By Natalie Sandberg Taylor (’14)battle tested samurai armor shimazu clan

After Chinese history professor Paul V. Hyer (BA ’51) helped an acquaintance while on a research trip to Japan in 1964, he came home with a most unusual payment.

While in Japan, Hyer met Kimura Hisao, a former spy who sought Hyer’s help in translating and publishing a manuscript. To thank Hyer, Hisao gave him a samurai suit that had been in his family for generations.

Hisao was from Satsuma, located on the southernmost island of Japan, and was a descendant of the Shimazu samurai clan, which rebelled against the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868. According to associate professor of Japanese Jack C. Stoneman (BA ’98), the suit was likely worn in this conflict. “It’s not the kind of armor that was put on display,” says Stoneman. “It’s pretty clear
that it’s been used and has met battle.”

Decades later Hyer, now retired, donated the suit to the Harold B. Lee Library, where it now sits on the fourth floor in the Asian Studies collection. This fall the suit will be the center of a yearlong samurai culture exhibit on the library’s main floor.

shoulder

The silk sleeves’ overlay of lacquered leather and iron chainmail allowed soldiers more mobility compared to earlier, all-metal suits—but at the cost of reduced protection and shock absorption.

helmet

This helmet’s colored fringe protected the side of the warrior’s head from arrows, while the animal hair and crest on top were individualized decorations. “The more visually stunning you are to your enemy,” says Stoneman, “the more advantage you have.” Elements of samurai culture—including helmets—inspired filmmaker George Lucas and influenced the helmet design of his infamous villain, Darth Vader.

chest piece

Samurai honored to carry the clan’s banners could do so hands free, thanks to loopholes on the back of the suit for holding the pole.

 

 

 

 


 

Photos by Bradley Slade