Nihon Katchû Seisakuben
Online Japanese Armour Manual

Chapter Six:

by Anthony J. Bryant

     The dô, or cuirass, is the largest and most visible part of any given armour. As such, it really sets the feel for the suit. In fact, it is the design of the that gives an armour its name, be it a yokohagi ni-mai dô gusoku (“horizontally-rivetted clamshell cuirass armour”) or a go-mai dangaie haramaki dô gusoku (“armour with a five-sectional cuirass with two stepped, different lacing styles, opening up the back”).

       You will have to decide what kind of armour you want to build. There are actually two different things you will have to decide; style, and type. For style, such things as rivetted, laced, scale, etc., are the concerns. You can imagine that the permutations are nearly endless. For type, we refer to the actual “architecture” of the armour.



       For type, such factors as clamshell, back-opening, five-section, breastplate only, etc., are the factors that matter. See the chart to note the various types. The small circles indicate the location of hinges. Some of these shapes are exceedingly rare, but the diagram is compiled from two different manuals of armour written by Japanese armour historians, so I must only assume that they know of things I’ve not yet seen. (One example is the three-plate haramaki, which we thought we’d created over a decade ago in Trimaris. I call it a “sakura dô” after Sakura Tetsuo, KSCA, O.Pel. (Dr. Steve Bloom), founding Baron An Crosaire, who came up with the concept. (Imagine my surprise years later in Tôkyô when I found the shape listed in an armour manual!)

Types of dô

       There are some things that you might wish to consider. If your weight fluctuates, you might prefer a haramaki variant, a haraate, a roku-mai dô, or a ryô-awase dô. None of these is affected by an unchanging waistline, so nothing will get shifted out of kilter if there is any variation there. If you gain or lose weight in a “conventional” armour — one with a closed left side and opening up the right — the right side will either gap or develop a deep overlap, causing the watagami to be out of kilter and ruin the fit. An armour that opens up the back or at both sides will gap or close evenly, allowing the watagami to shift evenly and keep the fit proper.

       If you have a long, slender torso, you have the perfect body shape for the Yukinoshita dô, which is a variation of a go-mai dô.

       I personally prefer haramaki-type dô, and for perhaps nostalgic reasons (and that they’re really simple to make!) I like the sakura dô style.

Varieties of dô and types



Dô Maru

       Armours of scale construction that have no hinges and open under the right arm are called dô maru. They seem to have their origins in the eleventh century. Their comfort and ease of wear and use made them eventually replace the ô-yoroi for serious combat.


Haramaki Dô

       Haramaki dô are essentially the same as dô maru, but they open up the back rather than the side. They were originally retainer armours, as were dô maru. Later, this term came to be applied to any armour style opening up the back.

Warrior in môgami haramaki
This bushi wears a môgami haramaki. Note the sei-ita (“coward’s plate”) covering the back.


Tsuzumi Dô

       This armour is the Japanese equivalent of the famed coat-of-plates. The typical term is kawazutsumi dô, as they’re usually wrapped in leather, although samples enclosed by fabric (notably layers of heavy silk) are also extant.

       They were of kozane construction, but for SCA combat they could just as easily be made of solid lames. The lames (of scale or solid construction) are overlaid with leather or fabric, and rows of cross-lacing serve to secure the leather to the plates.

A kawatsuzumi dô
A kawazutsumi dô of the 13–14th century.


Tatami Dô

       Tatami means “folding.” These are the armours often seen being worn by faceless hordes of low-ranking retainers in samurai films. The plates are business-card sized rectangles, hexagons, or combinations of shapes. The plates are interconnected by mail and stitched down to a fabric backing. The cheapest of the cheap suits have the plates stitched directly to the fabric, with no interconnecting mail. The kusazuri can either be conventional plate and lace, or built as continuations of the folding method used in the dô.

