The History of Japanese Armor & Where to Find Samurai Armor for Sale

The History Japanese Armor & Where to Find Samurai Armor for Sale

Ancient Japanese weaponry is famous worldwide for its effectiveness and still has relevance in modern times due to martial arts such as Iaido.

The Japanese warriors, more commonly known as ‘Samurai’ became famous all over the world because of their loyalty, honor,  and fierce fighting strategies. However, very little is known about the armor they wore which happened to be an important and complex component of their weaponry.

This article will go into detail on the history of the samurai armor, the parts of samurai armor, the various types, and where to find high quality samurai armor for sale.

History of the Samurai Armor

The basic armor was developed in Japan in the first half of the 4th century. The Japanese armor evolved from the armors that were used in China and Korea during those times.

Samurai Armor for Sale - Parts of Samurai Armor
Photo Credit: TodaysWhisper.com

The Samurai armor evolved from armors known as Tanko and Keiko. The first one was used by the foot soldiers and the second one was used by the cavalry. These were the armors which led to the manufacturing of samurai armor as we know today.

Initially, only basic cuirasses were developed in Japan along with the helmets. A cuirass is comprised of 2 pieces, that is, one piece protects the chest and another piece protects the back. Both of these pieces were attached together with the metal strips.

During the Heian period which dated from 794 to 1185, a large focus was put on evolving the armors to accommodate warfare at the time, which led to the samurai armor we are familiar with today. The use of leather and lacquer in samurai armor significantly increased during this period of time.

During the Heian period, the samurai armor was perfected and was extended to cover the entire body rather than just the upper torso.

For a long period of time only leather and iron strips were used to construct the armors but later on, the use of silk lace to connect the individual pieces of armor also became popular. The basic material to construct the armor, however, remained the same which was individual scales made from iron. These individual scales are also known as Kozane.

During the 16th century, however, the Samurai armor changed significantly due to the increasing Japanese trade with Europe.

The Portuguese introduced Tanegashima to the Japanese, which was a primitive form of firearm, due to which the Japanese armor manufacturers had to change the way in which they constructed samurai armor. The armors up until then were unable to protect samurai warriors from firearms, which necessitated the changes.

Instead of the iron strips which were being used earlier, now the samurai armor manufacturers started using iron and steel plates. These were necessary to produce bullet proof armors known as Tameshi gusoku. This enabled the samurai warriors to use the armor and stay protected even in the battles consisting of firearms.

Japan entered a peaceful period after the 1600s and thereafter the samurai armors were used a symbol of prestige and status instead of actual war armors.

Right up until 1877 these various armor types were being used in japan. Their last use in an actual act of war was in 1877 during the Satsuma Rebellion.

Finding Authentic Samurai Armor

Finding authentic samurai armor for sale can be a difficult task and if you do come across it due to the age of the armor it will be merely for viewing purposes only and best as a collectable item. SOTE does offer a few pieces of authentic samurai armor for sale, below are the armor types with links to their site for purchasing (if they’re still in stock) but keep in mind the fragility of these.

 Authentic Samurai Armor for Sale - Edo Period  Authentic Samurai Armor for Sale - Edo Period 1780  Authentic Samurai Armor for Sale - Meijl Period 1858
 Authentic Samurai Armor from the Edo Period (1822)

Buy This

Authentic Samurai Armor from the Edo Period (1780)

Buy This 

Authentic Samurai Armor from the Edo Period (1780)

Buy This

Parts of the Samurai Armor

The Samurai armor consisted of many different parts to cover almost each and every part of the body. Each armor type is different however some of the most common parts of samurai armor are listed below.

