Katana (traditional Japanese sword) has a very important place in the history of Japanese martial arts. It has been commemorated with the Samurai since the 15th century. Today, it continues to be used in modern martial arts such as Aikido, Kenjutsu, and Iaido. (In Aikido training, instead of katana, we use a wooden equivalent.) It takes weeks to forge katana and it is considered a sacred art in Japan. The following illustration shows names and parts forming the katana.
On our trip to Lisbon, we had the opportunity to visit the Museum of the Orient. There were many artifacts that were unique to Japanese culture. One of the artifacts that attracted our attention was the tsuba collection. You can find photos of the collection in the gallery below.
Tsuba is the name given to the handguard of katana. It is usually circular or square and contributes to the handling and the efficiency of the weapon. Generally, the index finger of the swordsman is in contact with the tsuba helping the guide the sword and also serving the protect the hand during combat. During the Muromachi (1333-1573) and Momoyama periods (1573-1603) the tsuba served a more practical than decorative function and was made from hard metals such as iron which was not elaborately decorated. After peace reigned in Japan, from the Edo period on (1603-1868), the tsuba was produced as a more ornamental and less practical object. More malleable metals such as gold and its alloys were employed in its construction. Many tsubas are finely worked and were produced by the lineage of craftsmen whose exclusive activity to produce these magnificent objects. Often, the tsuba, along with the katana, was considered to be the most precious of family relics, handed down from father to son for many generations. In fact, noble families, especially those with connections with the Samurai caste, engraved the family crest on the tsuba.