Samurai For The SCA Guy and Gal

A Gallery of Your Photos

"What makes the costume of Sixth Rank Chamberlains so attractive when they are on night duty is the purple trousers." Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book

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The Society for Creative Anachronism requires a reasonable attempt at wearing pre-17th century clothing of its event attendees. While "reasonable" is open to a wide spectrum of interpretation, I am pleased to report that the knowledge base is constantly growing, interest in authenticity is on the rise and more and more people are trying to Do It Right.

Over the past couple of years, I've been privileged to correspond with some of the talented people who have chosen to portray Japanese in the SCA. I thought I'd invite some of my friends from around the Known World over to show what they've been doing BESIDES making armor. 

The basics - kosode and hakama: Sakurai Kenjiro Takamori and his daughter Michiko, aged 10, are dressed casually for a summer war camp in the Shire of Ar-n-Eilean in the East Kingdom. Michiko-hime's scarlet hakama and white kosode are a very simple, yet grown-up look for a young lady of the Kamakura period (1185-1333 CE). Shinto acolytes known as miko still dress in this fashion. Kosode and hakama are simple, comfortable, very Japanese, and make excellent field wear for summer camping events. Her father wears the men's versions of the same garments. This charming portrait was submitted with the comment, " warned, both father and daughter are wearing their obis over their hakama (oops)." Oopses happen. We learn, we grow. I wish I was as lucky as Michiko-hime, to be able to grow up in the SCA


 Ray Cornwell of Calontir hadn't even been to his first SCA event yet at the time he submitted these. Already showing great promise at armoring, he made an excellent job of his first kosode and hakama. "Please ignore the modern socks and sandals. those will be replaced, when I can...Oh, and I did it by hand, with button thread. Won't come apart, easy, I tell ya!"

Unclear on how he wanted to tie his hakama, Ray appears to have managed to hide the ends someplace. Most wearers tie them with some sort of knot at the front, as you'll see further on.


The photo at left is a nice demonstration of tasuki: you can't roll up kosode sleeves, so the Japanese tie them out of the way with a strip of cloth which goes under the arms and crosses in the back. 

Click here for a video tutorial on how to tie back one's sleeves.


Elaine Fairchild of Aethelmearc did a lovely job with this hand stencilled kosode. Read about her process here.


Sugawara Noriko of the East Kingdom, another novice seamstress, has made a good beginning with this simple kosode and mobakama, suitable for a retainer to a noblewoman.


Noriko is in kosode and shibiradatsu-mono, another apron-like garment likely to be worn by a commoner during the Heian period. 

Right: Otagiri Tatsuzou of the Outlands and Kass McGann of the East (in 16th century German kampfrau attire) put an only-in-the-SCA spin on a morning cup of coffee. Can you tell he's an "autumn?" The ori-eboshi, narrow sleeved shitagi, striped jinbaori and hakama are suitable for breakfast with the namban or under armor on the battlefield, mugging with yours truly (left).

"Just a note," says Otagiri-dono. "I don't believe that 'just a shitagi' would be worn outside of a war camp. I'm wearing mine in this situation because I am prepared for a weapons class that is to begin a short time later. So you only find me wearing the shitagi as 'outer wear' just before or just after I armour."

Well dressed ladies on pilgrimage. Far left, me in my tareginu-no-mushi (bug hat) and Momoyama uchikake and obi, second from left, with a kosode draped over my head and sando-gasa (traveling hat) tied over it. The bundle around my neck is a kake-mamori (amulet case). Right, Katherine of Aquitaine from the Far West outdoes me beautifully in a late Heian ensemble created with re-tailored vintage kimono.

Hitatare kamishimo:
"Under the influence of the styles of the military houses, this outfit came to be worn as an extremely leisurely outfit by the court nobility during the Kamakura period. For the military, it was standard day wear from late Heian through the latter part of the sixteenth century, when the kataginu kamishimo began to take its place as day wear, and the hitatare became (for the military) a more dressy item." - Anthony J. Bryant, Yusoku Kojitsu Ron: A History of Japanese Clothing and Accessories.

Would you believe that this is Fujiwara Takaharu's first Japanese outfit and second ever sewing project? When he first showed us this picture he lamented: "The hitatare wasn't so bad, but the hakama were pleated POORLY and the kosode was horrible. You can't tell in the picture, but I totally goofed the collar.....and yes, those are BOOTS hanging out of the bottom."