  1. Dou or Dō – Dou is the armor part which is worn on the chest. It was constructed from iron plates or sometimes leather plates. The dou also sometimes consisted of medals and pendants. The size of the dou would often vary according to the individual who would be wearing it.Samurai Armor for Sale - Parts of Samurai Armor
  2. Kote – These were sleeves which extended from the shoulder all the way to the wrists. Kote was created by putting a cover of clothing over the iron plates of various sizes. The exact size was dependent on the samurai warrior wearing it.
  3. Tekko – Tekko are gloves of the armor. They were made according to the size of the hands of the warrior. The construction was done with the help of small iron plates. The plates were joined together in such a way that it enabled proper hand movement including knuckle movements.
  4. Haidate – Haidate was used to protect the thighs specifically. Haidate was, however, made with very small iron or leather plates so that the warrior was able to change the posture at a short notice. These plates were connected together with the help of chains and thereafter sewn with a cloth.
  5. Suneate – These were the shin guards and consisted of small plates held together by chains and thereafter sewn to cloth and were specifically used to protect the calf.
  6. Kusazuri – The kusazuri was also constructed from iron plates or leather plates. It is used to protect the lower body. It usually hangs from the dou.
  7. Sode – These are the shoulder plates which are rectangular in shape. They were made from the same materials, that is either leather plates or iron plates or sometimes both.
  8. Shikoro – The shikoro is a set of layered steel or leather straps that combined are the neck guard. This attaches to the kabuto and is intended to protect the samurai from any objects aimed at the nape of their neck.
  9. Kabuto – Kabuto is nothing but the helmet. Even though it was made from same materials namely, leather plates or iron plates but the number of plates used were much higher, sometimes going up to 100. These plates were held together using rivets. Another part which was attached to the Kabuto is the shikoro which was used to protect the neck. It consisted of curved strips of iron or leather.
  10. Wakidate – These were the buffalo horns which were attached to the kabuto.
  11. Menpo – This was the face plate which was attached to the kabuto. It was made from an iron plate. It had slits for eyes, nose, and mouth. The rest of the face of the samurai warrior was always covered with Menpo.

Other Parts of the Samurai Armor

  • Tateage (not shown) – Tateage in the armor was specifically used to shield the knees. It was in the form of semi-circular discs, which enabled easy mobility for the warriors. It was generally made from steel plates.
  • Kogake (not shown) – Kogake is a part of the armor which covers the feet. These were made from strips of leather sewn together.
  • Mabisashi (not shown) – This was the plate which was attached to the front of the Kabuto. The plate was made from iron. The function of the plate was to protect the forehead.
  • Yodare-kake (not shown) – The yodare-kake was used to protect the throat. It was made from horizontal rows of iron or leather plates. It was suspended from the bottom of the Mengu which was used to keep Kabuto in place. Mengu was used for tying the Kabuto. Various metal strips were used to tie it and keep it in place.

These are the most common parts of the Samurai armor, however each suit is completely different and may compose various other elements or lack some of those I have mentioned here.

Types of Samurai Armor

There are numerous types of samurai armor with vast variations however for the purpose of this article we’ll go over the four most well known; Lamellar Armor, Tameshi Gusoku, Tatami Gusoku, and Okashi Gusoku.

Lamellar Armor (Kozane Armor)

Samurai Armor for Sale - Japanese Lamellar Armour
Modern lamellar armor. Credit: Worldantiques

Lamellar armor is a samurai armor which dates all the way back to the 4th century. At that time, the armor only consisted of Dou and the helmet.

These were made from leather or iron plates. The pieces were held together with metal strips or lacquer.

At the end of the 4th century, armor manufacturers also started using silk lace in order to hold them in place.

Pros:

  • Comparatively light weight
  • Provided good protection to the upper torso

Cons:

  • Ineffective against Firearms
  • Left the lower half of the body exposed

Tameshi Gusoku

In the 16th century trade between Europe and Japan led to the import and influence of new types of armor. Among these new influences were the introduction of bullet resistant armor to protect the samurai against modern weapons of the time such as guns.

This new armor was made from iron and steel plates allowing the samurai warriors to have protection from bullets.

