The Evolution of the Japanese Imperial Army Sun Helmet (1915-1945) presents a very special article by author Nick Komiya on the development and evolution of the Japanese sun helmet.  We thank Nick for allowing us to republish this detailed study on the Japanese tropical helmets. This was originally published on the War Relics Forum.


In my past research on helmet covers, I came across quite a few documents discussing sun helmets, as they were often tested together in the same tropical test sessions in Taiwan. So when a recent question popped up about an early model sun helmet, I had a chance to review my files and thought I could have the whole picture of sun helmet development with only a little more digging for missing links. I was actually finishing a new complete history of the IJA’s pay book, but due to the lack of one early sample to study and confirm a couple of details, I had to shelve the project for later completion and was in search of a handy project instead.

My brother is a leading collector of the Deutsches Afrikakorps of WW2, who is also a contributor to Dal McGuirk’s reference book classic, Rommel’s Army in Africa, so I have been quite familiar with German tropical items myself, but shamefully knew next to nothing about the Japanese effort in comparison. So it was also another chance for atonement for neglecting home ground. In the end, I have to say I am quite impressed with what I have now newly learned.

Once again, I choose to follow the footsteps of the army designers from the very beginning till the bitter end. This is because product development is a continuous cycle and is never tied to specific wars, the way authors often like to chop things up into catalogs like “Uniforms of WW1” and “Uniforms of WW2”. Wars are just passing points along an endless highway of human drama, striving to improve upon the past.

For me, writing a “Uniforms of WW2” book is as boring as just seeing a snapshot of men on the top of Mt. Everest. The devil is in how they got there, and that is the story I want to tell.

Having to do it the hard way, is partly an occupational hazard in this case. I have had a long career as an automotive product planner, so I had the same type of work cycle like the army men who had to engage in this type of development work. The documents that they prepared and the analysis and meticulous attention to detail evident in their work are all marks of how I was taught to do things in my own job. What today’s businessmen call the “Plan-Do-Check-Action” cycle was practiced perfectly already in this sun helmet development work of 100 years ago, and I cannot help feel a certain bond with the men, as their reports expressed their elation in success and bitterness in failure, all seamlessly overlapping with my personal moments.

One major bonus here of this “Evolutionary approach” was in learning about the huge efforts they made to use a diverse range of materials by borrowing from a wide range of traditional weaving crafts within Japan and Taiwan. So I went the extra mile to show you the widely different plants they worked with.

This diversification of materials used, combined with simplification of specs were phenomenon seen across the board in IJA militaria and were all born, because of a material-starved economy in Japan. This so called “last ditch” symptom which many erroneously attribute to 1944/45 actually occurred between 1937 and WW2 in Japan, so it was a pre-WW2 development.

I came to call them “B-spec” items here, and wish I had used that handy word earlier, as rubberized canvas, felt field caps and the so-called Type 3 sword; all these were “B-spec” fallbacks Japan devised at that time.

This time, I am indebted to Jareth Holub for providing me with photos of his collection to help me illustrate the story and make it come alive.

The Evolution of the Japanese Imperial Army Sun Helmet: Part I – 1887-1921

The Evolution of the Japanese Imperial Army Sun Helmet: Part II – 1921-30

The Evolution of the Japanese Imperial Army Sun Helmet: Part III -1930-39

The Evolution of the Japanese Imperial Army Sun Helmet: Part IV -1939-41

Nick Komiya

October 2016


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