A Tsuba is a guard which it positioned at the end of the grip of a sword. Tsubas protect the hand and help to balance the weapon on the body. During the Edo Period (a peaceful time in Japan) the tsbua was more ornamental than it was functional. These tsubas are highly decorative and were made from softer, precious metals such as gold. Tsbuas are considered heirlooms and families with samurai roots will have their family crest incorporated into the design.

The long sword known as katana is often said to be the soul of the samurai. An image of a samurai would not be complete without their shaved head and topknot (chonmage), distinctive garments and their ‘dai-sho’ literally ‘long’ and ‘short’ swords which are kept in their sash at their waist.

Samurai relied on a selection of durable wares created by generations of metal craft workers whose pursuit of perfection lead to some of the most sophisticated works of functional art in the world. The process of making a Japanese sword is time consuming and a dying art in Japan. Traditional crafts people create swords which are flexible, exceptionally sharp and durable. They are unmatched anywhere in the world.

Look at a variety of tsuba designs made from different types of metal.

  • Investigate the properties of the metals used to make the tsubas and arrange from strongest to weakest.
  • Considering tsubas were made to protect the samurai's hand, which of these would have been most protective and which do you think is purely decorative (least functional)?
  • Using aluminium foil design your own tsuba inspired by nature. You may choose to emboss into the foil, carve out sections or decorate with permanent texta.

Watch the video below of Japan's Master Sword Maker, Yuya Nakanishi. What materials and techniques does he use to make a sword?