Encounters with samurai at the Pitt Rivers

pic samurai
The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is cramped but always intriguing, its cases packed with treasures from around the world. Objects are grouped thematically but a good starting point for the japanophile is the Upper Gallery, “Shields, Spears, Samurai”. For some reason, I have tended to shy away from displays of samurai armour and weaponry, but here you come nose-to-nose with it.

First is a suit of okegawa-do, or “tub-shaped armour”, characteristic of the suits that were mass-produced for retainers of a daimyo, or lord. Like most armour, it has plates called lamellae – separate plates flexibly laced together. But the bodice is of solid construction, hinged at the side.

Moving up the social hierarchy, there is a complete suit of very ornate parade armour for a daimyo, or possibly presentation armour for diplomatic gifting. The helmet is made of 32 plates riveted together, topped with a stunning gilt demon crest. There is a special baton with lobed plates on each side – the military leader’s war fan or gunbai-uchiwa. It functioned as a symbol of rank, for directing troops or even as a makeshift weapon. You can see the red circle in the centre for the rising sun.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
Permanent display

Above: Suit of tub-shaped armour. Edo period (1615-1868), ca. 1650-1800. Pitt Rivers Museum. Image: STF.

Below: Suit of parade armour. Edo period (1615-1868), ca. 1750. Pitt Rivers Museum. Image: Pitt Rivers Museum, at http://objects.prm.ox.ac.uk/pages/PRMUID36030.html

Asia 1 S 011