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Tsuba (sword guard) with design of blowfish, shrimp and plant

Accession Number
1978/2.3

Title
Tsuba (sword guard) with design of blowfish, shrimp and plant

Artist(s)
Seishinsai

Object Creation Date
19th century

Medium & Support
brass with gold, silver, copper, and shakudô (copper-gold alloy) inlays

Dimensions
2 9/16 in. x 2 3/16 in. x 3/16 in. ( 6.5 cm x 5.6 cm x 0.5 cm )

Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert T. Weston

Label copy
Tsuba are intended to protect the user’s hand, first by shielding it against a blow from the opponent’s blade, and second by preventing it from slipping onto the razor-sharp edge of the weapon being wielded. Until the early seventeenth century, simply designed iron tsuba were dominant, as seen in the example here bearing a mushroom motif. When the Tokugawa regime required samurai warlords to travel regularly to the capital, Edo, and mandated that their wives and children reside there, considerations of urban fashion became more influential than battlefield practicalities in samurai attire and accessories. The tsuba became more an object of display than a functional item—a trend that further intensified when affluent merchants were permitted to carry swords in public and also began to demand attractive tsuba.
As is well represented by this collection, there was great artistic creativity at play in tsuba-making during the Edo period. The newly developed shakudô (a copper–gold alloy of a lustrous purple–black color) was used to create relief designs. Openwork chiseling was a versatile method for creating dramatic representations of family crests or light, airy, and elegant plant motifs.
(Label for UMMA Japanese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject matter
Tsuba (sword guard) is inserted between a sword handle and blade to protect hands from sharp blades. The center hole is where the sword is placed. The smaller hole is to insert an ornamental stick called kozuka. This particlar tsuba has a sea-related theme of shrimp and blowfish.

Physical Description
This small, flat piece made of light brown brass (called "sentoku" in Japanese) has a round diamond shape. It has a triangular shaped hole in the center and another round hole on one side. Artist’s name is signed between the two holes. The surface is slightly concaved from the rim. The front has relief design of a shrimp, blowfish, and bamboo branch. On the back, there are designs of a spiral shell, a barnacle, and water drops. The sea motifs are inlayed with gold, silver, copper, and shakudô (copper-gold alloy).

Primary Object Classification
Arms and Armor

Primary Object Type
sword guard

Additional Object Classification(s)
Metalwork

Collection Area
Asian

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
fish (animals)
hilts
swords

2 Related Resources

Japan Pax Tokugawa 1600-1868
(Part of: Empires and Colonialism)
Samurai
(Part of 5 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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