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Tsuba (sword guard) with inlaid design of samurai on horseback at the shore

Accession Number
1978/2.2

Title
Tsuba (sword guard) with inlaid design of samurai on horseback at the shore

Artist(s)
Harunori

Object Creation Date
18th century

Medium & Support
iron with gold, silver, and copper inlays

Dimensions
3 1/16 in. x 2 13/16 in. x 3/16 in. ( 7.8 cm x 7.2 cm x 0.4 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. A smaller hole on the left is to place an ornamental stick, kozuka. Another hole on the right is to insert kougai, spatula-like sticks which are said to be used for itching hair underneath hats or helmets. The samurai, charging into the sea, is unidentified. Possibly Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159 - 1189), who was said to have uncompared braveness and mythical power.

Physical Description
This small, flat metal piece has a quartrefoil shape. Three holes in the middle. Some chips can be seen around the center hole, which mended with silver and copper. A samurai on horseback is charging into the sea from steep hill; he is wearing a helmet, armor, and sword, and holding a fan. A pine tree is standing on the samurai’s right side; there are rocks and bamboo grass by the ocean. The motifs of the ocean, pine tree, bamboo grass and rocks also appear on the reverse side. Gold and some silver and copper inlays are applied on pine branches, samurai's helmet, horse's mane and bridle, bamboo grass on the shore, and spray from waves.

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
bamboo (material)
horses (equipment)
oceans
samurai

3 Related Resources

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

& Author Notes

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