Your Armor Against the Cold: Haramaki

The Japanese fashion sense and aesthetics have always been derived from the culture and history of the nation. Everything from kimonos to sandals, current Japanese designers have been adapting old aesthetics and bringing them into the modern world. One great example of this would be the haramaki. In the feudal eras of Japan, the haramaki was part of the traditional samurai armor set. This piece was meant to protect the middle region of one’s body. Nowadays, the haramaki is used as both a fashion accessory and a belly warmer. It is amazing to think that armor used in combat was used as the inspiration for a thick undergarment that shields bellies during winter by keeping them warm.

The term haramaki originates from two Japanese words. The first being hara, which means the center of the body. The second word is maki, which means to wrap up. Therefore, haramaki stands for something to wrap up the core of the body. Aside from providing warmth to the core of the body, it is believed that the haramaki also improves circulation, relieves one from lower back pains, and helps with digestion. Another benefit brought about by the use of a haramaki would be that it provides warmth throughout the body without forcing one to wear heavy and thick clothing. It is also said to provide support and relieve pain for pregnant women as well as women on their monthly menstrual cycle.  It is amazing to think that a tool used to protect warriors in battle now is used to protect civilians from the weather.

Haramaki Armor

The haramaki that was known to the warriors of old Japan was known as the Haramaki Dou. It was one of the many chest armors used by the samurai class of Japan during the feudal era. It’s original construction was made with the same materials as the o-yoroi, the great armor used by samurai in the 10th century and was made of mostly iron metal. This was the time when the Japanese warriors slowly moved away from leather armor and started using more metal, such as iron. The main difference between the two was that the o-yoroi was specifically designed for warriors who would charge into battle riding horseback while the haramaki was designed for warriors who would charge into battle following them.


The term haramaki is actually a general term for the armor used by foot soldiers which are equipped with the front of the person and secured in place from the back via the use of cords. This is in contrast to the other types of Japanese armor, such as the ni-mai do, do-maru, and maru do, which is equipped from the side of the person instead of the front.

The dou, which is the Japanese equivalent of a cuirass, is the most eye-catching and largest piece of equipment in any Japanese armor set. The importance of this piece is found in the aesthetics that it places on the armor. It sets the look and feels for the whole set and it is from the dou’s design that the armor is given its name. Examples of this would be the yokohagi ni-mai dou gusoku, which means horizontally-riveted clamshell cuirass armour, and the go-mai dangaie haramaki dou gusoku, which means armor with a five-sectional cuirass with two stepped different lacing styles which open at the back. As seen with the two examples, the whole set of armor is dependent on the dou design. Eventually, the comfort, added flexibility, and the lack of difficulty when equipping allowed dou armor to be the preferred armor of the Japanese warriors, replacing the much-used o-yoroi.

Harmaki Do Patterns

As stated earlier, the chest piece of any armor, called the dou, is the centerpiece of the whole set. These include the haramaki dou. It is noted that the haramaki dou allowed for a more striking aesthetic for the chest piece as it opens up from the back. This allowed for the protective design to be perfectly symmetrical starting from the front and center. This is in contrast to the dou maru as the opening, which is on the side of the person, forces the design of the armor to wrap all the way around the back and the fastening lacing is on the side. The most striking design for any armor would be the crest located on the dou. These are typically around the size of a dinner plate and are placed in the center of the dou. The crest is significant as it signifies who the warriors are fighting for, whether it be their clan or their lord. Foot soldiers or retainers typically have the same design of armor but samurai of high standing and wealth would often pay a hefty price to have their armor made with much more ornamental designs. They would stand out by having distinct armor pieces, which includes their helmets, bracers, shields, and chest pieces. Sometimes they would even request for a personalized armor set that shows off their distinctive style. Though the crest on the haramaki dou is the most eye-catching part of the chest piece, it is actually the lacing at the back and the color of the plates which are considered the centerpiece of design for the Japanese. It is not uncommon for some warriors to have multiple sets of armor in different color combinations.

