Japanese Tsuba, Edo Period
The Tsuba is usually a round, or occasionally squarei, guard at the end of the grip of bladed Japanese weapons, like the katana and its various variations, the tachi, wakizachi, tanto, and others. They contribute to the balance of the weapon and to the protection of the hand. The tsuba was mostly meant to be used to prevent the hand from sliding onto the blade during thrusts as opposed to protecting from an opponent’s blade.
During the Muromachi period, 1333-1573, and the Momoyama period, 1573-1603, the tsuba were more for functionality than for decoration, being made of stronger metals and designs. With the peace in Japan during the Edo period, 1603- 1868, the tsuba became more ornamental and made of less practical metals.
Tsuba are usually finely decorated. Whole dynasties of craftsmen arose whose only craft was making the tsuba. These decorated fittings were often used as heirlooms, passed from one generation to another. Many Japanese families with samurai roots would have their family crests crafted onto a tsuba.