The Samurai’s New Shoes

Lesson Plan: The Samurai’s New Shoes

Suit of Armor
Juryo Mitsumasa, Haruta Katsumitsu, and others, Japan
1700s

Overview

This lesson exposes students to the significance of the samurai in Japanese historical culture. Students will study the different features of the samurai Suit of Armor, brainstorm what materials were used to create each element, and compare the suit to what the teacher is wearing. The students will then use this knowledge to design shoes for the samurai, focusing on the materials available and artisans needed.

Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Standards

21st Century Learning Skills Addressed:

  • Critical Thinking and Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Collaboration
  • Self-Direction
  • Invention

2009 Colorado Academic Standards Primary Area Addressed:
Visual Arts

  • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
  • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Invent and Discover to Create
  • Relate and Connect to Transfer

Additional 2009 Colorado Academic Standards Addressed:
Language Arts

  • Oral Expression and Listening
  • Writing and Composition
  • Research and Reasoning

Length of Lesson

One 45-minute lesson

Rationale

The materials and skills required to create the Suit of Armor vary. In designing their own shoes for this Suit of Armor, students must reference the suit and think about what materials might have been available at the time. This activity develops critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and expands students’ understanding of the world, other cultures, and the art forms they use.

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • identify and describe the significance of at least three elements on the Suit of Armor;
  • explain why different artisans were required for creating the suit;
  • apply their understanding about the samurai armor to a unique design for the samurai’s shoes; and
  • draw and label at least two views of their own student-designed samurai shoe.

Materials

  • Paper or journals for each student to write down thoughts and/or sketch out their ideas
  • Assorted coloring utensils, including crayons, colored pencils, and markers
  • One or two 9 x 12 inch sheets of paper for each student
  • About the Art sheet on the Suit of Armor (found at the end of the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • One color copy of the suit for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Lesson

  1. Show the students the Japanese Suit of Armor. Using the About the Art sheet, share information and details about how the suit would have been used and who would have used it.
  2. Explain to the students that this suit was made to serve more than one purpose. How would this suit protect somebody if it was worn in a battle? How could the samurai suit be used in other ways (such as for ceremonial purposes, parades, etc.)?
  3. Using the About the Art sheet, walk through each element of the Suit of Armor and talk about why it may have been important.
  4. Highlight the idea that constructing samurai suits of armor required many different skilled artisans (such as metalsmiths, leather workers, and fabric weavers). Have the students look at the clothes you are wearing today. You may want to plan an outfit ahead. For example, you may want to wear leather shoes, metal jewelry, a woven sweater, a dyed scarf, or a stitched/patchwork jacket. How many different skilled people created parts of your outfit? Have the students point out each article of clothing or accessory and brainstorm the type of artisan who might have made it. Why are different artisans needed to make each part of your outfit? Each part of the samurai Suit of Armor? What parts of your outfit remind them of the Suit of Armor?
  5. After looking extensively at each part of your outfit and the Suit of Armor, brainstorm with the students what samurai shoes might have looked like. What materials might have been used to make samurai shoes? Based on the rest of the suit, what materials would have been available? What decorations might have appeared on them? Why might a samurai need to wear shoes? How would function affect design?
  6. Have the students draw sketches of their vision of samurai shoes. Students should draw two or three views of these shoes—front, back, or side—using a variety of coloring utensils.
  7. Make sure the students concentrate on what materials would be used to construct their shoe, and encourage them to draw their shoes accordingly. For example, if students think leather shoes would work best for a samurai, have them think about the various colors of leather. Also have them keep in mind the specific skills that might be necessary to make their shoes (such as curing hides for leather, carving wood, melting iron, punching holes for laces, weaving laces, etc.).
  8. Have the students label their shoe drawings, listing the materials they are made from and the artisans (or skills) required for each part of the shoe. The younger grades could brainstorm about these things and share their ideas with the class in a large group show-and-tell discussion.

