How a samurai put on his armour (tosei gusoku - modern armour 1540-1868). Part one.
1) Firstly a samurai had to be wearing comfortable clothing underneath his armour. The first item worn is of course underwear. Called echũfundoshi it was a type of loin cloth strung around the neck, hanging down the chest and underneath the groin. It was tied in place around the waist with a thin strap. They were generally 1.5 metres long and made from soft linen, often white or light blue. Prayers to Buddhist or Shintõ gods were sometimes written on the inside of the echũfundoshi for protection. Powders mixed with a perfume called kunroku were rubbed into the echũfundoshi to ward off insects and they were often hung over burning incense before being worn so that they smelled pleasant.
2) The next two items to be put on were the top called gusokushita and the pants called kobakama. The gusokushita, literally “garment worn under armour,” was a simple version of the earlier kosode tops worn as everyday wear. These were commonly patterned silk gauze weave or plain linen. The sleeves were short, usually only reaching to just below the elbow. It is held closed by its own ties at either side or by a separate linen sash called an obi which is always tied in the front. Some had a small button at the neck. In winter a thicker top called a hadagi was sometimes worn. A sleeveless hadagi could also be worn under the gusokushita in winter. The left arm is put through the sleeve first and the left side collar always wraps over the right side.
The kobakama were loose fitting pants that didn’t reach far below the knees. They are an evolution of the earlier sashinuki bakama that tied at the ankles. They have an opening in the sides and are tied with four long flat ties, two at the back and two at the front. These ties are both tied in the front. These were commonly made from linen or cotton. Lower ranking samurai or ashigaru (foot soldiers) wore plain coloured kobakama while those worn by higher ranking samurai could be very colourful, displaying elaborate designs. Higher ranking samurai sometimes wore tattsuke bakama. These had a kyahan section attached to the bottom of the pants section under the knee with ties for the ankle and under the knee. Kyahan were not necessary when tattsuke bakama were worn. The kobakama are always put on while stepping into the left leg first.
3) Three items were put on next. The samurai sat down to next put on his footwear and gaiters. First he would put on a pair of split toed socks called tabi that were made from deer skin called kawa tabi or soft cotton called momen tabi. These could be plain or elaborately designed. Tabi became necessary when warfare was conducted by foot soldiers in the late Kamakura period (1185-1333). After the Õnin War (1467-77) tabi became a regular part of a samurai's formal wear. The left tabi is always put on first.
Next he would put on a pair of cloth gaiters called kyahan that tied around the ankles and just under the knees. These acted as a padding for the armoured shin guards. They were generally dark blue but could also be brocade with elaborate designs. They were no different from those worn by commoners and travellers. They are tied on the inside of the legs. The left kyahan is always put on first.
He put on woven straw sandals called waraji next. There were several ways of tying the straps of waraji depending on personal preference with an idea of the type of terrain he would be traversing. A samurai carried several pairs of spare waraji when on campaign as they tended to wear out. Waraji allowed samurai to gain purchase on rough terrain and to walk quietly on wooden floors and through the underbrush. Waraji are worn so that the toes poke over the front edge a little and the back comes up the heel a bit. Soles of bamboo splints were sometimes added to waraji in boggy, swampy or snowy terrain. Waraji are always put on with the left foot first.
4) The next item is the first item of actual armour to be worn. The suneate consists of a cloth gaiter with armoured metal splints joined by chain mail sewn to the front and sides to protect the shins from being cut. They are tied at the front with the attached cloth ties. Suneate are removed when wading through water. The left suneate is always put on first.
4a Shino suneate were cloth gaiters with metal splints sewn on. The plates on the inside of the calf only extended to mid-calf, the lower part being covered with a patch of heavy leather to prevent damage to the stirrups when riding a horse and to protect the inner ankles when running. The knees were protected by small hexagonal plates quilted between layers of fabric. The one I have illustrated doesn’t have a knee protector and is known as a kyahan suneate.
4b Tateage suneate consisted of three or four full metal plates that encased the entire lower leg including the knee. These are from an earlier period and eventually fell into disuse with the shino suneate becoming more practical. They tied at the front with cloth ties and had padded cloth inside.
4c Quite common among horse riding samurai generals were armoured overshoes called kõgake. These were shaped plates that covered the upper section of the feet and were joined by chain link. They were held on by the waraji ties. They offered protection to the feet from polearms when on horseback.
4d Some samurai of higher rank also wore bear fir shoes known as tsuranuki or kegutsu. These were generally worn in winter and had a habit of becoming lice infested and heavy when wet. Samurai on horse back preferred wearing them but they fell into disuse towards the end of the 1580’s.
5) The thigh protectors called haidate were put on next. Haidate are basically a divided apron of heavy fabric with metal plates sewn on. The haidate is tied around the waist at the front. There were several types of haidate. Ita haidate had flat metal scales arranged in four or five rows with between seven and fifteen scales in each. Another type called kawara haidate had “s” sectioned scales which overlapped like roof tiles that were then laced together. When haidate had only chain mail as the sole defence, they were called kusari haidate, but most have small rectangular plates of metal and are called ikada haidate. Some haidate had a fabric piece on either side of the two aprons that could be fastened around the back of each leg to stop them from moving around during combat. Haidate are always removed when wading across water, climbing obstacles or crawling under buildings. Those samurai specialising in infiltration (shinobi, ninja) tied their haidate outside of the dõ (body armour) so that they could quickly untie the haidate to remove it.
6) Some samurai wore gloves called yugake, tsuruhajiki or teõi. They were worn either on the right hand - the weapon hand - or on both hands. These were a modified version of an archers glove called a yumigake from earlier periods. Generally yugake were made from smoked leather or cotton and could be plain or patterned. Higher ranking samurai would sometimes wear silk yugake with elaborate designs. If two yugake are worn, the right one is put on first.
The next item of armour worn was the kote or armoured sleeve. There were several basic forms of kote with the most common being two separate tubular sleeves of cloth with metal splints joined with chain link that were tied around under the opposite arm. Another type consisted of two sleeves joined across the back called an aigote that could be slipped on considerably faster. Kote are basically a tubular sleeve of brocade and linen or hemp cloth laced up on the inside. They have several different patterns of defensive metal work sewn onto them with the most common type being the shino gote with narrow metal splints joined by chain mail. The back of the hand is covered by metal plates with embossing for the knuckles. The elbow had a small metal cap. The right kote may be omitted if the samurai is an archer or intends on using his bow. Regardless of the type worn, the left arm is always armoured up first.
© James Kemlo