Despite the boots, Fujiwara-dono passes the proverbial "ten foot rule." The basic silhouette is correct for pre-1600 Japanese men's clothing and everything fits in proportion to his body size. Solid colors are always a good bet and sober browns, blacks, greys and blues became popular with the samurai classes as a result of Zen Buddhist influence. The ornamental knots on the hitatare ties tell me he went into this project knowing what "right" was supposed to look like. Little details like this are such a nice touch. I can't wait to see what he does as his sewing skills grow. This is a very promising beginning.


Takeda Sanjuichiro Akimasa is clearly a fan of the hitatare for everyday wear, in his portrayal of a high ranking samurai from the 16th century.      

Even seated, it's easy to look physically imposing. The voluminous dimensions of hakama and hitatare hint at wealth and status with their conspicuous consumption of material. The ensemble at the far right was borrowed from Hiraizumi Tôrokurô Tadanobu, in a boldly patterned floral motif. The warlords of the Sengoku Jidai often wore opulently dyed brocades, some embellished with embroidery or gold leaf. It's a shame the resolution isn't better on this detail of the ornamental knots at the sleeve seams and back seam. They're very typical on this type of garment.

A samurai is not afraid of color and the men's garments that survive from the 16th century are often bright and showy. I was particularly delighted to see Takeda-dono's hitatare in the katami-gawari ("half the body different") style. Seiruko Noma's Japanese Costume and Textile Arts tells us that artful piecing of worn or damaged clothing to prolong wear originated with the lower classes. By the 16th century, higher ranking people had adopted the look. You can see why. 

Minor nit-pick: I am gratified by Takeda-dono's eagerness to participate in this project by rushing photos to me. However, there is not, to my knowledge, any such thing as katami-gawari tabi, despite the wearer's joking claims to the contrary. I wish he had remembered to take off the obviously modern two-tone athletic socks.

In the feudal period, gifts of garments were often made by persons of rank to those who had pleased them. In fact, it is the reason so garments from the 16th century survive, particularly those gifted to Noh actors, whose companies treated them as treasures and preserved them. You'll understand my glee when Honda Saburou Taremitsu of the East reported: "Last March [2007], I fulfilled my quest on Duchess Jana's Queen's Guard by performing a Noh piece at her last court. Afterwards, Posadnitsa Sfandra Dmitrieva Chernigova of Haus von Drackenklaue told me she was so moved by what I had done that she would make me a full, skin-out set of court garb. She would honor my talent with hers."

Her Excellency says: "This is a 1580s daimon no hitatare sugata. Honda-dono's rank is sho-hachi-i, so this is the appropriate court outfit for a fighter with an AoA. The outfit consists of fundoshi, juban, hitoe, hitatare, and hakama. His Mon is hand-appliqued, and the knots on the hakama and the back of the hitatare are also hand-sewn and appliqued. The outfit passes the 10 foot rule, with a minimum of visible machine stitching. 

If I were to do it again, I'd make the panels all a little narrower, for Honda-dono is a Very Skinny Guy. :) I'd also work in silk satin, to improve the drape of the sleeves and hakama. The linen proved to be almost too soft without some enthusiastic starching & ironing." 

Ii Saburou Katsumori shows us another katami-gawari hitatare. Don't be fooled by the disarming Cheshire Cat grin. Ii-dono was ruthless in reporting all the things wrong with an outfit that's still unfinished. Some hemming and the addition of the sleeve and lapel cords needs to be done. "The 'parti-coloured' should actually look quartered instead of halved--that is an issue with a sewing accident that caused the upper or lower part (can't recall which) to be pieced together backwards. We are contemplating fixes."

So what's right with it? Plaids were quite popular in 16th Japan. It's nice to see someone using some here. Click here to view young people playing hanetsuki, from a 16th century screen painting in the Tokyo National Museum. Boys and girls alike wear bold plaids, stripes and katami-gawari.


Abe Akirakeiko models an "....antique silk hitatare kamishimo, probably made in the last hundred years (if not the last 50) for parades and the like. Although a man's garment, she is the only person it will fit."

