Posts Tagged 'Japan'

Japanese Koguma Helmet

E_1955_17_006

Figure 1. Example of Koguma headgear worn by the imperial troops during the Japanese Civil War, or Boshin War. Image courtesy of the Sam Noble Museum of Oklahoma Natural History, Ethnology Department. 2017. Photo by Christina Naruszewicz.

Accession #- E/1955/17/006

Helmet/Head Gear

Japanese 1860s- (Approximately 1868-1869)

Materials: Lacquered Paper, Copper Fasteners, Fabric Lining, Horse Hair

This striking head-gear survives from an important period in Japanese history. These helmets are often referred to as “Bear Wigs” due to their wild and disheveled appearance. Worn in battle during the Japanese Civil War, or Boshin War (1868-1869), this style of head-gear identified the officers of the Japanese imperial troops. In addition to identifying officers on the battlefield, these types of “Bear Wigs” also represented different regions or clans depending on the color of the horse hair used.  Officers hailing from the southern region of Tosa Jinshotai, wore the Shaguma  helmet. The Shaguma helmet utilized dyes to create a vibrant and terrifying red wig. Officers from Choshu wore the Haguma helmet  which varied from white or cream. Finally, officers from Satsuma wore the Koguma  helmet, typically made from dark or black horse hair. Can you guess which region the helmet is from in figure 1.?

BoshinCampaignMap

Figure 2. Map of troop movement during the height of the Boshin War. Notice that the regions of “Choshu”, “Tosa”, and “Satsuma” are listed. These Samurai domains fought to return power to the Emperor, by joining the Imperial troops.  Image courtesy of http://www.newowrldencyclopedia.org/entry/Boshin_War

To understand the driving forces behind the Japanese Civil War, one must go back at least a decade. Beginning in 1853, American Commodore Matthew Perry arrived with his “Black Fleet” at Edo bay. Over the course of the next decade, more foreigners arrived, slowly eroding centuries of Japanese isolationism. However, not all of Japan was happy with the handling of foreign missionaries and traders. This was especially true for factions of young samurai and nobles in Japan from the regions of Tosa, Choshu, and Satsuma. These samurai felt that the reigning military Shogunate allowed the new foreign arrivals too much authority in making trade agreements.

A fissure between the two authoritative powers in Japan developed. On one side sat the political military power of the Samurai. This formed the Shogunate, or system of government headed by generals. Seated at the head of this political system was the Shogun, an reigning individual who, for centuries, controlled feudal Japan with absolute authority. On the other side of this military state, sat the imperial power of the Emperor. At this point in Japanese history the emperor was largely reduced to a ceremonial or religious figure. Although the Shogun ruled Japan entirely, it was still only through the acknowledgment or blessing of the emperor that this power was bestowed. Yet, the Boshin War would upheave this centuries-old power structure.

kawakami-gensai

Figure 3. Image of unknown imperial officer posing in uniform with “Bear Wig” helmet.

Rebellious samurai turned their backs on the Shogun, eager to return the emperor to complete rule. Supporters believed the teenaged Emperor Meji would restore Japan to isolationism, casting out the barbaric foreigners. Despite greater numbers and military skill, the shogun struggled against the relatively more modern weapons of the imperialist troops. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Tokugawa Shogunate abdicated his power to the emperor. This gesture would end the feudal Shogun’s power in Japan forever. When the war was fully resolved and the imperialists declared victory, the Emperor Meji ushered in the self-named, Meji Era. Interestingly, the imperial court did not pursue the removal of foreign agendas in Japan. On the contrary, Emperor Meji pushed Japan further towards globalization, seeking to modernize his country so that it could compete on an international level. Emperor Meji wrote into law the first compulsory education for both and girls, and met many heads of foreign state as equals.

 

 

Can you find the imperialist officers in this wood block print of battle?

Where does the color of their “Bear Wigs” tell us they are from?

BoshinWarBattle

Figure 4. “Battle of Ueno”,  Kawanabe Kyosai, 1874. Wood Cut. Image courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

[[Christina J. Naruszewicz]]

bibliography /Suggested Readings

  • Gonick, Gloria. Matsuri! Japanese Festival Arts. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2003. 
  • “Boshin War”, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Boshin_War
  • Keene, Donald. Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2005.
  • “Perry In Japan”, http://library.brown.edu/cds/perry/people_Perry.html

Object: Samurai Face Mask

E/1949/2/2
Samurai Face Mask
Japan
1650-1700
Black steel, Corded thread, Red Lacquer

This face mask of black steel, with grotesque features and chin protectors, would have been attached to the helmet of a Samurai by the blue cord connected to the face mask. The Samurai were the warrior scholars of Feudal Japan, who, for 700 years, were part of the armies that roamed across the land at their commanders’ lead. When not in battle they led quiet, simple lives of training and reflection, knowing one day they may die in battle. Their possible shorter life did not stop them from facing every day with courage.

