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Fuchi: Exploring the Japanese Ferrule’s Meaning

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: January 18, 2024

The fuchi is the ornamental ring around the hilt of a Japanese dagger or sword. It serves as the ferrule or hilt collar to reinforce the hilt. Generally decorated like other sword mountings, it is a reflection of fine Japanese metalwork.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
Positioned next to the sword guard (tsuba), the fuchi strengthens the base of the sword hilt.
Fuchi were often crafted from traditional metals such as shakudo (copper-gold alloy) or shibuichi (copper-silver alloy), commonly used in the production of Japanese sword mounts.
The fuchi was often designed to complement other sword mountings, including the kashira (pommel cap) and the tsuba.

Craftsmanship and Design of a Fuchi

The Japanese term fuchi (縁) translates as border or margin. These hilt collars or ferrules serve as both a functional and decorative component of sword mounting. The fuchi is frequently designed to match the kashira (pommel cap), collectively referred to as fuchigashira, positioned at opposite ends of the hilt.

Material and Construction

A fuchi crafted from shakudo
A fuchi crafted from shakudo – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

Early fuchi, as seen in uchigatana, were mostly made from horn. However, in later periods, metal emerged as the preferred material, replacing horn. Like many other Japanese sword mounts, fuchi were often made from shakudo—a copper-gold alloy artificially patinated to develop a dark, raven-black finish.

Matching sword fittings comprising the fuchi and kashira
Matching sword fittings comprising the fuchi and kashira made from shibuichi – Credits: Metropolitan Museum

Others were made of shibuichi—a copper-silver alloy patinated into various colors such as brown, blue, or greenish gray—and inlaid with pieces of metal of varying alloys including copper and gold in contrasting colors.

back of a fuchi signed by its maker
Featuring the back of a fuchi, signed by its maker. The inscription 平戸住國重 translates as Hirado-jū Kunishige, meaning Kunishige, resident of Hirado – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

The fuchi has a soldered plate on the bottom, with a hole to allow the tang to pass through. Sometimes, the bottom plate is signed by its maker and includes information about the residence of the maker, date, and occasionally, name of a second artist. However, the tomozoko-fuchi (共底縁) is a type of fuchi that is not constructed from a metal ring with a soldered bottom plate.

Function of a Fuchi

A fuchi on a katana hilt
A fuchi on a katana hilt, sitting next to the sword guard – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques
A finely made fuchi reinforcing the katana hilt
A finely made fuchi reinforcing the katana hilt – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

The fuchi is attached at the base of the grip, holding together the two wooden halves of the hilt (tsuka). It sits next to the sword guard (tsuba), a disk-shaped piece of metal that protects the hand. However, in an aikuchi-style mounting that comes without a sword guard, the fuchi and sayaguchi (mouth of a scabbard) meet flatly.

A tanto dagger in an aikuchi style mounting
A tanto dagger in an aikuchi-style mounting – Credits: Metropolitan Museum

Design and Craftsmanship

A fuchigashira
A fuchigashira—a pair of fuchi and kashira – Credits: Metropolitan Museum
A fuchigashira made of shakudo
A fuchigashira made of shakudo – Credits: Metropolitan Museum

The fuchi was often elaborate, and its surface was often polished or decorated with a nanako (fish roe) pattern, made by punching with a rounded hollow-point fine punch. Other techniques include carving, engraving, and inlays. The fuchi was usually designed to match the kashira (pommel cap), though some ornamental fuchi are sometimes used with a plain horn kashira.

A matching pair of fuchi set
A matching pair of fuchi set into the hilts of katana and wakizashi – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

During the Edo period, the samurai wore a daisho—a set of long and short swords. The daisho was mounted with matching koshirae. This means that the fuchi of both swords often match. Sometimes, the crest (mon) is featured as a decorative element on the fuchi as well as on other mountings.

A fuchi featuring an important figure in classical Chinese literature
A fuchi featuring an important figure in classical Chinese literature, possibly depicting the philosopher, reformer, and politician Wang Anshi – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

Some fuchi, along with other sword mounts, exhibit strong foreign influence. Often produced near foreign trade centers, these fittings found a market among traders who brought them as gifts on diplomatic or trade missions. Sword fitting maker Hirado Kunishige frequently incorporated a blend of Chinese and Western motifs into his work.

Sources Cited
  1. Fuchi kashira by Hisayuki. (n.d.). Mandarin Mansion. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.mandarinmansion.com/item/fuchi-kashira-hisayuki
  2. Hirado Kunishige fuchi. (n.d.). Mandarin Mansion. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.mandarinmansion.com/item/hirado-kunishige-fuchi
  3. Ogawa, M. (Ed.). (2009). Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  4. Sesko, M. (2012). Koshirae – Japanese Sword Mountings. Lulu.com.
  5. Sesko, M. (2014). Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords. Lulu.com.
  6. Sesko, M. (2019, July 2). Shibuichi (四分一). Mandarin Mansion. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.mandarinmansion.com/glossary/shibuichi
  7. Sesko, M. (2023, January 25). Hirado Kunishige (平戸市國重). Mandarin Mansion. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.mandarinmansion.com/glossary/hirado-kunishige
  8. Shakudō (赤銅). (2021, June 24). Mandarin Mansion. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.mandarinmansion.com/glossary/shakudo
  9. Stone, G. C. (1999). A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times: Together with Some Closely Related Subjects. Dover Publications.
  10. Yoshihara, Y. (2012). The Art of the Japanese Sword. The Craft of Swordmaking and its Appreciation. Tuttle Publishing.
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