Notice that some of the kikutoji (the 'poms' on the outfit) have been flattened by storage--we did not feel we could properly fluff them out again."

This looks like a shot silk with warp and weft threads of green and dark red. Beautiful stuff. Where can I get a few yards? 


I knew Katherine D'Aquitaine was an accomplished costumer when I met her at Pennsic in 2007. This year she decided she wanted to do Japanese, with resounding results. The design motifs for this hitatare kamishimo were inspired by a kataginu ensemble worn by Toshiro Mifune in Throne of Blood.


 Okitane Genjirou Moritoko of Drachenwald offered apologies for this "rushed" portrait of his new hitatare ensemble. The rush was worth it.


Some more eye candy furnished by Ii Saburou Katsumori. Sometimes the services of a professional photographer yield stunning results.  I'm just going to sit here, envy all that silk and fan myself....


There I was, walking the streets at Great Western War, when I happened upon a couple from the Barony of Western Seas. Or maybe they happened upon me. Anyway, Susanna had made this daimon hitatare ensemble in silk twill for Oswynn and he looked wonderful, so I had to make his portrait on the spot. The outfit was still in progress, lacking only the cord pieces.


I did some rare commission work for Minamoto Shintaro Masashige. His lady shot these for a Photography class (which I am told she aced). I'm including these here as they demonstrate how to compose a dramatic costume shot. 

Oh, you probably want to know what I made him? This hitatare kamishimo was made from a mid-weight flax linen and embellished with my old standby, Lumiere metallic fabric paint (true gold). The linen had a somewhat loose weave, which made it tricky to paint on. A second hitatare set was also made in red linen decorated with Versatex black screen printing ink and can be seen here.


Kataginu kamishimo: By now, you've probably figured out that kamishimo means the tops and bottoms go together. Kataginu refers to the vest-like garment worn by the contributors in this section. Less formal than the hitare kamishimo, it became popular for everyday wear in the 16th century. This is probably the outfit most people think of when they think samurai.

Samurai For A Big Guy: Here's another "first SCA outfit" gone wonderfully right! From eboshi to tabi, Furukusu Tatsujirou Masahide of the Outlands ably demonstrates that one does not have to belong to the Clan of the Coathanger People to look terrific in Japanese dress.

Furukusu-dono realized he would need to adjust the scale of his clothing to fit himself properly. "To make the garments look appropriately sized, I generated a new panel width for all the garments. I took the measurement from the center of my neck at the back to my wrist, divided this by two, rounded up to the nearest inch, and added an inch for seams. This put all panels at 18" wide. This made cutting a little more challenging, as I had not anticipated such a wide panel in my fabric purchases. I think overall it went well, and I plan on writing an article called "Kosode for the Big and Tall" and using it for an A&S research paper." (I don't know if he ever did and the link to his original project journal is no longer available.)


I'm not the only one who has Adventures With Fabric Paint. Atlantia's Ii Saburou Katsumori (having what he insists was a bad hat day) used white fabric paint to embellish his hakama and kataginu, with splendid results. At right, instead of the more common kosode beneath his kataginu, Ii-dono wears a keikogi, or narrow sleeved shirt suitable for martial arts or wear beneath armor.

I bemoaned the fact that the photo on the right didn't show the back of the kataginu. Ever obliging, Ii-dono sent me more pictures. If you look closely at the one on the far left, you can see how the kataginu is pleated and held in place with the obi before the hakama go on.

 Boldly patterned garments such as this were popular during the Momoyama period (16th century). Click here to see a detail from Kano Hideyoshi's The Maple Viewers, a folding screen in the Tokyo National Museum.


Survey says: SCA samurai like blue. Obata Kenjirou Torashi of the Midrealm shows us another variation on the kataginu kamishimo, this time worn with kyahan (leggings), dark tabi and waraji (straw sandals). Tsunami-dono must be feeling at ease in this lovely garden as he is not armed - at least not overtly. That's a fan peeking out of his obi.  


At right, Obata-dono demonstrates that a samurai is not afraid of bold color choices. With a plainer kosode, particularly in a darker green or indigo, this outfit would be more subdued, but the colorful print makes it pop. The addition of gold horizontal stripes to his kataginu and hakama is a great touch and he has, hands down, the BEST pleats I have the honor to present on this page to date.