Two tatami-dôA tatami dô


Tôsei Dô

       Tôsei gusoku (lit. “modern armours”) is the term given for armours of the latter half of the sixteenth century, so the cuirasses are therefore tôsei dô. They are marked by a more tailored silhouette, a tapered waist, and an overall more delicate appearance. Older armours would have a two-lame front and rear tateage (occasionally three in the back), and four lames in the kebiki dô (or torso) section. Tôsei gusoku almost invariably had three lames in the front tateage, four in the back, and five in the kebiki dô. The only way to do this, of course, is to cut down the width of the lames.

       There were armours made in the tôsei gusoku style and patterns that used the older lame count, however. These were usually less expensive or retainer armours. If not of lamellar construction, the proportions of a conventional lamellar dô are still retained. The quintessential tôsei dô is the okegawa dô (see below).

       The tôsei gusoku was the foundation of the largest variety of armour styles in Japanese history. Of necessity, only a few are addressed here.


Maru Dô

       Maru dô is essentially the term given for tôsei gusoku made like a dô maru (or, if you prefer, a dô maru made in the tôsei gusoku mold). This is also sometimes called a kebiki dô, as it is laced with kebiki odoshi, but some armourers reserve this term for tôsei gusoku made of kiritsuke zane and incorporating one or more hinges. The maru dô proper is made of hon kozane with no hinges, like the dô maru.

Three tôsei gusoku dô
A maru dô and two marudô-based ni-mai dô. On the left is a true
maru dô (kozane construction). In the middle is a clamshell of kiritsuke zane
construction. On the right is a clamshell of plain, solid lames laced in kebiki odoshi.


Okegawa Dô

       The okegawa dô is an armour of rivetted lames. Okegawa means “tub-sided” and refers to the obviously tub-like shape of the cuirass and its construction.

      There are two variants: yokohagi (horizontal) and tatehagi (vertical) dô. The most common variety is the yokohagi okegawa ni-mai dô, in which the plates are rivetted in horizontal rows, and there is a single hinge under the left arm. Although armourers and collectors may use the term “clamshell” to describe all single-hinge armours, the okegawa dô is the one most commonly thought of when that term is used. The lames can be straight, cut to represent scales, wavy, etc. The rivets are usually ground flush with the surface, although raised low dome rivets are also common.

      This is one of the most often seen forms of retainer armour, and was made in great numbers in both the modern pattern using narrower lames, and the older pattern with its larger lames. Armours so made of mass production are also often called okashi (munition-grade) dô.

Three okegawa dô
These three okegawa dô were made for retainers. Note the “old pattern” of six lames in the dô.

Three okegawa dô
These three okegawa dô exhibit domed rivets instead of having them ground flat.
Note that the on the left has scalloped plates.

Two tatehagi okegawa dô
These two are tatehagi dô (vertically rivetted cuirasses).


Nuinobe Dô

       Nuinobe dô are cuirasses of iyo zane construction (or made to look like iyo zane). The term means rougly “sewn-spread,” and refers to the horizontal lacing of the shita garami to produce the rows of iyo zane. This is a truly elegant form of armour. It can be made in any of several types, but most seem to have been clamshells.

Two nuinobe dô


Hotoke Dô

       Cuirasses that are smooth and show no sign of lames are called hotoke dô. These are the Japanese version of the globose breastplates. The term Hotoke means “Buddha” and is a reference to the smooth, round bellies of Buddhist statuary.

      They are usually met with in clamshell form, but go-mai dô (five-plate cuirasses) are also common. The five-plate variations are often confused with yukinoshita or sendai dô, but the lack of a separate munaita usually (but not always) marks the hotoke dô. Another giveaway is that yukinoshita dô invariably have a large number of sets of kusazuri, nine or eleven, while the kusazuri on hotoke dô follow conventional numbers and patterns.

Two hotoke dô
The hotoke dô on the left is a reproduction of one of Japan’s most famous: one of two nearly identical armours belonging to Tokugawa Ieyasu. On the right is a more simple hotoke dô, typical of retainer armour.


Yukinoshita Dô

       The only named after an armourer we can identify is the yukinoshita dô. Specifically, it is named for Yukinoshita Denshichirô Hisaie, who created the design in Sagami sometime after 1573. This armour exists only as a five-plate cuirass. It is also called a sendai dô, after the city in the north that was the capital of the great daimyô Date Masamune, who equipped his entire army with them. Yukinoshita dô are very simple armours, elegant in their lack of pretension.

