Samurai Masks

By Lorrie Hayman


The armor and masks of Samurai

Image Credit:


Samurai masks, called mempo, were facial armor worn by Japanese Samurai warriors. They were made out of leather and iron and were designed not only to protect the warrior’s face but also intimidate their enemies.


Sōmen (full-face mask). Edo period, 1710. Iron.

Image Credit: Denver Art Museum


Samurai were warriors that would dedicate themselves to a master (usually someone of wealth and influence) for a lifetime of service. Their conduct and lifestyle were built around Buddhist and Zen philosophy, so they were seen as a military force and as a Japanese social class.


Japanese samurai armour mask So-men. Matsuda Myochin (1784).

Image Credit:


Masks that were an important part of Samurai armor centuries ago are now prized collectable art. The masks started with basic features, such as twisted smiles and large noses, but overtime they developed and included some original features, like removable fangs, noses and additional chins. They would make quite a halloween costume!


Face mask of the lone Samurai helmet in the collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Image Credit:


The masks were effective in protecting the Samurai from facial injuries during battle. These practical disguises also became a fearsome sight across Japan and beyond.


Imagine, you are fighting in the battle of Sekigarara in 1603 (a battle that brought a period of peace in 16th century Japan), and an army of warriors approach wearing these twisted pieces. I know I would be doing my best sprint in the opposite direction!


Samurai Mask (Somen)

Image Credit:


In fact, the fear these masks instilled in history can still be seen in the media today; the Samurai mask inspired the look of the infamous Star Wars villain, Darth Vader.


Darth Vader, inspired by the samurai mask.

Image Credit:


It’s unlikely you’re going to be able to make a real Samurai mask, but you can have a lot of fun making your own version from paper mache or a paper plate!


Samurai helmet papercrafts. Left: Sujikabuto (striped) helmet by Naoe Kanetsugu. Right: Black lacquered Sujikabuto helmet by Mogami Yoshiaki.

Image Credit: Paper Craft Paradise


You can simply draw and color your design on a paper plate, cut it out, and fasten it to your face for a quick and creative way to become a Samurai.


Samurai mask helmet design illustration.

Image Credit: Dreamstime


Here’s some Pintrest inspiration!


As always, let us know how it goes and share your work with us. Use the form below or tag us @ArtsmithNY on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and use the hashtag #ArtsmithJABS.


Submit Comments or Artwork

Tell us what you think about the blog series or send us pictures or video of your practice. We’ll check them out and maybe we’ll post them for others to see!

    Your Name (required)

    Your Email (required)


    Your Comments

    Upload Your Art (1mb file size limit)