Textile Society of America



Valerie Foley

Date of this Version



From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).


Copyright © 1992 by the author(s).


There are very few absolute statements that can be made about jinbaori in the sociological, cultural or historical sense, except that they were worn only by males of the military class in military settings. Some believe that the jinbaori constituted a kind of formal wear, which vassals wore in audience with their lords, yet there is some evidence to contradict this - for example, the fact that very few portraits exist of men in jinbaori, while portraits of men in armor abound. Indeed, one scroll shows a lord in jinbaori, his retainers in armor. There are several theories as to which garment gave rise to the jinbaori. The dobuku and the yoroi hitatare are two possibilities. It is said that Momoyama period generals, who directed - less than engaged in - battles, wore j inbaori to distinguish themselves both to their troops and to the enemy. However, some pictorial evidence suggests that the rank and file also wore jinbaori into battle during the Moraoyama, while other evidence would have us believe that jinbaori were not common on the battlefield, although they seem to have become standard issue sometime during the approximately 250 years of the harshly enforced Tokugawa peace.

One of the two primary purposes of the jinbaori was to give the wearer reinforced protection from the elements over his light armor. The other was to advertise the wearer and his dignity, fearlessness, prowess, worthiness and readiness in the face of death - and his wealth. Interestingly, we know that many armored warriors fought without jinbaori, and many jinbaori-clad warriors fought without armor.

During the long peace, one of the best showcases for the jinbaori was the procession to and from Edo as part of the sankin kotai - or alternate attendance - of daimyo at the court, one of the many ways the Tokugawa ruthlessly maintained both the peace and their preeminent position. Armor was regularly dispensed with during these lengthy processions - jinbaori were not.

Because so much about the jinbaori is still open to question, this paper will not touch upon jinbaori use, and the need for brevity precludes any lengthy discussion of design symbolism. Instead, the focus will be on physical permutations, in hopes of thereby revealing something about Japanese culture in the exuberant Momoyama period and the first century of Tokugawa rule - that is, from approximately 1550 to 1700.