Tsuba with openwork design of sea cucumber and ‘nine-way’ cherry blossom arabesque patterns. No inscription.

By Nishigaki Kanjirō

Early Edo period

Donated by Homma Norio

Considered a type of sword mount or guard, a tsuba is usually a round (or occasionally squarish) guard positioned at the end of the grip of bladed Japanese weapons.

A kuyōzakura, or ‘nine-way’ cherry blossom, is sometimes used as a family crest: a large cherry blossom in the center, surrounded by eight smaller flowers in the form of a ‘nine-way’ pattern. Kuyō (or Navagraha in Sanskrit) refers to the nine heavenly bodies and deities that influence human life on Earth. They comprise the five planets visible to the naked eye — Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn — the sun, the moon, and Rahu and Ketu, the ascending and descending nodes of the Moon. This was carved by Nishigaki Kanshiro I (1613–1693), a master craftsperson of the Hosokawa clan in Higo Province (present-day Kumamoto Prefecture). Renowned for his tsuba and fuchigashira, he is said to have been born in Nakatsu (Oita Prefecture), and studied under master swordsmith Hirata Hikozō.