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Chika Sannomiya

The Myochin Collection
-The sensitivity and empathy of samurai in medieval Japan-

Chika Sannomiya
Research Assistant, Waseda University Aizu Museum

In March of 2007, the Aizu Museum received a donation of 132 materials related to Japanese armor (42 pieces of armor material, 23 materials related to reconstruction, and 67 materials such as books on armor research) from the armor-maker Mr. Muneyuki Myochin. The donated materials were given the name of the "Myochin Collection", and the materials have been surveyed and researched. The collection is a valuable group of materials that is of great assistance in expanding the research of Japanese armor. The collection was first displayed as part of a special exhibition that was held in the 2009 academic year in order to introduce the accomplishments of the armor-maker Mr. Muneyuki Myochin. In addition to the donated materials, there was a special exhibition of 3 suits of ō-yoroi (Japanese armor worn by the upper-class) from the collections of institutions and private individuals. These 3 suits of armor are made in the style of the Heian Period and consist of a red ō-yoroi, a white-lacing ō-yoroi and a cherry blossom-lacing ō-yoroi. This article will introduce the personal history of Mr. Myochin and the collection that is exhibited.

1. About Mr. Muneyuki Myochin

Mr. Muneyuki Myochin is the current head of the Myochin family of armor-makers that has continued since the end of the Muramachi Period. Mr. Myochin was born in the Ushigome area of Tokyo in 1917. He was the second son of the armor-maker Mr. Munemi Myochin. He possessed a level of dexterity in his hands that was extremely rare, and from the time that he was 10 years old he assisted his father in cleaning the kozane (small scales) of Japanese armor. Since then, he has committed himself to the work of an armor-maker for more than 70 years.

An encounter with Dr. Hachiro Yamagami gave Mr. Muneyuki Myochin the impetus to refine his skills as an armor-maker and to gain experience.

Mr. Yamagami is an eminent scholar in the research of Japanese armor. Together with Mr. Masao Suenaga, Mr. Yamagami is a pioneering figure in the field. A precocious and highly intelligent child, Mr. Yamagami was interested in the medieval armor of Japan since he was very young. He engulfed himself in full-scale research of armor since he was 18 years old. After graduating from the Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics, he released a substantial two-volume work entitled "New Research in Japanese Armor" (Rekishi Tosho Sha) in 1928 at the young age of 27. In the spring of 1929, he became the youngest-ever recipient of the Japan Academy Award.

Together with Mr. Yamagami, Mr. Myochin visited shrines and temples throughout Japan in order to survey and research the valuable armor held in such places. Also, throughout more than 70 years of activity as a creator of armor, he has restored 10 suits of armor and repaired more than 1,000 suits of armor, including armor that is designated as Important Cultural Treasures.

In 1932, when he was about 15 years old, Mr. Myochin undertook his first work. The work consisted of working together with his father Munemi to restore a red suit of armor that was property of Mitake Shrine. Also, beginning from 1937, he worked on behalf of Munemi to repair the armor of the Tokugawa family, which is held in the Tokugawa Art Museum of Nagoya City. During this time, he resided in Nagoya for 1 to 2 years. Furthermore, in 1938, he received an order from Mr. Yoshisuke Ayukawa, President of Manchurian Heavy Industries Company, for the creation armor as a present to the Emperor of Manchuria (Aixinjueluo Puyi). Together with his father, Mr. Myochin spent 1 year and 5 months to create the armor. The armor was presented to the Emperor in 1939, but unfortunately the current location of the armor is unknown.

Around this time, at the request of an individual named Mr. Eikichi Hori, Mr. Myochin created one-third of the restored cherry blossom-lacing armor held in the Itsukushima Shrine of Hiroshima Prefecture. After World War II, Mr. Myochin received another request from Mr. Hori, this time for the creation of armor from the Heian Period. Beginning from 1950, Mr. Hori and Mr. Myochin spent 2 to 3 years traveling in order to conduct a survey of Heian Period armor held by shrines and temples throughout Japan. They visited locations including Musashimitake Shrine (Oume City, Tokyo), Kannabi Temple in Shimane Prefecture (yellow-lacing armor from the late Heian Period; Important Cultural Property), Karasawayama Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture (remains of armor from the late Heian Period; Important Cultural Property), and Tsutsukowake Shrine in Fukushima Prefecture (remains of red armor; Important Cultural Property). The result of this survey was a completed suit of red armor in the style of the Heian Period. The armor created differs from other restored armor in that it is not a restoration of a specific suit of armor from the Heian Period, but rather is a work that was created by referencing the style of a very small amount of armor from the Heian Period. Among all different varieties of armor, Mr. Myochin says that his favorite is armor from the Heian Period. He says that he prefers armor from this period because he can feel the sensitivity and empathy of the period and of the soldiers of the Genji and Heike clans.

