Military Review

Helmet Kabuto and masks Meng-gu (part one)

"That day, Yoshitsune from Kiso put on a red brocade coat ... and he took off his helmet and hung it over his shoulder with cords."
"The Tale of the House of Tyra."

The author is a monk Yukinaga. Translation by I. Lvov

After the publication of a series of articles on samurai weapons in Japan, many of the visitors to the VO website expressed the wish that this theme also contained material on Japanese helmets. And, of course, it would be strange if there were articles on armor, but on helmets - no. Well, the delay took place in connection with ... the search for good illustrative material. After all, it is better to see once than 100 once ... read! So, Japanese helmets ... First of all, we note that the helmet of all nations and at all times was considered the most important accessory of a warrior's equipment, and why it is so surprising, because he covered a man's head. What only their species and varieties have not been invented by people during their millennial combat history, with the most different and original. This is also the simplest helmet - a hemisphere with a visor, like the Romans, and a richly decorated helmet of the leader with a mask from England, burial in Sutton Hu, simple in shape spheroconic helmets and very complex from several plates on rivets tophelm helmets of Western knights. They were painted in different colors (to protect against corrosion and to confuse its owner with someone else would be impossible!), And decorated with pony tails and peacock feathers, as well as figures of people and animals of "boiled leather", papier-mâché and painted plaster. Nevertheless, it can be quite conclusively argued that it was the Japanese helmet to the armor of O-ryoy - kabuto surpassed all other samples, if not in its protective qualities, then ... in originality and this is undoubtedly!

Helmet Kabuto and masks Meng-gu (part one)

Typical Japanese kabuto with synodare and kuvagata.

However, judge for yourself. The very first kabuto helmets worn by samurai with armor, haramaki-do and do-maru were not at all like those used in Europe. First of all, they almost always stood out from the plates, and secondly, they usually never completely covered the face of a warrior. Lamellar were already helmets V - VI centuries. and then it became a tradition. Most often 6 - 12 curved plates made in the shape of a wedge went on the helmet. With each other, they connected them with convex hemispherical rivets, the dimensions of which were reduced from the crown to the top of the helmet. But in reality, these were no rivets, but ... cases, resembling kettles, which covered them. The rivets themselves on the Japanese helmets were not visible!

Kabuto side view. Clearly visible convex "bowlers", closing rivets.

There was a hole on the very headdress of the Japanese helmet ... a hole called tehen or hachiman-za, and around it was a decorative bezel - a tehen-kanamono bronze socket. Note that the feature of Japanese helmets was a great decorative effect, and now in these details it has shown itself to the full. In front, the early helmets decorated the stripes in the form of overhead arrows from the sinodaré, which were usually gilded, so that they were clearly visible against the background of metal stripes, traditionally coated with Japanese black varnish. Under the arrows was a visor, called a mabidzasi, which was attached to the helmet with sanko-no-be rivets.

Detail of Hoshi Kabuto and Suji Kabuto helmets.

The warrior’s neck was tucked behind the side of the Sykoro back and sides, which consisted of five rows of kozane plates, which were connected to each other with the help of silk cords of the same color as the armor. Sikoro attached to kosimak - metal plate - the crown of the helmet. The lowest row of records in Shikoro was called Hisinui and Noah, and they were interlaced in cross-stitch lacing. The four top rows, counting from the first, were called hachi-tsuke-no ita. They walked at the level of the visor and then bent out almost at right angles to the left and right, resulting in fukigaeshi - shaped U-shaped cuffs designed to protect the face and neck from lateral strikes with the sword. Again, in addition to the protective functions, they were used for identification. They depicted the family coat of arms - mon.

The three upper rows of fukigaeshi, facing out, covered the same skin as the cuirass. Due to this, stylistic monotony was achieved in the design of armor. In addition, the copper gilded ornament on them was the same everywhere. On the head the helmet was fastened with the help of two cords, called kabuto-no-o. The inner surface of the helmet is usually painted in red, which was considered the most militant.

In the 12th century, the number of records began to grow, and they themselves became significantly narrower. And longitudinal ribs appeared on them, which increased the strength of the helmet, although its weight did not increase. At the same time, the kabuto also received a lining with belts, such as the one that is now used on installers or miners' helmets. Prior to this, the blows to the helmet were softened only by a Hatimaki dressing that was tied up before the helmet was put on, an eboshi hat, the end of which was straightened out through the Tehen hole, and the hair of the samurai himself.

