Bōgu After the Meiji Period
With the commencement of the Meiji period, clans (han) were disbanded, and kenjutsu went into decline. What saved kenjutsu from extinction were gekken shows performed for public entertainment, and the eventual inclusion of kenjutsu in police and milatary training.
The Meiji government structured its army on the basis of the French military system. In 1884, the Japanese invited the French military advisor, Kiehl De Villaret, who proceeded to introduce methods of French swordsmanship. This style of kenjutsu was later presented in the textbook mentioned at the beginning of the article, Kenjutsu Kyōhan. This is the first time that the term bōgu was used, and it referred to the French style of protective armour.
However, Japan eventually turned its focus from the French to the German military system. In the Kenjutsu Kyōhan, it is mentioned that Japanese style bōgu would be used to practice the one-handed European style of swordsmanship. Even with these changes in the military system, traditional Japanese bōgu continued to be used and refined.Dō, for example, were mass-produced with extra protection for under the armpits, and the curvature of the dō was further emphasized .
In the Taishō period (1912-1926) the production of bōgu continued to increase, and machine stitched bōgu was pioneered for the first time.
In the Shōwa Period, the kote were snipped at the top of the funnel, and the padding on the men increased in length so that it eventually covered the entire shoulder area. This is the stage in which we can say that the evolution of bōgu was complete.
Incidentally, according to a shop catalog from 1932, the most expensive bōgu they had for sale went for 85 yen a set. A breakdown of the costs reveals that the men (1-bu 5-rin stitching, leather trimmings, metal grill) was 26 yen, kote 18 yen, dō 24 yen, and tare 17 yen. The cheapest bamboo set of armour available went for \10.5 (10 yen and 50 sen). Leather dō could cost anything around the 20-30 yen mark. If we multiply these prices by ten thousand to get a modern equivalent, the price fans out to 850,000 yen (approx. US$8000). This shows that bōgu was by no means a cheap commodity. A set of bōgu was already being considered an object of art created by skilled craftsmen, rather than just simply training gear.
The most expensive Judō-gi back then cost 2.6 yen. A basic blue kendō-gi cost 2.9 yen, with the upper range costing up to 6 yen. Children’s shinai cost 0.4 yen (40 sen) with high quality shinai going for 80-90 sen. Thus, the price of bōgu alone could be considered a major factor hindering the popularization of kendo back then too.