In an earlier blog I discussed the origins, function and importance of the Japanese sword guard know as the tsuba. Although tsubas are considered one of the most important parts of the Japanese sword, there are other parts which are still worthy of mentioning in greater detail. The menuki is one of these.
The function of the menuki
The menuki were pairs of small metal ornaments secured to both sides of the swords hilt. Their main function was to hold in place the peg which locked the blade and hilt together. It was during the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333 AD) through further functional development of the sword that the standard position of the menuki changed to provide a better grip of the handle under the grasp of the fingers.
Menuki as aesthetic works of art
Although menukis were initially functional, many possessed a high level of craftsmanship with beautifully refined detail and hence are often considered miniature works of art in their own right. Menukis cover a wide range of subject matters. Popular examples include still life imagery, depictions of animals and mythological creatures, equestrian subjects, warriors and weaponry. The inspiration of the craftsmen often stemmed from the painters of the times. This was most prevalent during the more peaceful Edo period (1614 - 1868 AD). With the increase in prosperity and the eventual elimination of warfare during this period, although swords were still worn as weapons for personal protection, greater emphasis went into the aesthetic design of the sword and it’s accessories.
Metals used in creating menuki
Menukis were forged using a variety of metals. These included gold, silver, iron, copper, sentoku (bronze), shakudo (gold and copper alloy) and shibuichi (silver and copper alloy).
The vast majority of Japanese swords have long since been dismantled. Hence, rather like tsubas, pairs of menukis are collected as objects in their own right. Due to their decorative nature, menukis can also be found converted into cufflinks and tie pins or occasionally incorporated as clasps for purses or tobacco cases.
If you have any menuki that you would like to sell or have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe, Asian art specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent for further details.
- Posted by Robin Newcombe