View Full Version : Horses and sword guards (tsuba) on the Japanese sword

Please visit our sponsor:

AikiWeb Sponsored Links - Place your Aikido link here for only $10!

Keith Larman
09-02-2010, 07:16 PM
I know this is a bit off topic, but as most of you probably know I work with swords professionally. I know a lot of people are "horse" folk. I thought I'd share a picture of a tsuba (swordguard) I recently photographed. It has been in my safe for years looking for the right sword to be mounted on. But today I decided it was time to put it up for sale on my site since I'd managed to avoid ever putting it on a sword. Anyway, I photographed it today and it really makes me hesitate to sell the thing. Just wanted to share the photo. Amazing how alive and active the horses look and how well they're rendered. I just love this style of "drawing" horses.

For you uma (horse) lovers.




Brett Charvat
09-02-2010, 07:47 PM
Incredible. Is the mane and tail of the horses a different metal? It almost looks like silver from the pictures. Classically understated, very wabi-sabi as they say.

I'm intrigued by the fact that the shinogi area seems to be mismatched from the right to left side. Do you have any information about the blade this was originally mounted on? It seems from the dimples that it's been re-mounted at least once, with the lower dimples showing some fitting area from what appears to be a mune. Perhaps that is the explanation for the seeming incongruous nature of the left/right sides. In any event, a truly wonderful example of craftsmanship. Thank you for posting this!!

Keith Larman
09-02-2010, 08:31 PM
Often the sides of the nakago-ana (the hole in the tsuba you're talking about for lurkers) isn't in tight contact with the blade surfaces. This is especially true with tsuba fit with seki-gane (the metal plugs at the edge and back). This used to have full copper seki-gane on both top and bottom as they'd be hammered those dimpled areas on the edge and back sides. Those would be carefully filed to create a tight fit at the very edge of the nakago and back with the harder iron not coming into contact with the blade itself. So it might have been touching on one side for whatever reason and the fitter made an adjustment.

I'll also point out that regardless swords are often a lot less symmetrical than they should be. You think it's fairly symmetrical until you look at parts fit to it closely. The shinogi may run lower on one side or the shinogi ji may slope a bit more on the other... but that's probably not the case here but simply repeated fittings and the use of seki-gane.

Keith Larman
09-02-2010, 08:33 PM
Forgot to answer the other question. The mane and tail are shakudo, a copper and gold alloy. Shakudo "polished" looks like a dark copper. But given time (or a proper treatment) it will develop a lovely dark patina. It was a favorite soft metal among artisans in Japan as it has very nice working qualities and it will "heal" its patina naturally over time if it is damaged.

Brett Charvat
09-02-2010, 09:18 PM
Thanks for the added information. I was unaware that it was/is common to fit the top and bottom of the nakago-ana tightly and less so (or perhaps not at all?) the sides. Fascinating. Again, a wonderful display of craftsmanship on this tsuba.

Janet Rosen
09-02-2010, 10:56 PM
What a delightful piece!

09-02-2010, 11:18 PM
What kind of price would this piece sell for?


Keith Larman
09-03-2010, 12:40 AM
I have it up on my site for $450. I should add that the irony with antique pricing is that you can't have new ones made of anywhere the same quality for twice as much. But there are a lot of antique fittings on the market right now and with the economy in the toilet, well, prices are low.

09-03-2010, 08:51 PM
Wow that's beautiful. Shame I'm a long ways from owning a sword to mount it on. But no doubt someone is going to love having that.

Linda Eskin
09-04-2010, 12:06 AM
I'm with Cherie on that. :) Thank you for sharing the photo. It's beautiful.

Keith Larman
09-05-2010, 01:53 AM
Actually a tsuba like this one is usually collected by itself as a work of art without ever being mounted on a sword again. I had considered putting it on a sword as I also have a set of fuchi kashira (end caps for the tsuka (handle)) with similarly carved horses as well as the menuki (the small decorative things in the wrap). But anyway, it will most likely never end up on a sword although it most certainly could be used that way.

09-05-2010, 08:14 AM
:) Thanks for clarifying. I misunderstood this part of your original post.

I thought I'd share a picture of a tsuba (swordguard) I recently photographed. It has been in my safe for years looking for the right sword to be mounted on.

But I don't know a whole lot about swords or sword collecting.

Still a beautiful piece. I wish I could afford to buy it myself.

09-07-2010, 12:52 PM
Beautiful piece, thank you for sharing. Wish I could afford it myself. I noticed though that it seems one of the horses (upper right) is running, and the other one looks to be laying down. Is there any significance to this in accordance with culture and history?

09-08-2010, 02:26 PM
Actually the bottom horse appears to be executing a movement called the levade while having his head looking back over his shoulder. The short legs and big belly make it a little difficult to pick out the pose unless you have seen the Lippizaner Stallions in action.


09-08-2010, 03:00 PM

My teenage daughter would like to know if you have a tsuba with wolves on it. :)