Masked Warriors. Battle State of the Samurai



The exhibition “Masked Warriors. Battle State of the Samurai” will be on view at the Japan Museum SieboldHuis in Leiden, the Netherlands, until May 27. The show examines Nō masks as a key to reveal the ties between Nō and the samurai culture.

Upon entering the exhibition room, a resplendent karaori brocade Nō costume and male and female Nō masks come into view. On the right wall are two gorgeous women’s kimonos and a mask of a smiling young female. Across the way is a kimono of indigo material and gold thread with a lightning and crane design, a Nō mask with a powerful crescent moon design that extolls a god of war, and a mask of an old man characterized by deep wrinkles with transplanted hair and a mustache. Beyond the wall of the Nō costumes is a majestic display of two sets of armor. Fabric from kimono are used in the thigh guards of the armor, while the mask portions embedded into the helmets exude the strength of the crescent moon design of a samurai helmet. One can almost hear a brazen, bold call from the open mouths.

Fig.2 Helm en masker, Ressei-men (suji kabuto),

Nō and the Samurai Culture

In the 14th century Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, Shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate, began patronizing the Nō actors Kan’ami and Zeami, and a strong bond between Nō and the samurai culture developed. The ties were further strengthened with the succession of powerful leaders all of whom favored Nō; Nobunaga Oda, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa,. Facial armor (ventails and cheek guards) were created in such an environment. The facial armor protected the face, especially the cheeks and chin, but also had the frightening expressions of the tormented female Nō mask.

The Overwhelming Popularity of Resseimen Masks among the Samurai

In the latter half of the 16th century, the resseimen, masks with fierce expressions, became popular among the samurai. They were characterized by finely carved furrows and often had transplanted beards and brows (fig. 2). They were influenced by the akujo masks of Nō plays. Akujo were the powerful and fearsome masks of old men that expressed overwhelming offensive power and supernatural strength, and were used to represent old gods and vengeful spirits. The resseimen with intense expressions such as those of the Nio guardian gods threatened their enemies with such expressions and also had the function of rousing the fighting spirit of their wear.

Masked Warriors. Battle Stage of the Samurai: Until May 27 2018

Japanmuseum SieboldHuis
Rapenburg 19
2311 GE Leiden
The Netherlands
Opening times:
Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-17:00
Closed on Mondays and public holidays