This oval-shaped, slightly concave tsuba, or sword guard, is made out of ivory. The tsuba is carved in high relief with an image of the boy warrior Kintaro from Japanese folklore fighting a giant carp. The boy stabs the carp with a sword he holds in his right hand. The background and the reverse side of the tsuba are decorated with a wave pattern. In the center of the tsuba is a dewdrop-shaped cutout, in which the sword blade would be held. There is an inscription of two kanji characters on the center piece to the right of the boy, likely the artist's signature.
A tsuba is a traditional Japanese sword guard. Typically round or squarish, tsuba are positioned at the juncture between the blade and the handle in order to protect the sword bearer's hand when thrusting. Because of the era of peace known as the "Pax Tokugawa" during the Edo period (1600-1868), tsuba became more ornamental than functional, and usually featured intricate designs and embellishments.
Kintaro (or as Kintoki), the "Golden Boy," is a child of superhuman strength from Japanese folklore. Raised by a mountain hag on Mt. Ashigara, Kintaro is said to have befriended the animals of the region to vanquish his enemies. He is loosely based on a Heian era (794-1185) historical figure, Sakata Kintoki, who was a retainer for Minamoto no Yorimitsu and a well-known warrior. Kintaro is a popular figure in No and kabuki theater, and Kintaro dolls are popular decorations for Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day; formerly Tango no Sekku, Boys' Day), as they represent the desire for boys to become equally brave and strong. Kintaro is frequently depicted holding his axe, wearing his familiar apron, and sometimes accompanied by a tame bear or wrestling a giant carp.