuisine included lots of fresh ingredients from the local mountains and river, and there was plenty to satisfy even the heartiest eater. There were also several unusual dishes that you don’t often get the opportunity to taste in Japan – like “acorn soba”. The only complaint Yoshio had was that his “salt-baked char” (a type of fish) was a little lukewarm. After all, when it comes to char, it’s gotta be piping hot, right?

Breakfast was similar to dinner in that it comprised a vast array of dishes which more than filled up our reporter’s stomach. Yoshio tells us that instead of serving the usual white rice, Keiunkan provides okayu rice porridge with breakfast, which is gentler on the stomach. Overall, the quality of both meals served was excellent.

The hospitality

Unfortunately, after all the piping hot onsen water, spotless rooms and delicious eats, Yoshio felt that the service failed to live up to his high expectations. Since Keiunkan is supposed to be famous for being the oldest hotel in existence, he was expecting there to be more information about the history of the hotel available. Even when he asked the staff, nobody seemed to know all that much about it. Sure, the hotel staff are rightfully proud of its reputation and its Guinness World Record, but they weren’t able to answer in-depth questions. Since the hotel almost certainly gets a lot of guests as a result of its fascinating history, it does seem a shame that there wasn’t really any opportunity to find out more about its past. Also, for a place with such a distinguished history, several of the staff seemed overly casual in their approach to the position, with some giving off an “I’m only here part-time” kind of vibe. Sure, that kind of attitude isn’t really a problem at budget hotels, but Keiunkan is supposed to be the oldest hotel in the world – costing over 250 bucks per head a night, no less – so our man felt that a little more effort would certainly have been welcome.

While Yoshio was left disappointed by the service, he still recommends a visit as the baths and cuisine were both excellent. Hopefully in the future Keiunkan will put up some signs and so on explaining the details of the hotel’s past, as well as educating their staff about its incredible history.

 

We’ll leave you now with photo-tour of the oldest hotel in the world! Enjoy!

If you’re interested in visiting the oldest hotel in the world yourself, the inn’s website is: www.keiunkan.co.jp

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The many twists, turns and trapdoors of Kanazawa’s incredible Ninja Temple

 

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RocketNews 24:

 

Ishikawa Prefecture is a little off most tourist itineraries of Japan, since it’s located along the north coast of the main island of Honshu. If you’ve got the time to spare, though, the capital city of Kanazawa has more than enough attractions to fill a day or two.

The city is home to Kenrokuen, considered one of Japan’s top three gardens and recently voted to be one of the 30 best sightseeing spots in the country. The Omicho Market is also a great place to enjoy delicious seafood, including the shrimp that Ishikawa is known for.

Or, if neither of those pique your interest, there’s also the ninja temple, whose layout is said to be so confusing that few could make it out without a guide.

Although the official name of the structure is Myoryuji, literally the “oddly built temple,” it’s better known as Ninja-dera, the ninja temple. First constructed in the 16th century, the building was moved to its current location in 1643 by Maeda Toshitsune, the warlord who controlled Kaga Fief in present-day Ishikawa.

As an official Buddhist temple, Myoryuji’s ostensible purpose was as a place of worship. In actuality, though, it served as a secret Maeda stronghold. By 1643, the civil war that had ravaged Japan for centuries had largely died down, with the Tokugawa shogunate having suppressed its political and military rivals. Still, the peace between the shogunate and the regional warlords was an uneasy one. Maeda feared the Tokugawa forces may one day come to separate him from his gold-rich lands, and placing Myoruji near Kanazawa Castle gave him a safe-house hidden in plain sight.

 

▼ Maeda Toshitsune

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Ninja-dera was never home to a clan of fearsome shadow warriors, however. Instead, its name come from the numerous traps and tricks incorporated into its design to help repel intruders.

The deception starts before you even enter. From the outside, Myoryuji appears to have two floors, in keeping with the feudal era restrictions that prohibited buildings other than the town’s castle from being over three stories tall.

 

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In actuality, though, the complex is built with a four-story frame, and the numerous spaces between the floors give it seven separate levels. Myoryuji’s 23 rooms are connected by an intricate network of no fewer than 29 staircases.

 

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These aren’t all ordinary staircases, either. For example, take a look at the wooden grid at the front of these steps.

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The white sections are actually made of paper. As intruders run up the stairs, guards positioned beneath the floorboards could stab at their feet.

