Tsuka – Japanese sword handle

What is it?

The tsuka is the handle of a Japanese sword.

It is a crucial component designed to provide a secure grip and proper balance to the sword. The tsuka is typically made from wood and is covered with rayskin (samegawa), which is then wrapped with cord (ito) in various traditional patterns. This wrapping not only enhances the grip but also adds to the aesthetic appeal of the sword.

The person who makes the tsuka, or handle, of a Japanese sword is commonly referred to as a tsukamaki-shi. The term “tsukamaki” translates to “handle wrapping,” and the suffix “-shi” denotes a person skilled in a particular craft.

A tsukamaki-shi specializes in the art of wrapping the sword handles, a meticulous process that involves fitting the wooden core of the handle, applying the rayskin (samegawa), and wrapping it tightly with the tsuka-ito (handle wrap). This craft requires precise technique and an aesthetic sense to ensure both functionality and beauty, reflecting the traditional craftsmanship of Japanese sword-making.

Basic terms

1. Omote

This is the “front” or “outside” side of the sword, which faces outward when the sword is worn on the left side, as is traditional for samurai. When the sword is displayed, the omote side is typically shown facing forward. This side is often more elaborately decorated, especially on the tang (nakago), where the swordsmith’s signature (mei) is usually inscribed.

2. Ura

This is the “back” or “inside” side of the sword, facing towards the wearer’s body when the sword is worn. It is considered the less prominent side and is less likely to bear elaborate decorations compared to the omote.

3. Ha

The ha specifically refers to the cutting edge of the blade of a Japanese sword but it’s also being used to descrive the cutting edge side side on the tsuka

4. Mune

The back/opposite side of the cutting adge



Tsuka parts in plain english

1. Tsuka-ito

Tsuka-ito refers to the wrapping or braid used on the handle (tsuka) of Japanese swords. It is typically made from silk, cotton, or leather and is wrapped around the tsuka in various traditional patterns that enhance both the grip and the aesthetic of the sword.

2. Fuchi

The fuchi is a component of a Japanese sword that serves as a collar or sleeve at the end of the tsuka (handle) nearest the blade. It is part of the assembly that helps to secure the tsuka to the tang of the blade. Positioned just above the tsuba (hand guard), the fuchi plays both a functional and decorative role.

3. Kashira

The kashira is a crucial component of a Japanese sword, typically serving as the pommel or cap at the end of the handle (tsuka). It plays an essential role in both the functionality and aesthetics of the sword.

4. Menuki

Menuki are the ornamental elements found on the handle. They are typically small, detailed sculptures made from various metals placed under the tsuka-ito (handle wrapping), positioned where the fingers naturally grip the sword. This placement not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of the sword but also improves the grip by providing a slightly raised surface for the fingers to hold onto.

5. Tsuba

The tsuba is the hand guard and is typically a round or occasionally square guard that fits between the blade and the hilt of the sword. The tsuba serves multiple purposes: it protects the hand from sliding onto the blade, balances the sword, and serves as a counterweight to the blade for better maneuverability. Additionally, tsuba often feature artistic designs and are crafted from various materials like iron, copper, or brass, making them important both as functional and decorative elements of the sword​​.

6. Samegawa

Samegawa refers to the material used to cover the handle (tsuka) of Japanese swords, typically made from the skin of the ray fish or shark. This material is known for its rough, granular texture, which provides an excellent grip when wrapped around the tsuka.

7. Mekugi

Mekugi are small pegs used in traditional Japanese swords to secure the sword blade’s tang (nakago) within the handle (tsuka). Typically made from bamboo, mekugi are inserted through aligned holes in the tang and the tsuka. They play a crucial role in the assembly of the sword, ensuring that the blade remains firmly attached to the handle during use.

8. Mekugi-ana

Mekugi-ana refers to the hole in the handle through which the mekugi (a small peg, usually made of bamboo) is inserted. This peg plays a critical role in securing the sword’s blade to its handle (tsuka). The mekugi passes through the corresponding holes in the tsuka, locking everything into place to ensure that the blade does not separate from the handle during use.

