Object Title

Backplate (sei ita)

Backplate (sei ita)

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

A haramaki is a do (cuirass) which wraps around the body with the opening down the back. This sei ita (backplate) is the separate panel of plates worn down the back to cover the gap. It is constructed from a column of black-lacquered, solid iron plates, moulded to fit the countours of the back. The upper plate is ornamented with cross-hatched grooves to match the upper plates on the rest of the cuirass. The upper plate is also decorated with three of the same kanamono (metal ornaments) found on the main do which take the form of mokko ('melon'-shaped, usually presented as a lobed motif) panels of copper gilt, engraved with stylised tendrils on a nanako ground, where the surface is embossed with tiny hemispheres. Each metal ornament is secured with two rivets with disc heads decorated with a mon (heraldic crest) of two crossed brush strokes, resembling the character 'ju'. The plates are assembled with green lacing using the sugake method (wide spaced pairs of braids to reduce the weight of lacing required). Surviving fragments of the original black silk lacing have been identified during scientific analysis, but the armour is currently laced with replacement green European braid.

Bibliographic References

Ogasawara, Swords of the Samurai, London,_ 1990, no. 52, pp. 78-9. _

Arms and Armour

East Meets West: Diplomatic Gifts of Arms and Armour between Europe and Asia (edited by Thom Richardson)

Japanese Arms and Armour


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.