Pros:

  • Protection against firearms
  • Covered the entire body

Cons:

  • Comparatively heavier

Tatami Gusoku

The previous two armor types, though were effective in their time, they did have some setbacks; one of which was the weight and lack of flexibility. Since these armor types were stiff and the lacked the ability to fold and be packed away for transportation a need for a ‘foldable’ armor was developed.

During the feudal era, this need of portability was fulfilled by the Tatami Gusoku which was foldable and hence could be carried around easily when not in use. The tatami gusoku was worn by all classes of samurai ranging from upper class to lower class.

Pros:

  • Portable
  • Lightweight
  • Full body armor

Cons:

  • Lesser protection than the Tameshi Gusoku

Okashi Gusoku

The samurai armor often changed according to the rank of the soldier. Okashi Gusoku was basic armor for the soldiers with a lower rank. This specifically consisted of Dou which was enlarged to cover the upper part of the lower body. These were mass produced and often had the inventory numbers painted on front of them.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to mass produce

Cons:

  • Provided only basic protection
  • No helmet

Samurai armor was constructed with great attention to detail and made significant evolutionary advances from the basic armor of 4th century, all the way to the 16th century when it became bullet resistant. The types of armor vary greatly from country to country and even from clan to clan.

Regardless of the type of armor or the time period it is from there’s no debate that samurai armor was constructed with the utmost detail.

Now that you know the history, parts, and types of samurai armor, I’ll let you know where to buy samurai armor for those interested in owning their own authentic or replica armor.

Where to Find Samurai Armor for Sale

Real Samurai Armor for Sale
Swords of the East Product Offerings

If you attend a dojo you may ask your Sensei if they are aware of any local shops that may deal in Japanese armor, there aren’t many merchants that do this so don’t be surprised if you don’t find anything locally.

Site’s like Ebay may yield some results for individuals looking to sell used or new samurai armor however you are then at the discretion of the seller should anything be wrong with the armor.

A merchant mentioned in other posts, Swords of the East also have an extensive selection of  samurai armor for sale. Some snapshots taken from their product selection are shown below.

They offer new replica samurai armor as well as authentic collector grade armor. One of my favorite looking sets is the CAS Hanwei Samurai Dragon; it is an Edo era replica with excellent craftsmanship, wearable with decent flexibility, and goes well with the Tori Elite katana.

The only downside of the Hanwei Samurai Dragon is it’ll run you $5,000+ which if you have the money is a good deal taking into consideration the normal cost of samurai armor for sale, however it’s not something that’s in everyone’s budget.

Hopefully this post gives you an idea of the various types of samurai armor, the history of this exquisite armor, and provides some direction for where you can buy samurai armor for yourself. Start you search for high quality armor below!

Samurai Armor for Sale - Buy Samurai Armor

The Best Katana by Spending Limit

The Best Katana – Authentic Katanas

The best katana in my mind are the ones made hundreds of years ago, the Nihonto (日本刀, nihontō) blades, which means a ‘Japanese sword made in Japan by a Japanese swordsmith under the original forging methods’.

I believe these are best not because of their durability, which actually in some cases at the time was inferior to modern katanas, but because they were the foundation forges to many great swords in production today and their purpose of being produced in that time was for much greater causes than those forged today.

Best katana - authentic katana from edo period
Sword from the Edo period in the Japanese Sword Museum in Tokyo

In ancient Japanese times these blades were forged with the utmost dedication and meant to be a life long companion to any Samurai. Whether it be to avenge a loved one’s death or to overthrow a dictator’s oppression on their people, these blades were meant for purposes beyond being a wall hanger or back yard cutter.

If anyone ever wants to see a ton of actual authentic katanas they need to check out the Japanese Sword Museum in Tokyo Japan. This place is probably number 1 on my bucket list. I’ve browsed their site numerous times checking out all the ancient katana swords they have there and can’t wait for the day I actually get to go there in person.