The Meaning Behind the Sash Haramaki

The usage of haramaki was also seen in non-armor garments, such as the senninbari. The senninbari, which roughly translates to thousand stitch belt or thousand person stitch, is an amulet made by women. These women would often give these belts to Japanese warriors who are on their way to battle. This was a part of the traditions of the Shinto religion during the imperial periods of Japan. The senninbari is typically one meter long and is adorned with 1000 stitches, thus its name. The senninbari were typical, if not mostly, made from a pure white cloth, however, there would be instances where other colors, such as red, green, and yellow, would be used. This cloth would then be paired with a colored thread, typically red, that would be stitched onto it.  The stitches would then be arranged in such a way that patterns forming images or words would be made. Examples of such imagery or words would be the Tigers, flags, and slogans. The most common phrase seen on senninbari would be bu-un cho-kyo, which means eternal good luck in war. Tigers were common as well as it is believed that they had the ability to venture far away from their homes and return safe and sound.

Senninbari were made to be worn on various parts of the body. Some would make them as a bandana, while others made them be worn like vests. The most popular senninbari made was those that were worn around the waist.  This is due to the firm belief that abdomen bands help in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This form of senninbari was called the senninbari-haramaki. The senninbari-haramaki traditionally is made to be around 30 to 36 inches long and about 6 inches tall. The most popular senninbari-haramaki would be the tiger belt which is adorned with images of tigers.

Senninbari would typically be made by the important women in a warrior’s life, whether it be his mother, sister, or spouse. In the worst times of the war, patriotism in Japan never waned. Women’s groups would organize gatherings in order to make massive amounts of senninbari. The senninbari that were made during the war were often placed in comfort bags, called imonbukuro, and were shipped to the soldiers fighting the war across the ocean. Additional charms were typically added to the senninbari belts as well. There was a tradition of sewing in a woman’s hair as well as coins as an added form of protection or luck. These beliefs could be traced back to the folklore of the early people of Okinawa.

The tradition of making senninbari started in the 19th century, during the first Sino-Japanese War. Red was considered as a color of luck and thus it was used in the majority of belts that were made. The belief was that the belts would bring in luck and courage to the wearer as well as provide protection from injury. Another belief that was held by the warriors of those times was that it allowed them to be in a favorable position in order to deal a greater blow to their enemies before they would die in battle. Others also wore the senninbari as a symbol of their love and devotion to the women they left behind.

Modern Day Uses of the Haramaki

The Japanese have always had innovative ways of solving simple problems. These are problems that aren’t unique to them and thus people around the world

could learn a thing or two by taking a look at the special ways they have solved them.  Much like a lot of places in the world, Japan is subject to the seasons year with hot and humid summers and cold and snowy winters. It is during the latter season that the people of Japan are faced with climates that make everyday life quite difficult. So how do Japanese people keep warm? With the onset of technology, many Japanese people have flocked to the use of central heating and the famous kotatsu for warmth. Outer Garments have also been central to keeping Japanese warm and it has always been created with their distinct Japanese aesthetics. There are some traditional Japanese undergarments nowadays that were made to keep the Japanese warm. One of which is the haramaki.

Fashionable coats and jackets are easy to find but the traditional haramaki has always looked boring. The modern day haramaki is a simple tube of thick cloth. Imagine a sweater or shirt minus the arms, neck, and chest portions and you have a haramaki. Usually, this is long enough that one could fold it over itself and provide more warmth for the belly area. As said earlier these haramaki warmers tended to be dull as typically they are made in plain white, brown, or gray. Typical materials for their construction would be cotton, wool, or polyester. For a time they were even part of the attire of rural agricultural workers or truck drivers. There were a few instances where the hero or villain of a film would be wearing a haramaki as these were the perfect cover for their items, such as a gun or bladed weapon. It comes to no surprise that the haramaki was unfortunately linked to the image of a middle-aged or elderly man.

It is only in recent years that the haramaki warmer has come into a different light as younger and more fashion conscious individuals started using this sensible winter undergarment as a fashion statement. With the rise of cheaper, faster, and more intricate production methods, the haramaki is seen making a comeback into the clothes of today. The haramaki is being redefined and brought back to life as an item that is thin enough to be worn under your everyday work clothes but warm enough to provide proper warmth. More designs and colors are being made now and sometimes the haramaki is even worn on top of people’s shirts. By broadening the uses in everyday fashion, the designers of today are bringing the haramaki to the forefront of sensible and practical clothing.

From protection against swords and arrow to protection from the weather, it is amazing to think that armor used in combat was used as the inspiration for a thick undergarment that shields bellies during winter by keeping them warm. For the winter season where every minute under the cold temperature brings you closer to frostbite, something as simple as a haramaki belt is useful. It is wonderful is it that from a small piece of tubular clothing, one can gain so much warmth and health benefits.