      In addition to their enlongated, smooth surfaces, they are identified by the large number of sets of kusazuri, and the use of kohire (winglets) jutting out from the shoulder boards over the points of the shoulder, protecting them. Yukinoshita dô did not generally need sode, and were often not supplied with them.

Two sendai dô


Niô Dô

       Niô dô, named after a class of Buddhist deity, are hotoke dô embossed to resemble the emaciated torso of a starving monk or old man. (They are also styled gakihara dô, after the starving ghosts of a Buddhist hell.)

Three niô dô


Môgami Dô

       Môgami dô are five-plate armours of solid lames laced with sugake odoshi instead of being riveted. Some consider kebiki-laced variants also to be môgami dô; others do not. Some also consider any of lamellar (ita mono) construction with sugake lacing to be Môgami dô, regardless of whether it is a five-plater or a clamshell. Haramaki dô of five plate, laced, lamellar construction are called môgami haramaki dô.

Two môgami dô


Hatomune Dô

       Hatomune dô (lit. “pigeon-breast cuirass”) were inspired by European peascod breastplate armour. Many hatomune dô were made from imported Portuguese armours, while others were made domestically to identical patterns. Still other hatomune dô were created by running a ventral crease in an okegawa or hotoke dô. They can be either smooth (single plate) construction, or lamellar.

Hatomune dôHatomune dô Two nanban dô
The first illustration shows a hatomune dô of hotoke-dô construction,
The second is a hatomune-dô of okegawa-dô construction
(note the wave-pattern on the plates). The other two are two nanban dô,
converted from Portuguese peascod breastplates.


Dangae Dô

       Dangae dô (lit. “step-changing”) is the style that is not a style. Rather, such armours are combinations of two or more other styles. For example, the main body of an armour may be an okegawa dô, but the bottom two lames are laced (kebiki or sugake) instead of riveted; or an armour is laced in sugake but the tateage and bottom lames are in kebiki. Such combinations of styles were quite common.

Two dangae dô


Hishinui Dô

       The term hishinui dô” refers actually to a construction technique which is applied to other styles (almost exclusively yokohagi okegawa dô). This technique is so singularly obvious that the construction has overridden any other stylistic references. Instead of rivets or lacing, hishinui (crosslaces) are used to either hold lames together (in the case of what would otherwise be considered a yokohagi okegawa dô or nuinobe dô) or even just to decorate a smooth surface (in the case of a hotoke dô).

Three hishinui dô
Note that the hishinui dô on the right has had the crosslaces lacquered over.


Munemenui Dô

       Munemenui dô are variations on hishinui dô. (They are also called unamenui dô.) In place of cross-laces, a “running stitch” goes horizontally along lames or the surface of the dô. This “stitch” of lacing runs along the surface of the lame looking like nothing so much as a dotted line paralleling the top. They were actually rather rare.

Three munemenui dô

The Weird Stuff

       There are also many just plain weird styles which are better left to lists of historical oddities, such as the kikkô dô, which is an entire made of the small hexagonal Japanese brigandine. Pretend you never heard of these.


Parts of the

       The is easily divided into two parts: the cuirass proper, and the kusazuri (tassets), with a third catch-all category for the various fittings and finishing details on the cuirass.


Dô  Proper

       Unless specified, the information given herein holds for both the front and the back plates (or the sides and front and back if a multi-hinged armour). When I write about constructed of a single plate, it is to be understood that I am referring to a single breast plate, and a single back plate. If I mean to refer to a haraate or maekake dô (essentially synonyms), I will use these specific terms.


Body Plates

       The main part of the cuirass corresponds to the various styles described above.

       In armours made of lames, the wider lames that run along the abdomen form what is called “kabuki dô” or “nagagawa.” The standing panels, front and back, are called tateage. The rear tateage is broader, typically by a factor of around 4:5 or 5:6 (e.g., if the front tateage are 10" wide, the back is about 12"–13". The rear tateage also has one lame more than the front.

