For other uses, see Kabuto (disambiguation).
File:Ornate kabuto.jpg

A kabuto (兜, 冑) is a helmet used with traditional Japanese armour as worn by samurai. It features a strong bowl, the "hachi", which protects the crown of the head, a suspended series of articulated plates (the "shikoro") to protect the neck, and often a crest of the clan (mon).

A kabuto was usually constructed from three to over a hundred metal plates, riveted together. The plates are usually arranged vertically, and radiate from an opening in the top called the "tehen" or "hachiman-za" (seat of the war god, Hachiman). The original purpose of the tehen was for the warrior to pass his top knot through. Although this usage was largely abandoned after the Kamakura-Muromachi period, the tehen remained as a feature of most helmets, and was decorated with a "tehen kanamono", or ring of intricately-worked, soft metal bands surrounding the opening of the tehen. The rivets that secure the metal plates of the kabuto to each other could be raised, creating a form known as "hoshi-bachi", or hammered flat, leaving only the flanges of the plates protruding, a form known as "suji-bachi". Some of the finer helmets were signed by smiths, usually from one of several known families, such as the Myochin, Saotome, Haruta, Unkai, and Nagasone.

Another form of kabuto is the "kawari kabuto", or "strange helmet". During the Momoyama period of intense civil warfare, the production of helmets was simplified to a three or four plate design that lacked many of the ornamental features of earlier helmets. To offset the plain, utilitarian form of the new helmet, and to provide visibility and presence on the battlefield, armorers began to build fantastic shapes on top of the simple helmets in harikake, or lacquered paper over a wooden armature. These shapes mimicked forms from Japanese culture and mythology, including fish, cow horns, the head of the god of longevity, bolts of silk, head scarved, ichi-no-tani canyon, and ace heads, among many others. Some forms were realistically rendered, while others took on a very futuristic, modernist feel. A definitive show of kawari kabuto was mounted by the Japan Society in 1985. The catalog, entitled "Spectacular Helmets of Japan" (ISBN 0-87011-784-X) is a good guide to this form.

File:Kawari kabuto.jpg

Most kabuto incorporate a suspended neck guard called a "shikoro". This is usually composed of semi-circular lacquered metal or oxhide lames, attached and articulated by silk or leather lacing. This system of lames is the standard technology of defense employed, along with mail, for the body protection in Japanese armour.

Kabuto are often adorned with "Maedate" (Front Crests), "Wakidate" (Side Crests) or "Ushirodate" (Rear Crests). These can be family or clan emblems, or flat or sculptural objects representing animals, mythical entities, prayers or other symbols. Horns are particularly common, and many helmets sport "Kuwagata", or stylized deer horns, as seen in the attached illustration (in this illustration, the Kuwagata have been mistakenly transposed L-R).

Upon the return of general peace under the Tokugawa Shogunate in the Edo Period, armour became more elaborate and ceremonial. Many very luxurious armours were produced during this period, as well as a great number of simpler armours for lower-ranking samurai and foot soldiers. Fine armour continued to be produced up to the end of the Edo period in 1867, and slightly beyond. Later armours often emulated the garb of the romanticized Kamakura-Muromachi warriors.

Kabuto were a prominent and important part of the equipment of the bushi, and played a symbolic role, as well. This explains the number of expressions, sayings and codes related to them. A few examples follow:

  • Katte kabuto no o o shimeyo ("Tighten the string of the kabuto after winning the war"): don't lower your efforts after succeeding. Could be compared to not to rest on one's laurels.
  • kabuto o nugu ("to take off the kabuto"): to surrender.

Nowadays, smaller-sized Yoroi and kabuto are bought and kept by Japanese people as a personal interior collection or a seasonal home decoration item displayed during the Boys' Festival/May 5 for expressing the hope that each boy in the family will grow up healthy and strong.

Kabuto in the West

The kabuto, along with the German Stahlhelm, was the inspiration for the helmet of Darth Vader in the Star Wars films[1]. The kabuto was also the inspiration for the Pokémon Kabuto, and Kabutops.


  1. Mary Henderson, Star Wars: The Magic of Myth, Bantam Books, 1997 ISBN 0553378104 pg 189


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