E-gawa 絵革



E-gawa are the special decorative leathers found adorning various parts of an armour. They have been in use on Japanese armour since the Heian era of Japanese history 平安時代 (794-1185AD) where they are seen on the great O-yoroi armours of the period.


E-gawa come in many different patterns with the design being stencilled on to soft doeskin using various natural pigments. In the past the stencils were hand cut by a specialist craftsmen into the desired pattern and are called Katagami 型紙. Today, true E-gawa is still made using handcut stencils but silk screen printed modern varieties are available commercially. These though are used for cheap reproductions and toy armours as used in the boys festival. I was fortunate enough to be taught by my teacher in Japan, how to make E-gawa by the old traditional method by hand cutting a stencil and then applying the dye



To begin making E-gawa, a stencil has to be cut using handmade stencil paper which is made from Kozo 楮紙 (Japanese mulberry). It is made by pasting about five layers of paper together after which it is then smoked. This is followed by a coating of Kakishibu 柿渋 (astringent persimmon juice) to waterproof it

Katagami bocho 型紙包丁




Once the design is drawn it is very carefully cut out using a special handmade knife called a Katagami bocho 型紙包丁. The width of the blade is approx 2mm wide.



After the stencil is cut it is laid on top of the doeskin and the dyes are then applied through the stencil onto the leather. When the stencil is removed the dyes are allowed to dry sometimes up to 2-3 months. This design was a commision to be used on a shoulder strap of a Muromachi period 室町時代 (approx 1333-1573AD) Domaru armour.

Shoheigawa 正平革の型紙


This is a stencil I cut for an E-gawa design known as Shoheigawa 正平革 referring to the date that the design was first licensed to be used (1351). The date of the sixth year of Shohei is incorporated into the design. The overall design is of Chinese lions amongst Peony flowers.

Shoheigawa 正平革












The completed Shoheigawa after stenciling. Once it is dry it is then cut out to be used on the various parts of a suit of armour.

Mitsu tomoe 三 巴



This is another design called Mitsu tomoe 三 巴 (three comma's). Also, if you look carefully in the design are three stylised dragonflys surrounding a snowflake. This was made for a commission. The original E-gawa design is Heian period in date although this is a reproduction of an Edo period 江戸時代 (1603-1867) version.

Mojishi 藻師子




This is a stencil commisioned for use on a Munaita 胸板 (top of a breastplate) on a Muromachi period armour. The design is called Mojishi 藻師子and shows dancing lions amongst foliage.