Other staircases lead downwards to pit traps. Once the attacker falls into it, his slide continues to a room where a team of defenders is waiting to finish him off before he can recover from the shock and properly defend himself.

 

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As you’d expect from a building constructed at this point in history, many of the passages are connected by traditional Japanese sliding doors. Unlike normal doors of this type, though, many of Myoryuji’s automatically lock after being shut and can only re reopened from one side. This allows defenders to quickly block their adversaries’ advance or trap them in a confined space.

 

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As is the case in many countries, centuries-old architecture in Japan tends to be built for the shorter stature of the people from bygone eras. If the room shown in the following photo looks to you like it has a particularly low ceiling, though, you’re absolutely right.

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This purposefully cramped design was chosen in order to give assailants less room in which to swing their weapons, which would put them at a disadvantage against guards who were already aware of the low clearance and adjusted their tactics accordingly.

Even Myoryuji’s well is more than it appears to be at first glance. At the bottom of the 25-meter (82-foot) shaft is a passage that’s said to connect with Kanazawa Castle, although no one who’s alive today has gone deep enough into the tunnel to confirm this.

 

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It’s said that once you enter Myoryuji, its layout is so confusing you won’t be able to find your way out. Thankfully, the temple offers guided tours, which are offered between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Reservations are required though, which can be made by contacting the temple by phone at the number listed on its website here up to three months before the date of your intended visit.

Perhaps the most mysterious thing about Myoryuji, however, is that no one knows the identity of the architect that designed its defensive features. Given the detailed written records throughout Japanese history that chronicle the accomplishments of scholars, statesmen, and strategists, this sort of anonymity is especially rare. Thankfully, not knowing who was responsible for the Ninja Temple so many years ago doesn’t mean visitors can’t still marvel at his or her craftsmanship today.

 

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 The many twists, turns and trapdoors of Kanazawa’s incredible Ninja Temple

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Pumps with Japanese family crests bring out your inner feudal warlord

 

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RocketNews 24:

 

Japanese family crests (or kamon), have been passed down through the generations for centuries, although these days they’re mostly seen in the patterns of kimono or the logos of sushi restaurants, as well as on flags and armour. Kamon are circular, often featuring animal or plant motifs.

These family crests have found a new home now, though – as logos on cute shoes! These kamon pumps, from an Ikebukuro-based cosplay store, use the actual family motifs of four armoured generals (“busho” in Japanese) from the Sengoku period, to make up this new feudal warlord series. We do love it when Japan combines old and new!

 

▼ The low-heeled pumps feature the kamon of Kuroda Yoshitaka (on black), Akechi Mitsuhide (white), Mōri Motonari (green), and Maeda Toshimasu (orange).

 

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▼ And here’s what Kuroda Yoshitaka‘s family crest looks like when it’s not on patent shoes!

▼ If you’re more of an Akechi kind of girl…

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▼ Mōri-san’s kamon is this striking modern-looking design.

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▼ And last but not least, the family crest of Maeda Toshimasu.

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▼ With a low heel of 1.7cm, these pumps are perfect for day or night; shopping or maybe attending historical conventions.

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So if you’ve been looking for a way to show the world your feudal allegiances, you can get your hands on a pair for 6,980 yen (US $68) from Assist Wig, a cosplay wig and accessory store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

 

▼ The full “Sengoku busho shiriisu” (warring states feudal warrior series!)

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As one Twitter user has pointed out, kamon pumps bear more than a passing resemblance to these Tory Burch ballet pumps. Although at $265, these come in at a significantly higher price than Assist Wig’s offerings.

 

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Source: Togech

 

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Pumps with Japanese family crests bring out your inner feudal warlord

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Amazing photography from the 1860s shows us some of Japan’s very last samurai

 

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RocketNews 24:

 

Between the way Japan has embraced technology and just how incredibly safe the country is, it’s easy to forget that it really wasn’t so long ago that the whole nation was still under the feudal system. Until 1868, “samurai” was still very much a viable career choice, as the ruling shogunate relied on a trained warrior class to keep the peace.

How much the traditions of Japan’s fabled swordsmen live on in Japanese society today is something scholars love to debate, and while there are points to be made both for and against their importance, there’s one thing that unquestionably remains, and that’s photography of real-life, genuine samurai.