To buy one of these katanas from the ancient times you would have one heck of a time finding one, and even if you do, you’ll be paying $20,000+ for an authentic katana from hundreds of years ago and the use beyond it being a wall hanger or museum piece now is practically nothing.

There are however some great katanas being produced in modern times under the old forging methods that are actually functional. I’ll run through the best katana by price point, some of which you may have already noticed in my other katana reviews post.

The Best Katana Sword - Katana Sword Reviews

Best Katana Under $10,000

You ever hear the saying “If I’m paying that much for it the thing better be made of gold”? Well in this case it isn’t gold this katana is made from but the next closest thing, silver; well ok sterling silver, which is why it comes in at a price a couple thousand dollars lower than $10,000 at a price of around $7,000. If I am ever planning on actually spending $10,000 on a katana it had better have all the fittings made of gold though.

the best katana sky jiro ume blossom

This katana is one of those I mentioned when I said there are still some katanas being produced under the ancient standards. It comes from the reputable Sky Jiro forgery and is being sold by SOTE where they use top of the line folded Tamahagane steel treated with clay tempering for differential hardening followed by an intensive show-grade polishing job.

The sterling silver fittings (Kanagu) on this authentic Japanese katana really make it stand out plus provide the benefit of focusing the balance of the blade more towards the tsuka. This gives you more control over the swing of the blade. The tsuba is iron and modeled after 300 year old authentic Japanese metallurgy and craftsmanship.

To be a $7,000 katana it has to be more than just having silver fittings. Yes the fittings are the only thing silver on it otherwise a blade forged from silver would be too soft and non-functional.

The tsuka is wrapped in cream stingray skin then covered in brown leather. I prefer leather over nylon for the sole fact that I believe it provides a better grip during training. The saya is beautiful in itself as well with a red lacquer finish giving it a smooth look.

the best katana ume blossum katana

Since this katana is one of the ‘collector grade’ katanas, the number of these forged is very limited so don’t be surprised if you’ll have some difficulty finding it. The craft time is longer and there’s a Kinzan Master Smith Signature on the Nakago so you know that the utmost precision and dedication goes into making this blade. It truly earns its position as the best katana under $10,000.

Breakdown

  • Blade Length: 28″
  • Tsuka: 11.5″
  • Material: Tamahagane
  • Price: Usually ~$7,000

Best Katana Under $10,000

Best Katana Under $3,000

Thaitsuki Nihonto is a Japanese forgery that is known for high end katanas and wakizashis. They produce their swords in smaller batches to create an exclusive feeling for those who buy one of their swords. When looking at the Thaitsuki katanas there are two styles they offer them in: the Maru and the Sanmai.

  • The Maru katanas are forged from a single steel with a hardness that usually ranges from 40 to 60 HRC. These tend to hold an edge pretty well however are not made of folded steel, though it is still hand forged. The Maru are the lesser expensive of the Thaitsuki swords.
  • The Sanmai are the higher quality katanas that are made from three time folded steel over a 40 to 60 HRC core. This allows for a hard edge yet more durability throughout the rest of the blade so that when it makes contact with a target it will be able to absorb some of the shock without breaking. Since each is hand made no two sanmai swords will look identical, giving each their own grain pattern and unique look and feel.

The best katana I suggest for this price range is the Thaitsuki Roiyaru Sanmai (Triple folded steel) made from 1024 layers. A beautiful katana that is quite functional having the durability and edge to cut through bamboo without any issue.

Best Katana Under $5,000 - Thaitsuki Roiyaru

The Thaitsuki Roiyaru also has silver fittings, though not to the extent of the katana we just reviewed for $7,000. On this katana you’ll find silver Seppa (spacer), Habaki (blade collar), and flower Menuki (handle ornament), the Tsuba however is made of brass.

It is forged in Koto style which was an early forging method during the Edo period and a can be disassembled for cleaning. I do however strongly suggest not taking it apart unless you have experience in disassembling and reassembling katanas. If you do this process incorrectly you not only chance ruining your katana but even worse is risk harming yourself.

