Kyle really knows how to show a girl a good time. He took me out to lunch at Kornblats in Northwest Portland, and we parked many blocks away, so we could get in a little walk and enjoy the store windows and the passing people. Then we went to see the Samurai armor at the Portland Art Museum. I was blown away!
Pictures? You gotta see this stuff in real life. Really, pictures could not possibly do it justice. The detail is mind boggling! Much of the armor is formed of iron plates, lacquered to protect it from rusting, and laced together with silk braid. It was moderately flexible and it breathed, unlike Western plate armor. But when you consider that the silk braid was plaited by hand, and each suit of armor used hundred of yards of braid, and of course you would need more braid to repair the armor after a battle, or after it had been worn a few years, and the braid starts to fray . . .
Anyhow, this stuff was worn over padded trousers and jackets. The helmets were double layered iron bowls with wide flaring guards again, shaped to protect neck and shoulders, and again, laced together with a gazillion yards of silk braid. There were mail sleeves worn over leather, and flexible skirts to protect the hips and groin. and thigh guards and shin guards and armored stirrups . . .
And oh, dear goodness, you should have see the horse armor! Inch-square iron plates, lacquered and sewn mosaic-fashion over leather to protect neck, shoulders and flanks. Some even had tail armor. And some of the horses had iron masks shaped like monsters or dragons. This stuff must have weighed hundreds of pounds. Wearing it all day in a parade would have been exhausting. Wearing it into battle - well I can well understand why the battles didn't last for days and days.
The color, the embellishment, the ingenuity are astounding. In the later days of the Samurai era, the heads of the ruling houses began wearing uniquely distinctive helmets and armor for parades and presentations. Again, multiple pounds of iron, leather and silk, and helmets with huge crests, or antlers, or ears - there was one shaped like a shark fin, and another shaped like a sea shell. They were works of art and I am overwhelmed by the years of human endeavor that went into shaping them. Not just the time spent in creating the objects, but the time spent in learning the techniques to shape them. And the time spent by the makers of silk braid. And by the creators and appliers of lacquer. And the leather work - some of the leather pieces were tooled and dyed and worked till they looked like carved and painted wood or heavily embroidered brocade. It may take a village to raise a child. It probably took a whole village just to make a suit of armor.
This is all armor worn by the lords and masters. I wonder what the foot soldiers wore? Bamboo and leather probably. Maybe not as strong as iron plates, but a lot more comfortable.
And there were weapons as well, saddles and stirrups, a matchlock rifle decorated with silver cherry blossoms . . . Really, you have to go see it for yourself if you possibly can. The show runs until mid-January before it has to move on. And if you can't see it, oh, I'm sorry for you. It's been hours since we got home, and I am still tossing the shiny memories up into the air and laughing as they patter down around me.