What is a samurai shieldThe samurai shield functioned as an armor element and a samurai weapon, and its use has been misunderstood and questioned by many.

Are you interested to know the facts about the samurai shield?

Let’s go over this article and find out what Japanese history has to say about the samurai shield.

What Is a Samurai Shield?

The samurai shield is one of the weapons used by some ancient samurai warrior and medieval knight to protect themselves in battles. It was made from iron plates, wood, or some layers of lacquered rawhide, and it had a wooden handle in the center. It was a rectangular hand-held shield that was about 40 to 60 inches (100 to 150 centimeters) in length and 20 to 28 inches (50 to 70 centimeter) in width.

The tedate or temochi tate was the most common Japanese samurai shield used, starting in the 3rd century up to the eighth century of the Pre-Samurai Era. A Samurai shield or hand-held shield was usually paired with a sword, spear, or ax in a battle.

Later on, the samurai shield evolved into another type of shield, which was bigger and heavier.

Kinds of Samurai Shield

Aside from the tate and tedate, early Japanese warriors used other types of shields, such as mantlets and taketaba.

– Temochi Tate or Tedate

The tate was a large wooden shield used by the samurais back in the Feudal Era. The Japanese used tate as the main type of shield across the entire Samurai period, up to the Heian period and onward.

The tate was usually carried by the soldiers in their hand or held by their poles. The warriors wore tate at the back to protect themselves when they decided to retreat from the war. It was a large barrier used to give protection to missile troops, whereas the tedate was the smaller version of the tate.

– Taketaba Archer or Gunnery Shield

The taketaba was the more advanced and sophisticated type of shield; it had a thick roll of strong bamboo that was enough to stop gunshots at range. This type of shield was operated by a team on the battlefield: a loader, a shooter, and a shield carrier.

– Mantlets or European Pavise

The mantlet was one of the main types of shield used throughout the Heian period. This shield allowed the archers to strike while being covered. It served as their portable wall. This shield type was built with poles and can be moved for transport and storage.

Different Types of Mantlets

The Japanese samurais typically used mantlets consisting of blankets covered in a mattress to reduce the effects of the debris in the battlefield. Other types of mantlets they used were: the wicker U-shaped mantlet, the wood-planked mantlet, the pavise, and the wood-planked mantlet.

  • The wicker U-shaped mantlet on wheels was known for having a very light material; it was easy to construct and very effective. The added wheels on this shield could make the soldiers move ahead slowly but surely.
  • The wood-planked mantlet, also known as the L- shaped mantlet, was heavier and required additional time and effort to build.
  • The pavise was a medieval shield type and was similar to the wicker mantlet. It was not a hard-wearing type of mantlet and could probably be the cheapest and simplest option. It was created from metal or wood to protect the warrior’s body.
  • The wood-planked mantlet on wheels provided a shield with a wooden structure but was still movable. This mantlet can be pushed across and held upright.

Who Used the Samurai Shield?

The Samurai and the Ashigaru used hand-held shields, more popularly known as tate.

Samurai is a Japanese word that means “to serve someone.” The samurai were the officials and soldiers from the first class. They were the hereditary military who had prestigious and special privileges like wearing two swords.

Who used the samurai shieldDuring the 8th century in Japan, local groups experienced threats from the outside, so they needed to fight to survive.

Thus, this was when the story of the samurai began. Some Japanese warriors treated this role as very important for them to show their loyalty to the masters they served.

Aside from protecting and serving their clans and masters, Japanese samurai developed a fighting technique, called Kenjutsu, that up to now remains beloved and appreciated.

Even the Ashigaru or the early Japanese foot soldiers used the samurai shield in the mid-6th century. The type of shield they used was not the hand-held shield; rather, it was a large wood-panel type of shield also known as a mantlet.

The Ashigaru were the Japanese foot soldiers who rose from being farmers to become the Daimyo’s soldiers and developed as professional fighters. Daimyo are what they called warlords and large estate owners during the old Japan.

– Did the Samurai Fight With Shields?

Yes, they did, but some warriors chose to not carry shields because they were hard to carry around during battles. The Japanese warriors used shields sometimes in the early period of Japan, and then later on, their weapons transformed into more advanced and modernized types.

Soldiers wore their shields from the start so their hands can still do some functions like firing arrows. Samurais were not just swordsmen; they were multi-role battlers.

There were also pieces of evidence showing how their weapons evolved. From their battle against the Mongols, Samurai were seen hiding behind wooden shields. The shield was planted on the ground so their hands were free to do some other things like grasping the sword, shooting back, and firmly poling the weapon. There might be assigned soldiers to run around and plant the shields.

During the Warring States Period, Ashigaru cavaliers used tanegashima while hiding behind the tate. The evolution of gunnery weapons became more ordinary. There were three divisions of roles in a battle: a shooter, a loader, and a shield carrier.

Taketaba archer and gunnery shield platforms showed the archery and gunpowder weapons that were becoming modernized and advanced, so the demand for heavier and high-tech firing shields have transformed into restrictions.

