Tsuba, in the form of a crane with outstreched wings. Iron. 17th century, Japan. The RöhsskaMuseum, of Design, Fashion and Decorative Arts , Sweden.
A tsuba is a sword guard that forms the boundary between the blade and the grip. Its chief functions are to balance the sword, prevent the hand from reaching the blade and to protect the hand from an adversary’s cuts. Apart from the aperture for the blade there was often an opening in the Tsuba for a small knife – a kodzuka – and sometimes another hole for the kogai a Samurai would use to dress his hair. Early designs were simple and emphasis was primarily on function, but during the Edo period (1603–1868) there was a demand for luxury objects and the tsuba became increasingly more of an artistic embellishment and status symbol whose chief purpose was to communicate its owner’s social status.
Clive Thompson, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better