Popular Creativity Resource Lesson Plans

Featured Lesson Plans

About the Art

Suit of Armor by Juryo Mitsumasa, Haruta Katsumitsu, and others, Japan, 1700s

Who Made It?

This samurai suit of armor was made by multiple Japanese artisans in the 1700s. The armor consists of over 740,000 individual pieces made of a slew of different materials, including silver, iron, lacquer (a clear varnish), leather, silk, and ivory. Many of these materials would have required specialized skills and would have been made by separate workshops. Though we do not know the names of all of the artisans who contributed to this elaborate suit, two of them signed their work: the helmet was signed by Juryo Mitsumasa and the breastplate by Haruta Katsumitsu. The fact that these men had surnames (the surname, or family name, comes before one’s given name in Japan) and were allowed to sign their names to their work indicates their importance; ordinary craftsmen were allowed neither.

This suit of armor was crafted during the Edo Period, a period of over 250 years of peace in Japan. The armor was not intended for actual use. By the time of its construction, war had not been a part of Japanese life for more than a century. During this period, samurai (professional warriors) had to find a way of life that didn’t include war. The owner of this armor would have worn the suit only during ceremonies; otherwise he would have displayed it prominently in his home.

What Inspired It?

This suit of armor was inspired by the romantic world of the samurai warrior, a world that, by the 1700s, was a thing of the past. The samurai who ordered or bought this suit admired the samurai warriors of the past and their ideals of faithfulness, loyalty, devotion, and dedication. This suit of armor has many of the traditional elements that older suits might have had and was, therefore, a sign of respect for the past. The armor balances details of delicacy and ferocity. It is decorated with flowers, vines, and leaves. The face mask, however, is designed to inspire fear. It hides the face of the person wearing it, making him appear strong and impenetrable. The red lacquer surface on the inside of the mask may have given a fierce reddish cast to the face and eyes of the wearer.

A samurai was not merely a warrior, however; he was expected to excel in the arts of civilized life as well. “Practice the arts of war on the right hand and the arts of peace on the left,” went a famous samurai saying. In addition to being skillful warriors, samurai knew poetry and calligraphy (artistic lettering). They also practiced the intricacies of the Japanese tea ceremony, which involves specific rituals that are performed for preparing and serving tea in an atmosphere of deep clam and respect.

For more resources related to this artwork, check out the "Find Out More" section for this object on Creativity Resource online.

Things to Look For

Suit of Armor by Juryo Mitsumasa, Haruta Katsumitsu, and others, Japan, 1700s

Leaves

Leaves and Flowers

The delicate leaves on the metal chin are paulownia leaves. The paulownia leaf is a family crest and would be used to decorate everything from the suit of armor to a lady’s cosmetic box. Note also the samurai’s taste for delicacy in the delicate flower on a branch that sits on the side of the mouth.

Chest Plate

Chest Plate

This samurai wore an image of a dragon in the middle of his chest. Note the long, curling whiskers, bristly mustache, and eyebrows. The technique used to create the dragon is called repoussé [reh-poo-SAY] and involves hammering the iron from behind.

Chain Mail

Mail

Mail is flexible armor made of interlinked metal rings. Even the mail, which protects the wearer’s arms, is elaborate. It is made by thousands of circles of iron wire linked together in an intricate pattern. Underneath the mail is flower-patterned blue silk.

NeckGuard

Neck Guard

One common form of attack during battle was a sword stroke from above; the neck guard protected against this blow. The neck guard is made of lacquered iron pieces laced together with off-white silk cord. Several hundred yards of this silk cord, hand-braided and carefully dyed, were needed to make a suit of armor, making silk one of the most important components in the armor.


Suit of Armor
Juryo Mitsumasa, Haruta Katsumitsu, and others, Japan
1700s

Anonymous Gift, 1978.225
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.

This image is intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum.
This piece may not currently be on display at the museum.