Saturday, 3 May 2014

Nobunaga's Western Armor: Truth or Hoax?

When thinking of Nobunaga, the first image that comes to one's mind is that of the sharp samurai clad in a western armor and a bright red cape.
You can find Nobunaga dressed in such an attire everywhere: in videogames, figures, touristic pamphlets and even is statues dedicated to him.

While searching for references for such things, though, I realized that there's NOTHING about them.
As I could find Nanban gusoku belonging to Kenshin or Ieyasu, the only thing left concerning Nobunaga are mere "replicas" based on armors belonging to someone else on the assumption that Nobunaga wore "something like this".

An example of such interpretations can be seen in this armor exhibited at the Nobunaga no Kan at Azuchi:
It features a typical cabaset (helmet) and a gorget neck protector, coming straight for a Portuguese design.
The peascod breastplate of Japanese manifacture is decorated with a cross and Sanscrit characters of Buddhist inspiration on the chest.
It's a wonderful specimen, but despite the location, this armor doesn't belong to Nobunaga.
The description "admits" that the "Barbarian" items are there to give "an idea of Nobunaga's tastes", but they aren't his personal belongings.

This one probably is, but it's not a Nanban gusoku in a strict sense:
As you see the neck protector and the helmet are not "Made in Portugal" and the dou is of obvious Japanese manifacture.
This kind of armors is classified as Hatomune gusoku: since Portuguese cuirasses were extremely expensive, Japanese artisans started to copy the style but used local materials and adapted the design to Japanese tastes.

At this point in history this kind of armors were more effective: the itamono (iron scales) was in fact the only material that could save against firearms, and the "pigeon-breast" design helped to deflect the bullets.
But even if locally manufactured, this kind of armors were still expensive, so only powerful daimyos could afford them.
It's important to note that compared to the "classic" yoroi, these were quite heavier: the average weight of a cuirass was around 6 kgs, but it's safe to assume that moving around with one was simpler, expecially because the fuctional resizing of the sode (shoulder plates).

Another interesting contribution to the issue was given by a recent exhibition at Centrair Airport in Nagoya.
A special exhibition called "Samurai Lab" was held there to celebrate the culture of samurai, and this armor was displayed:
Now, this is what we recognize as Nobunaga's belonging--!
Unfortunately, it's just a replica made up by one of those companies that sell props for movies or documentaries.
Once again, it's based on what was "cutting-edge" back then.

Of the same exact kind is this:
It even boasts the famed cape!
--And again, it's another "made-up" specimen.
The manifacturer explains in its description that the artisan took inspiration from Tokugawa's Nanban gusoku preserved at Kishu Toshogu... That, and a good deal of videogames, I guess!

During my depressing research, though, I did find something interesting at the Kawagoe History Museum:
This amusing kabuto shaped as a Portuguese hat did belong to Nobunaga, but it wasn't worn: it was used as an "herald" to indicate Nobunaga's location on the battlefield.
You can see a pictorial evidence on a byōbu depicting the Battle of Nagashino.

Talking of folding screens and Nagashino I decided to try another route: I searched for portraits of any kind depicting Nobunaga in Western clothes of any sort.
And guess what? I found nothing.

Even on this portrait that I saw at Gifu castle, despite being surrounded by all kind of Western stuff, he's still wearing Japanese clothes:
So at this point I'm starting to wonder-- When and how the idea of Nobunaga wearing a Nanban gusoku developed?
The evidences are indeed there: it's reported on the Shinchokoki that in 1568 Shogun Yoshiaki presented him a cuirasse... So he owned at least one for sure.
But did he wear it in battle? Was he used to it? And if he did, how is it that nothing about it exists anymore..?


  1. Most likely someone made a manga or some form of art about it, then everyone started copying it. People wanted to highlight how "different" Nobunaga by exaggerating his obsession with European artifacts.

    It's like how for whatever reason Imagawa Yoshimoto is always depicted as looking like a painted idiot in media nowadays. Or why a lot of game or manga make Akechi look like a bishounen. Or why Date Masamune is suddenly so glorified for no particular reason (I know he's amazing in his own way, but... he didn't seem to be that important in history).

    There's no better way to show that Nobunaga is a unique individual than to make him wear as many European things as possible, mostly because nobody else does it. Weird stuff like Nobunaga wearing a crucifix, and a manga that draws Azuchi with a huge cross on top of the donjon... That is dumb!! And yet people do it anyway.

    I've read that it started around late Edo period, though.

    1. I agree with everything D:
      I found it extremely weird that I could find a thousand nanban gusoku belonging to someone like Tokugawa, who was pretty much phobic about everything Western, and not even a tiny anything about Nobu on the matter.
      I can understand exagerating one bit or another to give some "variety" to historical characters (well, to be honest-- NOT REALLY XD) and Nobunaga did own a lot of Western stuff, but can't they focus on ACTUAL stuff instead of making it up?!
      --Edo period, I hate you.

    2. I agree! Nobu is interesting enough as he is. YOU DON'T NEED TO MAKE UP NONSENSE ABOUT HIM!!!!! D:<

    3. Yeah D:

      --And it's really disturbing how fabrications get more popular than the truth >_>; !!

    4. It really makes me angry because people can't tell truth or bullshit anymore, and I see a lot of blogs or articles about Nobunaga that contains a lot of errors D:<

      People actually use the novel Taiko as information source. That is a NOVEL. Fiction! Not historical record! Gah!

      And if I hear anyone tell me "Nobunaga designed a special one-sleeved jacket for himself" I will punch them. The photos being shown are screenshots from Kagemusha and what Nobu was wearing was a part of traditional yabusame costume >___<

    5. QUOTED!

      I think that much comes out from that old website hosted on Geocities... It was a nice website, but everything was SO BIASED and the author kept posting pictures from movies as a reference or quoting Taiko..!
      But my heart writhes when I saw such things on Wikipedia too, which is supposed to be reliable...

