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Fake Japanese Fiberglass Armor (By Ian Bottomley)


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Ian Bottomley as graciously allowed his post to be moved to a public area of the Samuari Armor Forum so that anyone can learn from what happened to him. Other people with knowledge of Japanese armor have also purchased some of these fiberglass fakes which means that people without a lot of knowledge will certainly be buying these until the word gets out and people start posting images of a possible future purchase for discussion before buying. Other items as well have been convincingly faked including jingasa and quivers.
Anyone who follows Ians work knows that he is extremely knowledgable about the manufacture of Japanese armor, he has many times seen things that I and others have completely overlooked. When making a purchase based on online images in the past you could of course have been fooled in many different ways but this new one is very insidious. 
Someone with great knowledge and ability has been making moulds of armor items and constructing very convincing copies, sometimes mixing authentic parts along with fraudlent ones.  Viewing these items personally would make it much harder to fool someone, for example you could use a magnet to see if there is metal underneath the lacquer but when the item is in located in Japan and the seller does not speak English uncovering these fakes is much harder, especially when you are going through a third party to purchase and ship the item for you. Getting a refund is also extremely difficult under these circumstances as well.

Over the last month or so the number of fake items appearing on Yahoo Japan is increasing alarmingly. Someone is producing jingasa, armour parts and even complete armours, partially or even completely made by casting in resin. A look at 'sellers other items' suggests these fakes are being distributed around general antique dealers and even junk shops. Whether all these sellers known they are fake is debatable but it is worth mentioning they are tending to be vague with their descriptions and are not claiming the items are Edo period, using terms such as 'period'or 'samurai era' instead. If the items are laced and there are close-up photographs, the lacing and leather generally show an application of 'dirty dust' or there will be a liberal coating of suspicious dirt. One clue is the way any fukurin are finished - just cut off square with a rivet put through. Real fukurin are not flat sided and the ends are generally finished in a fancy shape, even if they are not engraved. Kanamono will be cast and sometimes show ragged outer edges.


These people can make castings with engraving and nanako in them that look real. They also corrode them quite convincingly. They seem to prefer kirritsuke kozane plates and if there are close-ups a search will show small lumps or small depressions from tiny bubbles in making the mould or casting. Look for file marks or sanding marks along the edges where they have trimmed off irregularities. Their castings often include damage from the original so don't be fooled by that. One real give away are agemaki rings on helmets, jingasa and items like sode. They seem to use a standard pattern that has the outer edge moulded with a ring of bead shapes and the centre domed and cross-hatched. These people are clever and obviously know about real armour. They know how to do lacing. What they don't do is to bother making mail - so kote, haidate and suneate are often a real. 

