The earliest style of iron "Japanese" sword has an iron ring pommel integral with the straight blade. These first appeared in the 1st - 2nd century. This style was carried on until approximately the 4th C, although nothing else from these swords exists to show us how they were mounted and used. Starting in the 4th C, various figurative bronze pommels came into fashion. These persisted into the 7th century.
Metropolitan 30.65.2, "Chinese ca. 600 AD; Imperial tomb at Beijueshan, near Luoyang, Henan Province"
This style of guard and suspension mount seem typical of Chinese swords of the time. A similar style is also found on a few pieces believed to be Sasanian work from the Near East, ca. 6th -7th C. The ring style pommel is seen on many examples found in Korean and Japan, although most are not a naturalistically modeled as this one. Note the "mekugi/menuki," one of which is mounted with a small ring.
Metropolitan 30.65.1, "Chinese ca. 600 AD"
Again, a ring pommel, but of much closer form to examples found in Korea. It has simple, but similar style of guard to the first example. See below for a detailed look at another guard of the same type.
Early guard, date and provenance unknown, 4.7 cm H
The left photo shows the side facing the grip, the right is the side that would receive the blade. The center photo shows a side view. This guard functioned as both the tsuba and habaki of the later Japanese style sword. This is probably Chinese. The shape is seen not only in metal, but also jade sword guards.
Metropolitan 32.13.3, "Possibly Japanese, 6th C"
This example begins to show characteristics of later Japanese swords.
Metropolitan 32.13.1 "Probably Japanese, 6th C"
Similar to the previous mounting, but with a style pommel that seems to be a Japanese invention.
Metropolitan 32.13.2 "Japanese 6th C"
This is the next step in the evolution of the Japanese sword. I have not seen this style of pommel on any continental swords. Also note its sukashi hoju tsuba below.
Tokyo National Museum, 7th-8th C, Hokkaido
It is tempting to see the pommel of these waribite tachi as a deflated version of the above balloon style pommel. The guard and suspension mounts are beginning to take on the characteristics that we associate with the earliest Heian Nihonto.
Tokyo National Museum, 7th C
This is very close to the Heian style tachi. Note what appears to be a menuki/mekugi fused to the nakago. The pommel clearly shows karakusa motif inlay.
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