9. Hishigami

Hishigami are small, wedge-shaped paper or fabric inserts used underneath the ito.  These inserts play a crucial role in ensuring that the tsuka-ito (handle wrap) remains tight and even throughout the handle. They are strategically placed under the tsuka-ito during the wrapping process to maintain consistent tension and prevent any loosening over time.

10. Seppa

Seppa are spacers or washers and are typically made of soft metals like brass or copper. Positioned on both sides of the tsuba (hand guard), seppa help to secure the tsuba in place by filling the gap between the guard and the handle (tsuka) as well as between the guard and the blade. This ensures that the tsuba remains tightly fixed and doesn’t rattle or move, maintaining the structural integrity of the sword. Seppa also protect the more delicate parts of the sword, such as the tsuba itself and the habaki (the blade collar), from wear due to metal-on-metal contact.


Tsuka shapes

There are basically 4 different shapes being:

  1. Haichi Tsuka: the most common, the mune-side almost straight, the ha-side slightly tapered, following the lines of the sword
  2. Rikko Tsuka : almost hour glass shaped
  3. Imogata : both sides straight. Sometimes also refered to as “potatoe shape”
  4. Morozori : closely following the shape of the saya, mostly with tachi/ handachi


Tsukamaki styles

  1. Hineri-Maki (Twist Wrap): This is one of the most common wrapping styles. The tsuka-ito is twisted tightly as it is wrapped around the handle, creating a distinct pattern. This style ensures a firm grip and is very durable, suitable for practical use.
  2. Katate-Maki (Battle Wrap): Also known as the “one-handed wrap,” this style features a portion of the handle wrapped in a way that allows for a stronger grip in one hand. It’s often seen near the base of the tsuka, where the hand would naturally rest for one-handed techniques.
  3. Tsumami-Maki (Pinch Wrap): This method involves pinching the tsuka-ito as it is wrapped around the tsuka, creating small ridges or bumps. This method can be purely decorative or provide additional texture for grip.
  4. Kaku-Maki (Square Wrap): In this method, the tsuka-ito is wrapped tightly in a pattern that creates a square or diamond-shaped cross-section, which can enhance the grip and also adds a striking visual element to the tsuka.
  5. Morohineri-Maki (Double Twist Wrap): Similar to Hineri-Maki but involves a double twist of the ito, creating a more intricate pattern and texture. This method is often used for higher-grade swords and offers excellent grip and durability.
  6. Menuki-Maki: In this style, the wrapping is done in such a way that it accentuates the menuki (ornamental underlays). The tsuka-ito is strategically tightened around the menuki to make them prominent while ensuring they contribute to the grip.
  7. Jabara Maki is a relatively intricate and decorative method of wrapping the tsuka (handle) of a Japanese sword. The term “jabara” means “snake belly,” which reflects the pattern’s appearance, reminiscent of a snake’s scales. This style is considered both ornamental and functional, providing a unique aesthetic while ensuring a secure grip.The Jabara Maki involves wrapping the tsuka-ito (handle wrap) in a way that creates a series of interlocking loops or knots across the length of the handle. This technique results in a textured, visually engaging surface that enhances the grip and adds significant ornamental value to the sword. The patterned, interwoven design not only secures the underlying samegawa (rayskin) and menuki (decorative elements under the wrap) but also prevents the wrap from unraveling or shifting during use.
  8. Tachi Tsukagashira Kake maki : both strands of ito remain flat with no twist pr pinch, ito twisted at kashira. Many colors of ito used.
  9. Han-dachi Zuka : alternate fancy type where both strands of ito pinched at crossover as in Tsumami maki, but the ito goes through a hole in kashira into the wood core.
  10. Katahineri maki — alternate fancy type – top strand of ito pinched at crossover bottom strand twisted at crossover.


The craft of making a tsuka (videos)


1. Tsukamaki shi – Hashimoto Yukinori

The work and life of a master Katana handle maker at the Setouchi Sword Museum

Credits: Q2 japan

2. Tsukamaki shi – Hisashi Mitani