Suji Kabuto XV - XVI centuries. Metropolitan Museum, New York.

And just before the appearance of the Europeans in Japan, samurai helmets were only two types: the hoshi-kabuto — the helmet on which the rivets protruded outside, and the suji-kabuto, in which they fastened to the ground. As a rule, suji-kabuto had a greater number of plates than hoshi-kabuto.

Late XIV - early 15th century was marked by an increase in the number of plates in the kabuto, which began to reach 36 (for each plate, there were 15 rivets). As a result, the helmets became so large that they already weighed more than 3 kg - about the same amount as the famous European knight tophelm helmets, which had the shape of a bucket or pot with slots for the eyes! It was just inconvenient to carry such a heavy weight on the head, and some samurai often held their helmet in their hands, using ... as a shield, and reflected the arrows of the enemy flying at them!

Kuwagata and a disk with a picture of a pavlon flower between them.

Various helmet decorations were often fastened on the helmet, and most often they were kuvagata horns made of thin gilded metal. It is believed that they appeared at the end of the Heian era (the end of the 12th century), and then they had the shape of the letter “V” and were rather thin. In the Kamakura era, the horns began to look like a horseshoe or the letter “U”. In the Nambocutho era, the horns at the ends began to expand. Finally, in the era of Muromachi, they became simply prohibitively large, and between them they also added a vertically standing blade of a sacred sword. They were inserted into a special groove located on the visor of the helmet.

18th century o-war with kuwagata in the style of the Nambocutho era. Metropolitan Museum, New York.

It was believed that they serve not only to decorate the armor and intimidate enemies, but they can also give real help to the samurai: since they were made of thin metal, they partially softened the blows delivered to the helmet and acted as a kind of shock absorbers. The arms of the owner of the armor, the frightening faces of the demons and various symbolic images could also be attached between them. Often on the visor between the "horns" (and often in their place) a round gold-plated and polished plate was strengthened - a "mirror" that had to be frightened off by evil spirits. It was believed that, seeing in it its reflection, the demons approaching the samurai will be frightened and run away. In the back of the helmet's crown, there was a special ring (kasa-jirushi-no kan), to which a pennant of kasa-jirosi was tied, which made it possible to distinguish its warriors from others.

That is, it is obvious that the kabuto helmet was very decorative, and, moreover, with a solid construction, only with all its perfection and the presence of the Sikoro and fukigayoshi of the warrior’s face he did not defend at all. In the countries of the East and in Western Europe there were helmets with facial masks that served as the visor, but they were attached directly to the helmet. In later European helmets, the Bundhuge (“dog's helmet”) and the arm, which had an opening visor, could be hinged or opened like a window. That is, it is one way or another, but it was connected to the helmet, even in cases when it was made mobile. But what about the kabuto?

Well - for this, the Japanese had their own protective devices, namely, protective masks happuri and half masks hoate, which received the general name Men-gu. The mask of happuri, which is under the helmet, was used by soldiers from the Heian period (the end of the 8th century - the 12th century), and it covered their foreheads, temples and cheeks. For servants, this mask often replaced the helmet. Then, in the era of Kamakura (late 12th century - 14th century), noble warriors began to wear Hoate’s half masks, which covered not the upper, but opposite - the lower part of the face - the chin, as well as the cheeks to the level of the eyes. In the armor of o-ryoy, haramaki-do and do-maru, the throat was not protected by anything, so for its cover they invented a knit necklace, which they usually wore without a mask, since they had their own cover to protect the throat, called yedare-kake.

Typical mempo mask with yodare-kake.

By the 15th century, masks and half masks to Meng-gu became very popular and were divided into a number of types. The happuri mask did not change and still only covered the upper part of the face and had no cover for the throat. The half mask mempo, on the contrary, covered the lower part of the face, but left the forehead and eyes open. A special plate that protected the nose, had hinges or hooks and could be removed or installed at will.

Maspo mempo XVII century.

