Eastern Warriors: Japan – Medieval and Modern!

Japan-Web-BannerThis February half term, why not take the opportunity to come to Leeds and experience a glimpse of the world of the Japanese warrior? The Royal Armouries holds a wonderfully rich collection of Japanese objects, and many of these are on show in the Oriental Gallery.

Through these pieces, we can see how the distinctive arms and armour of the famous samurai evolved over the centuries, in conjunction with new developments in battlefield tactics and wider political, social and economic change.

DI 2007-1482, Sword (katana). Japanese, 16th century. Made by Kanemoto. XXVIS.366

DI 2007-1482, Sword (katana). Japanese, 16th century. Made by Kanemoto. XXVIS.366

A quick summary cannot do the world of Japanese arms and armour justice, but for a whistle-stop tour of some of the essential points please read on! We start with the Japanese horse archer with his elite warrior status, wearing his flamboyant lamellar o-yoroi or ‘great armour’ with the colourful silk lacing and large shoulder defences, his kabuto (helmet) with the spreading neckguard, and carrying the unique Japanese longbow (yumi) fashioned for use on horseback.

Image: close–up image of head and shoulders of armour (tosei gusoku) for a member of the Sakakibara family. Japanese, 16th century. XXVIA.274. On display in Leeds.

Image: close–up image of head and shoulders of armour (tosei gusoku) for a member of the Sakakibara family. Japanese, 16th century. XXVIA.274. On display in Leeds.

Image: Helmet (kabuto) and mask (mempo) of an armour given as a diplomatic gift from Tokugawa Hidetada to James I and VI in 1613. XXVIA. On display at the Tower of London.

Image: Helmet (kabuto) and mask (mempo) of an armour given as a diplomatic gift from Tokugawa Hidetada to James I and VI in 1613. XXVIA. On display at the Tower of London.

Image: DI 2005-0753 Helmet (kabuto), part of an armour copied from an o-yoroi (‘great armour’) made c.1300. XXVIA.209.

Image: Helmet (kabuto), part of an armour copied from an o-yoroi (‘great armour’) made c.1300. XXVIA.209.

Image: DI 2005-0563 An illustration from Yoroi Chakuyo shidai, or ‘The Order of Putting on an Armour’ showing an Japanese warrior. Japanese, early 19th century.

Image: An illustration from Yoroi Chakuyo shidai, or ‘The Order of Putting on an Armour’ showing a Japanese warrior. Japanese, early 19th century.

These horse archers prevailed on the Japanese battlefield until around the 14th century, by which point the emphasis on large bodies of infantry was increasing, and fighting on foot with staff weapons such as the naginata (glaive) and the yari (spear) became more common. As combat techniques evolved, the warrior lords and their retainers began to wear smaller, less elaborate styles of armour such as the do maru and the haramaki, which permitted greater freedom of movement – we have examples of both these styles of armour on show in the gallery in Leeds.

Image: TR.195 Armour (mogami haramaki gusoku). Japanese, mid-16th century. XXVIA.2

Image: Armour (mogami haramaki gusoku). Japanese, mid-16th century. XXVIA.2

In the mid-16th century the Portuguese arrived in Japan and brought matchlock firearms with them. The Japanese daimyo (nobles), who by this point were embroiled in the protracted civil wars known generally as sengoku jidai or ‘age of the country at war’, adopted this new technology with enthusiasm, and the Japanese matchlock (teppo) became a crucial weapon on the battlefield. This was famously proven at the battle of Nagashino in 1575, when the arquebusiers of the combined forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu annihilated the cavalry charge of Takeda Katsuyori. The new prevalence of firearms and the prolonged siege warfare that characterised the civil wars prompted further developments in armour. Laced rows of individual lamellar scales were reduced in favour of constructions incorporating solid plates, which provided better protection against bullets, and much experimentation was conducted to find a way of producing bullet-proof armour. Armour was simplified and the lacing was reduced in order to make it more practical during extended periods of warfare, as well as quicker and cheaper to produce for large numbers of troops.

Image: A13.369 - Illustration showing infantrymen armed with matchlock muskets. From a block book entitled Geijutsu Hideu Zue [Accomplishments in the secret arts] by Ohmori Sakou, with illustrations by Kuniyoshi (Tokyo, 1855).

