Close-up of the head and chest of a Samurai warrior in helmet and armor

Suit Up!

Text graphic explaining how to put on a suit of armor
There were many steps involved to putting on a samurai suit of armor.

Who were the samurai?

Samurai were warrior-nobles in Japanese society, with a strong honor code called bushido. The name 'samurai' means 'ones who serve'. Before the 1550s, the samurai were fierce warriors attached to a daimyo or lord, whom they were loyal to and fought for.

Gold suit of armor and helmet

Juryo Mitsumasa and Haruta Katsumitsu, Suit of Armor. Iron, silver, lacquer, leather and silk. Anonymous Gift, 1978.225.1-12.

This Suit of Armor and Helmet is made up of several sections:

  • The main body section is called a do or cuirass. It is made from a series of plates, little pieces of steel linked by strips of leather and covered with layers of lacquer (hard protective coating.) 
  • The helmet has empty holders on either side which would have been used for a crest, also known as a mon (a design that represents a family.)
  • A face mask has been decorated with scary features to terrify the enemy. Extra protection is provided by a neck curtain of jointed metal, and shoulder guards made from small plates laced together with silk braid allowing for movement.
  • Thigh guards and calf guards use a combination of chain mail (armor made of small metal rings) and plates kept the lower body safe.
  • Underneath the armor, the samurai would wear a one-piece baggy garment, a kimono (T-shaped, wrapped-front clothing) on top of that and loose pants.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is there an order to which you always dress?
  2. What can you identify as a ritual of getting dressed? What important items have you worn or know of that need to be put on in a certain order?
  3. What significance do you think some of the materials in a samurai’s suit of armor held? Why would they use metal, horse hair or silk?
  4. Are there certain things you wear that have a purpose? For example, what is something you wear to feel safe?

Extension Activity

The last step of putting on the suit of armor is placing the helmet. Think about when you have put on a hat or head gear. Is it right as you are walking out the door? Or do you put it on earlier? What are your favorite items to wear on your head? Download this activity sheet to print out and make your own samurai helmet with. There is also a place for you to design your own mon (family crest).

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