My Osaka bogu craftsman friend Shinji Kawato told me many years ago that one of his ambitions was to find Mussolini’s armour. Apparently back in the time when Il Duce still enjoyed popularity and power, he was presented with a set of bogu, which apparently epitomized the bogu maker’s art. We do not have any evidence as to whether he ever used it, or indeed tried it on, but Kawato san believes that it was as good as bogu got and his aim still is to find it, reverse engineer it and make bogu of the same quality.
I shared this story some time ago with Dany Delepierre, President of the Belgian Kendo Federation . Whenever we meet our conversation turns to the likely whereabouts of the bogu. The most recent theory is that it is in use in a Neapolitan pizzeria with the tare worn as a baker’ s apron and the kote as pizza oven gloves, we could not come up with a logical use for the dou, but the men would make a good salad strainer.
Joking aside, it is interesting to reflect on whether it is possible for today’s bogu craftsmen to make equipment of the same quality as that produced by earlier generations of bogu makers. There are new materials and manufacturing techniques available that give today’s kenshi a wide choice of bogu styles at reasonable prices, but high quality kendo armour continues to be made by hand, sometimes in Japan and sometimes in other Asian countries and assembled in Japan. In the case of the totally home-made product, buyers can expect to pay a hefty bill and to wait a considerable amount of time for their kit.
There are numerous stories about the length of time people had to wait for their bogu to be manufactured. A friend in Osaka was treated to a new set by his father in congratulation on his passing 5th dan. Unfortunately he got the call to say that it was ready 3 years after it was ordered and six months after his dad died, so he paid for his own present.
Bogu is certainly subject to fashion. There is a retro move away from the tight 1bu stitching of the 70s and 80s back to the softer thicker style with more widely spaced stitches common before the war. I have a feeling that if Mussolini’s is found it would make an ideal template. Let’s just hope that it is not covered in tomato paste.