Image ID: Armor (Tōsei Gusoku), 1700s, Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), iron, shakudō, gold, silk, and lacquered leather, DOMA, Gift of David T. Owsley via the Alconda-Owsley Foundation, 2007.008.001.

Written by DOMA Staff, article led by Noelle Giufridda

Are you watching the new Shōgun series on FX and Hulu this spring?  

Based on the popular 1975 novel by James Clavell, Shōgun takes place in Japan near the end Sengoku period (1467–1615), around 1600. A new ten-episode series that reimagines Shōgun premiered in February. 

In the story, Lord Yoshii Toranaga fights for his life as his enemies on the Council of Regents unite against him when a mysterious Dutch ship and its English pilot are found marooned at a fishing village in his territory. Many of Shōgun’s characters are based on historical events and figures from Japanese history. For instance, Toranaga is based on the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu who became shōgun at the start of the Edo period (1615–1868).  

While the original novel and the popular television mini-series produced that aired on NBC in 1980 both centered on the Englishman John Blackthorne, the new version of Shōgun focuses more on Lord Toranaga, his vassals, and samurai. Through collaboration with some of Japan’s most dedicated actors, artists, crew members, and cultural specialists, Shōgun brings unprecedented authenticity to the screen. Everything from the costumes, hairstyles, and movement of the characters to the dialogue in period accurate Japanese lines up with 1600. 

DOMA has several works in its collection that relate to the Sengoku period of the show including a set of prints depicting a battle set in the 1590s. Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s The Battle at Jingu During Masakiyo’s Conquest of Korea from 1863 is a three-sheet color woodblock print that glorifies a failed attempt to conquer China by way of Korea.

Image ID: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Japanese (1839-1892), General Masakiyo at Shinshu Castle During His Conquest of Korea, about 1863, color woodblock print, DOMA, Purchase: Friends of the Museum, 2007.017.000a-c.

Two samurai in the foreground fend off a barrage of cannon fire with wooden shields. In the center, the feudal lord Katō Kiyomasa (aka Masakiyo) appears on horseback wearing a distinctive tall shark fin helmet. In Shōgun, Toranaga’s treacherous half-brother Seiki dons this same type of headgear. 

Many of DOMA’s works currently on display in the Asia galleries that relate to samurai culture date to the Edo period. Take a look at a blade and mounting for a long sword known as a katana from around 1660.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the distinctive Japanese method of creating a blade “. . . involves repeatedly folding and hammering billets of high and low carbon steel to form many layers which when brought together in the final folding produces a sword with a resilient core surrounded by a hard outer layer capable of cutting without bending or breaking.” 

DOMA’s suit of armor designed during the peaceful Edo period, reflects an individual’s taste and prestige but was not intended to defend against the wearer’s enemies in battle. Nonetheless, the armor featured in Shōgun includes many of the same elements as DOMA’s armor such as a cuirass () with large iron plates across the chest to defend against bullets, a large protective skirt (kusazuri) that protected the waist and thighs, and a helmet (kabuto). 

Check out the show’s guide to samurai armor and use AR to view Toranaga’s armor. 

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