Samurai: A [woman] of honor, walking [her] way with a sword in hand; a determined warrior, showing no fear and pain; a ruthless soldier, giving no quarter and not asking it. I think there is no other word that says so much with so few letters.
—Boris Petrov Bedrosov
I’ve read more than once that lady samurai were actually fairly common in feudal Japan. Because of the constant warring between rival factions during the Sengoku Jidai (a period of feudal feuding from 1467-1603 CE) manpower was at a premium, and thus it was common for women who could afford armor to arm up and march to war. From what I understand, there survives both archeological and literary evidence to support this. I’m actually curious to know if this was common among the ashigaru (untitled infantry and men-at-arms) as well. (If anyone can offer additional input in the comments, I’d be most appreciative, thanks!)
When I was doing research for this post, I was mildly surprised to discover how little I knew about Japanese armor (as well as how much of what I thought I knew was wrong).
For most of Japanese history, samurai armor consisted of two types: scale and lamellar, usually iron or leather. It wasn’t until their contact with the Europeans in 1543 that the Japanese discovered plated armor such as what we’re seeing on our heroine. As with any armor, it’s important to layer up. Our samurai’s inner-most layer is an arming shirt or tunic of some sort. The next layer is a kusari (Japanese chain mail) cuirass or shirt. Her steel chest plate and spaulders are somewhat European looking, though that’s hardly inappropriate given that Japanese armorers borrowed a lot of designs from the Europeans following their first contact. Our lady appears to have gone gloveless for better weapon handling, but her forearms are protected by wrapped, splinted bracers.
How Japanese armor compares to European is a topic still very much up for debate, and I’ve heard excellent arguments on both sides. Regardless, I like this armor on an aesthetic level as well as practical, and appreciate the level of protection it offers our flaxy-haired heroine.
While Wikipedia provided a helpful overview, the most extensive discussion I found on Japanese armor came from MyArmory.com. Many thanks to Chalmer for letting me borrow his Lady Samurai for a bit. As always, thank you for reading, folks, and stay awesome!