Another winner from Obata-dono. He reveals that this kamishimo ensemble and the green one above are the work of his lady, Obata Kesa. The same garments, the same decorative treatment, but with different colors and textures combining to excellent effect.

Here's another very fine looking kataginu kamishimo, brought to us by Minnakiri Joyu of Russia's Clan Minnakiri. Minnakiri-dono has embellished his kataginu with the clan's kamon, and I have to say that he's got some of the best hakama pleats presented on this site. 

A man of many arts, he also created this lovely chawan (tea bowl).

Kurodachi no Mykaru of Lochach offers this opulent kataginu kamishimo in Thai silks, simple, elegant and proving that good fabric is worth budgeting for. Nothing shimmers quite like real silk. Never confess mistakes that can't be seen in one's photographs: "I still need to go through and snip loose threads but overall I am pleased with it," he confided.

Kurodachi-dono is an accomplished armorer as well. While I don't normally display "armor pr0n" here, I'll make an exception because this is a nice example of what to wear over and under armor. Here is wears a "shita- gusoku is hand woven hemp with a silk collar (it is folded wrong in the photo). The hakama are resist dyed silk. The jinbaori is black wool with silk lining and edging. It actually fits much better over full armour, but I need to make another as this one is too nice to fight in."

Right, Uesugi Ryujuichiro Uchiyasu of Meridies shows off his new kataginu kamishimo. Simple, workmanlike, and the mon at the shoulder are a lovely detail.


Here's another beautifully executed first attempt by An Tir's Ishida no Kentarou Mitsumasa.

He writes: "The hakama is a bit too full. I used all the fabric I had, because well, I had it.... The two back pleats are too deep. Making them any deeper than 2 inches makes them difficult to sit on without causing them to wrinkle....The brown cotton I used to make the hakama and kataginu isn't heavy enough...." However, when it comes to his silk kosode, he says: "Nothing shines, moves, or hangs quite like silk. Using silk is awesome. I want to use silk whenever it is appropriate now that I am comfortable with it."

"It's amazing how far tabi, waraji, and swords go to help me occur to people as Japanese even though I have red hair and very pale skin. It's easy to skip the details, but not doing so is worth it."


 Then Ishida-dono came back a few months later with this:
"I'm in the habit now of getting silk from Ichiroya. It comes in a close-to-period width and is both generally high-quality and rather inexpensive. Only about one in a few hundred bolts is wide enough for me and in a period pattern and color, but everything I've gotten so far is fantastic. The only issue is that they don't have heavier silks, which meant that when it was time to make a hakama, I needed to learn to line things. Ii-dono's assistance in this regard was invaluable, as I used his method for the hakama lining attachment.

The shell is a baby blue Ichiroya silk damask with very subtle square spiral patterns, and the lining is a slightly lighter blue linen. The kosode below it is ivory silk damask.

I did a lot of hand sewing on the outside to make this as period-looking as possible. The kataginu collar and hakama ties are hand-finished. The hakama vents are folded over and attached to the lining, but not all the way through the shell, which makes the construction quite difficult to figure out from the outside. It took a lot of time, but was more than worth it."

Additional photos of Ishida-dono's works-in-progress can be viewed here.  


Dobuku sugata: Kalle Kylmänen of Artemesia contributes this nice ensemble, consisting of hakama, stenciled kosode and dobuku.
"Takada Shizuo says that no respectable samurai would go out in public in the sengoku period without either a dôbuku or kataginu on." (from Effingham's 'Nihon Yûsoku Kojitsu Ron')

All garments are of linen (except the dôbuku's cotton lining). As the dôbuku is informal in nature, I decided to also wear my tekkô along with the dôbuku sugata.
The collar of the maple leaf kosode is a bit wide around the neck, result of my inability to mind seam allowances. The hem doesn't appear to be completely straight, because the opening hasn't been cut back enough."


Kuge Eye For The Court Guy - Dress wear: Ii-dono and his lady, Abe no Kotori, are casually dressed for a convivial flower viewing party in the styles of the Imperial Court at Heian-kyo, around the end of the 11th century. Evidently we've caught Ii-dono on a good hat day, wearing a tate-eboshi with his blue kariginu over a dark kosode and lavender sashinuki.

