On the northeastern shore of famous Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, one can find a certain one-man armor workshop in the city of Nagahama “長浜”. Named after its sole craftsman, Ichisuke Hogetsu, this workshop distinguishes itself through its custom-made wearable Kacchuu (samurai armor). For the last decade Ichisuke crafted for the sake of his customers, ranging from theatrical play groups to collectors overseas. If you’re interested in Japanese samurai armor or always wanted to participate in one of the productions of historical battles, while wearing an authentic and sportive set of armor you can’t miss this article!
Ichisuke-Hogetsu History: From Stage Props to Wearable Samurai Armor
Originally Ichisuke was neither particularly interested in the Sengoku era nor the famous figures wearing the armors he manufactures today. The first time he came in touch with the act of crafting armors was when he was still part of his University’s drama club. Responsible for stage props Ichisuke once had to make several set of armors for one of his club’s samurai stage plays. Yet due to his lack of knowledge regarding the production of armors, he failed while trying to create props that would do the actors efforts and the expectations of the audience justice. Still remembering his first experience with crafting armor Ichisuke would be reunited with Japanese armors in his thirties. The celebration of a samurai centered festival in his home town called for craftsmen who were up for the task of armor production. Ichisuke accepted the challenge, learning under his teacher Nagatoshi Uzuki, who instructed him in the basics of the craft. Becoming more and more interested in Japanese armory, crafting and the surrounding cultural aspect this period marked Ichisuke’s first step into the world of professional armor craftsmanship.
Uniqueness of Ichisuke’s Craftmanship
The one aspect of his work Ichisuke attaches the most importance to is the practicability of his wearable custom-made samurai armors. The workshop’s motto is to create wearable and fun samurai armor. Therefore, they are more approachable than more decorative ones, making them perfect for modern samurai warriors!
Ichisuke’s work reflects the special features of resin, which is used as the base material of the armors: light yet impact resistant; sweat and water proof; no restrictions to mobility and comfort! To lessen the burden on the armor’s wearer Ichisuke thought of a samurai armor that only weights half as much as ones from other makers. Adjusted to his customer’s bodies and wishes each of his crafts is one of a kind. Being made of resin his armors are also easy to clean and won’t get easily damaged during maintenance work.
To make a full set of kacchuu usually a time of 1 month is required. On request Ichisuke even offers the completion of a set of armor in about 2 weeks, which normally would be an unthinkable fast pace in the industry. Yet, due to differences regarding used materials and focus of his work, Ichisuke’s armors might appear inferior to works of other manufacturers in the industry. They nevertheless, doesn’t lack in neither terms of craftsmanship nor quality. Crafting wearable gear rather than decorative samurai armor, Ichisuke pours all of his energy and skill into the making of armor used for TV productions, nationwide history fairs, warrior processions, staged sword fights and plays or even simply for fans who’d love to wear durable samurai armor. By enabling his customers an easy access to Japanese history and culture he preserves the techniques and culture of his predecessors.
For more flexibility and mobility Mashira “戦猿”!
Those of you already convinced of Ichisuke’s work should check out his new series of armor called Mashira “戦猿”, which literally translates to Monkey of the Battlefield. Normally the framework of decorative armors is rather stiff and not made to fully match the movements of the human body. His armors on the other hand, especially the Mashira series, are designed to match every movement of the human body, making this set of gear the easiest to move in among his works. If you are in search of a special action armor enabling an even better experience, this is the one to wear.
A Wish for the Future
Due to the ongoing Sengoku boom and the Cool Japan initiative, which aims at introducing Japanese culture on a global scale, a steady income of requests and interest in Japanese armory is currently secured. Yet, as the industry shrinks in size it becomes more difficult to stay in business in the 21th century. As a countermeasure, Ichisuke aims to make use of his craft and further spread his devotion for traditional craft and culture. Offering a rental service and experience oriented courses he wants to not only attract the domestic audience, but especially hopes to gain the interest of oversea fans and customers. As international interest in Japan and its culture has risen in recent years, domestic appreciation and interested is also generated.
Therefore, it is also our aim at A-Janaika Japan to support our craftsmen’s ambitions by distributing their works of art internationally. Support this exciting cultural heritage and experience samurai action with custom-made armors form Ichisuke Hogetsu!
2016 Nov 09
Written by Thomas Rogge, with special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Tsukamoto san of Ichisuke-Hogetsu for this interview.