In the early 17th century, the ruling Tokugawa shogunate enacted strict policies isolating Japan from the rest of the world. Eventually, though, more and more contact with the outside world began to trickle into the country, showing just how far behind the rest of the world Japan had slipped scientifically and technologically. The isolationist system was repealed in the 1850s, and in 1868 the feudal government, and with it the samurai, were done away with.

This left only a scant few years during which modern technology and the warrior class coexisted in Japan. One of the first photographers to work in Japan was Italian Felice Beato. Following a working journey through Asia, Beato arrived in 1863, where he settled in Yokohama, then, as now, the choice for dashing expatriates.

Japan had suddenly become the focus of intense international attention, with the outside world eager for its first glimpse at life in the country. Beato was ready to satisfy the world’s curiosity with his photography showing the sights and people of Japan, including the samurai, as shown in these shots from 1866. They may not be quite as handsome as some of the samurai we recently introduced you to, but there’s no denying that these guys look like they could really handle themselves.

 

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Firearms had been introduced to Japan centuries ago during the Warring States period, but their cumbersome designs and the lack of industry to easily produce them in mass quantities meant that when Beato began working in Japan, the samurai’s traditional armaments were still very much in use.

 

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Japanese online commentators were just as captivated by Beato’s photography as its original audience must have been.

“Just by looking at their faces, you can tell how much they’ve experienced in life.”

“I wouldn’t want to mess with any of these guys.”

“Wow. If you figure the oldest guy is in his 60s, that means he might have been born in the 17th century.”

 

We can only hope that the snapshots people have taken of us are this compelling 150 years from now.

Source, images: Labaq

 

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Amazing photography from the 1860s shows us some of Japan’s very last samurai

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Drink like a world leader with the $10 sake President Obama and Prime Minister Abe shared

 

RocketNews 24:

 

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During his visit to Tokyo, American President Barack Obama stepped out for a bite to eat with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Sukibayashi Jiro, widely held to be one of the finest sushi restaurants in the world. As you’d expect from their lofty positions, Sukibayashi Jiro isn’t an eatery for ordinary folks, what with its months-long reservation waiting list and set courses that cost 30,000 yen (US$294) yet only an amount of food that can be polished off in just 15 minutes.

And what about the sake the two leaders drank together? Surely, that must be an equally rarified brew, far out of the price range of anyone who isn’t the most powerful individual in his or her country. You probably even need a direct connection with someone in the industry to buy some, right?

Nope. Not only can you score a bottle for less than 10 bucks, but you can order it online right now.

While the two heads of state enjoyed a tipple in downtown Tokyo, their sake actually comes from the other side of the country. The brewer is Hiroshima Prefecture’s Kamotsuru. While their product recently graced the cup of Japan’s prime minister, Kamotsuru’s history stretches back to when Japan was still ruled by a shogun, as the company was founded in 1623.

▼ The Kamotsuru brewery

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Thanks to the distinctive square-based bottle Prime Minister Abe is seen pouring from, it didn’t take long for sake aficionados to discern that the specific brew the two were drinking is Kamotsuru’s Diginjo Tokusei Gold, which the brewer later confirmed through its website. Kamotsuru proudly states that the Diginjo Tokusei Gold is the finest representation of its techniques and traditions, made with water drawn from subterranean sources in Hiroshima’s northern Takahara highlands.

 

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Daiginjo Tokusei Gold is highly esteemed, having received more than 95 awards for its flavor since 1970. According to its maker, the sake has a refined aroma, with a rich, full flavor, and is best served chilled or at room temperature.

Kamotsuru also claims to be the first brewer to think of adding decorative flakes of gold to its sake, and as you pour the Daiginjo Tokusei Gold into your glass, you’ll see cherry blossom-shaped gold leaves floating in your beverage.

 

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Even more surprising than this clever visual design point, though, is the price. Kamotsuru sells the Daiginjo Tokusei Gold through its website here, with prices starting at just 1,378 yen (US$13.50) for a set of two 180 milliliter (6.1 ounce) bottles.

 

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With prices like that, Kamotsuru’s sake can be enjoyed by anyone, even if the only seat of power you have is the sofa in your living room.

Sources: LivedoorKamotsuru

 

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Drink like a world leader with the $10 sake President Obama and Prime Minister Abe shared

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Samurai bling: Crazy armor and helmets from medieval Japan

RocketNews 24:

 

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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!

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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