Crux-point for my samurai project

Print with header

My samurai project has hit a major crux-point.  Samurai rules bought – check! Japanese terrain made – check! Samurai miniatures bought, assembled and undercoated – check! But what colours to paint them???

I now know how a newbie to Napoleonics feels when he’s faced with the daunting array of uniforms, flags and formations that need to be researched if he’s going to get it right.  That initial step of dabbing the first spots of colour onto my Japanese samurai figures seems to be such a huge yawning abyss to cross.

I started my samurai project from a basis of being totally unfamiliar with Japanese military history. Since then, despite reading several books and browsing the web, I’m still finding it all frightfully confusing. The various clans seem to continually swap sides, the exotic names of lords and generals get mixed up to my untrained ear, the rules around heraldry are perplexing, the puzzle of what colours to paint the armour is complex …

Samurai books

So, its time for some self-reflection on where I’ve got to so far.  Writing this posting might help me sort out my thoughts, and pluck up the courage to pick up that paint brush. And of course I’m also open to suggestion from those who have been down this track before me!!

Let’s start with the figures. After much pondering, and a false start in first buying another manufacturer’s figures but finding them not quite to my taste, I settled on Kingsford Miniatures from Canada.


They’re nice and big for 28mm figures, which is a characteristic I really like. The figures are sculpted by ‘Evalario’, a well-known expert on the Samurai Archives, and a talented artist to boot – resulting in the Kingsford figures being both historical accurate and beautifully sculpted.

I bought enough Kingsford figures to form a couple of groups (or ‘buntai’) to use with the Ronin skirmish rules put out recently by Osprey Publications. Each group is led by a mounted samurai, who is accompanied by a retinue of a few sword-wielding samurai retainers on foot, plus some ashigaru foot soldiers armed with a mix of firearms, bows and spears.


The figures were easy enough to assemble, despite my normal aversion to metal figures that need gluing. So far the joins have held pretty robustly, even the rather flimsy back banners.

Next came my usual black undercoat. And after that is when I hit the brick wall – what colours to paint each of these two very similarly equipped buntai, especially the flags and banners?


Samurai have loads of heraldry, such as the small banners on the individual warriors’ backs and the large flags carried by the standard-bearers. My heraldry will obviously have to represent two clans that fought each other.

I asked around on various forums, and the best suggestion was to have retinues allied to the warring Takeda and Uesugi clans. But I would also expect that such small buntai wouldn’t be led by the main lords of those two clans, but rather by some minor samurai allied to the larger clan. I therefore needed to decide what heraldry my minor allies of the Takeda and Uesugi clans would carry. I thought the answer could be quite simple – just choose a small clan’s pattern from a book or the web.

There is no shortage of such research material – in fact, if anything, there is too much!  The amount of clans with wildly varying heraldry is mind-boggling. To the absolute novice like me, the family alliances and the rules of the heraldry are so complicated, even in a terrific resource such as Evalario’s magnificent heraldry gallery on the Samurai Archive.


To make it worse, even if I can make a choice on what heraldry each force will have, I’m then faced with how to execute it. I thought decals would be the simplest answer. But to my surprise, there aren’t a great many makers of samurai decals out there, and so the choice is very limited.  (Hint, hint to decal makers out there!)

One of the few decal manufacturers I could find was Veni Vedi Vici.  From their small range, I bought some red Uesugi rising suns and other symbols:

AA6 Uesegi red

I also got some Takeda diamonds.  The ones I bought are actually white, though they’re shown in red in the pic below:

AA1 Takeda white

But in buying these decals, I have now cut my choice of heraldry even further, as I am now restricted to only those clans who used those two particular symbols.  As I mentioned earlier, I really preferred to have the party of a minor lord, rather than the actual forces of Lord Takeda or Lord Uesugi themselves.

Even if I can sort out the heraldry issue, the other matter is how to paint samurai armour. As I said, I’m not familiar with this period of history. So I’ve had to research how the armour was made and worn.

There are lots of little details which can throw the newcomer, such as the different patterns of lacing used in different time periods; or the fact that certain colours were regarded as luckier than others and so were more common; or which clans had uniformity amongst their soldiers, and which did not. This is where making those first dabs with the paint-brush seems so daunting …


The part of the project that has gone the most successfully so far (at least I think so) is the terrain. I’ve posted about this terrain before, but I’m very pleased with how my cherry-blossom trees turned out.

The Plastcraft Fukei buildings and bridge in the pic above are really nice little kits too. In fact, I’m really tempted by Plastcraft’s latest offering – a three-storey pagoda kit.  This would make a really eye-catching centrepiece.  The only part I’m not sure about is that the balcony railings don’t look right to me.  But other than that – superb!   So I am very tempted indeed …


The oddest terrain choice I made was buying a resin sampan from Ainsty Castings at the SELWG show. I’m not sure what got into me. The model is certainly nice enough.  But I don’t have any rivers big enough for it! Ah well, I guess when I see it painted up, it’ll just spur me into making some larger aquatic terrain pieces.


So, there we have it.  A project that has started well, but has now come to a major crux-point.  Watch this space!

10 thoughts on “Crux-point for my samurai project

  1. Roly,

    I’ve often had similar problems (for different periods) . . . and one of the things that has always helped me was to start by painting the skin on the figures.

    Somehow this begins to turn them from metal figures to tiny people. And for some reason it often encourages me to continue painting and prompts choices.

    Give it a try . . . after all you have to paint their flesh at some point, so get it done now.

    I would suggest that you pick heraldry (and colors) that are quite distinct from each other.

    By the way, using small round erasers is a good way to put circles on sashimonos and such. They are soft and flexible enough and leave a good circle onto which you can then paint necessary details. I’m not talking about the ones on the ends of pencils, but the smaller (often white) ones you can find often in pencil form.

    So, once you’ve got the flesh painted, pick out one clan that you really like as a starting point; then select some rough contrasting colors for the other force(s) and use that (or those) to help refine your choices.

    And remember above all that there are “lots of right answers — not just one — but LOTS of them” so it is pretty difficult to make a wrong choice.

    — Jeff

    1. Some great ideas there, Jeff.

      I had actually considered the face-first tip myself … so you’ve now given me the impetus to do that.

      Just to clarify, that eraser technique? Do you mean using the eraser as a kind of stamp ie dipping it in paint and stamping it on the flag?

      1. Yes, Roly. As a stamp (the ‘give’ in the eraser makes it better than something hard) . . . then after the circle has dried you can paint over it . . . even with the base flag color . . . so as to create the mon you want.

        — Jeff

  2. To be honest Roly, although this might be anathema to you, I wouldn’t try to follow something specific, just go with what you like, and indeed a heraldic device / colour scheme that is easy to reproduce, even if you make it up yourself. I think if you show the flavour of the period, no-one will question your efforts – who’s to say what some minor samurai and his small ‘crew’ might have been wearing, I am sure anything is possible… if its well painted and looks cool, that’s good enough for me.

    1. ‘Anathema’ – gotta love that word!

      But, seriously, you’re right Scott, I shouldn’t worry overly about accuracy. But a semblance of being even a little bit close would be good. Trouble is, as an out-and-out newbie, the whole period is so confusing to me.

      If I can’t sort it, though, I’ll definitely go the fictional route. I’ve done too much to throw in the towel now. And my issue isn’t because I don’t like the figures or period – in fact, quite the opposite.

      1. Perhaps think of it in terms of “imagi-nations” as you did for your SYW figures… I doubt any westernised specatators would have much of a clue if you had copied it spot on, or made it up! 😉

I hope I've given you something to think about - please do leave a comment with your thoughts or reactions.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s