Shikoro – An Element to Protect the Vital Area of a Samurai

The relevance of a Shikoro should not be underestimated as it is a part of the traditional armor from ancient Japan. This essential component played a vital role in safeguarding the exposed area of the neck of Samurai warriors during battle.

In the 15th century of Feudal Japan, the Japanese neck guard attaches to the Kabuto. It offered defense to the rear, and partially to the side of a Samurai’s face.

Comprised of a series of miniature overlapping metal or leather plates, the neck guard fastened to the Kabuto’s base. It primarily functioned as a shield for the nape to work against blows during combat.

Beyond its defensive purposes, the Shikoro played a significant role within the Samurai’s culture. In fact, it represented the personal identity, social class, and lineage of the warrior. Moreover, it added to the overall value and aesthetics of the helmet.

The image and craftsmanship of this Samurai neck guard varied depending on numerous aspects. These differed depending on the historical period, personal preferences, and the Samurai rank.

A couple of Shikoro designs showcased intricate lacquer work, embossed motifs, and family crests or Mon. The latter intended to show the affiliation and heritage of the Samurai. The embellishments also made the Japanese neck guard a visually-captivating aspect of these classic armor.

History and Origins

Originating with the Japanese armor, the Shikoro dates all the way back to ancient Japan. Its appearance and form were influenced by Chinese and Korean aesthetics. Yet in the late Heian era, around 794 – 1185, it took a more standardized look and build.

Originally, the Shikoro was constructed as an individual component that attached to the Yoroi (armor) via cords/laces. Over time, it was integrated into its form, directly linking to the Do and Sode (chest armor and shoulder guards). The assimilation of these elements optimized functionality and protection to let the armor work cohesively.

The Shikoro is important as it shields the shoulders and neck. These body parts are often exposed when Samurai’s battle on the field.

It provides better adaptability and unhindered movement that is needed in combat. So, a Samurai could freely rotate and maneuver their shoulders and move their heads without compromising security and protection.

As firearms emerged in the 16th century, the build, appearance, and structure of the Japanese armor went through noticeable changes. The favored Yoroi among the Samurai fell out of favor, so more lightweight and flexible armor were produced. A few samples of these were the O-yoroi and the Tosei-gusoku.

Albeit no longer in use, the Yoroi continues to serve as a cultural Japanese artifact. As for the Shikoro, it still remains an element representing the Samurai warriors.

Various Types of Shikoro

The Shikoro has more than one design and shape, and these differ according to the period it was crafted. It also varied according to the type of Yoroi.

Gyoyo Shikoro

This is a charming type of neck guard that improved the durability of an armor thanks to its zigzag pattern. The design lets it handle wear-and-tear, as well as heavy impact in battles.

Iyozane Shikoro

There are little iron scales on the Iyozane Shikoro to enhance maneuverability and guarantee increased levels of protection.

Kusari Shikoro

It is a Shikoro that integrates chainmail into its appearance. Aside from a distinct look, it provides the Samurai with top-notch mobility and extra defense against quick slashes from enemies.

Nanban Shikoro

This Japanese neck guard gets some influence from European designs and concepts. Other than a protective piece, the Nanban Shikoro displays stunning elements like intricate engravings and patterns.

Tosei Shikoro

The creation of a Tosei Shikoro includes leather plates or large bits of iron. These materials increases the defense of the wearer, but cuts on their movement and flexibility.

Etchu Jikoro

This Shikoro sports a concave shape and ends in a base plate featuring a straight but lower edge.

Gessan Jikoro

Unlike the previous Tosei Shikoro, this has an upper plate divided into pendant-shaped segments. These hang alone or in parts of each other.

Ite Jikoro

This neck guard has a detachable/foldable Fukigaeshi that makes it ideal for archery.

Kasa Jikoro

The Kasa Jikoro gets an almost perfect horizontal form, and is frequently present on Kabuto’s crafted during the Muromachi era.

Anatomy of the Shikoro

As part of the Kabuto, the Shikoro has numerous coinciding plates/lames. These aid in shielding the side of one’s head and neck from attacks. Here is a quick breakdown of the neck guard’s anatomy:

Lames

These are thinly-curved metal pieces that are brought together via leather/silk cords. Lames are also laid out horizontally to overrun and provide better stability.

A series of hinges aid in linking these together, and its construction allows the Shikoro to become more flexible. Additionally, it offers enhanced mobility without compromising its levels of protection.

When lames are arranged, the number of rows/sections they are in, vary in number. However, three to five rows are most common.

To secure the curved metal lames in place, these are bound together by leather/silk cords. After, these are organized to overlap each other.

Cords and Fasteners

Cords binding the lames together are traditionally made of leather or silk. Before using them to tie the parts, they thread through tiny hoops that are present on the lames’ edges.

These are fastened with clasps/metal rings that are perfect for reinforcing the connection of each lame.

Padding and Liner

The Shikoro neck guard does not only have lames to protect the wearer. It also has paddings or cushions inside for better protection and more comfort. Another reason for these is to prevent direct contact of the Samurai’s head with the metal plates.

For protection, comfort, and maneuverability, the Shikoro is an essential element of the Kabuto. Its design and build provided flexibility and durability so its user can move easily without sacrificing defenses against strikes.