       Cheaper lamellar armours are made with larger lames, two front tateage (three in back), and four lames in the kabuki dô. More expensive armours are made of narrower lames, three in the front tateage (four in back), and five lames in the kabuki dô. Regardless of cost, many okegawa dô were made to the so-called old pattern through the Edo period.


Kanagu Mawari

       As you may recall from Chapter One, kanagu mawari refers to the various plates that are attached to the body of a suit of armour; the term indicating their origin as the “solid plates” in armours in which the rest of the construction was small scales. On a dô, the kanagu mawari consists of the munaita (breast board), the oshitsuke-no-ita (shoulder board), the wakiita (armpit guards), and the watagami (shoulder straps).

       Most are made of a number of lames or plates with attached kanagu mawari. (Even the one-plate hotoke dô may be made with separate body plates and kanagu mawari, although it may also be constructed of a single, solid plate that incorporates the shapes of the kanagu mawari. )

       The various plates of the kanagu mawari are made en suite, all of the same style. Typically, the style is reflected in the helmet visor; if the latter is surfaced with printed leather, so are the kanagu mawari. If it is solidly lacquered, so are the kanagu mawari. This is not as solid a rule as the matching of the dangly bits, however; more variation can be noted in this area (although unless you have a solid grasp of the aesthetics of Japanese armour, when you’re making your armour, matching is a good idea).

       The simplest and most common type of kanagu mawari is that which just matches the body of the : if the is smooth and black, so are the kanagu mawari; if the is red, so are the kanagu mawari. Occasionally, one will meet with a in which the kanagu mawari don’t match (e.g., a gold-lacquered with black kanagu mawari.).

       The plates of the in most common armours are rivetted to the kanagu mawari. Whether this is done by hidden (ground flat) rivets or by more ornamental hassô byô is a matter of the expense and showiness of the armour. In some examples, the plates are suspended from the kanagu mawari by lacing (kebiki or sugake, consistent with the style of the armour).

       The cheapest armours have totally undecorated and flat kanagu mawari. More commonly, the kanagu mawari are flared out slightly on their top or extreme edges to help prevent any pinching, and to provide a slightly more dashing appearance.

       Kanagu mawari — or at least the munaita and oshitsuke-no-ita — may be decorated by painted or applied heraldic crests. Even in cases where no fukurin is applied, the edges may be turned and painted gold. Due to the nature of lacquer, real Japanese kanagu mawari never have rolled edges typical to European armour, unless it is on an imported European peascod breastplate.

       The watagami may be rigidly attached to the oshitsuke-no-ita, or they may be hinged. (Watagami on yukinoshita dô were typically hinged. Those on okashi dô were almost invariably solidly attached.)


Ties and Fastenings

      The is tied closed under the right arm (or both arms in the case of a ryô-awase dô) by the takahimo. There is a loop on the back-side and a pair of cords on the front-side; one cord passes through the loop and is pulled back, and the two cords tied into a bow knot.

       In the case of a maekake dô (a.k.a. the haraate), the extra-long shoulder straps fasten under the opposing arm (crossing at the back), and a long tie and loop combination at the bottom cinches the waist in.

       A pair of kohaze (frogs) emerge from the top of the munaita, to which the matching ends from the watagami fasten. Pairs of frogs also stick out over the sides of the watagami to attach the kote and/or sode.

       In laced dô, as opposed to rivetted or solid-plate models, the upper panels are held to the watagami by either very small pairs of frogs or by cords. Solidly constructed suits (that is, with rivetted or solid-plate tateage) don’t need this extra support.



A gyôyô       A common feature on the more expensive armours is the gyôyô, a small leaf-shaped plate that hangs off the end of each watagami. The purpose of the gyôyô is to protect the cords that fasten the watagami to the munaita. The gyôyô is decorated in the style of the rest of the kanagu mawari, and it often has small applied crests as well. In the understated yukinoshita dô, this takes the form of an extended flap hinged off the end of the watagami.

