The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum in Dallas specializes in high-quality samurai artifacts. Most of the items are hundreds of years old and still in remarkable shape. The museum is small, well-designed, and very modern.
The owners, Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, have been collecting samurai objects for over 25 years. They have amassed over 700 artifacts, and their collection is regarded as one of the best in the world. The museum rotates a portion of the items from their collection.
Items are encased in glass and professionally displayed. You’ll see suits of armor used by samurai warriors and their horses, decorative helmets, and ancient weapons. Some of the displays provide the name and background of the samurai who actually wore the armor from long ago. The admission is free and the museum is definitely worth checking out.
The Barbier-Mueller museum can be hard to find. It’s located on the second floor of the historic St. Ann’s School building, above the Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar. There are no signs on the exterior of the building. So look for a red brick building with white framed windows.
Your phone’s navigation will probably guide you to the free parking garage on the property. The parking garage is available for both museum and restaurant visitors. Valet parking is available, but you can also park on the upper levels of the garage. Just ask the valet what floors are available for museum visitors. After you park, you can take the elevator back down to the ground floor. If you want to skip the parking garage, there are 2-hour parking spots on the neighboring streets.
When you enter the restaurant, Let the host know you’re there to see the samurai museum. They will gladly point you in the right direction. The stairway to the museum is located in the center of the restaurant towards the bar area.
Who were the Samurai?
The legendary samurai ruled Japan for over 1,000 years. The Barbier-Mueller Museum describes the samurai as a fierce class of professional warriors.
In 792 A. D., protection of Japanese provinces became the responsibility of wealthy landowners. These landowners had to create their own security forces to protect their lands. The private security force led to the formation of the samurai.
The samurai’s job was to enforce order within a territory and protect it from other Japanese provinces.
Samurai were highly trained in martial arts, weaponry, and always ready for combat. They were also well-educated and taught to appreciate art and culture. To balance their life of training and fighting, the warriors participated in poetry, painting, and other forms of art.
A number of factors led to the decline of the samurai. Over time, less rice farmers were needed to feed the country. Japan’s population gradually shifted from rural areas to cities and urban areas. There was also period of peace in Japan that lasted around 250 years. As a result, the role and status of the samurai declined. In 1876, the emperor replaced the samurai class with a standing army to defend the country.
The stunning design of the helmet above will grab your attention from the other side of the gallery. Great detail went into manufacturing this style of headgear. It was built during the Momoyama period, that lasted from 1573 to 1615. Gold, iron, leather and other materials were used to make this helmet.
This iron helmet was used during the Muromachi period of Japan (1392 – 1573). The intricate details on the yellow horns are made of gold. Armor with elaborate designs made with precious metals was a status symbol among the samurai.
Armor of Honda Tadakuni
You will see this featured display after walking through the glass doors of the museum. The suit of armor on the right belonged to Honda Tadakuni, a powerful warlord who reigned in the 17th century. The Honda was a powerful clan of samurai. The symbol of the Honda is found on the curved flaps on each side of the helmet. It was common for samurai to wear their family crest on their helmet. It helped identify them as part of a prestigious family.
You might have noticed how much smaller the suit of armor is on the left. It was created for a young samurai boy. The armor is made of the same materials worn by adult warriors. It wasn’t meant for combat though, but for a coming-of-age ceremony. Samurai training started for boys at age 6, and they engaged in combat in their early to mid-teens.
Palanquins were used to transport people of high stature like a daimyō or his wife. The daimyō were the wealthiest landowners in Japan who paid the samurai to protect their lands. The passenger rode in the middle compartment and was carried by two attendants.
Horses and Riders
Samurai horses also wore armor to protect them in battle. The horse above is wearing two pieces. The front piece protects its neck and shoulders. The other piece protects its hindquarters.
The rider’s armor above is different from the other suits in the museum. His front chest plate is covered by a black bearskin. This ensured his bowstring wouldn’t get snagged on his armor when firing arrows from his horse.
The armor on the second horse looks thicker and more elaborate. The museum says it only used by high-ranking samurai for important events. The square tiles covering the horse are made of gold-lacquered leather. The saddle features wide open stirrups. They allowed the rider to stand up quickly and fire arrows at his enemy.
The museum says this spear-head blade was made by a famous female swordsmith named Onna Kunishige. She lived from 1733 to 1808. The cover to the blade is on the right. It’s coated with a material to make the outside more rigid and decorative. The museum has many spears and covers on display.
This featured display shows the wide-ranging style of samurai helmets from the late 1500s and early 1600s. These helmets are made of iron and protected the owners from blows to the head. X-rays show the inner workings of each helmet.
Surcoats were loose vests worn over the top of armor. They were mostly worn by high-ranking samurai commanders. This one was made using thousands of feathers from over 300 Japanese pheasants.
Armor of Okudaira Nobumasa
According to the museum, this armor belonged to a celebrated warrior named Okudaira Nobumasa. For his contributions made on the battlefield, the shogun of Tokugawa awarded him a castle and allowed him to marry his oldest daughter. He was also assigned as special attaché to the Shogun to the Emperor of Japan.
The suit was made during the 16th century and was stored in a family shrine for hundreds of years before making its way to the museum.
Reading and Video Room
There’s a small study room towards the back of the gallery. Visitors can watch a short video that covers the culture and history of the samurai. Books and magazines about the samurai and other civilizations are also available.
|Address:||2501 N Harwood St|
Dallas, TX 75201