Thursday, May 17, 2018

With Friends Like That

Are My Friends Really My Friends?

The quantity of human interactions has increased, but the quality is arguably diminished.
Hanna Barczyk
The New York Times  by Teddy Wayne

“You’ve got enough friends, a new one is bad for you,” says a petulant character named Max in “Kicking and Screaming,” Noah Baumbach’s 1995 cult movie, when a member of his post-collegiate quadrumvirate attempts to introduce a fifth guy. “You start spreading your affection around and it runs thin, believe me.”

The two-decade-old reference may feel dated, but consider the period the film was set in and the ways its characters interact. Landline conversations are routine. Lengthy answering-machine messages and postal mail play a significant emotional role. Friends gather at bars with no external distractions and little chance of making plans with other people on the fly.

It seems antique and quaint compared to how 20-somethings now socialize. Gone are focused landline calls, long recorded voice messages, snail mail (perhaps even long emails). Nights out with friends are interrupted by the immediate posting of frequently taken photos and other attention-diverting phone applications.

In hindsight, the movie’s time — the ’90s — was the last decade that had relatively few technological obstacles to traditional levels of friendship “thickness.” Social media and smartphones spread affection around more easily; friendships may run thin.

“My net is cast wider” now than in the past, said Lucy Schiller, 29, a recent graduate of the nonfiction writing program at the University of Iowa. “It’s a lot easier for me to engage casually with a greater number of people. I don’t know if this is a byproduct of aging, but it seems like the parameters of friendships have changed. I’d like to think they involve long walks and talking at length in person and involving yourself in shared activities, but at this point it feels like those structures have been relegated to the past and we’re skating along through very fun but very lightweight interactions.”
Two statistics from the General Social Survey in 1985 and 2004 are often invoked regarding the influence of new technology on close friendships and social isolation. The average number of confidants people said they had dropped from 2.94 to 2.08 over that time, and the number of those who had none at all went from one-tenth to nearly one-quarter.

Taken on their own, these numbers are a damning indictment of internet-era connections, even if social networking was in its MySpace-Friendster infancy in 2004 and the iPhone did not exist. 

But in 2011, a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania headed by Keith N. Hampton found evidence that “close social relations do not attrite with internet use and that internet users tend to have larger personal networks,” and that social isolation was actually lower in 2008 than in 1985.

The researchers also determined that the network size of “core discussion confidants” is most strongly associated with two popular social media activities: instant messaging and uploading photos. People who have a mobile phone and engage in these activities have a network 34 percent larger than those who don’t.
Other papers by Dr. Hampton argue that the internet and social media can facilitate offline social connections. One states that “internet use may be associated with higher levels of participation in traditional settings that support the formation of diverse networks,” such as visiting public spaces or knowing more people in the neighborhood. Another suggests that frequent Facebook users have more close and more diverse social ties than the average American — though roughly the same number of overall connections.

Wedding and Funeral Guests

These findings jibe with the research of Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford. He has theorized that “group size” of both humans and nonhuman primates — the number of people (or, say, chimpanzees) one can maintain social cohesion with — correlates to “relative neocortical volume,” or the ratio of the neocortex to the rest of the brain. 

The oft-cited “Dunbar’s number” is an average of 150 casual friends for humans (really, a range of 100 to 200). These are the people who might come to your wedding or funeral. 

Within this roster, there are embedded layers of intimacy that grow smaller by a factor of three: 50 of these make the next cut to buddies, about 15 are good friends, around five confidants form our circle of trust, and finally we have an average of 1.5 people we deem our closest relationships. 
(Conversely, we can keep track of roughly 500 acquaintances and 1,500 faces we can match to names.)

One may presume that boasting thousands of social media friends or followers would inflate Dunbar’s number, but Dr. Dunbar said that is “absolutely not at all” the case. In a recent paper analyzing Facebook and Twitter data, and another one looking at mobile phone calls, his team determined that people still “showed the same frequencies of interaction as in face-to-face relationships” for the corresponding layers of intimacy, he said.

However, digital media channels “don’t distinguish between quality of relationships,” he said. “They allow you to maintain relationships that would otherwise decay. Our data shows that if you don’t meet people at the requisite frequencies, you’ll drop down through the layers until eventually you drop out of the 150 and become ‘somebody you once knew.’ What we think is happening is that, if you don’t meet sometime face to face, social media is slowing down the rate of decay.”
The result, then, can be a glut of old acquaintances that are not as easily forgotten online and which therefore stifle the development of newer, in-person friendships.
“Your available social time is limited, and you can either spend it face to face or on the internet,” Dr. Dunbar said. If it’s spent with people who are “remote,” whether geographically or just because they’re represented digitally, “you don’t have time to invest in new relationships where you are.”

