Weapons which spelt 'Art' first

Step inside Japan Foundation and an armor in Mogamido haramaki style with Suji-kabuto type helmet welcomes you at the reception and befittingly receives a shocked response! Further down, a walk into the gallery leads to one experiencing fear at the sight of battle armors, helmets, bows and other weaponry on display.

Showcased as part of the ongoing exhibition The Spirit of Budo: The History of Japan’s Martial Arts, weapons such as bows and arrows and helmets are reproductions of the original weapons while the kendo dresses (of fencers and soldiers) on life-size mannequins are original. Even though the former are representative, they cost lakhs to reproduce as they form a significant part of Japan’s martial art history.

Take for instance, a look at the helmet of Suji-kabuto type which was gifted to Captain John Saris, commander of the British East India Company by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The captain was commissioned by King James I to obtain permission from Tokugawa to trade with Japan. In return, he received two full suits of armor. The helmet on display is a reproduction of the helmet of the armor. What impresses one is its magnitude since it is constructed with 22 iron plates, all covered with black lacquer and bound together with a silk chord, while the metal parts are enmeshed with copper and inlaid with gold.   

Equally magnificent are Strange Helmets - which are in the shape of cow horn, turbo shells, catfish tail and bundle of reeds. Some have false hair on them (which was meant to deceive the enemy). One has a dragonfly (which only advances forward) shape and others are too huge to be imagined as wearable. But according to historians, these headgears are not as heavy as they appear. The Strange Helmets came into being with the evolution of battle techniques and were manufactured keeping in mind the comfort of
the soldiers.

A number of bows and arrows look beautiful in glass boxes. It is difficult to believe that these lacquered artifacts were once used as weapons. Made of natural material such as bamboo these were not easy to make but there are still master craftsmen in Japan today, who specialise in making these weapons.

The sword mountings are another example of such craftsmanship, for they amalgamate various skills including iron forging, lacquer work and metalwork. Broadly divided into two types – double-edged and single-edged, the Japanese swords evolved into Japanese curved swords with blade ridges, around the 11th century.

The exhibition is on display at the Japan Foundation, Lajpat Nagar till September 20. 

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