Image: Illustration showing infantrymen armed with matchlock muskets. From a block book entitled Geijutsu Hideu Zue [Accomplishments in the secret arts] by Ohmori Sakou, with illustrations by Kuniyoshi (Tokyo, 1855).

Image: DI 2005-0854 Matchlock musket (teppo). Japanese, Izumi Province, 18th century. Made by Enami Ihei of Sakai. XXVIF.53

Image: Matchlock musket (teppo). Japanese, Izumi Province, 18th century. Made by Enami Ihei of Sakai. XXVIF.53

Once the civil wars were brought to a final close in the early 1600s by the victories of Tokugawa Ieyasu, though, the period of closely monitored peace known as the Edo period descended on Japan and lasted until the mid-19th century. A close eye was kept on the buke (warrior class) in an effort to stamp out all opportunities for insurrection. External influence was reduced to a minimum as the Shogunate shut down the majority of foreign trade amid concerns about Western ambitions within the country. A feudal chain of obligation between vassals, lords and ultimately the Shogun was codified in the ideal of Bushido or the ‘Way of the Warrior’, which reinforced the necessity of absolute personal loyalty and obedience. The glory days of the past must have seemed a long way away to the samurai, and this nostalgia was shown in part through the continued importance of arms and armour, not so much as functional equipment any more, but more for the implications of rank, status and honour that the pieces conveyed on their owners.

For example, the right to wear two swords, the katana and the wakizashi, at the same time, was restricted to members of the military class; those who were ranked lower in the social order, such as merchants, were only permitted to wear a short sword. Old styles of armour and copies of famous ancient armours became fashionable again; several of the armours on show in the Oriental Gallery in Leeds were made during the Edo period, but have archaic stylistic features such as individual lamellar scales or the big shoulder guards and neckguards that were popular during the times when o-yoroi  were worn. Martial arts involving weapons including the sword and staff weapons such as the naginata developed into more regulated forms; instead of being fundamentally a practical way to prepare for battlefield combat, the emphasis shifted to honing the skills, principles and mindset that were meant to embody the ideal warrior who was loyal to his lord.

Image: CN.977 - Armour (tosei gusoku) laced in purple and green. Japanese, about 1800. XXVIA.113.

Image: Armour (tosei gusoku) laced in purple and green. Japanese, about 1800. XXVIA.113.

Japan emerged from its period of self-imposed isolation during the mid-19th century, and embarked on an ambitious programme of rapid modernisation. By the twentieth century, Japan was competing with the military technology of America and Europe. However, certain cultural practices ensured that traditional Japanese arms and armour remained current and relevant. In Japanese religion, there is a strong belief that the kami or ancestral spirits continue to live on in the possessions owned by the deceased before they died, and this is thought to be particularly true of a warrior’s sword and armour. As a result, medieval armour and weaponry is often perfectly preserved, as the pieces are treasured through the generations as family heirlooms or passed on to shrines as offerings, so that the kami continue to be honoured and ensure good fortune for their descendents. It was often for this reason that Japanese officers in WWII had their ancestral, centuries-old blades fitted out with modern military issue mounts; in outward appearance their swords would conform to the 20th-century standard of uniformity and modernity, but they could still carry their medieval ancestors into battle with them. The ‘soul of the samurai’ still had power, and indeed it lives on today in the reverence that is bestowed on historical objects and the warrior culture connected with them, and the hold that the Samurai still claim over the popular imagination.

Image: DI 2010-1230 Sword (katana). Japanese, 14th century, with 20th century military mounts. Made by Sadatsugu in Bitchu province. XXVIS.333.

Image: Sword (katana). Japanese, 14th century, with 20th century military mounts. Made by Sadatsugu in Bitchu province. XXVIS.333.

Image: DI 2007-1476 Sword (katana). dated 1933. Made by Gassan Sadakatsu to commemorate the birth of the Crown Prince who is now Emperor of Japan.

Image: Sword (katana). dated 1933. Made by Gassan Sadakatsu to commemorate the birth of the Crown Prince who is now Emperor of Japan.

 

Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithematic…

Ahead of the Victorian themed half-term activities at Fort Nelson, exploring 19th century childhoods, Curator of Artillery Philip Magrath explains Fort Nelson’s role in the 1870s.

