Object Title

Helmet (kabuto) - etchu zunari kabuto

Helmet (kabuto) - etchu zunari kabuto

Object Number



Purchased at Oxenham and Son from the sale held 29 April - 1 May 1841. The catalogue listed this armour as Lot 440, 'A suit of Moorish Armour, believed to be unique, and supposed to have been worn by the Moors of Granada previous to their expulsion from Spain [...] From the royal armoury of Segovia.' Once purchased by the Tower Armouries, the armour was later identified and displayed as Japanese. Recent research suggests that its provenance can now be traced back to its 16th century origins during the tumultuous era of civil war in Japan known as Sengoku Jidai, and then subsequently as a diplomatic gift given to the Spanish royal family. (See Notes for more detail)

Physical Description

The helmet for this armour is a rather conically-shaped etchu zunari kabuto. There is no peak, instead the browplate is extended and cut out over the eyes. Attached to the browplate is a double tsunomoto (hook or spiked attachment) for a forecrest, and on top of the hachi (helmet bowl) there is a large double prong to carry an exaggerated kashira date (crest). There are six holes drilled through the bowl over half way up; the two holes in each side plate may have been for shiten no byo (four vestigial rivets used as decoration on the exterior of a helmet bow) but these are now missing if they were attached to this helmet, while the remaining pair of holes positioned on either side of the centre line at the back may have been intended for the attachment of an agemaki (bow of silk cord) of some type.
Attached to the bowl are the three lowest lames from a five-lame etchu shikoro, a modern style of neckguard which fell in a concave curve from the lower edge of the helmet bowl, and ended in a bottom plate with a straight lower edge. The shikoro (neck guard) is sugake laced (wide spaced pairs of braids) and provided on the lowest plate with holes for a row of uname toji (length of braid threaded in and out of a straight row of holes) and one row of hishinui (cross-knots).




This armour is of superior quality and would have been used by a high-ranking member of the warrior class (buke). Intriguingly, it bears metalwork ornamentation marked with a mon (heraldic crest) which appears as two crossed brush strokes, which was particularly associated with the Shimadzu family who governed the province of Satsuma. The geometric cross in a circle is the more modern version of the Shimadzu mon which is commonly recognised today. (See S. Turnbull, The Samurai Sourcebook (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1998), p.78, where he refers to the banner of Shimadzu Yoshihiro as being black with the ‘ju’ character in white; this presentation of this character reflects the upward flick that can be seen on the symbols shown on the kanamono (metal ornamental plaques) on this armour.) For a long time, the kamon on this armour were thought to be evidence that it had belonged to a warrior who had converted to the Christian religion, but the flicks on the symbols suggest that the resemblace to the Christian cross is more likely to be a coincidence. See I. Bottomley, ‘Japanese diplomatic gifts of arms and armour to Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries’ in East meets West: Diplomatic gifts of arms and armour between Europe and Asia, ed. by T. Richardson (Leeds: Royal Armouries, 2014), pp.37-8.

Due to its distinctive features, and surviving traces which show it was originally laced with black silk braid, archival research has identified this armour as probably one of the gift armours transported to Europe by the Tensho Mission (1582–90). This was a venture whereby several prominent daimyo collaborated with Jesuit missionaries to dispatch a party of Japanese Christians to Spain to strengthen diplomatic ties. This particular armour may have been captured and then contributed to the mission by the daimyo Otomo Sorin, who helped finance the trip; prior to the departure of the embassy for Europe, the Otomo and the Shimadzu families had battled many times for supremacy in Kyushu. (Otomo Sorin was also a high profile convert to Christianity.) The armour was probably given to Philip II when he granted the Japanese visitors an audience in 1584. A seemingly explicit description of it occurs in a 1603 document concerning its removal from the Treasure House to the Spanish Royal Armoury after his death. (See I. Bottomley, ‘Japanese diplomatic gifts of arms and armour to Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries’, pp.10-11) Later, it was possibly one of three armours passed to the Duke of the Infantado by Philip III. Many of the armours from this collection were dispersed over time. In 1841, this armour emerged as ‘Lot 440, A suit of Moorish Armour’ at Oxenham's in London. Unusually, the lot was illustrated; it was presented back to front, with the sleeves transposed and elongated, and the shoulder guards wrongly placed as European-style tassets. Despite its dilapidated state and the fact that it had become completely disconnected from its true provenance, it was purchased by the Tower Armouries and quickly recognised as a Japanese armour.

Although it is not possible to say who the original owner of the armour was, it is clear that it has been re-modelled over time, and apparent battle damage suggests it saw violent action during its time of practical use. Two plates and the intermediate mail on the right kote (armoured sleeve) seem to show an old sword cut that has severed the metal and lacquer.

Previous notes suggest that although this armour is unsigned, it is very close to another armour, signed by Haruta Mitsusada (Yoshihiko Sasama, Kachushi Meikan, 1975, p. 201-4). Another suji kabuto signed by this maker is noted to have appeared in Phillips', c.1985; See K K Chappelear. Japanese Armor Makers for the Samurai. Tokyo 1987. p.202-3.