Royal Armouries Gathering

David Thatcher Katchushi Royal Armouries

The Gathering
Seminar held in Leeds 20th and 21st May 2017
The Samurai Armour Forum / Royal Armouries

By Ian Bottomley

Some 30 people from places such as the US, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, Ireland and Scotland attended the two-day event held in Leeds. Those who arrived on Friday spent the evening catching up with each other’s news since our last meeting before retiring for a convivial dinner in a local Indian restaurant. By Saturday morning all the delegates that not only included members of the Samurai Armour Forum but members from the four ToKen Societies of the UK, assembled in a room in which armour, swords and lacquering materials occupied just about every available space not actually inhabited by a human.

The seminar proper was opened by Katchushi David Thatcher who shocked the audience into attention by ripping off a large section of the surface of what appeared to be beautiful lacquer on a dō. His point was to show how moisture had caused the leather that acted as a base for the lacquer layers had become detached from the metal underneath. He then went on to describe and demonstrate how all the various lacquer foundation layers are prepared and applied to the metal or nerigawa of the armour, followed by a demonstration on how kokuso, mugi-urushi, tetsu-sabiji-nuri and tataki-nuri effects. Everyone seemed surprised at the amount of work and how much preparation was needed before any finishing coats of black lacquer could be applied to an armour.

Our second speaker was Ian Chapman who had brought some absolutely staggering quality blades and koshirae from his sword collection. The point Ian made was that just because some swords had no papers did not in any way diminished their quality or desirability and that the opinion of others, demonstrated by their names on an origami did not make those swords any better either in quality or desirability. Delegates were then asked to select the sword or blade that appealed most to them after which Ian talked about it and why he had chosen to own it. To my mind the sword that stood out was a tachi in koshirae that Ian had known for decades and had finally managed to acquire. Even though it was not a very old sword, for me it was everything anyone would want in a sword.
After lunch, it was my turn to bore people with how and why I thought the yukinoshita dō evolved and its association with Date Masamune and the Sendai han. I have written up the essentials of my talk and it will appear on the Forum with some of the images I used.

Continuing the theme of Date Masamune and the Sendai Han, Jan Petterson from Sweden then talked about the guns the Han used and their characteristics. Unfortunately there was a bit of trouble with the software being unable to run his powerpoint presentation but that was eventually solved and we were treated to the knowledge that Jan has gained during his researches in Japan. Again I believe Jan will produce a copy of his paper.

This same software problem-plagued Natasha Bennett, a curator of the Royal Armouries, who nevertheless bravely gave her talk without the images and despite the fact that she had only just returned from Sweden the evening before. Her theme was how the Royal Armouries Museum acquired the Japanese armours in its collection. The Museum is lucky in having three of the armours that arrived in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. All three are on display, one in the Tower of London given to King James I (and VI) that almost certainly had belonged to Takeda Katsuyori, one at Leeds on loan from the Royal Collection given to and also given to King James I (and VI) and finally the famous mogami haramaki given King Philip II of Spain also in Leeds. Natasha described how these had arrived and how other armours were added to the collection during the 19th century by transfer and purchase.
The formal part of the seminar was rounded off by a talk given by Steve Smith of the Northern ToKen Society, for whom the software mercifully did perform. His subject was on the tsuba made by armourers. Steve started by illustrating an archetypal tosho tsuba and showed how the style evolved to those made by smiths who described themselves as Saotome, conjecturing on their relationship with those of the same name who made helmets.

What had been a wonderful and informative day was rounded off by groups of delegates sampling the restaurants of Leeds for a well-deserved meal.
For those who stayed overnight, the weekend was rounded off by my showing a party around the Royal Armouries Museum and pointing out a few of the principal items. I had challenged some to find the armour of a shogun on display, which in fact none managed to do. It is, in fact, a highly decorated cuirassier armour, originally gilded overall, presented by the VOC. It was rather badly burned in a fire in the 19th century and was sold off from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Finally a sincere vote of thanks to all the delegates who made the effort to attend and to all those who made it a weekend to remember.