Conserving a Japanese Armour
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Conserving a Japanese Armour

February 27, 2020

KATE: This is a Japanese armour and it is a replica of a 12th Century armour which is in the shrine of Kasuga-taisha in Nara and it is one of Japan’s National Treasures. It’s known as the Plumb Blossom and Reed Warbler Armour because on the back there is a little bird which represents the Reed Warbler. In 1929 it was made and I understand it was put in a shop window and unfortunately red fades very badly in sunlight and so all this beautiful red braiding had faded so they came up with the bright idea of painting all of it red, except for the back because that hadn’t faded so badly and unfortunately they hadn’t done it very neatly, so my job was to work out how to remove all the red paint that had been splodged on this lacquer and on the gold decoration. Lacquer is quite a sensitive subject so you can’t just use any solvent and I had to do tests. Luckily if you remove lacquer on a cotton swab it glows under ultraviolet light so I was able to check to see whether the lacquer was being removed. and luckily I found a solvent that could remove the paint but not the lacquer, so over a two week period I managed to remove all of the excess red paint. The other thing was that it was very dusty and dirty and had had an insect infestation so there were bodies of insects stuck in the crevasses and underneath these gold decorations. With a vacuum cleaner and a brush I was able to suck out all the dust and the dirt and everything and able to clean it up, and on this doe skin I was able to clean the leather using a smoke sponge and that just made it brighter and cleaner. The other thing was that I had to clean all the lacquer itself and I did this with a gentler solvent than the one I used to remove the paint and just by cleaning it I was able to bring some of the shine back to the lacquer and having cleaned it and hoovered it and used solvents I brought it back to looking more respectable than when it was first given to me.

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  1. I always wondered how well Japanese samurai armor did against their swords, I just haven't heard much about it other then armor was probably more effective protecting against arrows then swords. I might be wrong in that assumption.

  2. You'ld be surprised how well tough and spongey cloth can do, particularly silk. A lot of what people "know" about armor as a whole comes from poor assumptions and bad guess work over the last several hundred years. Japanese and other East Asian armor could stop arrows, but were poor at sword slashes. Maille was good at sword slashes, but poor at stopping arrows. A full suit of plate for battle was 100 pounds or more. Just not true.

  3. I remember seeing in this one British show about arms and armor and they made a point of showing reenactors doing cartwheels in suits of armor which I thought was amazing but also proved a point that armor wasn't much use unless they could move around in them. In fact they made the point of saying you wouldn't wear anything that didn't keep you alive, I imagine this would go double for the Japanese and Asian cultures as well.

  4. There is a video clip showing this sort of thing. I wasn't sure your extent of knowledge on the subject, just thought I would make a point

  5. Thanks all the same because to be honest my knowledge on Asian armor is limited. I did hear from one show on the Mongols that their silk shirts helped protect them from arrows by wrapping the barbs in the silk when they were hit. Incidentally in the 1920s bombing of Wall St. one of the offices was spared some damage because of the silk curtains which apparently stopped some of the shrapmel.

  6. Oh thats true, they did ware silk shirts and it does help. Just be careful with shows involving Mongols. Lots of crap about "heavy 60 pound mail shirts" worn by knights that magical Mongol bows and and magic arrows that could penetrate them. Mail cost a fortune and there are accounts of Mongols trying to buy it on the black market. Knights in Hungary were outlead, outcommunicated, and outnumbered. That was the great stength of the Mongols, not super weapons knights never seen before.

  7. I'm a professional Japanese armourer living in Nara. Amazing work! It's such a pleasure to see new life breathed into armour like that.

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