A 'tsuba' is a hand guard on the Japanese sword. It brought balance to the sword as well as protecting the hand and being an emblem of spiritual or social significance. During the Edo period in Japan (1603 -1868) the tsuba became an increasingly elaborate art form valued far beyond its practical or functional use.

This painting is based on the tsuba form -- in particular after a style known as 'sukashi', an openwork art in which a form or design is carved into the tsuba. In the opening where the blade of the sword would be inserted ('nakago-ana') are the characters 'Ichigo ichie' which can mean that in a single moment the meaning of a lifetime is experienced.