The bo-hi on the blade only runs partially down the blade, which is unique however I’m not sure the exact reasoning for it. Since the bo-hi (groove) usually is placed to control weight and balance past the tsuba my guess is that the way the blade is weighted is that there only needed to be some weight reduced closer to the tsuba but I’m not positive.

Best Katana Under $5,000 - Thaitsuki Roiyaru

Thaitsuki when they first started caught some heat for being overpriced and not worth the money they were asking. After much backlash from buyers the switched up their manufacturing process and started placing a lot more emphasis on really taking the time to forge quality pieces that actually warrant the price they charge for them (since it’s still not all that cheap).

I think most today would agree that Thaitsuki now vs Thaitsuki 10 years ago is a completely different company and really upped their game.

Overall the Thaitsuki Roiyaru Sanmai is just one of many katanas they offer, each in their own style, forge, and price tag. The sheer aesthetics, forging process, and the ability of easy disassembly makes it (in my mind) the best katana under $3,000.

Breakdown

  • Overall Length: 41.5″
  • Blade Length: 29″
  • Tsuka: 11.5″
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs.
  • Price: Usually ~$2,500
Best Katana Under $5,000 - Get this katana

 

Best Katana Under $2,000

Like a mantis snagging a fly, the Hanwei Praying Mantis katana snatches its place as best katana under $2,000 for a few reasons beyond its amazing green nature themed aesthetic appeal.

praying mantis 4

The first and biggest of which is the unique steel used in this katana – L6 Bainite Steel. Bainite is a high-carbon special purpose low-alloy steel. This means it’s highly resistant to bending, almost to the point of near unbreakability (I say ‘near’ because we all know everything has its limits).

Another perk to the Bainite composition is that these blades can be lighter and thinner yet still remain stronger than conventional steel or 1086. Where most folded steel katanas have a softer outside with a hard core to prevent breakage they don’t have the springy reaction that this katana has, meaning it can flex more than a normal blade without altering the shape. Blades such as the Praying Mantis made with Bainite are excellent for tameshigiri as well as general sword work.

Now since this is made from Bainite steel you will not find a Hada on the blade. The hada is the grain pattern that you’ll find on folded katanas, so if that is something you absolutely want then this may not be the best katana for you.

Best Katana Under $2,000

The green silk ito looks great on the white rayskin wrapped tsuka with the golden praying mantis menuki. The tsuba is made of copper and from what I’ve read online is that it isn’t as worn as the promotional images released by Hanwei appear it to be.

As with some of the others on this list, the Praying Mantis katana has a bo-hi running the full extent of that blade providing for lighter swings. This not only looks beautiful but is a functional katana exceptionally strengthened by its L6 Bainite steel forge.

Breakdown

  • Overall Length: 41″
  • Blade Length: 29″
  • Tsuka: 11″
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs
  • Price: Usually ~$1,700

Best Katana Under $2,000 - Praying Mantis

Best Katana Under $1,000

If you read my other post on katana reviews then I think you know which katana will take this spot as the best katana under $1,000…you got it the Tori Elite!

Now there are a lot of great swords out there but honestly we can’t all have the Ferrari of katanas so we find the best katana within our price range. If you happen to be able to afford one of the previous katanas I mention on this page then go for it. I have friends that have some of these more expensive katanas (hence my familiarity with them) and they will vow anyone who’s got a few thousand to buy one of the more expensive katanas.

The reason I love the Tori Elite is that it is practical, yes it’s still almost $1,000 however it is worth every penny. This is my primary katana and favorite that I own.

The balance point on this blade is 5″ down from the tsuba which for me is perfect. At this balance point it is easy to recover from each swing quickly without wearing your arms out. The bo-hi runs the entire length of the blade which allows for lighter faster cuts.

