Thursday, July 24, 2008

Menuki (what?)

A fellow student and I recently discussed the placement of menuki as part of a sword's koshirae. The question at hand was whether menuki were actually placed to align with the palm of the hands on the tsuka. None of the iaito in our dojo had the menuki placed thus, but that constituted only anecdotal evidence. Ross' book 'In Search of Mishima's Sword' claims that real swordsman placed the menuki to support grip, but he doesn't cite a source, making it hard to establish the veracity of his claim. So I went looking elsewhere, and came across this reference, which states that:

"From a pure functionalist point of view, menuki was basically born out of rather pragmatic demand to serve primarily as “mekugi osae” or the cover (or lid) over mekugi pin. Examinations of old Kara-tachi and Kazari-ken koshirae made in Nara through early Heian periods, such as the ones in Shosoin Museum and Tokyo National Museum, tend to confirm this functional origin of menuki among the earliest styles koshirae. (See Ogasawara, 1994 for photos.)

However, soon its secondary function to serve as a pair of ornaments began to be emphasized equally (Suzuki, 1995). Additionally, many other “latent functions (i.e., not originally intended or obvious but still important eu-functions)” were discovered (e.g., tactile indicators to tell the correct orientation of the edge or correct “tenouchi,” palm swells, status/rank symbols, religious charm, etc.). Then over the course of the evolution of Nihon-to koshirae, those secondary and latent functions of menuki seem to have taken over its “manifest function (i.e., originally intended and well recognized purpose)" completely."

This offers an explanation of sorts.  


Andrew said...

Palm swell. That is the key point that is not elaborated on.

Without evidence, I speculate that placement under the palm would be the 'natural' original position, and that the current placement under the fingertips is a modern development. Possibly to mark the distinction between modern and heirloom swords.

But as I say, I have no evidence.

shugyosha said...

Check the explanation at

These guys are one of the main iaito sellers in Kyoto.

Be well.

Simon said...

Hi Shugyosha

Couldn't find an explanation. Where is it?


shugyosha said...

In the description of the sword there should be an exaplanation on how the Yagyû used a different tsuka. Is it not there?

"This Yagyu Koshirae features the typical Yagyu style Tsuka: Kata Ryugo(Tsuka shape resembles an inverted cones), Yagyu Tsuka(Shinogi on the hilt spine), Sakasa Menuki(reversed positioning of Menuki)."

My understanding is that if they use a different tsuka and menuki ["Sakasa menuki"] compared to other schools, then the ones that have it the 'usual' way should be more or less standard, the way I see it.

This people have several iaito based on historical, museum, items, so I'd take it as quite solid info.

[sorry for the delay; blogger didn't tag me]

Genji said...

Placement under the palm swelling is actually preference, and is the sakasa menuki. Some katate maki have the menuki placed on the center of the tsuka on both sides.
The only thing that is considered proper when placing the menuki and isn't preference is that with animal menuki the head points towards the fuchi and the tail at the kashira. With plant menuki that the roots point towards the fuchi and the leaves/fruit towards the kashira.

Simon said...

Hmmm, all really useful discussion. But show me a reference from somewhere authoritative. This is the problem with the web: lots of information, with little provenance. Has anyone done an historical analysis?