Then, in 1954, Mr. Myochin was responsible for direction and creation of armor in the films "Seven Samurai" and "Throne of Blood" by Director Akira Kurosawa (deceased). Mr. Myochin recalls his impression of Director Kurosawa by saying "Director Kurosawa had a fabulous house. The hallway was decorated with a funadokkuri (large ceramic liquor bottle used on ships). Director Kurosawa was a strong drinker and loved meat. He invited me to spend the night at his house, and when I took a bath he washed my back for me. The following morning, when I told him that I was going home, he asked me to wait because he would make a telephone call to arrange a car. When he finished talking on the telephone, the car arrived. I looked into the driver's seat and was surprised to see the famous actor Mr. Toshiro Mifune." From these recollections, it is obvious that Director Kurosawa had great trust in Mr. Myochin.

Mr. Myochin performed his last large work in 1996 when he was 69 years old. The work involved the restoration of a suit of white-lacing armor that held by Izumo-Hinomisaki Shrine. Mr. Myochin spent 3 years to complete the work, which is currently held in the collection of the Izumo City Cultural Preservation Museum. The current exhibition includes a special display of restored works including this cherry blossom-lacing armor, Heian Period style red-lacing armor and white-lacing armor.

As described above, the life of Mr. Muneyuki Myochin grew through his mission to repair and restore armor. That armor, especially after passing through many crises such as the tumult of war, servers as a record of the battle of a single famous artisan who believed in his fate and walked his path without hesitation.

2. Introduction of the Collection

All major donated material will be displayed at the exhibition. First, I would like to discuss the group of armor that was collected through the process of creation by Mr. Myochin. These materials consist of remaining tassels (lacing strips), scales, metallic fixtures, printed leather and other items which are a major part of armor composition. In addition, tassets, sleeves, crests positioned on the side of the helmet, crests positioned on the front of the helmet, shoulder guards, small plates which are part of the shoulder strap, base fabric, thigh guards, and flags are also on display. Second, there are materials relating to the repair and restoration of armor. These materials include sketches, layout maps (rubbings), stencil patterns, patterns for dyeing and rubbing. Third, there are materials from collections other than armor. These include displays of Mr. Hoitsu Sakai pictures of chrysanthemums on the surface of a fan, written works of Mr. Kenkichi Sugimoto, and Shinto masks. An explanation is given below for a portion of the exhibited materials.

Figure 1: Tassels, Heian Period to Muromachi Period

Figure 2: Scales, Heian Period to Muromachi Period

The armor of medieval Japan and later periods is composed of the 10 elements of scales, tassels, metal plates, leather sections, laced sections, plated sections, base fabric, chains, metallic fixtures, and decorative plates/lacing. The most important of these elements are the scales, tassels and metal plates. The laces which hold together the small scales are called "tassels" (Figure 1). Varieties of tassels include composite lacing (silk lacing, hemp lacing, cotton lacing), leather lacing (deer hide) and fabric lacing (twill, silk, glossy silk, hemp). Names are given to the tassels according to their color scheme, pattern, allocation of color, and design. For example "white-lacing armor" refers to armor composed of scales that are connected using interweaved white silk thread. There are more than 80 types of tassels when classified according to patterns.

Figure 3: Riveted helmet from white-laced armor, restored by Mr. Muneyuki Myochin (diameter 26.0 centimeters, height 14.4 centimeters, 1996)

Scales (Figure 2) are the most fundamental element in the composition of armor. The scales are made from cow leather or iron. Tassels are passed through the small holes in the scales. The surfaces of the scales are thickly coated with black lacquer in order to prevent rust and to provide reinforcement. The shape of the scales, materials used, and number and position of holes vary according to the design of the armor. During the late Heian Period, the dimensions of the scales were from 6.7 to 8.0 centimeters in height and 3.0 to 4.7 centimeters in width. The scales became smaller as in later periods. The number of scales used in a suit of armor was approximately 1,500 during the late Heian Period, 2,000 during the late Kamakura Period, and 3,500 in the domaru armor of the later Muromachi Period.

A sketch used in the creation of the helmet (Figure 3) for the white-laced armor (restored by Mr. Muneyuki Myochin) in the collection of the Izumo City Cultural Preservation Museum. The helmet has no neck guard and protects only the crown of the head. Many of these riveted helmets were produced from the middle of the Heian Period to the early Muromachi Period. The crown of this helmet is consists of anywhere from several to several dozen iron plates that are connected together. In Japanese, this helmet is known as a sanju-roku kenshihojiro. This name describes how the crown of the helmet is formed from 36 iron plates which have their surfaces coated with black lacquer. The name also alludes to how plating is used to connect the iron plates in four directions, namely front, back, left and right. Furthermore, the riveted crown is a headpiece with studs that are the fasteners of iron plating, and it also serves a decorative purpose. The crown of this helmet has been struck with 16 studs on each line of the iron plate. These studs increase together with the number of iron plates in helmets that were made in later years. The printed leather of the visor depicts two dragons facing a jewel in the center of the visor.

The collected materials and the restored works of Mr. Myochin bring to modern times the sensitivity and empathy of samurai during medieval Japan. I hope that many people will relive these traces of the past through the Myochin Collection.

Reference Literature

Mr. Kenji Ishida "Research on the Edo Myochin Family-Searching for the Mysterious Armor-Maker Myochin Muneyasu" (Roots-no-Kai, 1986) Mr. Kenji Ishida "The Last Craftsman Loved by Kurosawa Akira-Discussions with the Armor-Make Myochin Muneyuki" (Shogakukan Square, 2007)