Chin Mask (Ho-ate) with Gorget


Not on view

Masks have long played an important role in Japanese culture: in religious ceremonies, dance, Noh theater, and military costume. For samurai, masks served as a principal face defense and helped secure the helmet to the head more firmly.

The majority of masks were half-length (mempō), covering the nose and the face below the eyes. Their iron surfaces are either lacquered or a dark russet finish; the interiors are usually lacquered red. In addition to half masks, the Metropolitan Museum's collection is unusual in possessing numerous full masks (somen). The majority date from the peaceful Edo period. During that time, armorers like the Myōchin clan took pride in making ever more varied masks as a demonstration of their creativity and their famous metalworking skills.

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