       Armours made after about 1620, or refitted or renovated after that date, frequently have a pair of gilt rings on the front of the ; these are an Edo-era affectation, and although they are commonly seen in surviving armours, they have no place in true sengoku armours.

       Many retainer-grade armours are fitted with a small, cup-like receptical at the small of the back and a bracket at shoulder blade-level to hold the pole for a sashimono, a heraldic banner used to identify troops on the field. (These banners can be seen all over the place in the films Ran and Kagemusha.)

       Armours not meant to use sode may incorporate kohire (“small wings”), jutting out from the watagami over the point of the shoulder.

       Many armours incorporate a padded panel over the shoulders which is attached to the watagami. In the cheapest armours that incorporate this feature, this padding is a simple U-shaped section along the shoulders. More extensive versions include small brigandine wings extending out over the tips of the shoulders, and a standing brigandine collar to protect the back of the neck. Other than this shock-absorbing piece, there is no padding on Japanese armour.

       Solid are generally lined with a layer of thin leather that is glued down and lacquered into place. are made of scale are not typically so lined, however. Many cheaper armours are lined with heavy cloth or brocade glued into place. These linings are the last thing done, so all the lacing is finished and the fittings installed before the lining is set in place. Only the cheapest armours are left bare.

       The lining is only for the body of the dô. It does not include the kanagu mawari, which have been (if required) lined before assembly.



       To keep things straight, I should clarify a point of terminology. When I speak of “sets” of kusazuri, I refer to vertical rows of tassets. When I speak of “lames,” I refer to the individual plates in a set. A may have five sets of kusazuri with four lames; that is, five tassets ringing the body, each with four hanging plates.

       There is no set rule as to the number of sets of kusazuri, or of lames. The lower the number of lames, the cheaper the armour. Retainer armours will have as a rule three or four lames, while armour for the rank and file will have five and (rarely) six. Most commonly an armour will have six or seven sets. If there is an odd number, the odd kusazuri is, of course, front and center protecting the goolies. One feature of the yukinoshita dô is the extreme number of narrow sets — often eleven.

       Retainer-grade armours will have the yurugi ito (suspensory lacing) in sugake. All other armours will typically have kebiki-laced yurugi ito, even when the rest of the armour is laced in sugake odoshi. The yurugi ito is 4"–6" long; in ô-yoroi, however, the yurugi ito is no longer than any other row of suspensory lacing.

A tatami kusazuri section       One alternative to suspensory lacing which appeared in the latter half of the sixteenth century is the suspensory panel. A leather panel or a lightly padded cloth faced in mail takes the place of the yurugi ito. Occasionally, a few rows of odoshige would be run in-and-out down each panel as an accent, to give the impression of lacing.

       Another feature appearing about this same time is the removable kusazuri. Instead of being suspended directly from the dô, the kusazuri hang from a narrow belt of leather that is itself attached to the at several spots by pairs of ties going through small holes. Sakakibara Kôzan considered removable kusazuri to be a practical feature, given that it made armours easier to stow, and that they made it easier to ford shallow rivers by simply removing the kuzazuri so they wouldn’t get soaked.

The kusazuri shown above-left exhibits both the afore-mentioned features: it is both removable, and uses a mail-clad panel for suspension.



       The most noticeable decoration on many armours seen in films (notably Shôgun) is a dinner-plate-sized display of the owner’s crest on the front of the dô. In fact, this is common, but only on retainer armours, in which case the crest is that of their clan or lord. Samurai of rank — who could afford more distinctive armour — were generally identified by their helmet style, their helmet crests, or even their own personal standards carried into battle by a well-trained flunkie. Many surviving retainer-grade armours display this feature; no daimyô's armours do.

       The color of the plates and the lacing are the truest form of “decoration” on Japanese armour. Contrary to an oft-repeated chestnut, the color of the lacing does not say anything about the owner or his intentions. If that were the case, he must perforce be expected to have several suits of armour at all times, with different colors of lacing (today I feel fierce, today I expect to die...) or have to figure a way to unlace and relace armour from day to day without taking everything apart.


  This page was last modified on: 12/7/2014

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