Bogu Buying Guide 3 - Materials

Konkawa, Oizashi, Mousen... Let's take a look at some of the materials used to make our Kendo Bogu.  

In part three of this bogu buying guide, I will talk about some of the different materials used to manufacture Kendo Bogu. Specifically those used to make the futon and reinforcement areas. 

Lets break the bogu down into some of its component pieces. 


The futon, or padded section, makes up most of the bulk of the bogu. It consists of layers of felt or other padding sandwiched between layers of cotton which are sewn shut. This forms the thin but shock absorbing cushion required to receive strikes from a shinai.

Futon before being sewn shut. You can see the many layers of felt used.

Photo: Hyakusyu



Koudai-Mousen is said to be the very highest quality of felt used in bogu making. It is usually red or scarlet and is made using animal hairs or wool. because of its cost, it is usually found in top quality sets.

This kind of fabric apparently originated in Mongolia

Mousen and other alternatives

Mousen is the Japanese word for felt, as such it can come in a wide range of qualities. Typically made from animal hair it is soft and flexible and offers great protection. Some cheaper sets of kendo bogu may use felt made from acrylic materials

Modern materials

In addition to felt, some bogu sets feature modern materials added to give an extra layer of shock absorption and protection against vibration. Lightweight pieces are inserted into high impact zones, such as the top of the men, and the kote (you can choose the left kote if you play jodan or nito). 

Take a look at Aoi Budogu's range of bogu featuring Sorbothane. 

Additional padding in high impact areas.

Photo: Aoi Budogu

In addition, IBB BioClean bogu sets use anti-bacterial micro fiber for the filling.

Outer Layer 

Dyed cotton

The outer layer of the bogu is in most cases indigo dyed cotton. Various thread counts are used, #8000, #10000 etc., which refers to the weight of the fabric. One place where prices may vary is in the quality of the dye used, with the most expensive sets using "Sho-Aizome" indigo dyed cotton. Cheaper sets will use a lower grade Aizome or even a modern alternative. 

This will affect how the bogu appears over time, with aizome sets gradually fading into a nicer blue colour and ones made with alternative dye, into a washed out kind of purple. 

You can also find bogu sets made using bleached cotton. 


Orizashi is a heavy woven cotton material very similar (if not the same) as that used to make kendo gi. Previously used as an alternative to leather for reinforcement a number of bogu makers have started using orizashi to form the outer layer. 

Said to be quick drying and flexible, it is a great alternative to cotton cloth. I've been using a set made fully of orizashi and I find it to be very comfortable and quick drying. It is also very distinctive!

All Japan Pitch Guardian - Full Orizashi Tare. Very flexible and dries fast!


Areas of the bogu that are frequently stuck such as the men and kote are reinforced using an additional layer of material on the outside of the bogu. Other areas which may become worn over time, such as the tare obi, are also reinforced. The reinforcement often serves a double purpose as decoration.

Deer Skin

Prized for its durability and resistance to water damage deer skin is seen as the best quality material to use for reinforcement in kendo equipment. Bogu sets made with indigo dyed deer skin are usually more expensive than others. The value lies in the durability of the bogu, it can last a lifetime.

Visually, indigo dyed deer skin holds a rich deep blue colour in the beginning, and fades over time into lighter shades.

One disadvantage with dear leather however is that it takes longer than other materials in this list to dry.

Tezashi Kote from Tokyo Shobudo. Note the various shades of indigo.

Synthetic leather

Currently a lot bogu makers are using synthetic leather in place of deer skin for reinforcement. Cheaper than the natural alternative it also handles moisture better and can dry quickly after heavy use. Clarino, Shin-Leather etc are some of the names you might see associated with man made leathers. 

Not as durable over time as deer skin but this may change in the coming years as improvements are made. Initially the colour will appear a heavy indigo, but over time sets with synthetic leather tend to fade into washed out purples or blues. 

Cow leather

Cow leather can be found in some sets of bogu, but is best avoided. Similar to synthetic leather is isn't as durable or as pleasing to the eye over time as deer skin. 

It is also notoriously bad with moisture damage, as any shoe maker will tell you. Cow leather tends to dry out and crack when it comes in contact with water. Salt is its worst enemy and salt stains will show up more often on this kind of leather. 


For me, this is the best alternative to deer skin. Orizashi cotton is similar to the material used to make kendo gi, it is light, flexible, quick drying and looks good as it fades over time (just look at some of your old keiko-gi). 

It wont last as long as deer leather, but it is significantly cheaper. Lately a lot of bogu makers have been using orizashi to make better constructed bogu more widely available by reducing material costs.   

Two pairs of my kote. Front is a set from Tozando, rear a pair a sempai gave to me.
Both have deer leather in the fist portion but the front pair feature Orizashi as reinforcement in the futon. 

Final thoughts. 

As I have said in previous posts, it is often not just the material being used, but the quality of that material and the level of craftsmanship that goes into the bogu that should be considered. There are various levels of cut taken from an animal hide, much like there are many different ways of getting an indigo colour on to cloth. 

A set of bogu made using quality deer skin will not be cheap, I would suggest caution around low priced bogu sets that claim to be "hand made with genuine deerskin" as they may let you down over time. 

From an ethical stand point, I would also prefer not to buy a budget deer skin set, as who knows how that leather was produced to make it cheap. I personally hope that synthetic leather can one day match the prized qualities of deer skin. 


Obviously everyone is different, and as such so are their needs for a bogu set. Budget will likely play a part for most and so in order to get the best bang for your buck, I would suggest bogu sets made using orizashi for reinforcement. Quick drying and light, flexible while still offering adequate protection this is currently my personal preference for bogu. 

Especially if you practice very regularly and cant afford a back up set, orizashi usually dries within a day allowing you to use your bogu for practice more often. Deer skin will require longer to dry, and using it wet continuously is only going to shorten its life span. 

If you can afford to splash out real money for a deer skin set, then I envy you! I would of course love to be able to invest in a beautiful set of Konkawa bogu but my budget doesn't really go where I'd want to spend!

But with most peoples budgets probably not going beyond $1500 - $2000 I think that the best value can be found in sets made using orizashi. You can find deer skin sets in this range but I would advise only buying from a trusted supplier with a history of good quality.