I have long been fascinated with the legend of the samurai so whenever there is an exhibit featuring their armor, katana, etc. I am eager to explore it!
Fortunately, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is right in my backyard, so to speak, and they featured an exhibit which ran from October 19, 2014 through February 1, 2015 incorporating more than 140 pieces dating back to the 12th – 19th centuries, including 18 complete suits of armor and some life-size armor-clad horse figurines. The exhibit is part of a traveling display from the Dallas-based Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum, which holds one of the most comprehensive private collections of samurai armor in the world. Their collection encompasses several hundred pieces from 10 centuries of samurai warriors.
Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, a Swiss transplant and Texas real estate mogul, amassed a staggering array of samurai protective gear over the years. The exhibit at LACMA was centered on armor worn by high-ranking samurai and daimyo and reflected changes made to armor design as the samurai adapted to the changing nature of battle. During the 12th-19th centuries, military engagements evolved from horseback archery to clashes with spear and sword-wielding infantry. Later, armor had to be developed to withstand musket volleys when firearms became prevalent following contact with the more technologically advanced European nations.
Samurai armor consisted of a helmet (kabuto), a mask (mengu) and chest armor (do) along with thick shoulder guards, sleeve covers, a skirt, protection for thighs and shin guards. Unlike the heavy armor or Europe, the complete outfit for samurai only weighed between 20 and 45 pounds. Rather than being crafted from large plates of metal, the Japanese armor was made using small perforated plates that were lacquered and sewn together with colorful silk cord. Creating a complete suit of armor involved blacksmiths for the metal, leather-craftsman, weavers, embroiderers and metal smiths who added elaborate ornamentation. Depending on a samurai family’s wealth and status, these suits of armor can be quite elaborate. Armor was passed down in these families from generation to generation.
Even after 1615, when the Tokugawa military dictatorship brought an end to battle, samurai families still continued to commission magnificent arms and armor for ceremonial purposes.
The samurai class arose when Japan ended mandatory military service in 792 forcing landowners to rely on their own private forces. The samurai followed a set of rules that came to be known as bushido. While they numbered less than 10% of Japan’s population, their teachings can still be found today in both everyday life and in modern Japanese martial arts.
So whenever you get a chance, take an opportunity to explore one of these exhibits and travel back in time to discover remarkable objects that illuminate the life, culture, and pageantry of the samurai, the revered and feared warriors of Japan.
Address: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036