The Tadayasu armory can be found in Koshigaya, a city just north of Tokyo. This area, famous for its lake and rivers, has been a commercial hub for centuries, with merchants using the waterways to transport goods down south into the capital.
Nowadays, the lake is more about leisure than business, but the city retains many markers of its past. A number of shrines and temples, alongside revitalized former merchants houses and workshops, are a reminder of Koshigaya's history as an important stop on the road to Nikko — the World Heritage shrine complex, which houses the tombs of the Tokugawa shoguns.
Three Generations of a Master Armory
The current master at the helm of the Tadayasu Armory is Yasuhiro — the 19th generation of the Okoshi family. It was his grandmother who first established the Tadayasu atelier in 1947, though this is a lineage of craft that stretches back much further. Like many great Japanese artisans, the skills required to create fine armor are passed from generation to generation, and Yasuhiro began to learn from his master craftsman father, Yataro, 30 years ago. He finally took over as the head of the armory in 2007, adopting the name of 'Tadayasu' as is traditional.
The long, illustrious list of awards granted to both Yasuhiro and his father, including multiple recognitions from the Japanese government, is a testament to the quality, dedication and incredible skill of the Tadayasu Armory. And yet, Yasuhiro, is definitely not one to rest on his laurels; instead, he is focused on refining each element of his craft, taking his skills and the quality of his work to the next level.
Tradition, Precision, Skill in 5000 Steps
Tadayasu has, for the best part of 80 years, specialized in the creation of dolls of samurai armor used throughout Japan to celebrate the 'Boy's Day' festival on May 5th. These exquisite pieces are replicas of the armor and helmets worn by Japan's famous warrior class for hundreds of years. These dolls are the centerpiece decoration in homes across the country for the festival and typically become heirlooms passed down through the generations in each family.
At Tadayasu, the creation of each armor piece can require an astounding 5000 individual elements. Not only does this require an incredible attention to detail but it also means that the craftsman must be adept at an array of techniques and materials. Utilizing metalwork, leather, lacquer and iron, Tadayasu Amor is an unparalleled confluence of Japan's most traditional and noteworthy crafts. At a time when mass production by machine is the norm, Tadayasu stands out as something genuinely hand-worked from start to finish.
Tadayasu's Innovative Bottle Armor
Yasuhiro had long wanted to communicate the culture of Japan and its traditions to the wider world through his craft and armor. This seemed hard to achieve given that his pieces were used mainly for a specific Japanese festival. However, a commission from a client to produce a suit of armor that could fit over a sake bottle got Yasuhiro thinking that this could bring his skills to a broader audience. It took a year of trial and error, but ultimately he created the piece to his usual exacting standards.
Although simpler to assemble than the traditional festival dolls, the bottle armor carries the usual Tadayasu hallmarks of precision, intricate detail and exceptional quality. Importantly for Yasuhiro, these innovative new pieces are a way to make an art form with over a thousand years of history accessible today across the world.