The half-mask of Hoate, unlike Mempo, did not cover the nose. The most open was Hambo - half mask on the chin and lower jaw. But there was also a mask covering the entire face — somen: there were holes for the eyes and mouth, and the forehead, temples, nose, cheeks, and chin were completely covered. However, protecting the face, the men-gu masks limited the view, so most of the time they were worn by commanders and rich samurai, who themselves had barely fought.

Mask somen work master Miocina Muneakir 1673 - 1745. The Anna and Gabriel Barbier-Muller Museum, Dallas, Texas.

Interestingly, on the same Somen mask, it was envisaged to mount it on the loops of its central part, allowing you to detach the “nose and forehead” from it and thus turn it into a more open hoate mask or in common parlance - Saru-bo - “monkey's face”. Many masks covering the chin in its lower part had one or even three tubes for sweat, and all of them had hooks on their outer surface, which made it possible to fix them on the face with cords.

On the chin hole for sweat.

The inner surface of the facial masks as well as the helmet was painted in red, but the finish of the outer surface could be surprisingly diverse. Usually masks made of iron and leather were made in the form of a human face, and the masters often sought to reproduce in them the characteristics of an ideal warrior, although very many men-gu looked like masks of the Japanese Noh theater. Although they were often made of iron, they reproduced wrinkles, attached to them a beard and mustache made of hemp, and even inserted teeth into their mouths, which in addition were also covered with gold or silver.

Very rare decoration - between the horns of the kuvagata, a mask with a woman's face is fortified.

But below was this mask!

At the same time, the portrait resemblance of the mask and its owner has always been very conditional: young warriors usually chose old masks (Okina-Maine), while the elderly opposite - boys' masks (Varavadzura), and even women (Onna-Maine). Masks also needed to frighten the enemies, so the tengus, evil spirits of the acure, the demonizers of the kidjo were very popular, and from the 16th century also exotic nambanbo masks (faces of the “southern barbarians”), or Europeans who came to Japan from the south.

The author is grateful to the Antiques of Japan Company ( for the photos and information provided.

Fig. A Shepsa
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must to register.