Whither Rapport?

People from our past that we no longer directly communicate with but who are active on social networks can “colonize valuable space in your mind, and you think about them instead of about your close friends,” said Carlin Flora, the author of “Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are.” 

“If my high-school friend posts frequently about her life, it’s almost like it’s celebrity gossip, or it’s akin to me watching a reality show about her,” Ms. Flora said. “Our brains get confused about whether we know celebrities; if we see someone a lot, our brain thinks we know them.”

Of course, thinking we know people through status updates (or paparazzi photos) is not the same as spending time with them, just as dashing off “Happy birthday!” on someone’s Facebook wall has less emotional impact than saying it in person or over the phone. 

Ms. Flora did note the advantages of digital media for introverts and people susceptible to loneliness, namely that it is less risky and enervating to make contact through a text or post than through a phone call or an invitation to meet.

With this lower threshold for maintaining friendships, some people strongly favor mediated interactions over in-person interactions, especially millennials accustomed to constant communication via devices. 

Ms. Schiller, the Iowa graduate, goes out often with friends at night but also subsists on a digital diet of texting (heavily enough that she recently strained her thumb), Google Chat and social media. She said she finds conversation on Google Chat banal, likely because she tends to use it as she multitasks on her computer, but sometimes opens up more to people via the confessional space of a text message than she might across a table. 

As with many millennials, talking on the phone was never a big part of her routine and is now reserved for the rarest of occasions. “I’ve asked people over Gchat if they want to talk on the phone, and they hem and haw,” she said. “It can feel draining — there isn’t a casual component to it.”

There are physiological benefits to face-to-face encounters, however, that do not accrue to digital interactions or the phone. “Your blood pressure goes down, you have synchrony, you mimic your friend’s posture unconsciously,” Ms. Flora said. “It’s a rapport humans have developed over thousands of years, and you don’t get that when you only follow someone on social media.” (Skype et al. can be comparable, though, Dr. Dunbar observed.)

But now it’s common for this synchrony to be disrupted in person, thanks to the ubiquity of the smartphone. Imagine Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting “Nighthawks” recomposed today, with the three late-night diners and counterman all gazing at screens.

“If there’s a bunch of guys at a bar together and they’re all on their phones,” Dr. Dunbar said, “they’re not doing much to trigger the endorphin system to create the sense of bondedness.”

Because members of Generation X such as Ms. Flora based the passionate friendships of their youth primarily on in-person interactions or “rambling” phone calls, when they “make the transfer” to digital friendships they “can take advantage of the benefits of it,” she said. “But for younger people, I would worry about them compromising that precious face-to-face time, not sensing or adjusting to what their friends are really thinking or feeling.”

Speaking of her generation’s possibly diminished capacity for deep friendships, Ms. Schiller issued an unintentionally resonant qualification.

“It might just be me,” she said.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

This Is America

Donald Glover Is Watching You Watch Him
Childish Gambino’s sensational “This Is America” video implicates the viewer in the misuse of black art.
An image from Childish Gambino's 'This Is America' video
RCA

If you search for “This Is America” on Twitter, you find not only a gushing river of well-deserved praise for Donald Glover’s new work, which has quickly become the most talked-about music video of recent memory. You also find Trump supporters using the moment to spread their messages. The hashtag #ThisIsAmerica sits next to a rant about the deep state. It sits next to a sneering meme about Hillary Clinton. It sits next to a picture of white pioneers, shared by a “European rights activist,” who says, “Most of the people who built America looked like this.”

Trending hashtags get hijacked by unsympathetic causes as a matter of course, but Glover knew what he was getting into with the name “This Is America.” The defining of a nation is the essential task of politics, and Glover’s definition has now been made clear. America is a place where black people are chased and gunned down, and it is a place where black people dance and sing to distract—themselves, maybe, but also the country at large—from that carnage. America is a room in which violence and celebration happen together, and the question of which one draws the eye is one of framing, and of what the viewer wants to see.

As he acknowledged in his Saturday Night Live monologue this past weekend, Glover has been much hyped as a “triple threat” entertainer: actor (on Community and in the upcoming Star Wars installment), musician (under the name Childish Gambino, Grammy-nominated in 2017 for Album of the Year), and filmmaker (behind the ultra-acclaimed dramedy Atlanta). “This Is America” brings those careers together, but more intriguingly, it highlights Glover’s specific assets—his physical performance chops, his conceptual vision, and his perceptiveness about his own fame. The message here is not an unfamiliar one, extending a tradition—spanning “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” to Get Out—of interrogating the relationship between entertainment, race, and racism. But the searing and idiosyncratic way that message is delivered comes off as specific to Glover.