Early History of the Samurai Shield

– Prior to the Samurai Era

There was some archeological evidence from the 3rd to 8th centuries described in the Chinese dynastic record about the existence of Japanese shields, or the so-called samurai shield. The tate and tedate were the most common hand-held shields during this time.

It was during the late Nara period and early Heian period when stationary shields were being used by the Ritsuryoo army; these were the so-called mantlets or the European pavise. This type of shield was higher and wider than the ordinary samurai shield.

– During the Samurai Era

During the Samurai Era, the tate shield was common but not used as much as it was before during the Heian period. There were some controversies and arguments about how Japanese warriors used the hand-held shield, and they argued about the importance and role of this weapon.

The mounted archers were the samurais from the 11th up to the 14th century of the early Samurai Era. They were trained in the use of bows and horsemanship because during that time, these were the common martial activities of the elite people. It was also during this time that the Japanese bows were the only ideal weapon.

Meanwhile, in the late 14th century, some cavalry warriors replaced Japanese bows with polearms, and it was somewhere in the 13th century when a samurai depicted a tate shield on horseback.

For them to make use of the bows, the Japanese samurai stopped using hand-held shields, yet some infantry warriors continued to rely on this. During battles, archers were positioned behind the tate while there were still some warriors who employed hand-held shields in their fight.

– Modified Samurai Shield

During the Samurai Era, the hand-held shields were specifically modified to wood and took on a rectangular shape, although some rounded hand-held shields were still used at that time.

Japanese warfare began to change in the 14th century when foot fighting was given too much emphasis and later on became very common. The mounted archers were abandoned, and the samurai began to exist as various forms of horse units.

The Japanese at that time developed a more complete and extensive armor system instead of relying too much on the hand-held shield. This time, they were covered from the head to toe in lamellar, mail, and plate.

Japanese armors and the new infantry units started to emerge during the Sengoku period; the Ashigaru were issued weapons, such as arquebus, pikes, and bows, that prohibited them from using hand-held shields.

The old types of tate shields were being destroyed by hand-held cannons and firearms. The new model was made from iron and a thick “rolled bamboo bundle” called take wa or taketaba that was being used to protect the warriors from gunfire.

– Sengoku or Edo Period

The Edo Period depicted some defense countering pistol shots from the horseback with tedate.

The Sengoku or Edo Period characterized the use of shields, which were being used on foot, on horseback, on night rapid attack, as well as in the field battles. It was during the Edo period that the hand-held shield was transformed into a small piece of equipment and used as hand protection.

Yagyu Shingan Ryu was where the most famous use of the hand-held shield was taught. The Iron Jingasa helmet was used as a shield during this time; this was an acceptable technique, but it was very dangerous.

The Important Weapons Used by the Early Samurai

Samurai’s weapon and equipment played an important role in the samurai’s image as they symbolized power and status. There are six very important weapons of the Japanese Samurai.

– Kabutowari

Skull breaking knife meaning “helmet breaker” or “skull breaker” – kabuto means the helmet was being worn by ancient samurai. The small sword that came with it can be divided into two types: a truncheon type and a dirk-type. The blade of the dirk-type aimed to split the enemy’s helmet.

– Yumi

The ancient Japanese longbow. The Yumi is a Japanese longbow that is in asymmetrical shape. It played an important role for the samurai during the feudal period of Japan; it shoots the Japanese arrows “ya.”

– Naginata

A long-bladed pole. It was a long-bladed artillery that was slower and heavier than the Japanese sword.

– Tanto

A double-edged knife. The tantō was a single- or doubled-edged knife meant to stab or slash a weapon.

– Wakizashiv

An auxiliary blade. It was used as a backup to undertake the seppuku’s ritual suicide. This type of weapon should be kept beside the samurai bed, which is the reason why Wakizashiv means the samurai’s “left arm.”

– Katana

A soul and blade of the warrior. This type of Japanese weapon was a slender, curved, single-bladed longsword that had a circular or squared long grip. The katana became famous due to the changes and development of close-combat warfare. With the use of this weapon, the samurai could easily strike the enemy in one single motion.

The Samurai Armor

The samurai armor was unique from head to foot. Based on the kind of samurai armor they wore, one can easily tell what dynasty they were fighting for. Aside from the samurai shield, the samurai are known for their armor. The traditional samurai armor suits included: the kabuto (helmet), the dou (armor for the torso), the kusazari (armor for the legs), the kogake, the kote (armor for the arms), and the katana sword.


Samurai shieldThe samurai shield played an important role in the early history of the Japanese. We found out that the Japanese warriors used the samurai shield, and we saw how its use started and how it ended. Let’s check if we covered everything we need to know:

  • The clear definition of the samurai and the samurai shield.
  • Aside from Tate, there were still other types of samurai shield being used by Japanese warriors.
  • The Samurai used many types of weapons.
  • The samurai shield has an interesting early history.
  • Early Japanese warriors used different types of samurai shields.

The samurai shield might have disappeared because of the rapid development of Japanese warfare in terms of weapons and equipment. However, one thing that could not be overlooked is the legacy of this shield and the weapons that the Japanese used in the past. Indeed, the samurai shield became a significant part of history.