I have an account? Sign in

  1. vrach
    vrach 14 September 2015 07: 19 New
    Undoubtedly art. And the presence of awesome decor. What about functionality?
    1. kalibr
      14 September 2015 07: 58 New
      The abundance of cords got wet. Frozen! Broke down! They got lice and ants! It was possible to capture a spear with a hook. On the show are known (described) cases when the helmet was hacked with a sword. In battle, it is unlikely ...
      1. abrakadabre
        abrakadabre 14 September 2015 12: 19 New
        Everything grows from tactics.
        For Europe it’s a ram with a spear. Therefore, much more “slippery” parts of the armor to maximize the likelihood of slipping off the tip of the enemy spear. The lack of any solid horns for the same. Because the solid branching structure on the helmet is a kind of trap for a blade or halberd. Which, instead of slipping, will transmit all the power of the blow to the helmet. All examples of fanciful helmet-mounted jewelry for Europe are very fragile things that fell off from the very first even light blow.
        For the samurai, this is primarily shelling. So there are more opportunities for artsy decoration.
  2. Free wind
    Free wind 14 September 2015 08: 31 New
    Funny tricks
  3. Agent 008
    Agent 008 14 September 2015 09: 00 New
    Yeah, you won’t refuse theatricality to the Japanese! Since the samurai were not only skilled fencers, but also versed in art, and even drew well, which was considered a good form, you can understand the craving for beautification! But our "demobilization" (I do not want to offend them) looks much funnier with homemade accelerants and a bunch of badges on the form ...
  4. Egor65g
    Egor65g 14 September 2015 10: 04 New
    Great article, very comprehensive and quite detailed. However, like the previous ones smile
    Thank you hi
  5. otto meer
    otto meer 14 September 2015 12: 41 New
    I do not agree with the author on some "points". Here's an example:
    "the simplest helmet - a hemisphere with a visor, like the Romans" - as I understand it, is it Apulo-Corinthian? or casis ?, however it doesn’t matter. Both of these headsets are not easy to take away, one seamless, the second wireframe with developed protection, the most thought out and sharpened by tactics. The simplest in my opinion is a rim with plates crosswise.
    "and the tophelm helmets of Western European knights, very complex of several plates with rivets" - do not confuse anything? Tophelm - according to our "bucket", is not at all complicated to manufacture, and constructively.
    "Nevertheless, it can be argued quite convincingly that it was the Japanese helmet for o-yoyu armor - kabuto that surpassed all other models, if not in its protective qualities, then ... in originality and this is undoubted!" - Sure! In terms of protection, he didn’t stand next to European helmets, but according to originality .... in Europe there were also enough originals, there are masks (with a mustache, and with teeth, and even glasses), and wings, and horns, and feathers and ... much shorter than that.
    In general, I see that you are dominating the Japanese armaments, judging by a detailed and lovingly executed description (I respect this matter very much, interest, in the sense), but do not speak so derogatoryly about the West. All the same, in terms of technology, efficiency, quality, the West is a cut above the East, if we compare the samurai and some sort of ritter, in this regard.
    1. kalibr
      14 September 2015 16: 20 New
      As for the complexity of the "bucket", one can argue - the "buckets" were also different. But it is proved that in Japanese helmets parts more by an order of magnitude. Count the rivets in the helmet from the 120 plates? With glasses, Heinrich 8's helmet is a gift, the horns were boiled leather - before the first strike. And here both beauty and functionality in one product. In Europe, no. Kulus is a hemisphere - which is simpler, even if it is seamless. "It surpassed all other samples, if not in its protective qualities, then ... in originality" - what more do you want? About European helmets material will be - even the name I will say - "Fortress for the head." Everything is there, it’s just impossible to dump everything at once. I'm not alone here ...
      1. otto meer
        otto meer 15 September 2015 12: 37 New
        Quote: kalibr
        One can argue about the complexity of the "bucket" - the "bucket" was also different.
        And what is there to argue about? We are talking about the classic toppelheim, but it is simple. Further modifications and new types descended from poppel are more complicated, and sometimes even more complicated, and the original toppelheim is simple. Even the “Norman cap” is even more complicated.
        Quote: kalibr
        But it is proved that in Japanese helmets there are more details.
        And I don’t argue with that, but what does this prove? What is it better?
        Quote: kalibr
        Count the rivets in a helmet of 120 plates?
        And count the strength of this helmet. 120 plates, milen rivets, this is exactly what speaks of the backwardness in the technology of the east. Riveted tank or cast (welded) which is stronger?
        Quote: kalibr
        Kulus is a hemisphere - which is easier, even if it is seamless
        Not always seamless, can be welded, frame, but not important. Have you ever tried to stretch a sphere? It's not so easy.
        But okay, this is all particular, I wanted to say something with my comment. I think the exaltation of Japanese military art is not correct. Compared with the West (if we discard myths and idle speculation), the Japanese were in deep opera. And literally in all positions. Yes, they have created their own culture, which is unlike anything else. But judging objectively ... Weapons are bad, armor is bad, tactics are in their infancy, discipline is very bad, fencing is bad, rear services are a disaster, castles are nests. I’m talking about that. Do not reproach you. I read the article in one breath. In detail, thoroughly, knowledgeably.
        Quote: kalibr
        There will be material about European helmets - I’ll even say the name - “Fortress for the head”.
        If the quality does not fall, we are waiting! very much waiting!
        1. abrakadabre
          abrakadabre 15 September 2015 14: 37 New
