The Venice Oriental Art Museum is one of the most important Japanese art collections of the Edo period. From 1603 until 1868, the Tokugawa family imposed its leadership. Japan was unified under a military government (shogunate) based on a centralized bureaucracy and on the sakoku policy, thus the entire frontier was closed to foreign states and cultures. During this period, characterized by internal peace, warriors were not involved in battles and they mostly studied martial and fine arts.
To guarantee their loyalty, the shōgun imposed the sankin kōtai policy (“alternative political service”): the daimyō (feudal rulers) were obliged to live in their territory (han) and in the capital Edo (now Tokyo), while their families imperatively lived in Edo as “hostages”. In this way the lords had to maintain a double residence and to organize frequent transfers that absorbed their wealth, preventing possible uprisings. These frequent transfers also included military parades during which each daimyō displayed their finely equipped personal army.
On this landing, magnificent Edo period armours, based on Heian period (794-1185) models, are shown. Each one is composed of helm, cuirass, skirt and additional elements like a shawl, sleeves, and bootleg to protect other body parts. Near the showcase there is a scheme that explains the dressing routine. The structure of the armour is composed of lacquered and painted leather plates, tied with silk and coloured lace. In this way warriors could easily compact it and put the armour into specific containers. This light armour allowed for full contact skirmishes without hindering ability or bravery. The underwear was either a light cotton or silk coat, and slacks.
The warriors faces were protected by masks that sometimes had red lacquered lips and natural bristles as moustaches. Already used in the past, even if in smaller dimension, the full face mask with neck protection had been employed since the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when infantry largely substituted cavalry. Because of long exposure to dust and light, during the Nineties the armours were restored to repair oxidations, alterations and photochemical problems. Many amours are preserved in Museum storage while the exposed ones are positioned according to the Japanese way of sitting.