Feudal Japan and shields

Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun is a turn-based tactical and strategic game set during this turbulent time; primarily focusing on the Japanese Warring States period and Japanese Invasion of Korea. Other armies from East Asia are also made available to simulate different conflicts across the region.
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Mystification
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Feudal Japan and shields

Post by Mystification » Mon Apr 29, 2019 2:27 pm

I've been playing this game recently and it occurred to me that the Japanese don't seem to have used shields in warfare, despite their main weapons being spears and bows. Almost every other civilisation or tribe in classical/medieval times resorted to shields as protection against both projectiles and in melee. This is obviously true of Romans and Greeks, but the Celts, Germans and Norse also used them. All the Mediterranean and Middle East peoples used shields as far as I know. Even the pre-Columbian Americans did. The Zulu and other African tribesmen. So what's special about the Japanese? Was their body armour THAT effective? I doubt it because it was plate armour that made shields more or less obsolete for those who could afford it.

SnuggleBunnies
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Re: Feudal Japan and shields

Post by SnuggleBunnies » Thu May 02, 2019 2:22 am

Since nobody else has answered, I will hazard one, though I am far from an expert. For one thing, it's important to note that ancient Japanese armies did seem to utilize handheld shields, but these gradually fell out of use. This decline in shield use seems to coincide with the rise of the Samurai, who fought largely as mounted archers, in response to the hit and run tactics of the Emishi of the north. Shields are more a hindrance than a help in mounted archery, and, combined with the shield like properties of the boxy O-Yoroi armor, the Samurai evidently found no use for shields on horseback. Many of the supporting infantry also used bows, and some used the Naginata, basically a glaive, once again requiring two hands to use.

Even the ubiquitous weapon of the peasantry, the bamboo spear (takeyari) required two hands to use. As to why the Japanese relied so heavily on two handed weapons, even for their lightly or unarmored troops, is hard to say. One key factor could be a lack of foreign influence - Japanese warfare after the 7th century was largely insular. Another could be the generally looser formations in which the Japanese preferred to fight - whether this was due to the rugged terrain, or simply a cultural preference, I don't know. By the Sengoku era, the Samurai switched over from bow and naginata to yari, gun, and bow - once again all weapons that do not lend themselves to shield use.

Still, the lack of shields in most of the period covered in the game isn't that different from the situation in Europe. Shield use in Europe was in decline by the 1300s, and most troops seemed to have relied on two handed weapons (polearms, longbows, etc.) by 1500. One of the holdouts was the use of pavises by crossbowmen - and the same occurred in Japan, which saw a long use of shields that rested on stands, to be used as protection during exchanges of arrow fire. During the Sengoku era, these were supplemented by mantlets made from bundles of plants (bamboo?) thick enough to stop bullets.

As to the why, though, I can't say I have a satisfactory answer.

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