Amplifier for Art, Science and Society

Full mask of a kite

Edo-period (1615–1868), Japan. Author unknown.

This rare example of warrior face armour from the Samurai Art Museum collection in Berlin, is a full-face mask (sōmen), made of finely forged and patinated iron (tetsu sabiji). Its slightly hooked-shaped nose is similar to a bird’s beak. The form of this mask in fact refers to the Japanese kite (tobi), a legendary bird in Japan, the so-called ‘golden kite’ (kinshi) has been associated with both military achievements and imperial rule, and with a long history and deep connections to Japanese culture and religion. Armour masks covering of the sōmen type were also rarely used in actual warfare, although some full masks made during the Muromachi period (1336-1573). Full masks were however fashionable during the later Edo period (1615–1868), when they were worn for aesthetic, symbolic and/or status reasons.