KEY WORD : art history / crafts
Also written 鍔. Sword guard. Tsuba protect the hand and balance the sword. In the Edo period when samurai 侍 were transformed into bureaucrats, the decorative characteristics were emphasized in carving techniques, variegated designs and new alloy techniques. Until the Nara period, tsuba were small, but from the Heian period were a standard 8 to 11cm in diameter, and circular, kakugata 角形 (square) nadekakugata 撫角形 (round square), bokegata 木瓜形 (quince shaped), or aoigata 葵形 (hollyhock shaped), and made of iron, an alloy of copper and gold, or brass and a copper-silver alloy. In the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, leather covered iron and lacquered leather were also used. Tsuba had been made by armor and sword makers, but professional tsuba makers appeared in the 16c in Kyoto and Owari 尾張 (modern Aichi prefecture), using such *choukin 彫金 (chasing) techniques as *sukashibori 透彫, sukidashi nikubori 鋤出肉彫, katanikubori 片肉彫, *kebori 毛彫, shishiaibori 肉合彫, hirazougan 平象嵌, and nunome zougan 布目象嵌 and iroe zougan 色絵象嵌. Small tsuba are hamidashi 喰出 (protruded); large are tourankei 倒卵形 (obovate form) or *houjhu 宝珠 (jewel). Tourankei tsuba, typically featuring wheel-shaped open-work were usually made of iron, but sometimes of silver, iron with silver inlay *zougan 象嵌 and gilt iron. The majority of tsuba admired today were made in the Momoyama and Edo periods. Tsuba designs often have symbolic meaning: a design of a shell kai 貝 is a pun for "success" kai 魁; a design of the sun, moon and stars expresses hope for heavenly favour. Inscriptions feature such Buddhist prayers as Namu Amida butsu 南無阿弥陀仏 (Hail Amitabha Buddha) and Namu Hachiman dai bosatsu 南無八幡大菩薩 (Hail great bodhisattva Hachiman). There are many unsigned guards with extensive piercing called owari sukashi 尾張透 (Owari piercing). The Nobuie 信家 signature on many early tsuba probably represents individuals working in several provinces rather than a single person. Armorers often inscribed poems expressing the samurai ideals on tsuba or such fatalistic mottoes as un wa ten ni ari 運は天にあり (Fate lies with heaven). In the Muromachi period there are pieces by Nobuie and another Owari worker in the same style, and it was also copied by Umetada Myouju 埋忠明寿 in the Momoyama period.


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