          Have you ever tried to stretch a sphere? It's not so easy.
          I tried it, it's easier than a steamed turnip. This is not an optical device tolerance. Here, manufacturing accuracy of a few mm is quite sufficient.
          Samples of cuirasses of a very complex form of the pre-yo swarm era (tanko, Kofun era) indicate the normal level of development of blacksmithing. Samples of various ornate items suggest the same thing. And by the way, forging a face mask made of iron, similar to those in the photo, is much more difficult than a dome for a helmet.
          There is more to say about a high degree of customer tradition. And the lack of need due to the conservatism of military affairs. The Japanese, one and a half to two thousand years, boiled in their own juice without major invasions from the outside. Khubilai’s invasion, due to failure, did not push Japanese military affairs into evolution. Like the Korean conquests of the Japanese themselves. For a heavily armed archer, the lamellar is more convenient than rigid solid structures. So it spread everywhere. And then the extreme tradition of Japanese society played a role. Military estate including.
          Weapons are bad, armor is bad, tactics are in their infancy, discipline is very bad, fencing is bad, rear services are a disaster, castles are nests.
          In fairness:
          Weapon - normal, no better than worse than other countries of comparable development. The rest is positive (Japanese) or black (on the opposite side, for example yours) PR, no more.
          Armor - quite ... the same, neither better nor worse. Meet their functionality. But it’s worth specifying a specific century — the 11th-century old — is an order of magnitude better than the European complex with a hauberk, and 13-15 centuries — an order of magnitude worse.
          Tactic - and then the French at Cressy or at Agincourt showed miracles of tactical maneuvering. Nu-nu ... Dumb frontal attack with a bunch of small. In general, everything is the same as everyone, from Chukotka to the Sahara.
          Discipline - umm ... uh ... the chivalrous militia is very tender, to put it mildly hu ... vaya. Also no differences from Japan. The Mongols of the period of Genghis Khan and his first successors should be served as an example of discipline and affordable tactical controllability of troops.
          Rear services - I also do not see much of a fundamental difference.
          Fencing - It is difficult to say about the advantage of one or another tradition. The same physiology, similar weapons gives rise to the universal principles of fencing movements. How many differences will you find in the technique of owning a European two-handed GM and a Japanese tati? I've been very few.
          Locks - if in Europe there was the same seismic activity as in Japan, a line with two we would see the fortification architecture in the Gothic style. The first European castles in the form of a hill with a dungeon and a wooden picket fence around are not structurally different from Japanese castles. If you look at the late serf fortifications of the ray organization with bastions and ravelins, then they are like twin brothers like the Japanese. Oddly enough.
          What is the bottom line? At the time of the country's unification, in Japan with military affairs and ammunition it was quite at the level. Europe began its detachment with firearms, but had not yet managed to leave inaccessible. But the ensuing self-isolation in modern times ruined everything. Absolutely.
          1. kalibr
            15 September 2015 22: 31 New
            The first time I met such a sober value judgment - although no, it was about the swords of one German. Fully agree with everything you wrote!
        2. kalibr
          15 September 2015 22: 36 New
          As for tactics ... you don't need that cool either. In Japan, she was from China, and there the level of military theory was such that she is still being studied. And there the whole top was not just literate, but educated. And in Europe ... oh ... "The King does not have to urinate on the stairs!" - this is 1327 year, it seems. And Drpuon did not invent it.
          1. otto meer
            otto meer 16 September 2015 00: 26 New
            Quote: kalibr
            In Japan, she was from China, and there the level of military theory was such that it is still being studied.
            Yes, and the Chinese came up with a general light. And by the way, in Chinese military schools they study Russian / Soviet tactics, and not vice versa.
            Quote: kalibr
            And in Europe ... oh ... "The king does not urinate on the stairs!" - This is the year 1327, it seems. And Drpuon did not invent it.
            Yes, only the Chinese still do this. Forgive me if I touched, I see you read the Chinese very much. hi
    2. abrakadabre
      abrakadabre 15 September 2015 14: 55 New
      All the same, in terms of technology, efficiency, quality, the West is a cut above the East, if we compare the samurai and some sort of ritter, in this regard.
      When making such bold statements, always indicate a less accurate historical period. Because, the result of the comparison can radically differ in both directions. For the period until the 4th Crusade - the invasion of the Mongols, there was nothing nasty in European armor compared to other countries and Japan in particular. For the next period until the first third of the 15th century - about the same. The next 150 years, yes. Maximillian rules.
  6. otto meer
    otto meer 16 September 2015 00: 19 New
    Quote: abrakadabre
    When you make such bold statements,
    I do not know what is so bold in my statement, it is a fact, let us recall the state of Japanese military affairs at the time of the "discovery" of this country by Europeans in the 18th century.
    Quote: abrakadabre
    always indicate a less accurate historical period. Because, the result of the comparison can radically differ in both directions.
    I admit, this is a fair remark.
  7. Jääkorppi
    Jääkorppi 17 September 2015 09: 59 New
    The Vikings series, which is related to historical truth like a dog to a fighting steed, is especially amusing! There heroes without helmets hang around completely. Although the warrior might not have a sword, chain mail, boots, but a helmet, shield and ax, like any Rusich, he had to!