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Case study

Seeing the Samurai: A Japanese Diplomatic Gift

Samurai armour is prepared for exhibition

James I armour close shot of Helmet

This samurai armour was the first diplomatic gift from Japan to Britain. It was sent to James I in 1613 by Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu, military ruler of Japan, with adocument allowing the British to trade and settle there.

An impressive and costly present, it is made from silk lacing joining small iron pieces to create a flexible and lightweight covering. Unusually, the armour retains its original blue and red silk – a rare survival, because the material is so fragile and often has to be replaced.

The pumpkin-shaped helmet includes a raised area at the rear to accommodate the samurai hairstyle, with hair in a queue or topknot. With its fearsome face mask, the armour evokes the dignified culture of the samurai elite, who for some 700 years ruled Japan on behalf of the imperial family. 

The armour was conserved with 36 other pieces of Japanese arms and armour for publication in Japan: Courts and Culture (2020) and a forthcoming exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

Short film about James II samurai armour ©

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Iwai Yozaemon (active 1585-1610)
Armour (dōmaru) 1580 - 1610
    RCIN 71611

    This splendid and understated armour was sent to James I of England by Tokugawa Hidetada, third son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who ruled as the second shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty from 1605 to 1623. Some sources have suggested that the armour may once have been owned by Takeda Katsuyori (1546 – 82), a daimyō who had fought, and lost, against Tokugawa...

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