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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Openwork tsuba with design of kingfisher, boat and willow trees
Date: Edo period, 19th century
Medium: Iron
Dimensions: 3 inches (7.6 cm)
Credit Line: Memorial gift from the Estate of Charles W. Hay, Class of 1925
Object Number: 73.005.034
This is a sword guard from a samurai sword.

This item was made in Japan.

This tsuba was handcrafted from iron. Openings were likely cut into the metal using drills and saws, and then filed until smooth.

The tsuba, or sword guard, lies between the hilt and the blade of a samurai sword. The tsbua served to prevent the hand from sliding down the hilt and onto the blade during combat. It consists of an obverse (front) and reverse side. The obverse side is the one that would face the opponent, while the reverse side would come in contact with the hand of the user. For this reason, traditionally tsuba were kept smooth on the reverse side.

During the peaceful Edo period, sword fittings were seldom created for swords that were to be used in battle. Instead, these fittings, such as the tsuba, became a medium for artistic work, appreciated for their exquisite workmanship, variety of designs, and refined beauty. Whereas until around the 1650s, only a small number of motifs were typically used to decorate the sword fittings, in the following years of the Edo period the artists who made these fittings took inspiration from images in books, characters in folktales, and other popular cultural and natural motifs. Swords and their fittings served as status items for samurai. A sword owner would select motifs that expressed his tastes, values and interests.

Notice the bird perched on a pole to which the boat is likely moored.

Notice the shape of the central hole of the tsuba; it permitted the blade of the sword to pass through. Frequently one or two secondary holes are seen on tsuba; these were made to accommodate other small sword fittings, the kozuka (a small utility knife) and the kogai (a small hairdressing tool shaped like a skewer.)

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.