Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Last Samurai

The back story of "the Last Samurai" (the movie that is) is quite right....the Emperor of Japan, a young and progressive individual wanted to do many things, including modernizing the military. This involved an upset in the status quo which was great fodder for a movie. The part where delegations from Japan went all over the world looking for really good military training cadres is accurate enough....they went to America, Italy, Germany, England, and to France. France was the country they eventually chose to guide their army into the 20th century.

A delegation from Japan arrived in Malta sometime in the middle of the 19th century, and as part of a general gift exchange, the Japanese donated a pair of Samurai armours to the collection in the Palace Armour.

I had seen pictures of the Palace Armoury during the latter half of the 19th century, and the museum was upstairs, in the sunlight, where the members of parliament meet now instead of downstairs in the damp stables, and the samurai armours were proudly displayed along side the Wigancourt Suits and suits of armours from Grand masters and infantry men alike.

World War II had a great effect on a lot of musums all over Europe, and much of the material which was stored upstairs was hastily crated and stored in safe places all over the island. In the general re-building and confusion of the post war period, these samurai suits were overlooked, and to make matters even more difficult, Malta became a republic only 20 years later, and they needed a parliament. The old Imperial Palace was perfect...the Governor General was sent packing, and the armour which had not been unaccoutably given away, or was not needed as statuary was sent downstairs into the stables to form a shadow of the great Palace Armour Musum which existed in the last century. And the process of looking for, and finding bits and pieces of the armours began. Some were in excellent shape. Some were in deplorable shape. But there is still lots of bits and pieces of armours stashed away in people's basements, and some of which has been lost for years.

In the mid '90s, Mr. S, the curator found these Samurai Suits, and was aghast at the damage which half a century of poor storage had done to them. All that is left are one helmet, and the fragments of the armour you see in the pictures above. It is actually not quite as bad as it looks, clearly the silk is crumbling (it would have done that even in good storage conditions) and the neat hexagonal silk sewn plates are as delicate as can be. Rust has penetrated the protective paint, causing it to bubble and blow off the thick patterned lacquer.

I won't talk about each of these pieces in detail, rather, I suggest you click on the pictures, enlarge them, and perhaps think of this as a sort of "grey's anatomy" of the japanese armour making craft.

ip-location map zoom

No comments: