By Anthony J. Bryant/Baron Edward of Effingham

This is excerpted from A Japanese Miscellany, The Compleat Anachronist Volume #65, and is reprinted with the author's gracious permission. He has also given leave to post his email address, so if you have questions about this page, email him here.


Historically, what we know of as pavilions would in Japanese be called akunoya.

Generally speaking, tents were a late development. Troops usually slept in the open, with those of rank billeting themselves in temples. Camp curtains could be drawn up as awnings, however.

In fact, the tents shown in scrolls seem to be little more than roofed jinmaku. Sizes seem to vary, but a 'typical' tent--and there would be only a very few of these in the camp--would be something like 6 x 12 feet. As the walls would be made up of camp curtains, that means six support poles (not counting the additional frames for the roof) and two curtains of 18-foot length. The opening would be at the center of the narrower ends, which constitute the front and back. The roof is a simple double rectangle married to a triangle at front and back.

"Tents" seem to have had their heydays during the sixteenth century.

Considering the weather in Japan (with frequent torrential rains) it is surprising that there is so little material available on how the Japanese kept high and dry.


There is nothing I have found to go on as to the tent's interior or its method of support; I would suggest a strong internal framework. There are many tentmakers in the Society who could easily come up with a framework of either wood or aluminum pipe to meet your specifications should you logically opt to avoid the hassle yourself.

If you make the fabric part, remember that is needs to be Scotchguarded to within an inch of its life. You may even want to have an under roof of plastic (like 'ground cloth' plastic sheeting) under the fabric for extra protection is rain is threatening.

The tents were often striped vertically; in authentic terms this means lots of strips of clothes and lots of seams. Mon may be placed on the strips, if you like.

The roof of the tent will have an overlapping section about 1 foot long which covers the top of the jinmaku making up the tent walls. Except for the front and back openings, it is fairly well closed. Some sources indicate that inside the tent a secondary set of curtains could be hung as internal walls; This may have provided an overlap at the front and back to enable the tent to actually close up.

At any rate, in the tent or not, during mosquito season, sleepers usually slept under a canopy of mosquito netting.

The tent had no flooring short of perhaps boards laid down, or a simple fabric 'carpet' spread out on the ground; either of these is possible. A few tatami would make up the sleeping pallet.


How ambitious are you?

That is the first thing that you must consider before you begin to prepare a Japanese campsite.  The most basic thing would be a few banners. If you don't have the financial wherewithal (or transportable facilities) to make a Japanese tent, as least make some jinmaku (camp curtains); they can hide a multitude of sins.

Among the things they can hide are dome tents, Coleman stoves, ice chests, and nude sunbathing.

After banners, they should be the first thing you acquire or make if you are serious about doing a Japanese campside. If you actually have a Japanese tent, they can even dress up that setting better; there are several different ways of rigging up jinmaku that are recognized, and each one seems to have had a different purpose.

For outdoor events, the next thing to acquire may be bonfire stands. These generally resembly grille-work 'buckets' in which a fire it lit, at the top of 3 or 4 foot poles arranged like a tripod. These could be set where ever you desire light. At least two, at either side in front of your campsite, would be a minimum.

If a military camp (this would be great at The War) you might want to scatter around a few tate, or pavises. These, by the way, also make great feast tables.

When one considers that there were so few civil nobles out "camping" as to be almost non-existent, it is pretty obvious that a "military camp" would be better. (Nobles usually commandeered temples, shrines, or homes of local officialls anyway.)

Other things that would help to dress up the campsite are replacing the ice chest(s) with the Japanese equivalent(s). Of course, this would be merely cosmetic; a thin wooden case to disguise the more plebeian origins of the plastic Igloo container. Real tourney chests in Japanese style could hold armour, garb, or whatever other gear you may need.

I remember one Pennsic War where someone has brought a portable hot tub; it was made from a huge (55-gallon?) oil drum cut in half lengthwise, with a wooden lattice in the bottom to keep sensitive buns from frying, and support by cinder blocks which contained a fire. It wsa set up inside a separate tent. We got three people in that sucker once...ah, the War!

There is no end to the dressings you may add.  Spear racks an alternately be used for holding a brace of spears or a brace of banners. One idea may be to have a chest to pack the tent and camp curtains and banners in, which, when empty, can serve to hide your ice chest.

Look at books having copies of battle scrolls and the like and see what kind of objects were generally to be found at a Japanese camp.

Go crazy. Have fun!


Chest and Boxes

There were many kinds of chest and boxes used in Japan, ranging from small ones designed to hold writing equipment to large ones designed to hold suits of armor or household goods. For tournament or eventing use, there are two types that immediately come to mind as convenient for stashing large amounts of gear.

In the interest of space, rather than provide diagrams on their construction, I will just give a clear look at the chests. Anyone with a modicum of skill in woodworking can easily make them, anyway.

One of the most common chest from Heian days was what was called Karabitsu, or Chinese chest. It was generally about the size of a footlocker, and it became the standard recepticle for the armour of the nobility, as well as being used in the home as a catch-all for other boxes or slightly bulky items. Its most distinguishing feature is the six legs. More ornate versions were made, with complicately cut feet, but for day-to-day use such niceties weren't of major importance.

A legless variety also existed, but it was not called Karabitsu, it was merely a big box, and would seem to have been called a hitsu, the generic term for chest.

Another chest, about the size and shape of a footlocker on end, was used to store armour from the mid-1500s.  It had handles so designed that, when up, the chest could either be carried by them or have a strong pole thurst through them and thus carried between two people or over the shoulder of one strong man.

Some were fitted with shoulder strops to enable one to carry them on the back.

The usual decoration was black lacquer, though some color could be used.  Some chest were very ornately decorated, with overall repetitions of the owner's mon, or simply a repeating pattern or design.


One item of gear useful for courts was the armrest, or the kyosoku. Its construction, too, I will elave out, although the enclosed illustration should provide enough of a hint as to how best to build one.  Considering that chairs weren't used in Japan, the armrest's usefulness can be readily apparent. They measured usually some 18 x 6 inches; heigh varied but hovered between 8 and 10 inches.


The Japanese campstool, called agura, is identical in all respects to the standard flat, canvas-topped campstool. They were never used indoors. Their most common use was in the camp (sitting on the groun in Japanes armour and standing again quickly is not simple), but they could also be used at simple outdoor events as well, when you don't want to sit on wet or dirty ground.

Seat cushions

Zabuton, or seat cushions, were and still are, a common piece of indoor furniture. Their best usage for the SCA could be for indoor courts; they would give the court-holding nobles a place to sit.

There were principally three types. The most comfortable is a simple square cushion about one and a half feet square and about three to four inches thick. It could be decorated with a mon or other motif, or even left solid color. This is the zabuton proper.

Another 'cushion'--though really more something to keep the backside clean--is the enza, or 'round seat'. The enza is a spiral of rope sewn together. (I have known people to make replicas of these by making a rope spiral and liberally applying glue to the bottom and permanently setting it on a small wooden disk.  The enza is about 18 inches in diameter, although they could be as small as a foot. They're not really very comfortable, but they do keep the behind out of the dirt.

A third seat, which all but disappeared after 1400, is the shitone, which looks like a mini tatami. It was used mostly by the court aristocracy, but it did catch on with the military aristocracy later. See the section on tatami for information on its construction.


Banners played an important part in old Japan, even as they do in today's Japan. Banners of the same style and pattern as appeared on a fifteenth century battlefiled can be seen selling Fuji film or advertising a sales on rice at the corner market.

Only a few banner forms--and there were many--truly correspond with European styles.  There seems to have been no tradition of a free-flying banner connected only at the hoist, as is so common in the West. By far the most common banner style was connected at the hoise and chief to the pole and crossarm.

Two version of this primarily exist: basically square or short rectangular banners, and really longer, narrow ones. (The long side was always vertical.) These flags could have been made in any size, though sashimono (flags worn on the back of the armour during the Age of Battles) were usually slightly less than one full width of fabric (about one foot) wide and about 3 feet long. Those used in standard were usually two or even three full widths (c. 30-45 inches) and 12 or more feet long.

Another style, similaru in ways to the European gonfalon, has a long narrow strip of cloth hanging from a crossbar. This crossbar could either be rigidly attached to the pole, or hung free from it by cords at either end and tied to the pole.

This is one of the older forms of Japanese flag. The 1180-1185 genpei War between the Minamoto Clan, or Genji, and the Taira Clan, or Heike, was marked by the white banners of the former and the red banners of the latter. These banners were generally depicted as being of this style. The loose, long flapping end was free to fly ing the breeze (thus necessitating a pole high enough to keep it from being a nuisance), although some variations had a strip of fabric sewn to the center back like a belt loop, through which the pole passed. Occasionally it was also simply seized around and tied to the pole near the base. It could be of any width (106 feet) and of any length (3-20 feet).

Windsocks were also popular, but more so during the Age of Battles. The Ichimonji clan standard from the Kurosawa film Ran was such a banner, with many typical historical models as its source.


Many banners in Japan actually had no designs to speak of. Some were merely geometrics: a background of color and a stripe or two, or divided or patterned fields.

Those bearing designs could either bear the mon of the owner, a slogan painted on it (such as Takeda Shingen's famous Fu-rin-ka-zan, or 'Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain' banner) or even just a picture. This pretty much holds true for all styles of banner, including windsocks.

Sometimes the owner's mon would be singular, and very large; other times it would be repeated two or three times vertically or in a triangular or other geometric pattern. Even other forms of decoration would be to mix a geometric color shift (e.g.: a broad strip of color across the top, or a color division 'per bend') with the mon below.

In the film Ran, the various divisions of the Ichimonji clan were identified with different color banners and different designs (one tripo for Taro, two for Jiro, three for Saburo); in Kagemusha, we were shown the same flag--Shingen's mon on a solid color field--with the color of the field marking different divisions of his army. Both of these are period techniques.

Often, banner styles themselves would be mixed and matched. I have seen a windsock flying from the point where the support arm of a long, narrow banner met the staff, and that was one of the more sedate variations.


In Japanese practice, personal standards were not always true flags, per se. Ieyasu had a huge golden fan, for example, and Hideyoshi had a huge golden gourd with several other pendant gourds. The operative word here is 'huge'.

The term for such unique creations was uma jirushi, or 'horse signs'. Among them have been helmets on poles, hats on poles, large umbrellas, fans, etc...

As with the European standard, these represented the man; Shingen's banner meant Shingen was there. Likewise, they should not be displayed without the physical presence of their owner.

Most well illustrated books on Japanese history will provide the vexillophile with plenty of ideas for further flag-making; pay special attention to battle scrolls.


One tends to think of tatami as the traditional flooring in Japanese architecture. And so it is--today. The traditional flooring used throughout Japan's history until late in Period was simply wood. no rugs. No tiles. No piles of straw.

During the Heian and Kamakura Periods, tatami were seats and bedding; it was not until the Muromachi Period that they first began to be used for general flooring, but even then only in the homes of the wealthiest aristocrats. By the year 1500, homes of many members of the aristocracy--civil and military--were in general floored over with the mats.

The first tatami were for bedding, being softer than the floor, and conveniently sized for one person (or two very good friends...) to sleep on.

The sizes of tatami today vary slightly depending on the region of Japan in which they are produced, but the standard is approximately 3 x6 feet, fairly close to the Period size. Today, room size in Japan is spoke of in terms of a number of jo (mats) that will fit inside it. Given their standard size, the most common rooms are 4-1/2,6, and 8-mat, or 9 feet square, 9 x 12 feet, and 12 x 12 feet respectively. Anything above eight mats is considered huge.

One or more tatami could be used as a dais, as shown in the opening scene of Kurosawa's 1980 film Kagemusha. Even in later architectural styles which incorporated a raised dais in the floor plan, a pile of tatami could be used to produce a sort of super-dais.

The top surface of the tatami is a smoothly woven straw mat sheet over a thick and rough finished foundation. Tatami are green when new, but rapidly fade to a golden brown. The smell of fresh tatami is wonderful, and beats the smell of a new car hands down. The long sides of the mat are bound with strips of cloth, often brocade. In the Heisan Period, the color and pattern of the binding was determined by the relative rank and position of the owner, but by the late Kamakura Period such distinctions were lost.

The one rule--observed even today--was that when the floor was covered with tatmi (as opposed to isolated tatami seats, bedding or dais), all the strips would have to be cut from the same cloth. On sleeping mats or seating, such uniformity does not seem to have been an issue.

The origin of the name comes from the verb 'tatamu', which means to fold or layer, implying that the earliest tatami were thin, and folded up or were stacked out of the way when not in use. In this, they are much like modern goza, or tatami surface matting, today often used as ersatz tatami flooring in Japanese restaurants. how to tell the difference? True tatami, at 2-1/2" thick, are actually very soft and springy.

Their best use within the SCA is as small seats, bed platforms, or even as a dais for holding court al fresco. In outdoor

JINMAKU (camp walls)

Jinmaku (or tobari) are also called camp curtain, whihc is only appropriate as that is what 'jinmaku' means. In battle scrolls dating back to the latter part of the Heian Period they already seem to have been in use. There were no offically recognized standardized sizes before the Momoyama Period, but all would seem to have been a few inches either way from 6 feet in height, and at least twice that in length.

The curtains were used to ring areas to keep out wind or prying eyes. On campaign, soldier--at least the higher ranking ones--would sleep within a ring of jinmaku, usually on tatami placed on the ground. Of course, inclement weather would put the kibosh on this.

Kurosawa's films Ran and Kagemusha both show how camp curtain were set up and used.

Many jinmaku were made solid of five or six strips of cloth sewn together horizontally; others left periodic 6- or 8- inch open sections along the seams to allow wind to pass through without whipping the curtains about like sails torn off a schooner caught in a Nor'easter. The jinmaku could be of one single color, it could have a top strip and /or the bottom strip in a different color, or even be striped.

As far back as the twelfth century, according to picture scrolls, they were already being decorated with the crest of their owners.  This could be a random repetition of the mon over the surface of the curtain, as a regular single large crest centered to be directly between support poles, or a regularly repeating smaller crest forming a sort of high equator-line on the jinmaku.


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