62 plate Myochin School & Suji Kabuto with battle damage and mempo

This Kabuto and Mempo are most likely from approximately the Keicho Era (c-1596), which is also considered late koto-early Shinto and is appears to be from the Myochin School, which was considered the leading school of armourers in the 16th century. It is of the Suji-Bachi design, clearly struck across the top and again on the side, or in the same blow, removing one of the fukigaeshi. (turn backs).  On the remaining fukigaeshi is the Mon of the Ikeda (I) clan.  62 plate Kabuto are rare and would have been similar in price at the time to a high quality Katana. This type of Kabuto was not in the price range of the average samurai.

The Mayedate (center crest) has the Mon of Ikeda II, which resembles a moth.  Meaning that whoever owned this Kabuto served under both Ikeda I and II, who fought against Tokogawa Iyeyasu.  The battle of Sekigohara in 1600, was the last major and most significant battle ever fought in Japan. Iyeyasu commanded 80,000 men against forces led by Toyotomi Hideyori and 130,000 of his men. When the slaughter finished, Hideyori’s army was routed leaving behind 30,000 dead. After this battle came 250 years of peace. Original battle damage is seldom seen on Kabuto. Restoration experts in Japan have a strong opinion about not repairing them, as battle damaged

Kabuto are extremely rare. The liner is in excellent condition and has not been removed to check for a signature. It also has cross straps for added strength. There are original repairs done on the bowl. Holes were bored in the plates, and a device inserted to pull the plates back into position, then secured from the interior. They were then filled with plugs, some of which have fallen out over the centuries. Both the plugs and the interior of the repair holes show the same original patina as on the bowl, indicating the repairs were done hundreds of years ago.

Kabuto were initially developed to protect against attack. For the Samurai it was not only for protection, but also to identify him, to advertise his prowess on the battlefield and to show his social status and even his religious fervor. The Early sixteenth century saw the introduction of multi plate helmets frequently referred to as “Suji – Bachi” (Multi-plate helmet of which the rivets are counter sunk, leaving the flanged edges of the plates prominent). “Suji” directly translates into English as, rib or flange, with plates that are riveted together to form a bowl. The helmet is still strong, and heavy.

The surface is in a russet iron finish. The Tehen (center top of a helmet) holds the ends of the plates together with the Tehen kanemono (decorative ornament). The Tehen is also called “Iki dashi no ana” or ventilation hole. This provided an additional advantage of air circulation. The Shikoro, for neck protection, is constructed of lacquered iron and are still intact showing some signs of wear. The bottom of the Shikoro is lined with bear fur. Bears were/are common to northern Japan At the back of the helmet is a ring (horotsuke no kwan), in old times used to fasten a cape or banner. Later in history to this ring, the Agemaki bow (cord with tassels) was fastened to stop the ring from rattling.

The Mempo, (meaning face and cheek), is lacquered iron with Cinnabar red lacquered interior. The interior substantiates its repeated use on the battlefield. This is shown by the rust and chipping of the lacquer near the upper lip and nostril. This would have occurred from the heavy breathing during battle. This type of Mempo is also known as “Meno Shita Ho”, which covers the face and nose below the level of the eyes. It is a half mask with wrinkles, gilt teeth and a mustache, showing a savage violent expression. The mustache is made from brown bear fur and attached to a removable nose piece. Hooks on the cheeks are to fasten the helmet cord. Hanging below the Mempo is the Yodarekake. It is a throat protector of lame plates, made of 4 closely stitched plates. This piece was brought to the USA shortly after the close of WWII and was one time on display in a Museum in Japan.



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Article By: the late David E. J. Pepin, 2005

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