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undefined Japanese armor-maker Hiromichi Miura

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Kacchu-shi is an artisan who makes and repairs Japanese traditional armor. Today, only a few experts have such skills — Hiromichi Miura is one of these rare kacchu-shi. He joined this world at age 28, and now at age 80, he continues to make armor and respond to orders from all around the world.
“I’ve always been quite dexterous and enjoyed making things since my childhood. But after graduating from university, I joined a trading company. Then one day during a lunch break, I stopped by an exhibition of Japanese traditional armor (kacchu) and was stunned by this incredible technology made by human hands. For example, the riveting used in a helmet (kabuto) is the same as in the steel-frame construction of Tokyo Tower. I was so impressed that today’s technology was inherited from kacchu-shi that I was inspired to take this path myself. I quit my job and became an apprentice of my then-master, who was considered the best armor-maker of that period,” says Mr. Miura.
Japanese armor (kacchu) was made to protect the bodies of samurai, and its history is as old as samurai tradition itself. Armor use appeared with the rise of the samurai class around the 10th century and disappeared with the end of samurai power after the Meiji Restoration. Armor-making continued over this long period while design varied from era to era. After kacchu no longer played a practical role in protecting samurai, armor acquired new value as a collectible, prized by enthusiasts and treasured as works of art in museums worldwide. Modern kacchu-shi restore broken armor and make new works that accurately reproduce traditional designs.
Regardless of whether they are repairing armor or crafting it anew, kacchu-shi are personally in charge of every part of the process. Required skills — such as metal forging, chasing, leather processing, urushi coating, and dyeing — include almost all Japanese traditional crafting techniques.

“Depending on the damaged condition of armor, repair takes several months to a year in most cases. However, building new armor to restore an original work such as a national treasure takes three to five years to finish. Materials used in restoration should be the same as those used in olden times. For example, small scales made of cowhide (kozane) are linked with thongs, turned into wider plates, and given multiple coats of urushi lacquer. The next process called odoshi-tsuke reshapes these pieces into a breastplate (doh) using silk macramé cords colored with vegetable dye. About 3,000 kozane and 300 meters of silk thread are used for one set of armor,” explains Mr. Miura.
Japanese traditional armor not only featured Japanese craft expertise but also favored Japanese ornamental motifs. For example, samurai liked the dragonfly motif because this “winning insect” (kachi-mushi) only moves forward. The vigorous, fast-growing wild chrysanthemum was also a samurai favorite.
Mr. Miura says, “The samurai spirit revered victory and strength, and natural elements beloved by Japanese people appear in armor design. In addition to steel, natural materials including leather, urushi, and vegetable dyes are used in Japanese armor. Such nature-inspired design and unique materials are the essences of beauty uncommon in Western armor.”
Mindful of the next generation, Mr. Miura has passed on his legacy of traditional armor-making techniques to Andrew Mancabelli from the U.S.A. He met Mr. Miura when he came to study in Japan and write a thesis on Japanese culture, and later became his apprentice. He trained eight years under Mr. Miura’s tutelage, and now works as a kacchu-shi himself. Mr. Mancabelli not only learned manufacturing skills but also the importance of understanding Japanese history and culture behind the armor, and other essentials for his craft. He comments, “What’s most important is self-discipline and unwavering professionalism.”
Mr. Miura says, “Kacchu-shi cannot pursue this profession without passion. Nor can they continue unless they are devotees of Japanese armor-making. Although there may not be many, others fascinated by kacchu, like me or Andrew, will surely appear and decide to become armor artisans as well.”

[photo]Hiromichi Miura

Hiromichi Miura

Born in 1938. His father was a lawyer and his mother was the daughter of a Nanbu steel craftsman. At age 28, Mr. Miura quit his paid job and joined master kacchu-shi Asajiro Morita as an apprentice. After becoming independent, he continued repair projects, created new works, and held his first solo exhibition as kacchu-shi at age 41. He handles individual new orders, repairs old works, conserves museum collections worldwide, and manages historical restorations — such as the kacchu suit of armor in the Tower of London that was presented to King James I by Ieyasu Tokugawa. In 2008, Mr. Miura was designated an Intangible Cultural Property in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, where he continues to hold this status.

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