OSAKA--The Osaka Museum of History is holding a special exhibition of samurai handguards and sword fittings to showcase the intricate and minuscule beauty of the designs.

The exhibition runs until Dec. 1.

Nearly all the exhibits are being shown to the public for the first time, officials said.

The show was made possible after a collection owned by the late Shunichi Katsuya, who worked at the Kyoto Prefectural University, was donated to the museum.

Sword fittings are the metal parts attached to a sword’s hilt and scabbard, such as the handguard. Some pieces are inlaid in gold, while others are adorned with high-contrast watermarks similar to shadow pictures and cut-out illustrations, as well as contemporary geometric patterns.

Of particular note is a design featuring the “nanako” technique, which is characterized by circles punched over the surface so small that they cannot be distinguished without a magnifying glass.

The motifs also come in myriad designs ranging from standard themes such as nature and lucky charms to more eccentric ones, including a map of Japan and a Buddhist sutra, reflecting the rich sensitivity and playful spirit of the Japanese aesthetic.

Scholarly folk may also be interested in interpreting the hidden meanings and stories behind subject matters taken from classic literature and events from ancient China.

For example, a combination of “tsuta” Japanese ivy and “oi” (boxes carried by “shugenja” ascetic hermits) represents a scene from “The Tales of Ise,” a collection of waka poems from the Heian Period (794-1185). An unexpected combination of wheels and a praying mantis refers to an old proverb about courageous but doomed resistance.

The exhibition also highlights the individual styles of the artists and how they were inspired by traditions in their regions. Sword fittings from the Owari Domain, which was located in the western part of Aichi Prefecture, are characterized by their rustic beauty of usage, while artisans in the ancient capital of Kyoto placed importance on sophisticated designs. Motifs similar to “suibokuga” ink wash paintings were popular among craftsman based in the Choshu Domain (modern-day Yamaguchi Prefecture).

"We want visitors to appreciate the charms of the texture of iron and differences in style between the different schools,” said curator Naoko Naito.

Other essential parts that complete a set with a sword include “kogai” (hair-arranging tool) and “kozuka” decorative handle for a small utility knife called “kogatana.” Some of these exhibits feature minutely detailed designs, such as one portraying the "Thirty-six Immortals of Poetry,” which dates to the middle of the Heian Period.

Admission to the special exhibition is 800 yen ($7.40) for adults and 600 yen for senior high school and college students. Closed on Tuesdays.

For more information, visit the museum’s official website at (