Watch out.
Back in February I bid on an armour for sale on Yahoo Japan and was successful in buying it. The price was a bit steep but it looked to be a quality item and had a hotoke dou, a style I don't have in my collection. On delivery I unpacked the armour and despite the fact that it was very dirty I was very pleased with my purchase. The sangu was a mixture and needed sorting but I have plenty of spare parts I could make a set to complete the armour. 
My proposed plan of action was to clean the helmet, especially the kanamono, starting with the tehen kanamono which would then allow me to remove the rest. Taking the shikoro off was easy but I was surprised to find small brass washers under the legs of the soft metal rivets. These of course had been hidden by small patches of leather. On pulling back the ukebari I was surprised to find it had been glued in place with something much stronger than rice paste. Inside the bowl looked OK but had been lacquered red and the legs of the tehen kanamono were covered by a glued on disc of leather - again not usual. Then the truth dawned on me - the helmet bowl was a casting in resin. Stripping of other kanamono showed these too were castings in a kind of brass. Yes - I had been fooled by a very clever fake. A check with a magnet showed that the whole helmet, the maedate, the mask the sode and the gessan were all fibreglass mouldings. All the kanamono were fake as well. The dou was real, but the bonji had probably been added, as had the sangu and the box. 
So, somebody had taken a casting of the outside and inside of a real bowl, made castings in brass of all the kanamono and the kiritsuke kozane shikoro. The assembly was absolutely correct as was the lacing. The fact that both the inside and outside of the bowl were cast proves it was made to deceive. I drilled a hole in the flange of the mask and that showed it was aluminium with a coating of resin. The top plate and flange of the sode were also in aluminium and resin with leather glued over it. Now that I knew it was fake it was obvious the fukurin were wrong as was the fact they had used jabara not fusegumi. It is easy not to look carefully at things until you realise you have been fooled. Making kote, haidate and so on would not be economical so they used some odds and ends instead. 
Because the armour had been listed as Edo period, and an antique, I am now pursuing the return of my money. My initial complaint was greeted by 'It's not a fake it is real'. When I sent photos showing the region of the casting around the tehen and other images showing blocked off holes in the koshimaki and so on, the seller still refused to accept it was a casting. In the end I took a more drastic approach and cut the thing up to show how it had been made. They now claim they do not own it and are acting as an agent. I am still awaiting the return of my money but feel things are getting more and more serious - There are two of these clever fakes for sale at the moment - I do not want any of you to fall into a similar trap to the one I did so take very great care before you bid.
This really was a scary production. I looked at the detailed images on the auction site carefully before biding and didn't notice anything suspicious. I knew the sangu was a bag of bits with possibly the kote being original. I should have noted the jabara - but again there are late Edo armours done with it. I could see it wasn't Meiji since they generally only give the inside a lick of lacquer and don't normally do kirritsuke kozane. The dou indicated it wasn't a modern copy - the fact that the dou was real diverted attention away from the rest. They even showed a close-up of the chin of the mask that appeared to have taken a knock and had lacquer damage.
As I said earlier even when I had unpacked it it wasn't obvious - the weight was right, the dirt and corrosion was superbly done and the lacing was dirty, but exactly as it should have been. The first clue I had was the lack of a kawashiki on the inside of the shikoro plates. The plates were too thick to have been metal and I assumed they were nerigawa, but the lack of a kawashiki seemed odd. Those on the gessan plates looked like smooth raised ribs with no evidence of sewing as you normally see. Again I put it down to a good lacquer job where a lot of filler had been used. They had even managed to cast the scales properly where they bent around under the fukigayeshi.
The kanamono (decorative metal fittings) were brilliantly done with what looked like crisp engraving and that brownish corrosion you get when they have not been cleaned for decades. It wasn't until you got a glass on them you could see a very faint overall texture from the casting process. The lower layers of the tehen kanamono had come from a helmet with a larger tehen so to make them fit the central tube, which looked like a real one, they had soldered rings of copper to the other parts to reduce the diameter of the holes in them. When assembled of course you couldn't see any of this. This was created by someone who knows a great deal about armour and had access to quite a lot of dismantled armour pieces, and then went to an awful lot of trouble. There were no real short-cuts taken except for the fukurin which were photographed in such a way as to be inconspicuous. 
Ian B













The dealers images.











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This is an armor that Dave Thatcher has made some notes on.



I think this is an original dou, the other sections are reproduction, probably fibreglass. Apologies for my speed writing and spelling mistakes on the image (was rushed).





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  • 2 weeks later...

OMG ... I read the whole post and re-look at all the images ... they are darn GOOD for a replica ... I even look closely at each photos and still have difficulties seeing it was a resin casting ... especially the aging of the parts

I plan to buy one set from ebay as decoration item and now I have to rethink my option ...


thanks for the info



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Some people are buying these for decorations in houses, that have no experience with samurai artifacts whatsoever. They will be completely fooled. I don't know my way around armor. A couple pieces looked a bit suspicious but I'd not be able to do the analysis. I don't buy stuff like this because I know I am less than a novice in this field. Far better than chinese level fakery of swords.

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Agree with Darcy. I stay away from armour since I would be hopelessly fooled. They can put this level of fakery into them since the prices we are talking about are considerable.

I wonder how much of this stuff is lying in existing collections?

I bet the origin of these would be a huge scandal, since it would take a high level dealer to perpetuate this.



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Brian, It was far less of a deal whilst they stuck to the odd mask or jingasa, but as you say complete armours are not being knocked up by an amateur in a shed in the back yard as a way of making a bit of pocket money. On the plus side I have at least had most of my money refunded but it has been a hard learned lesson.

Ian B.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I have a question. Are you sure these resin parts are not from a propmaker shop from the movie industry ? The quality and finish looks too well made for home built stuff meant to defraud people of money.

Notwithstanding that the seller who mixed original and fake parts together is a fraud, it somehow does not look like a forging ring.


These items look remarkably similar to movie props.


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  • 5 years later...

What do you make of this? The texture is giving me fibreglass vibes but i've seen other jingasa with a rough texture so i'm unsure. The first photo is the jingasa in question, the second is another i've found with a similar texture. 



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