At the time Fort Nelson was completed in 1871, the Cardwell Reforms of the British Army were well under way. These were aimed at cost reduction, modernisation and increased recruitment. The War Department had a duty to school soldiers’ children who were regarded as potential recruits, inducing heavy investment in their education.

Fort Nelson © Royal Armouries

Fort Nelson © Royal Armouries

Garrison schools were divided into those for ‘infants’ and those for ‘grown children’. A schoolmaster took older boys and girls in the morning whilst in the afternoon the girls joined the infants who were taught by a schoolmistress.

Reading, spelling and singing were taught to the infants and reading, writing, dictation, grammar, arithmetic, algebra, English history, geography and singing to the older children. The afternoon focus was on ‘industrial instruction’, which meant domestic duties such as needlework for the girls and tailoring, shoe making and carpentry for the boys.

Discipline was very strict and based on the regimental code of conduct. Children’s mothers were forbidden to complain to the teachers. Any discontent had to be reported by the child’s father to the commanding officer.

Fort Nelson ran a small school in the School Room, currently used by Collections staff. In 1871, this served 24 children. In all five Portsdown Hill forts, 105 children required schooling that year! It is presumed that teachers were engaged from the local population although no newspaper advertisements have been discovered to this effect. Teaching may otherwise have fallen on the shoulders of the Officers and their wives.

Fort Nelson School Room © Royal Armouries

Fort Nelson School Room © Royal Armouries

The enlistment of boys after schooling was not compulsory but the War Department hoped that their experience was designed to indoctrinate them into joining up.

This February half term, visitors are invited to tread in the footsteps of the Fort’s 19th century schoolchildren by heading back to the classroom – as well as sampling Victorian games and crafts.

Victorian Life at Fort Nelson runs from 17 – 21 February, for further information visit the website.

Blogger: Philip Magrath, Curator of Artillery

The Wild West – tough times and even tougher characters…

This February half-term, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds is set to be over run by outlaws, bandits, desperados, rustlers and thieves. We need your help to track them down, so keep your eyes out for the shady characters below, from 16-24 February.

‘The Big D’
Wanted for gambling, fraud and horse rustling! Tends to shoot first and ask questions of your dead corpse later. You could arrest him but he’s also the Sheriff!

Wanted Cards Andy

Kid Carlson
Wanted for petty crimes. A man hated in the community for not so evil deeds. People have seen him cheating at poker games, stealing the Sheriff’s lunch money, and tormenting the local cows with nasty words.

Wanted Cards Carl

Hot Foot Holly
Wanted for unpaid tabs. Hot Foot Holly flits from town to town, staying in the grandest hotels, dining in the finest restaurants and when the fanciest tailor in town has just about sewn the last button on a beautiful new gown, she hot foots on out of there without paying a single bill!

Wanted Cards Holly

Wacky Jackie, The Bane of the West
Wanted for horse stealing. It is said that a Native American Chieftain told her that her spirit guide is a horse. She now believes she is one, and is wanted for stealing horses – or as she would say ‘setting her kin free!’ Last seen galloping across the plains.

Wanted Cards Jackie

Jemma ‘The Magpie’ Bulmer
Jewel thief and jail breaker. Married into a life of wealth and luxury, then widowed, she became accustomed to the luxuries of life so now steals from the rich and the elite, any shiny trinket or bauble she likes. She continually breaks out of jail using her charm and wit.

Wanted Cards Jemma

Kit Ducklin aka The Duck of Death
Wanted for army payroll robbery. Sometimes operates as a quack surgeon, now thought to be working as a buffalo hunter somewhere in Montana.

Wanted Cards Keith

Lisa – The Scourge of the Prairies
Wanted for Murder! She hails from the deepest prairies and outside of church she hasn’t had much time to socialise with folks. Wanted for murder in seven counties, she is extremely dangerous. For the sake of your life and your immortal soul do not approach.

Wanted Cards Lisa

Showtime Shona
Wanted for blackmail, extortion and robbery. Her profession as a saloon show girl means she is always surrounded by gentlemen admirers; the perfect opportunity to use her skills and rob them blind of all their worldly possessions.

Wanted Cards Shona

Join us this February half-term (16-24 February) to discover what life was like for the Wild West Outlaws through talks, demonstrations, films and craft activities. Plus don’t miss the daily showdown between our hotshot gunfighters.

Visit our website for more information.