Japanese tsuba
Height & width

65 x 60mm

Thickness

4.5mm

Weight

86 grams

Origin

Probably Japanese-made.

Materials

Iron, silver, gold, copper.

Dating

18th or 19th century.

Use

Has been mounted

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Description

An interesting little sword guard, of fairly simple form with designs carved in shallow relief. On the front facing side (left) is a dragon around a peaked rock. Such rocks also feature on Chinese robes, and represent earth.

The overall shape of this tsuba is thought by some to be a subtle hint to a Christian cross. I find it hard to confirm or reject, but we do know there was an underground Christian movement in Japan and more outspoken Christian guards are known to exist.

The reverse is a mystery to me, and a large part of its appeal. It depicts what almost look like the scaly tails of fish at the top and bottom, but sprouting from it are all kinds of shapes that remind of vines, clouds, and possibly flames.

The shape of the dragon’s claws and rendering of the clouds and waves on this piece is typically Japanese, which is probably where it was made. It does copy the rectangular seppa-dai from Chinese guards, something often seen on Japanese-made versions even though their handles were oval in cross-section. It is possibly to honor the source of their inspiration.

A rather unusual piece.

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