Menuki is a particular ornamental piece that is usually mounted on the Katana Tsuka to complete a master piece called Samurai Sword. Actually it is unfair to talk about Menuki without talking about Tsuka-Ito and Mekugi equally known by Nakago. The superposition order is very particular. One is hiding the other but by the same time is protecting and allowing it to be more attractive: it does hide it partially indeed. The proficiency level that requires making the serial of pieces is high; selecting the best material, the best color then the best design to incorporate within the group is a delicate duty. Though Menuki is known of being an ornamental piece with no distinguished function, it ensures the filling of a gap of design. Since the Tsuba is the line of symmetry of the Katana parts, Menuki complete the Katana parts by symmetry to what there is on the Saya. It has a definite role of counter balancing the overall concept.
The importance that has the Menuki is generally due to the design and the conception of the piece. Actually, the patterns are real piece of art; they are sculpture of real or legendary creatures and can be illustration of some scenes.
Initially, Menuki was intended to prevent the hands from slipping over the Tsuka. This role is reinforced by the wrap Tsuka Ito and assisted by the Menuki. The main role of the Menuki pattern is ornamental. The main represented patterns are animals which traduce mighty and power, honor and freedom. In the Japanese mythology, and the Asiatic culture, several animals are associated with these concepts. It is very common to find Dragons, Birds and the every cherished domestic animal that has the significance of living represented by Menuki. This tendency is present over the major ornamental parts mounted on the Katana.
The pattern and the representation described by the Menuki has evolved and gained higher complexity level along with the industrial revolution and the creation of more sophisticated tools to handle the Pattern printing on the material pieces. It is important to notice that the Menuki gives its qualification as the main description for the Katana.
Basically made of Gold, the Menuki can be made of others shining materials. The importance is that the piece has the glow under the Ito wrap which tends to cover it. The Glowing properties of the material have to complete the group of pieces, whether they have an ornamental duty or functional duty. The Menuki has to be made of material that can appear under the Ito Wrap, can describe the shape and expose the pattern. Generally, Gold, Silver and Lead are the materials that have these properties.
Making Menuki requires a mold already prepared according to the desired design. The mold is made of Silicone or clay, the material that are easily prepared and that exhibit efficient resistance to heat. It is also possible to make Menuki from Solid Resin or hard plastic according industrial processes using particular machinery. The price of the used material is definitely a determinant factor that rules the price of the Menuki along with others factors, for example the complexity of the design and the originality of the pattern. In some designs, Menuki has to be painted to distinguish the shapes and the make the design more attractive because the item has acquired the decorative role. Some Menuki painting are made using shining products with Gold like glow.
Having the role limited to ornamental function, the conception and the design of the Menuki are to make carefully to preserve the overall concept of the designed Katana.
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