Why A Rabbit Appears On This Japanese Samurai Helmet

This Japanese kawari-kabuto, or individualized helmet, dating from the 17th century sports the shape of a crouching rabbit forged from a single piece of iron. The helmet’s ear guards are shaped like ocean waves.

Rabbits are commonly depicted with waves in Japanese art, particularly during the early Edo period in the 1600s. It is said that ocean whitecaps resembled white rabbits darting over the waters in the moonlight. A Noh play called Chikubushima which centers around a mystical island has a famous verse referring to a “moon rabbit” darting over the waters.

But why would a warrior want to go into battle wearing the image of a rabbit? Was it just about literature or culture?

Perhaps the symbol on this helmet is more directly related to battle. In another famous legend called “The Hare of Inaba,” a white rabbit outsmarts a group of predatory sea creatures by deceiving them and darting across them over the ocean, showing not only wisdom but strength and agility.

The warrior who chose this helmet may have wanted to express not only a sense of mystical power, but also cleverness and speed facing enemies. 

this article first appeared in military history quarterly

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