The word “Katchu” refers to an entire set of Samurai Armor.The level of perfection, precision and gorgeousness are reflected in the craftmanship of Katchu. The making of a full set of Katchu used to require the work of a group of highly skilled craftsmen. Today a single armorer handles every aspect of the restoration process, and makes original suits of armor as well. Tateki Morisaki has a store and an atelier in Okayama city and is one of only six remaining recognized craftmen in Japan. He has restored many well-known examples of the armorer's art such as Konito Odoshi Oyoroi, owned by Ooyamatsumi shrine and Akagawa Odoshi Oyoroi owned by Okayama Prefectural Museum, both of which have been designated Japanese national treasures. Mr Morisaki‘s grandfather started the business 100 years ago and now the third generation, Tateki is responsible for the business.


Mr Morisaki has been surrounded by samurai armor since childhood. His first experience was helping his father lacquer armor when he was a junior high school student. Mr Morisaki was working in Tokyo when his father told him about a particularly daunting request he had recieved: the restoration of Konito Odoshi, owned by Oyoroi Oyamatsumi shrine in Ehime prefecture. The set of armor was designated a Japanese national treasure, and his father told him that ‘It will be a good opportunity to improve your skill. If you’d like to take a chance, come back to Okayama’. At the age of 26 he decided to dedicate his life to the craft and succeed his father as an armorer. As soon as he returned, he began an apprentice-ship under his father. In the time-honored manner of traditional Japanese master craftsmen, his father gave him knowledge but did not teach any skills. Mr Morisaki immersed himself in the study and research of armor, one day hoping to hear ‘How did you do this? I didn’t teach you any of the skills that you have demonstrated!’ from his father. His father, Masahiro Morisaki’s great achievements were finally recognized when he was designated a living national treasure in 1999.

The second opportunity to restore a national treasure came at the age of 38. Akagawa Odoshi Oyoroi is a set of armor valued at 6 million dollars that Okayama prefectural museum had bought, and is one of the oldest sets of armor dating from the Heian period. The yoroi was owned by the same family for 750 years. Its restoration had to be historically accurate in every detail and every technique. The late Masahiro Morisaki and his son, Tateki went to the museum and researched the armor day and night painstakingly for a month until they were satisfied that a proper restoration could be undertaken; in fact, they became very excited by the prospect of restoring such an excellent example of Heian Samurai armor. It was also at this time that his father became very sick. Mr Morisaki was so badly disturbed by the news that he thought he couldn’t continue working on the armor all alone. Although his father’s condition was deteriorating, he asked his doctor for a permission to return home for a day so that he could instruct his son. His father taught him the technique of applying the perfect coat of lacquer, which has to be a precise thickness. It was then that Mr. Morisaki learned the importance of trusting one’s intuition when restoring armor. This realization inspired him to delve even deeper into his studies. Whenever he had difficulties, he remembered the lessons his father taught him. At the age of 39, under his father’s watchful eye, Mr Morisaki finally completed the restoration of Akagawa Odoshi Oyoroi. Shortly thereafter his father, confident in the knowledge that his son would continue his life’s work, passed away.

Restoration is an attempt to return a damaged armor to its original form. Cow hide, deer leather, goat leather, horse leather, lace, fabrics and metal are all used in the restoration process. More than 400 rivets are used and small pieces of leather called Kozane are laced together in keeping with authentic armor-smith traditions from the appropriate period. Restoring japanese armor requires many varied and skilled techniques such as lacquering, braiding, metal chasing and leather dyeing.The making of a full set of Katchu used to require the work of a group of highly skilled craftsmen. Today a single armorer handles every aspect of the restoration process, and makes original suits of armor as well.

There are insufficient numbers of skilled-armors to restore samurai armor overseas so Mr. Morisaki feels strongly that there is a need for restoration abroad as well as in Japan.

Excerpted from Asu Co., Inc. Osera Vol.26

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