They began their rise to power in the 12th century, as the strong central government of Japan, ruled by the emperor, became corrupted and weakened. In the year 1185, a military leader named, Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-99), forced the emperor to give him the title of Shogun (similar to a King) , which means barbarian conquering supreme general. The Shogun would become leader of the country, while the emperor was relegated to a strictly ceremonial position. The Shogun then selected advisors to serve as daimyo (like a Lord of governor), who ruled over large tracts of land. As can be expected, ruling over large amounts of land was difficult and protecting the land from bandits, even more so. To deal with the protection, the daimyo hired independent warriors who would become the samurai, which when translated means one who serves.

The samurai conducted themselves in a dignified manner in public; not drinking uncontrollably and treating women with respect. This was all a part of their bushido code (a code of ethics) that not only stressed respect to oneself and others, but also stressed education, physical and mental strength, as well as the various arts. Through this dignified public manner, samurai became respected by the public and continued to see their status rise as a warrior class. Only samurai were allowed to carry weapons in public and to disrespect them could mean death.

The weapons of a samurai were not only tools for combat, but were also seen as an extension of his very soul. The samurai treated these weapons with high regard and would not draw his weapons outside of war, for to do so meant someone would die. Many samurai believed that a weapon once unsheathed could not be re-sheathed until it had seen combat. As such, it was extremely disrespectful to draw a weapon for no purpose. The samurai sword was his most important weapon, which, according to tradition and belief, contained the samurai’s spirit. The armor the samurai wore was designed to turn aside the impact of arrows, which were the samurai’s biggest threat on the battlefield. Dying by the sword of another samurai was considered a noble death, but death by an arrow, which could come from any direction, did not have this distinction.

The facemask of the samurai called a mengu often had grotesque features including teeth and mustaches, in an attempt to intimidate the enemy. The inside, much like the mask in the collection, is lacquered red to reflect the warriors face and aid in the intimidation factor. While the facemask also had the purpose of offering physical protection to the face, its most important feature was the fact it provided a convenient place to tie off and hook the helmet cords, keeping it in place.

Take a look at this video to learn more about Samurai armor:

Sources:

Hanel, Rachael

2008  Samurai: Fearsome Fighters. Mankato, Minnesota: Creative Education.

Sinclaire, Clive

2004  Samurai: The Weapons and Spirit of the Japanese Warrior. Guilford, Connecticut: Salamander Books.

[Dakota Stevens]

Object: Fencing Mask

E/1949/2/7
Fencing Mask
Japan
1650-1700
Painted metal, Cotton, Leather

This mask is an example of a typical Japanese fencing mask. It is made of a blue cotton head piece that has been padded to help the wearer shrug off blows from a bamboo sword. The face of the mask is trimmed in leather to provide stability. The red painted metal bars serve the dual function of protecting the face and as a marker to the opponent in the match; indicating a no strike zone.

The mask is the traditional mask worn in the Japanese sport of Kendo. The literal translation of Kendo is “Way of the Sword.” It was originally a way for Japanese warriors to train for combat without having to worry about severe injury, though one can still leave a bruise. Not only was the warrior protected from severe injury, but a priceless sword handed down through generations was also carefully guarded. Kendo is the more modern ritualized version of Japanese fencing, though it is not a solitary sport in Japan when it comes to the sword arts, which are taught to people of all ages. Two other Japanese sword arts include;  Bujutsu, which is an attempt to train individuals in traditional Japanese military skills and Iaido, which focuses on the technique and esthetic of drawing the sword. It is important to note Kendo is not Bushido, which is the way of the samurai. Kendo may have developed out of this tradition, but it has rules associated with it that combat did not.

Kendo is not just a physical sport, but also demands great mental work. When practiced properly Kendo becomes a Do; this is a path or way that can lead an individual to self-cultivation. This in turn means Kendo can lead a person to learning about him or herself, both physically and mentally.

Figure 3      Diagram of Kendo Uniform

Figure 3 Diagram of Kendo Uniform

One of the key components of Kendo is the uniform that is worn by all who practice it while in the Dojo, the hall where Kendo is practiced.  The uniform consists of a pleated split skirt called a bakam, and a heavy cotton top called a keikogi. By wearing this uniform, the students of Kendo link their modern training with the ancient tradition of Japanese martial arts. The uniform is usually dark blue or black in color which is associated with the samurai’s traditional role as a representative of social order. What this means is that samurai were a respected social class in Feudal Japan and as such were seen as a policing force just by being present and inspiring others to live by their example. Worn over the general uniform is the armor each student and master will wear to further protect themselves in bouts. The first piece of armor is the tare, which is tied around the waist as a hip protector. Next the do is put on to serve as the chest protector. The student then moves to protect the head with the hachimaki, a towel like cloth, which is also used to keep sweat out of the eyes. The second to last piece is the men, which is the face mask, an example of which is housed in the Ethnology Collection. The last piece is the kote, which are arm guards as well as hand guards.

Take a look at this video to learn more about Kendo:

Sources:

Donohue, John J.

1999  Complete Kendo. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, Inc.

Sasamori, Junzo and Warner, Gordon

1964  This is Kendo: The Art of Japanese Fencing. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, Inc.

[Dakota Stevens]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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