Abe-hime is elegant in seasonal colors for spring in a yellow ko-uchiki over a green hitoe with a white kosode and red nagabakama.

It should come as no surprise that Ii-dono and Takeda-dono are friends - and either a good influence on each other, or extremely competetive. Either way, they're certainly improving the scenery of Atlantia..


Takeda-dono surely has the favor of the Emperor himself to wear a gold "brocade" kariginu, suitable for more formal occasions than the hitatare he prefers for everyday. He reports that the material is an unfortunate blend of Fibers Not Found In Nature: "It is an absolute pain to work with! It slides, twists and all around, vexes one when trying to lay it out, cut it, or sew it. (plan for a lot of pinning!) It frays like the plot of a bad direct to video mystery, and every single edge in it is serged, and then double folded. Anything less and it would soon fall apart, and I only wanted to sew that stuff once." Finding appropriate fabric to achieve the desired effect can often be a challenge. The battle was worth it. Just don't get too close to the hibachi in it.


 A bit rumpled after a day among the namban court of the West Kingdom, Saionji no "Spike," my alter ego, shows off his kariginu. 

This fabric screamed "Kami-from-a-Noh-play!" when I first saw it, so of course it grabbed me by the scruff of the neck with fire hot fingers and demanded to be taken home and made into something appropriate. It's a metallic Thai silk that has a lot of body, so it was perfect for kariginu. This close-up shot shows the collar frog and give a better look at the fabric. My tate eboshi was made of medium weight linen and was treated with Niagara spray starch and a hot iron to make it hold its shape.

The part our real men have not tried: make-up. It was the custom among the kuge (court nobility) for both men and women to whiten their skin and darken their teeth.


Here Takeda-dono shows two ways to wear a suikan. This one is made of silk: purple dupioni with white jaquard sleeves. It looks blue to me, but I never argue with anyone who wears two swords. Blue, purple, who cares? It's spiffy either way. The unlaced collar, popular with bushi, is the less formal way to go.


Takeda Akimasa, borrowing Sensei Hiraizumi
Tadanobu's clothing again, is shown here in kaza-eboshi, suikan and sashinuki, worn with the front open, samurai style. Make that EARLY samurai style, from the Heian period (785-1185 CE), typical of a low or middle rank.

The photo on the right shows  where the suikan's sleeve actually attaches to the body.


Date Saburou Yukiie of Aethelmearc, in suikan kamishimo for Twelfth Night. One can always count on His Lordship to come up with something elegant.


Otagiri-dono has a well-earned reputation as a Japanese stuff-makin' fool. When asked to herald for Kaga no Ryokai in Outlands' Crown Tourney, he thought, "I haven't a thing to wear!" So he whipped this up. Overnight. Including two shaku, the ceremonial maces in his hands, and a lacquer job on the eboshi. 

"My knees are cut off and the kariginu got disarrayed. The pic was taken after the tourney during breakdown. I believe I was better arranged during the procession (at least I had knees)."

Despite the rumples, there are a lot of plusses here. The silk, an understated, shot green-gold weave, has enough weight that the shoulders are square and crisp. While ideally one wouldn't see the obi, the splash of crimson "squire's belt" against the subtle green is a nice eye treat. This rush job didn't leave out the details either - sleeve laces and the Chinese inspired standup collar with toggle closure. There's also a lot of subtle vertical detail to a well cut kariginu that flatters pretty much any body type.


I am awed.
I am humbled.
I am extremely proud.
I am insanely jealous.

Iwakawa Masako of Ansteorra picked my brain about using stencils to fake the look of Heian brocades and this is the result.


Kurokamakiri of the East Kingdom shows off two Heian ensembles. Left a semi formal autumn/winter themed "kaede momiji" or "downy maple." Right, in formal karaginu-mo. Rumor has it that hannya have been spotted prowling her pavilion.


Katherine of Aquitaine, looking lovely in an informal Heian outfit as she enjoys her father's garden.

Karisozoku sugata: Ladies and Gentlemen, this qualifies as a Wow Moment. When I first saw the series of photos this came from, I thought Date Saburou Yukiie looked like he'd walked out of a picture scroll. Surely 10th century diarist Sei Shonagon would put this sight at the top of one of her famous lists. The lush softness of fawnskin. The graceful shape of a yumi. Scarlet fletched ya, each the match of its brothers, longing impatiently to fly. Moonlight on snow. Jade green silk.

