Published Jun 5 2013, by

Sword mounts for a tanto-koshirae (short blade)

The Japanese metalworking tradition stands among the finest in the world. From iron, steel, and bronze to copper, silver, and gold, the Japanese mastery of the forge has been routinely demonstrated in the fusion of artistic innova­tion with practical function. In no better place is this innovation demonstrated than in the development of weaponry, especially the creation of military blades and mounts. By the time of the Meiji period (1868–1912), although Western firearms technologies were making traditional blades more obsolete, a special­ized market for decorative weapons still allowed Japanese metalsmiths to practice their craft.

This group of sword mounts reflects this development. The mounts include a saya (sheath), tsuka (handle), and menuki (grips) of inlaid lacquer depicting a lively scene of birds and baskets of flowers amid blossoming fruit trees. The kojiri (cap at the end of the sheath), koiguchi (sword mouth), fuchi-kashira (cap and ferrule), and kozuka (knife handle) exhibit intricate, stylized floral designs crafted of silver inlaid with colored enamels. The blade of the small knife carries a short inscription, incised into the metal, that includes the unidentified name of the artist. The same name is also recorded in a small, incised mother-of-pearl plaque on the exterior of the saya. Although the blades are functional, the delicate artistry of the decoration of their mounts renders them impractical as field weapons. This aspect—along with the ornate motifs, fine metalworking, and attention to detail—is characteristic of Meiji-period works created expressly for the decorative market.