On Atlanta, Glover’s facial expressiveness and his bodily limberness get sidelined—his character, Earn, is glassy-eyed and repressed—but for “This Is America,” those traits enable a wildfire shirtless dance routine. The video’s version of Glover more recalls Troy on Community, a washed-up quarterback whose personality is a binary set of defeated deadpan and happy-go-lucky exaggeration. For “This Is America,” Glover intermittently bugs his eyes and freezes his form. Or he goes liquid, pulsating his shoulders as if they’re the gills of a beached fish. At the start, he contorts his body into a goofy squiggle as he shoots a gun into the back of a man’s head. His pose resembles the canonical caricature of Jim Crow.
 
The music itself is more art collage than song, its tunefulness a means rather than an end. Over a bustle of merry chants, foreboding bass, and James Brown yowls, Glover paraphrases the mode of popular hip-hop. Trending rappers drop by with their signature adlibs—“skrrt, skrrt” goes Slim Jxmmi—and Glover strings together keywords: party, money, cops. The video clarifies the semi-satirical meaning here. Glover and a troupe of school kids perform choreography derived from viral videos and historical images of black performance, and Hiro Murai’s camera follows them often at an unnervingly indifferent midrange distance (Murai is one of Glover’s chief collaborators on Atlanta). A frenzy of pursuits, riots, and shootings unfolds in the margins. The song and dance routine is partly a respite from, and partly an accompaniment to, the chaos.

In this, Glover certainly isn’t the first artist to suggest that black popular entertainment can simultaneously work as minstrelsy, appeasing a racist system, and as a gas valve of joy for people crunched by that system. Nor is he the first to describe the psychic tax of this state of affairs, seen both when Glover’s character wearily lights a joint and when, in some other space that may well signify his subconscious, he runs in terror from a white mob. But Murai’s eye and staging and Glover’s performance are together so stylish and surreal that the message is made newly raw. Jarring use of empty space, contrast, and timing keep every frame stark and alive.

Still, the response has been remarkable. Instant acclaim arrived not only from the hip-hop world, but also from pop and rock stars like Lady Gaga and Trent Reznor, the latter of whom broke a Twitter silence to rave about having watched the video five times in a row. Such plaudits almost necessarily add another meta dimension to the video, and to Glover’s evolving public image. In his early, unwieldy Childish Gambino songs, he worked through the confusion of being “the only black kid at a Sufjan concert,” which is to say, a black kid who gravitated to white hipster spaces. Atlanta and his 2016 funk album dramatically redrew that picture, but still he’s often spoken about in odd ways. “He is the prototype for people like me who find the Drakes and Michael B. Jordans of the world a little too clean-cut and remain unmoved by the bad-boy swagger of rappers like Future and Travis Scott,” wrote Sesali Bowen in a controversial New York Times piece on “The New Black Hotties.”

That Glover has been held up as a figure of contrast, of in-between-ness, may have given him the sense of perspective—or rather, the sense of being watched—that makes “This Is America” so potent. But it will also invite sharp questioning, like about whether he is criticizing the rap tropes his song invokes, or overly implicating black people in their own suffering. After all, it is he, not a white person, who pulls the trigger on the man at the beginning, and later, on a gospel group. But it seems safe to say he’s not here to scold. “Y’all are forgetting what rap is,” he told The New Yorker recently. “Rap is ‘I don’t care what you think in society, wagging your finger at me for calling women “bitches”—when, for you to have two cars, I have to live in the projects.’”

Similarly, some viewers have objected to the violence on-screen as sensationalistic use of real traumas. The counterargument would be that the casualness with which Glover guns down a church choir, echoing the massacre in Charleston, is exactly the point. The viewer may well be triggered by the sight—or they may, like the song, not lose a beat. Glover’s work here, as often in his career, is partly about its own reception. Whether in the way he widens his eyes or pastes on his grin, he conveys total awareness that his image is not entirely his own, and that America will inevitably use it, and misuse it. 
                         ~      ~       ~ 
This Is America   Donald Glover (or Childish Gambino)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away