Best Katana Under $1,000

The biggest perk of the Tori Elite that places it on my list as the best katana under $1,000 is the steel composition used in forging the blade. It uses ASSAB K120 C Swedish steel which is from as you’d guess…Sweden where their iron ore quality is exceptional and has lesser impurities than steel that may be coming form other countries.

As wonderful of a sword as the Tori Elite is it must be know that it is not Nihonto since it’s not made in Japan nor made by a Japanese swordsmith. The Tori Elite is a Paul Chen design produced by Hanwei which is based in Dalian China, so if you’re looking for Nihonto you’re probably best looking at one of the previous swords I mentioned.

I do provide more of an overview on my earlier post talking about the top 3 katana reviews as determined by my friends and I if you would like to read that as well.

Breakdown

  • Overall Length: 40″
  • Blade Length: 28.5″
  • Tsuka: 11″
  • Weight: 2.6 lbs
  • Price: Usually ~$1,000
Best Katana Under $1,000 - Tori Elite Review

Conclusion

Just because I believe these are some of the best quality blades for the price ranges I’ve assigned them to doesn’t mean everyone will agree. Each student of various martial arts practices in their own way and has their own preference for the sword type they like. Additionally I do not own each of the swords I mentioned here, though I have used some mentioned.

My post here on the best katana is merely meant to be an expression of my thoughts of what I’ve seen in-person or online and isn’t intended to be professional advice by any means. If you are hesitant on what katana to get I always recommend talking with your sensei to find a sword that truly will be the best katana for you. Good luck in your search!

Best Samurai Gifts For a Martial Arts Enthusiast

The Best Samurai Gifts for Martial Artists

It is well known that samurai have many forms of weaponry in their arsenal used for numerous offenses and defenses of an attacker. The most common weapon of which is the well known katana sword. This sword however is only one of many weapons and equipment a samurai would have at their disposal.

In modern times I wouldn’t expect people to be walking around with all of these weapons since there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in jail for brandishing a weapon. That however doesn’t mean you couldn’t have your own stash of samurai weapons at your home for practice.

For those with a strong interest in martial arts that may be curious on what they would need to have what I call the “samurai arsenal pack” or if you’re looking to ideas for someone else these are be top 8 best samurai gifts.

Best samurai gifts

    1.  A Custom Katana – Every swordsman (or women) should have a weapon that is custom to their liking so that it is one of a kind. Martial artists should express themselves and their inner soul through a katana that matches their personality. Making a custom katana with the katana builder program is the optimal gift for a martial artist. (Make one here)
    2. Sword Cleaning Kit – When you invest a lot of money into quality swords you should take proper care of them and be sure to thoroughly clean them. A sword cleaning kit is essential to accompany any sword purchase. (Buy one here)
    3. Hanwei Tori Elite Tanto – As the Tori Elite katana is a beautiful masterpiece so is the tanto. The backup weapon to any katana should be held to the same quality as the primary weapon. (Buy one here)
    4. Tameshigiri Mat Stand – For proper cutting maneuvers a mat stand will definitely help you prop up your target properly for the most effectiveness. (Buy one here)
    5. Thaitsuki Roiyaru Sanmai Katana – One of the top notch hand forged blades with beautiful accents, this sword would make anyone glimmer with satisfaction. (Buy one here)
    6. Tameshigiri Mat – Don’t be a fool and cut random things laying around the house. If you are serious about the art make sure you practice with the proper targets for cutting. (Buy one here)
    7. Unokubi Zukuri Samurai Sword Katana Wakizashi & Tanto – For those looking for the full set; katana, wakizashi, and tanto, this set not only looks stunning but also is effective for target cutting. (Buy one here)
    8. Throwing Star – A ninja’s arsenal isn’t complete without the legendary throwing star. The will take a bit of practice to get used to but are a ton of fun. (Buy one here)

There you have it, my take on this year’s best samurai gifts. If you have a martial artist enthusiast you’re buying a gift for either or all of this would be the complete samurai package!