Helmets by the Saotome school (in the following called "Saotome-bachi") are one of the finest specimen of modern Japanese helmets. The term "Saotome" itself is a traditional old family name, which means literally „virgin/maiden“ or also "rice planting woman".
The construction of Saotome-bachi is a double-plate and double-shell one, resulting in an efficient defense by a very light weight. The founder of the Saotome school was Saotome Chikara (早乙女主税), who was a middle class vassal of Tagaya Shigetsune (多賀谷重経). Tagaya Shigetsune was lord of Hitachi´s Shimotsuma Castle (妻城主), with an annual outcome of 60.000 koku. In the sixth year of Keichô (慶長, 1601) his properties were confiscated by Tokugawa Ieyasu because he refused from participating in the Battle of Sekigahara. So also Saotome Chikara lost his salary which was 200 koku per year at that time. But he stayed in Shimotsuma and started to produce helmets. Thus he is regarded as the first generation of the Saotome school, and his descendants still live in present-day Shimotsuma City.
Helmets signed „Jôshû-jû Saotome Ietada“ (常州住早乙女家忠) are thought to be his works. From that time onwards, the Saotome was a prosperous school of helmet makers throughout the Edo period. However, there are no authentic genealogies of this school extant (only some forged genealogies and lineages do exist).
With this new book from Teruo Orikasa, illustrated with helmets from the private collections of Luc Taelman and Aymeric Antien, we hope to at least briefly help to demystify the beauty of the Saotome helmets.
When we started this book project, we wanted to create a photographic document for those who were eager to find out more about the different Saotome helmet makers. To make sure that the beauty of the helmets itself can be enjoyed, 38 helmets, with over 250 pictures by Jo Anseeuw, were used to illustrate different Saotome smiths.
We also wanted to include a scientifically study about the school, based on the limited amount of facts that are available.
And finally, we also wanted to have a technical analysis of the construction of helmets.
The book is about 136 pages, in English and Japanese, and is oversized (318 x 249 x 20mm).