Part 18 - JAPANESE MAILLE
by Lord Thomas the Black
Welcome back to another episode of Blackmaille! When last we left our hero…
This month, I'll be covering Japanese maille. Japanese maille is a whole different animal than its European counterparts. For starters, the Japanese weaves were never intended as stand-alone armor by itself. It was used primarily to cover the spaces between plates on pieces of armor such as the kote and suneate[i].
In all examples of Japanese maille, the maille itself was sewn to a backing of cloth or leather, and was never left bare[ii]. If the maille wasn't "sandwiched" between two layers of cloth or leather, it was lacquered to prevent rusting[iii].
The basic construction of Japanese maille differs from European maille in several key points. The most obvious is that it wasn't riveted. Japanese maille was made from rings of two or more turns, much like on split-ring keychains[iv]. The most common pattern was called so gusari (gusari is Japanese for "chain"), and formed a square pattern. Less common was the asa no ha gusari (or hana gusari), which formed an octagonal pattern[v]. These are the most common names for these weaves, and refer to maille whose rings are made with a single turn each. These same weaves, made from rings of two or more turns, all have different names. The same patterns made with thicker wire had yet another name[vi]!
Another fundamental difference in Japanese maille is in the size of the rings. While European maille varied in size from around 5/16" to around 3/8" (for simplicity's sake; I realize there was more variance than that), Japanese maille was typically 1/4" in size or smaller (average is 1/8")[vii].
Yet another difference was in the way the mail was woven. In European 4-in-1, each ring is linked through four others (hence the name 4-in-1), while in so gusari (commonly called Japanese 4-in-1) only the rings that lay flat against the cloth/leather backing are connected to four other rings. The rings connecting these flat rings are only linked through two rings each, and are oval in shape[viii]. These oval rings are made by tying two 1/8" rods together, winding the wire around them, and cutting the rings along the straight edge[ix]. When the mail is sewn to its backing, the thread is sewn around these oval rings.
There are a couple of specialty tools particular to the construction of Japanese maille. The first, a modified mandrel for making oval rings, I've already covered. The next is a "nail board" or "knitting board". I covered this briefly in my "Tips and Tricks" article. A knitting board is simply a flat board, approximately 8" wide by 11" long, with a row of nails hammered in along the top. Be sure to use the kind of nails without heads, about 2" long, and space them about 1/2" apart. The mail is looped over the nails, and the board can then be set in your lap and propped against a table so the mail hangs down, and is easy to work on.
The final specialty tool for Japanese maille is also used for riveted maille: modified cutters (to cut rings with an overlap). To modify your cutters to cut with an overlap, use a cobalt-tipped drill bit only slightly larger than the wire you'll be using. Get your drill up to full speed, and slowly squeeze the cutters down onto the bit so that it cuts a small hole just larger than your wire into your cutters. You want this hole to be just a little bit back from the edge of the cutters so that your cutters will now skip over a turn in the coil.
The one exception to these Japanese maille patterns is the weave commonly called nanban gusari, or "foreign mail". This is simply European 4-in-1 mail hung 90 degrees from the usual orientation:
Nanban gusari first appears in the mid-sixteenth century, so it is very likely adopted from European armor brought over by Dutch traders[x]. The most common use of nanban gusari is in the yodare kake face and neck panel, where the "exotic" look added to its appeal.
There are a multitude of sites and books available for one to learn how to weave the various Japanese maille patterns, and I've included a few of the best ones in the footnotes to this article, so I won't go into that here. Besides, it's really easier to explain these weaves in person than I can illustrate here. Perhaps the best instructions I've found are in John Groseclose's paper "Japanese Chain Armor, as presented to the Atenveldt Collegium, A.S. 29" ( http://www.iaincaradoc.org/~iain/gusari.html )
In all, the Japanese weaves of maille added to the combined beauty and functionality of all Japanese armors, filling the gaps between tiny plates while sacrificing nothing in terms of flexibility. While not as widespread in locality or universal in time as European maille, Japanese maille nonetheless presents a new set of challenges for today's mailler.
As always, thanks for joining me for another month's article. I hope you learned as much reading it as I did while writing it! Any maille-related questions or comments can (and should!) be sent to:
c/o Tom Beckett
13628 Belmead Ave
Grandview, MO 64030
Next month: A list of internet resources for maillers!
See you next month!
[v] George Cameron Stone "A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armour in All Countries and in All Times" Pg. 432
[vi] Tracy Gillaspy (Lord Takahara Otoshi), personal correspondence via email.
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