“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.”