Just a few minutes walk from Tokyo station is a portal to Japan’s storied samurai era, a time that spanned 1185-1868, from the Kamakura period, through the Warring States period and all the way to the end of the Edo era. This fascinating section of history lives on at Kinokuniya, a Japanese company dedicated to faithfully restoring and selling authentic samurai armor actually worn by warriors of the era.
Avid samurai armor enthusiasts come to Kinokuniya from all parts of the world, including Belgium, France, Italy and Germany. In fact, almost half comes from outside Japan, thanks to the esteemed reputation the the store has built in the industry over the years. These visitors includes collectors, investors, and other dealers, who all seek out only the most premium samurai armor products.
The Kinokuniya Story
Kinokuniya is now located on the third floor of office building right outside the entrance to Tokyo station, although its history goes back several decades. The store started out in Gunma before moving to Tokyo around 20 years ago, primarily out of a desire to be more conveniently located for customers. In addition to creating convenience, Kinokuniya wanted to give both locals and visitors to Japan alike more exposure to samurai armor and its history. Given its location–in close proximity the Shinkansen entrance at Tokyo station–people have the opportunity to visit while waiting for their train.
The samurai armor available at Kinokuniya comes from a range of both trusted industry sources and customers with whom they have built good relationships. These customers are devoted collectors, who may be trading in their armor for another set, or selling a set that has been passed down through generations.
Samurai Armor Expertise & Experience
To develop the required armor knowledge and appraisal skills, Kinokuniya upholds a strong belief in experience as the most important factor.
While some knowledge can be acquired from books, the niche nature of an area such as authentic samurai armor means having many years of field experience and working under careful, learned guidance. After studying the basics of armor, such as names, history, materials, manufacturing methods, the people at Kinokuniya set to work in the field; their constant exposure to various types of samurai armor means being able to closely compare different sets down to the finest detail, thus developing accurate insight over many years.
Kinokuniya’s staff are not only experienced and passionate, they are dedicated, and many have been there for up to 40 years.
Restoration That Ensures Authenticity
Restoring original samurai armor is a balancing act between the need to repair damage in order to preserve the armor, and leaving the armor in its original state to ensure that its history and uniqueness are retained.
The staff at Kinokuniya are aware that it’s this authenticity that their customers seek. Indeed many customers prefer that no restorations be done at all, letting the armor reveal its embattled story through the wear and tear of its original state. In the spirit of preserving history and keeping dreams alive, Kinokuniya believes in doing the minimum restoration as necessary.
Take the example of an old kabuto (samurai armor helmet) string, perhaps a bit frayed in battle. If it’s not in danger of breaking or further damage, this may be left unrestored to retain its authenticity. However, if it’s frayed to the point that it no longer resembles a helmet string, it would have to be repaired just enough to keep its value as an object of the samurai era. This is where the restoration skills of the Kinokuniya staff are put to the test – rather than simply changing the entire string, they endeavor to fix it by maintaining as much of the original part as possible.
Ability to Detect Value
Kinokuniya sets reasonable, market-accurate prices for their samurai armor by carefully considering the interplay of many factors. These include how well an item is made, the name and reputation of the original samurai armor maker, the condition of the armor, and even the period the armor is from, including whether or not it was crafted during the era of a well-known Daimyo. They also determine the armor’s rarity, and any distinguishing features, such as any sort of signature.
To ensure that prices set are appropriate, Kinokuniya staff draw on their wealth of knowledge and experience in the industry. They also keep up with market trends by engaging in up-to-date industry news, information and events, as well as by visiting antique markets.
Passionate Staff, Personalized Service
Kinokuniya is dedicated to customer satisfaction. To this end, it is staff policy to listen to each customer and make sure they know exactly what the customer wants before engaging in a sale. They also value being fully transparent in communicating the state of their armor with customers. This is especially important considering that some customers may be making purchases remotely, and also because customers rely on their expert opinions.
The Kinokuniya staff understand the challenges customers face purchasing a product with such a high level of engagement online. Therefore, they take many detailed pictures of each set of samurai armor and carefully respond in-depth to any queries from customers.
Kinokuniya have a stellar reputation for international shipping, a fact particularly important in transporting an item as precious as vintage samurai armor. This commitment to service has earned them a glowing reputation in the field, and most customers come from word of mouth.
History and Imagination Restored with Authentic Samurai Armor
Thanks to Kinikuniya’s passion for Japanese history and their dedication to the faithful restoration of authentic relics of the samurai era, this remarkable period in time and its warriors can live on in the imaginations–not to mention the homes and offices–of modern people everywhere.