On the practical use of Edo-period armor

Many tend to think that with the peaceful Edo period, no longer much attention was paid to armor and that they were made in fancy variants to dress up at special occasions and parades. Well, there was a certain trend in this direction but I want to demonstrate with an example that it was actually not that bad and that there were definitely several renowned persons and craftsman active which racked their brains over the practical use of armor. There are namely records extant in the Libraries of Kanazawa City which deal with the production of armor in detail. These records are called „Goyô-nai tome-chô“ (御用内留帳) and are an official protocol of Arisawa Takesada (有沢武貞, 1682-1739, more on him later) who was a military scientist of the Kaga fief. Therein we find the transcription of a discussion between him and Maeda Yoshinori (前田吉徳, 1690-1745), the fifth Maeda-daimyô of the Kaga fief, on the interpretation of an armor. A characteristical feature of Kaga-gusoku, i.e. Kaga armor, was that the lower part of the shows two or three visible rows of lamellae laced in kebiki-odoshi even when the remaining part of the is actually constructed from plates and not from kozane lamellae. Yoshinori was worried about the weight of the armor to be made for him, especially when it comes to these two or three rows of kozane. So he said to Takesada that he wants a plain and leather-covered okegawa-dô instead. Incidentally, at an okegawa-dô, the plates of the cuirass are not laced but rivetted together. Takesada replied that leaving laced rows of lamellae at the waist of which mostly only the heads of the kozane are visible is of a much more magnificent appearance than covering the whole front section of the with leather. Upon this suggestion, Yoshinori in turn replied that then more braids have to be used which increase the weight. But Takesada explained that the overall weight is about the same at two or three kebiki-laced lamellae rows or two or three horizontal iron plates with leather cover. This resulted in a detailed discussion on the actual weight of braids, also taking into consideration that the kozane had to have holes for the lacing which makes them in turn somewhat lighter than a solid plate. But on the other hand, they were laced in an overlapping manner what suggests that there was actually more iron present in the end. This discussion, which went so far as to count and weight braids as mentioned, shows us that Yoshinori wanted an as effective armor as possible. Or the other way round, he would not have made a big thing out of the weight of the two or three lowermost rows of the when he was convinced to just wear a fancy armor on horseback at the parades.

The gilding of the ´s inside of armors of higher and medium ranked Kaga warriors was another thorn in the side of Yoshinori. He stated that he wanted his inside just lacquered black but Takesada replied that, according to transmission, the gilding helps the armor stay more cool in the summer. And by the way he said, all the armors of the predecessing Kaga-daimyô had this feature, namely not only at the but also at the inside of the helmet bowl. However, it is assumed that this gilding has not much to do with cooling the suit but was applied to achieve a luxusious appearance. But when we read between the lines of this discussion, we learn from Yoshinori´s main task which was to reduce the expenses and the ongoing costs of a giant fief as Kaga was with its nominal income of 1.000.000 koku. He introduced new instruments and measures but continued basically the course set by his father Tsunanori (前田綱紀, 1643-1724). It worked well for a while but slowly the gold and silver deposits of the Kaga mines were running out and a resistance formed against his aide Ôtsuki Denzô (大槻伝蔵, 1703-1748). Many Kaga-retainers had a problem with Ôtsuki because he pushed some reforms on his own even he was of ashigaru origin and because it was assumed that Yoshinori protected and promoted him just as he was his gay lover. Well, Ôtsuki Denzô was banned to Gokayama (五箇山) in Etchû province after Yoshinori´s death.

A great success of Yoshinori´s father Tsunanori was to strengthen the arts and crafts performed at various places in the fief by erecting a central workshop, the so-called „o-saiku-sho“ (御細工所). With this he continued his grandfather Maeda Toshitsune´s (前田利常, 1594-1658) initial steps to attract as many influental artists as possible. That means Toshitsune has prepared with hiring and inviting famous masters like Hon´ami Kôetsu (本阿弥光悦, 1558-1637), Gotô Kakujô (後藤覚乗) and Kenjô (後藤顕乗) or Tawara Sôsetsu (俵屋宗雪) the base for a highly recognized centre of art and craftsmanship. Regarding armor, Toshitsune hired the Haruta armorer Narui Katsumitsu (成井勝光) who played an important role within the armor-related workshops of the o-saiku-sho. Soon the latter became a vital factor for the income of the fief. Responsible for the compound of workshops was the so-called “o-saiku-sho bugyô” (御細工所奉行), the workshop magistrate, and the most famous of them was the aforementioned Arisawa Takesada (有沢武貞, 1682-1739). The Arisawa were once retainers of the Dohi family (土肥) of Etchû province and came via the Uesugi (上杉) and Mogami (最上) families eventually into the service of Toshitsune who hired Takesada´s father Nagasada (有沢永貞, 1638-1715) in Enpô five (延宝, 1677) as military scientist and strategist for an income of 300 koku. Nagasada had studied the Kôshû-ryû (甲州流), i.e. the tactics which go back to the famous Takeda family from Kai province (= Kôshû), under his uncle Sekiya Masaharu (関屋政春, 1615-1686) who worked for the Kaga fief too. But he learned also from Masaharu´s master Yamaga Sokô (山鹿素行, 1622-1685), who in turn got the teachings of the Kôshû-ryû first hand from a former Takeda retainer, namely from Obata Kagenori (小幡景憲, 1572-1663). Incidentally, Nagasada´s deep studies of tactics went even as far as becoming a land surveyor, geographer and urban developer to incorporate geographical knowledge into his body of thoughts.

Takesada succeeded his father in Shôtoku five (正徳, 1715), receiving the same salary of 300 koku. He was the o-saiku-sho bugyô for ten years, namely from Kyôhô nine to Kyôhô nineteen (享保, 1724-1734). With Nagasada´s studies, the Kôshû-ryû taught in the Kaga fief was also called „Arisawa-ryû“ (有沢流), and Takesada was in the same way eager to refine the tactics as was his younger brother Munesada (有沢致貞, 1689-1752). By the way, the two brothers and their father were known throughout the country as „The Three Sada from the Arisawa family“ or „The Three Sada from Kaga“.


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