When Date-dono does something, he doesn't do it half way. An accomplished artist and armorer, I think the only things in the photo he didn't make are the bow, the trees and the snow. This Karisozoku sugata is what a samurai of middle rank might wear for hunting.

The samurai eyes behind the camera belong to Sir Ogami Akira and Minamoto no Taikawa Saiako.


This Wow Moment arrived by messenger one day, all the way from Russia. Tajra no Yuriko writes: "These photos are made this autumn in Japanese Garden in Moscow. I'm dressed as a samurai-girl Heyan period. The costume consists yoroi-hitatare (clothing, which should be worn under the armor), made of thick yellow silk, o-yoroi color of hanada ito, and headdress eboshi made of lacquered silk." Taira-gozen does not belong to the SCA or other re-enactment organization, she just likes costuming" "This work is my best creation. The armor I made by myself, it is “Oyoroi” of Heian period. It is composed of 1500 plates “O arame”, which are manually tied and varnished. It took me a year to make it by myself and it was my first attempt to make a samurai armor."


Early Japan:
Abe no Kotori takes us on a journey back to an even earlier age, before the art of writing came to Japan from China. What is known of the dress of the Asuka period (552-645 CE) comes from the terra cotta haniwa sculptures found in burial sites of the period. Yata at right shows us what the men of the Kofun Period (300 - 552 CE) might have worn.

Photo Credits:
Date Saburou Yukiie (Aethelmearc) courtesy of Christopher Wright, S. David Lee and Amy Miller.
Erin Kelly (Aethelmearc) courtesy of herself.
Fujiwara Takaharu (Ansteorra) courtesy of Matt Minton.
Furukusu Masahide (Outlands) courtesy of John Newton.
Honda Saburou Taremitsu (East) courtesy of Alex Cunningham and Kasey Myers.
Ii Saburou Katsumori and Abe no Kotori (Atlantia) courtesy of Joshua and Ellen Badgley.
Ishida no Kentarou Mitsumasa (An Tir), courtesy of Tom LaPille, Laura Casperson and Bonnie McGregor.
Kalle Kylmänen (Drachenwald), courtesy of Kalle and Liisa Kylmänen.
Katherine of Aquitaine (West) courtesy of Katherine Bramley and Johannes Van den Steene.
Kurodachi no Mykaru (Lochach) courtesy of Michael J. Peters and Siriporn Peters.
Kurokamakiri (East), courtesy of Leah Lloyd.
Minamoto no Lashmaru (Outlands) courtesy of Cennedy McPhail and Ginger Sims.
Minnakiri Joyu (Moscow, Russia) courtesy of Ivan Marchuk and Clan Minnakiri, a Sengoku Jidai re-enactment organization.
Obata Kenjirou Torashi (Midrealm) courtesy of John Solomon and Vicki Van Fleet.
Okitane Genjirou Moritoko (Drachenwald) courtesy of Ed and Marian Boreham.
Oswynn of Western Seas (Caid) courtesy of Ben Lambert and Lauren Elder, photo by Lisa Joseph.
Otagiri Tatsuzou (Outlands) and Kass McGann (East), courtesy of Ron Broberg and Kass McGann (photo by the author). Otagiri in kariginu courtesy of Ron Broberg.
Ray Cornwell (Calontir) courtesy of Ray, photo by Brandon Cornwell
Sakurai Kenjiro Takamori (East) and his daughter Michiko courtesy of Mark Vaughan-Jackson.
Sugawara Noriko (East), courtesy of Eve Garrick.
Tajra no Yuriko, courtesy of Katya Lyuboross and Viktoriya Saprina.Takeda Sanjuichiro Akimasa (Atlantia) courtesy of Mike Lehman. Special thanks to Ii-dono and Abe-hime for hosting a photo shoot party to help with this project.
Uesugi Ryujuichiro Uchiyasu (Meridies) courtesy of Bryant Richards and Sybil Kalderash.
Yata (West), courtesy of Steven Higa, photo by Brenda Grell.
Click here for resources for Japanese re-enactors.
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Copyright 2005, 2009, 2010 Lisa A. Joseph

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