Materials and Construction

There are different types of Kabuto, and some of these did not have adequate protection, especially for the head. For this reason, the Shikoro was added to these helmets to serve as an extra protective layer for the head.

Various methods were employed to create these, and craftsmen used metal plates or bamboo to form them.

Like other Japanese crafts, the plating of a Shikoro was cleverly interconnected since the “underlapping” process was utilized. It is followed by securing these on both ends using the cord to fasten everything together.

It was a meticulous process that continued until the neck guard reached a slightly higher point behind the shoulder.

In turn, the Shikoro appeared like segmented armor that allows the warrior to move his heady freely in all directions.

Subsequently, it was joint with the Kabuto’s rear brim via drilling holes then attaching it in a secure manner. On the Shikoro’s plating, various patterns were incorporated to showcase the unique beauty of ancient Japan’s decorative elements.

Although the Japanese neck guard provided mobility, flexibility, protection, and comfort, it is worth noting its bulkiness and weight. To some extent, the Shikoro potentially restricted the movements of a Samurai, especially those with more elaborate designs.

There is a Hachitsuke-no-ita present, which is a strip that connects to the crown. Using extra pieces of these strips and joining them together would create the Hishinui-no-ita or chestnut-stitch strip.

Interestingly, the amount of leather/metal strips to create the Shikoro usually determines the name of the Kabuto. For instance, a three-stripped helmet is called the Sanmai-kabuto while a five-strip helmet is known as a Gomai-kabuto.

Symbols and Decorations Found on the Shikoro

The neck plates were embellishments decking Shikoro neck guards, which were crucial fragments in the Samurai armor. These had functional and aesthetic purposes.

Various decorative elements were commonly found on Shikoro neck guards, which included the following:

Patterns of Lacing and Cords

Odoshi, or intricate lacing and cord patterns, were a key element of the Japanese neck guard. These were not only useful, but they also contributed to its aesthetic appeal.

Skilled artisans created ornate decorations by weaving silk/leather cords through tiny openings in the Shikoro. They incorporated various knotting techniques and color combinations too. These aided in creating a diverse spectrum of styles, which boosted the overall visual look of the Shikoro.

Embossed and Engraved Designs

Plenty of these neck guards embodied magnificent motifs produced by embossing/engraving processes. Highly experienced artisans delicately carved concepts and designs into the metal/lacquered surfaces. Painters frequently used nature, mystical animals, and traditional Japanese symbols as a stimulus for their creation.

These artistic adornments offered a touch of originality and uniqueness to the Shikoro, expressing the Samurai’s personal flair.

Overview of the Japanese Samurai

Metalwork and Inlay

The Shikoro neck guard often displayed outstanding metalwork and inlay techniques. Artisans used gold, silver, or bronze metals integrated to create beautiful decorative elements like raised borders, floral motifs, or geometric patterns.

Inlay techniques involved setting precious metals into recessed areas of the neck guard. The process resulted in captivating contrasts and visually stunning designs.

Family Crests

Samurai clans proudly exposed their family crests, known as Mon, on their armor. They even showcased these on the Shikoro neck guard. The Mon were exquisite symbols that represented a particular clan/individual Samurai.

These were typically affixed/painted as metal badges onto the surface of the neck guard, and each emblem had unique designs. It made identification of warriors on the battlefield effortless and also presented the wearer’s lineage.

Shikoro in the Battlefield

The Shikoro is a vital part of the Kabuto. Its series of plates are securely tied at the bottom of the helmet to protect the neck from slashes. Usual attacks were direct and glancing blows, and the Shikoro’s overlapping plates and sturdy build offered perfect protection against these.

But even if it protected the wearer, it is like every other piece of armor. It was not entirely impervious, so well-aimed attacks could still penetrate the neck guard. Remember that the shape of a Shikoro differs on the production period and type of Samurai armor.

At the highest part of one’s temples, the Shikoro’s upper plate folds outward along the Kabuto’s sides. This style established another characteristic component of the helmet – the Fukigaeshi.

When bows and arrows dominated the battlefield, the Fukigaeshi were essential protection for the Samurai’s face. However, it gradually lost its efficiency when armies modernized during the Sengoku era. The bullets and the polearms (Yari) of the infantry could easily pierce the Fukigaeshi, so the warriors needed modifications for their armor.

Furthermore, the Fukigaeshi limited the view of a Samurai, which was certainly not optimal during battles. However, it remained smaller in size in most of the Kabuto. Instead of protecting the face, it was used to support the Mon or family crest, the heraldic symbols of Samurai clans.

Modern Use of the Shikoro

After the abolition of feudalism in 1871, the practical use of the Shikoro declined. Japan started its modernization, leading to the decline of weapons and armor, including the Shikoro. Despite that, it continued to represent the rich culture of Japan and the formidable skills of the Samurai.

Military gear also saw dramatic advancements, which largely surpassed the primary function of the Shikoro. Nevertheless, this protective neck guard remains historically significant and it retains its revered status. Its artistic allure and unique structure also continues to fascinate individuals.

Conclusion

The Samurai neck guard was a crucial part of the Kabuto since it protected the user’s neck. With its elaborate construction and unique designs, the Shikoro provided adequate protection and artistic appeal.