    6. It's actually in a historical book about ninjas. Nobu was in it as "the ninja-killer" (because they can't stop bringing up Iga >.<).

      His hobby was fashion design. FASHION DESIGN. Because that "one-sleeved jacket" thing again. If I could throw away the book I would, but it's in the bookstore >:(
      If I throw it, then I would have to pay for it.

    7. Sometimes people make a big deal out of normal things too :/

      "Nobunaga is bisexual". So? A lot of other people participate in shudo =___= People like Uesugi Kenshin is more unusual because he supposedly doesn't like women at all and only prefers men.

    8. To be honest I don't think that he was "bisexual"... Practicing shudo doesn't mean that one was bisexual. They just enjoyed smexing young boys, they had no sex with other adult males. Of course they liked boys because they looked like women at a certain age, not because they liked men di per se... They also acted only as "seme"-- They wouldn't let a boy buttsex them.
      Smexing boys was a way to show how strong they were, that they could dominate another man, it was a thing about hierarchy and education, it wasn't really about sexual preferences as we may think today.

  2. By the way, I just found that in the original Japanese Shinchoukoki, what shogun Yoshiaki gave Nobunaga was actually 腹巻, a haramaki yoroi. The translator just translated it into "cuirass" for some reason. It's not actually a European cuirass O__O

    1. Go figure!! In the end we'll get to find that Nobu never owned a cuirass XDDD

      --But are you sure that 腹巻 is the word appearing on the "original" manuscript, and not on another translation of sort in Modern Japanese..?
      Anyway, an haramaki is an armour that closes from behind-- Western armours usually close from the sides, so it shouldn't be on of them anyway...

    2. Yeah, Elisonas and Lamers like to translate the item names into English. It gets confusing sometimes -__-

      I wouldn't know if it's original or not. I can't tell the difference between archaic or modern Japanese text. But I think it doesn't make sense for Yoshiaki to own Euorpean cuirass anyway O___O

    3. Ahah, well, why not, they were extremely pricey and pretty much a status, maybe it was like with those guys from the Emirates buying Ferraris XD

    4. Really? I don't think the trade of nanban items is that popular yet when Yoshiaki became shogun. The Europeans were somewhat marginalized and they mostly trade Chinese products, not European. Owning a European cuirass wouldn't mean anything to anyone XD

      Even Nobu himself still opted to wear Chinese brocades for the big umazoroe in Kyoto :D

    5. Oh, I'm quite sure of it :3
      Western stuff, compared to Chinese one, was just waaaaay more expensive, so if the Japaneses of the time preferred to buy Chinese stuff or preferred to manufacture guns or armours themselves, it was just a matter of convenience, not of popularity.
      I mean, Ieyasu wasn't definitely a fan of Western culture, but he did own at least one cuirass himself-- Because it was useful, and a status of power.

    6. No, what I mean is that the Europeans probably wasn't even selling armour in the first place.

      Just because Europeans brought their armour to Japan doesn't necessarily mean that they sold it. Maybe they just showed it off and the Japanese copied the style, and the nanban-do style armour became popular. The popularity of nanban-do style armour has nothing to do with the people liking or disliking European culture.

      When I see nanban-do displayed in museum, they're almost always Japanese-made. The one Ieyasu had was also Japanese-made nanban-do. Hideyoshi supposedly had a set, but it was given to him by the king of Portugal. He didn't buy it from merchants or other sellers.

    7. Oh, sure, that may be the case, after all the Westerners went to Japan to buy things, not to sell them.
      But merchants always found a way to smug something on their ships-- Expecially because, if the Japanese talk about "Nanban-do" and Western armours, any of them owned at least one.

  3. Normally when they say "nanban-do" they mean Japanese-made armours modeled after European armour. Not actual European-made armour.

  4. Any proof that Oda Nobunaga wore nanban armor is purely circumstantial.

    One claim being that he had Toyatomi Hideyoshi to fetch him some "bulletproof" armor. Hideyoshi brought a Portuguese curiass back.

    Another was that during Nobunaga's retreat from the Azai territory he was shot twice from a musket by a would be assassin but received ether no injuries or his injuries were so slight that he was able to command a group of men to peruse the failed murderer. If this claim is true it would have required a nanban do as the traditional do would not have stopped the ball.

    Of course both these cases are purely hear-say as the Japanese often mixed myth with truth with their history and with Nobunaga being killed in a burning temple and leaving no heir there is no real say as to what Nobunaga wore as far as armor as it was not preserved. It is quite possible that Nobunaga did use Nanban armor and it was by his use that Tokugawa Ieyasu chose to outfit himself and his allies with the armor in the battle of Sekigahara.

    1. I assume that this is the most obvious way to think.
      But when confronted with the popular image of Nobunaga, it's impossible to find someone that, at a certain point, doesn't portray him wearing a Portuguese cuirass (and I'm not just talking about manga and anime or other "pop" media) or a shiny red cowl. So I would like to know HOW Nobunaga started to be portrayed like this, given that there's no actual proof of it.

    2. Actually, there is a type of Japanese dou developed around that period that could've stopped musket bullets from penetrating all the way through. The link below has a very good example. I'd assume most things Nobunaga owned were destroyed over time, or simply lost with time.


    4. BrandonC, yes, in the post you can see pictures of such specimen, we know that they exist, just that there are no proofs of Nobunaga ever wearing one of them.
      The armor of one of the three unifiers, lost or destroyed..? Other armors and militaria of Nobunaga were preserved by the clan or temples, so I don't see why or how the most recent armours would be neglected like that...