Mystery Circles on Early Armor

Mongol Invasion Scroll Screen Capture

What is that circular disk which early medieval samurai wear over their swords? Is it a weight, to keep it from flopping around while horseriding?

That’s my best guess at this point. I’ve done a little research on this, but haven’t come up with answers, but my collection’s a bit thin on armor parts.

I’ve seen it in the Heiji Scroll, and a few other pre-Warring States images, but I don’t recall seeing it after about the Onin War.

I get this question every time I show my students the War Scrolls, but I’ve never had a good answer. Help?


  1. Fantastic, thanks!

    I suspect the reason that it stops showing up on the armor — I think I’m right about this — is the bow gives way to the gun and then the peacetime samurai don’t want anything interfering with their swords….

  2. Your theory about the rise of the gun may be correct, presuming you see a simultaneous disappearance of both bow and tsurumaki. Spare bowstrings are not much use if you’re not carrying a bow.

    If this is the sort of question you encounter often, I highly recommend the 旺文社古語辞典. My 1985 edition has a wonderful annex with page after page of highly detailed diagrams of period dress, all immaculately labeled, each item illustrated in context as worn and then shown in detail separately. You didn’t think I knew this stuff off the top of my head, did you?

  3. I stopped being surprised at what people on the internet know years ago……

    I’d have to find a serious history of Japanese armor to answer the question of evolution — it’s the kind of thing some of my students might actually have, but I don’t, though there’s some great detail on helmets and leggings in Conlan and in my Edo Culture exhibit catalog — but I’m pretty sure that I’ve not seen it in the Edo period stuff that I know best.

    Thanks for the Kogojiten recommendation: I have one myself (Shogakkan by Kitahara) and, as it turns out, it’s got an annex, too! I could have answered this question myself years ago, and looked so much more clever.

    Well, at least I have a great source to add to my scanning project.

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