Foreign inspired piercing and repetition | Mandarin Mansion

New site

You are looking at the old archived version of Mandarin Mansion.
See the current site at:

Foreign inspired piercing and repetition

Two Japanese tsuba's with foreign influence.


Many Asian export sword guards, and later Japanese guards inspired by them, were modelled after the archetypical Chinese sword guard.

A Chinese sword guard of the 17th century. This style of guard was the mother of the entire genre of kwanto-gata or "Canton-form" tsuba. (This is merely illustrative, not included in this offering.)

It didn't take long before makers started experiment with the designs, and play with the various stylistic elements. The following set of tsuba illustrates how such experimentation eventually lead to a rather famous concept.

1. Crowded with dragons

Height & width: 76 x 71 mm
Thickness: 5 mm
Weight: 87 grams

Origin: Probably Japanese
Materials: Iron
Dating: Probably 18th century
Use: Has been mounted

An Asian export sword guard
An Asian export sword guard

A small sword guard for the wakizashi , the Japanese shortsword. A Japanese made variation of the classic "Canton style" layout, but instead of two dragons reaching for the top there are now three of them, seemingly slithering through the tendrils. The top two are reaching for the flaming pearl whilst the bottom one passes through a small roofed arch, with an iron pearl in its mouth!

The "Flaming Pearl of Wisdom" or "Wish Granting Jewel" was a concept from Buddhism. It was known as Known as hōju (宝珠) or hōju-no-tama (宝珠の玉) in Japanese. In Chinese and Japanese art, dragons are often seen chasing this pearl, rarely do they get it.

(In Bhutanese, southern Tibetan and Nepalese art, it is more common to depict dragons actually reaching the pearl. The Bhutanese take this concept very far, with a dragon with a pearl in each of its claws priding their national flag.)

Both "pearls" in this tsuba are complete cut free from their surroundings so they can move a little while being retained in their compartment. The maker's skill was further exhibited through no less than eleven areas of undercutting, where tendrils cross over each other with space in between.

The dragon that passes through the gate is probably representing the legend of a carp that passed through the Dragon Gate on its 100th birthday, becoming a dragon. It's a symbol for perseverance.

Such guards found a ready market under those that wanted to convey that they had rangaku or "Western learning", and were said to be especially popular amongst physicians in Nagasaki.

It still has an old collection inventory number written inside the tang aperture.

2. "1000 shrimps"

Height & width: 72 x 66 mm
Thickness: 4 mm
Weight: 88 grams

Origin: Japan
Materials: Iron, silver, shakudo
Dating: Probably 18th century
Use: Has been mounted

An Asian export sword guard
An Asian export sword guard

Did the previous guard add a dragon, this tsuba depicts no less than 18 little shrimps. The work is now not pierced through, but rather dimples are drilled around which the designs are formed. The washer seat (seppa-dai now has a typical Japanese form, indicating it was probably made in Japan.

Designs like these are generally attributed to the Yagami school, whose Mitsuhiro came up with the famous "1000 monkeys" design. See a wonderful example of such a guard in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, accession number

This guard still refers to the Asian export sword guards in the way the shrimps are laid out amongst dense vegetal forms, and the border of clouds around the kozuka hitsu ana. That aperture was plugged later with shakudo..

Price of grouping:

€ 750,-

Interested? Questions?

Asian export sword guards

Asian export sword guards

Asian export sword guards

Asian export sword guards

Two Japanese tsuba's with foreign influence.

Like it? Share!