The Art of War in Living Color: Forgotten Images of The Samurai

June 5, 2024

Samurai Ō-yoroi: The Gold Standard in Feudal Armor

Celebrated for millennia as the gold standard for living honorable and disciplined lives, the samurai of Japan have long captured the public's imagination. But is the popular narrative about the stoic warriors fact or fiction? What separated a samurai from others?

What did they wear when not in armor? What did they do in times of peace? Did they marry and have kids or live monastic lives?

Below, we explore fascinating details about samurai life. So, if you want to learn interesting facts about one of the world's most iconic warriors, join us as we take an illustrated journey through the samurai experience.


Classic samurai images, like the one above, often feature warriors in the caste’s iconic armor.

Samurai battle gear could be as intricate as personal tastes dictated. However, most armors featured five main parts: a kabuto, dou, kusazari, kote, and haro. A kabuto is a helmet; a dou is torso armor; a kusazuri is a leg guard; a kote is an arm and hand guard; and a haro is a back cloak that defends against arrows shot from behind. All components were made from leather and other fabrics in the earliest years. Over the years, however, metals took over.

Samurai: Life Off the Battlefield


Samurai are revered in the annals of military history. Their discipline and ingenuity were legendary, and the noble warriors still serve as a model for intelligent and honorable living. But people may not know that samurai had a lot of downtime. After all, wars came and went. So, what did samurai do when they weren’t on the battlefield? Like most of us, they worked and spent time with friends and families. Additionally, the average samurai took on tasks assigned by his lord or farmed the fields. Notably, most samurai weren’t monks, and they could get married.

This image depicts two samurai wearing everyday clothes of the Edo period. How can you differentiate the men in the image from common farmers of the time? For starters, the gentleman on the left is holding a jingasa, a type of hat favored by samurai.

Furthermore, both men have their hair in a chonmage, the preferred samurai hairstyle of the Edo era. Warriors shaved the top of their heads but kept enough side hair for a tied-up ponytail. Not only did it distinguish samurai from other people, but the chonmage had a practical purpose: It helped keep helmets steadier atop the head.