Advent Calendar Day 14

Two tsuba sword guards wth snowflake decorations

Collection of Japanese tsuba featuring snowflakes and snow scenes

The tsuba is a hand guard, placed between the hilt and blade of a Japanese sword.
​​It is intended to protect the hand of the samurai warrior from slipping onto the blade, and also to balance the weight of the sword. Tsuba were used and forged as far back as the 5th century and initially their design was functional and plain.

By the 17th century and through the peaceful Edo Period, the tsuba became much more of an ornamental decorative object and a status symbol for the owner. Nowadays these sword guards are as coveted by collectors as the swords themselves.

Tsuba are round or squarish in shape, mainly made of iron and copper with openwork decorations and inlays of gold, silver, brass and bronze. Each one is unique and has its own distinctive outline and weight.

Their individual designs were often inspired by nature, like these five here that all feature delicately pierced or inlaid snowflakes or snow scenes.

These snowy sword guards are part of the Ashmolean’s A.H. Church Collection of 1,264 Japanese Sword Guards by Albert Koop.

Japanese tsuba with snow scenes and snowflakes

Top: Round tsuba with 'nine-star' mon or snow
Iron, with cut and filed openwork decoration; brass rim
18th century (1701-1800)

Bottom: Mokkō-shaped tsuba with cherry flowers and snow heaps
Iron, with cut and filed openwork decoration

18th century (1701-1800)

Not on display