[Bridge: Childish Gambino & Young Thug]
We just wanna party
Party just for you
We just want the money
Money just for you (yeah)
I know you wanna party
Party just for me
Girl, you got me dancin' (girl, you got me dancin')
Dance and shake the frame (yeah)
We just wanna party (yeah)
Party just for you (yeah)
We just want the money (yeah)
Money just for you (you)
I know you wanna party (yeah)
Party just for me (yeah)
Girl, you got me dancin' (girl, you got me dancin', yeah)
Dance and shake the frame (ooh)

[Chorus: Childish Gambino]
This is America
Don't catch you slippin' now
Don't catch you slippin' now
Look what I'm whippin' now
This is America (woo)
Don't catch you slippin' now
Don't catch you slippin' now
Look what I'm whippin' now

[Verse 1: Childish Gambino, Blocboy JB, Slim Jxmmi, Young Thug & 21 Savage]
This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don't catch you slippin' now (ayy)
Look at how I'm livin' now
Police be trippin' now (woo)
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)
Guns in my area (word, my area)
I got the strap (ayy, ayy)
I gotta carry 'em
Yeah, yeah, I'ma go into this (ugh)
Yeah, yeah, this is guerilla (woo)
Yeah, yeah, I'ma go get the bag
Yeah, yeah, or I'ma get the pad
Yeah, yeah, I'm so cold like, yeah (yeah)
I'm so dope like, yeah (woo)
We gon' blow like yeah (straight up, uh)

[Refrain: Choir & Childish Gambino]
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody
You gon' tell somebody
Grandma told me
Get your money, Black man (get your money)
Get your money, Black man (get your money)
Get your money, Black man (get your—Black man)
Get your money, Black man (get your—Black man)
Black man

[Chorus: Childish Gambino, Slim Jxmmi & Young Thug]
This is America (woo, ayy)
Don't catch you slippin' now (woo, woo, don't catch you slippin', now)
Don't catch you slippin' now (ayy, woah)
Look what I'm whippin' now (Slime!)
This is America (yeah, yeah)
Don't catch you slippin' now (woah, ayy)
Don't catch you slippin' now (ayy, woo)
Look what I'm whippin' now (ayy)

[Verse 2: Childish Gambino, Quavo, Young Thug & 21 Savage]
Look how I'm geekin' out (hey)
I'm so fitted (I'm so fitted, woo)
I'm on Gucci (I'm on Gucci)
I'm so pretty (yeah, yeah)
I'm gon' get it (ayy, I'm gon' get it)
Watch me move (blaow)
This a celly (ha)
That's a tool (yeah)
On my Kodak (woo, Black)
Ooh, know that (yeah, know that, hold on)
Get it (get it, get it)
Ooh, work it (21)
Hunnid bands, hunnid bands, hunnid bands (hunnid bands)
Contraband, contraband, contraband (contraband)
I got the plug in Oaxaca (woah)
They gonna find you like blocka (blaow)

[Refrain: Choir, Childish Gambino, & Young Thug]
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody
America, I just checked my following list, and—
You gon' tell somebody
—you mothafuckas owe me
Grandma told me
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (get your—Black man)
Get your money, Black man (get your—Black man)
Black man
(One, two, three—get down)
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody
You gon' tell somebody
Grandma told me, "Get your money"
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Black man

[Outro: Young Thug]
You just a black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayy
You just a black man in this world
Drivin' expensive foreigns, ayy
You just a big dawg, yeah
I kenneled him in the backyard
No probably ain't life to a dog
For a big dog
 

Yasha Yukawa - Swordsmith


Yasha Yukawa checks his handiwork at his forge in the valleys around Hofu in Yamaguchi Prefecture. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN

Swedish-Japanese swordsmith forges his destiny in Yamaguchi after trial by fire

The Japan Times  by Kajsa Skarsgard  Contributing Writer
Driving through the valleys outside Hofu in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Yasha Yukawa scours the surrounding rice paddies for the raw material he covets. He is constantly on the lookout for rice straw, but only the farmers that harvest the traditional way preserve it.

“The people who live there harvest by hand,” he says, pointing toward a house with a paddy where last year’s stems are still poking out of the ground. “But they give their straw to the local Shinto shrine for making shimenawa, the rope enclosing the sacred space.”

Yukawa requires a paddy field’s worth of rice straw a year to help make his swords. He burns the straw slowly, one bundle at a time, so that important qualities are not lost. The straw ash and clay are used to form a protective layer around the steel while it is heated.

The road narrows as it winds up toward the small mountain village where Yukawa’s forge can be found, surrounded by cherry blossom in the spring. From here he can hear the stream that runs through the forest, the source of the water he fetches to quench the steel.

The forge is old and simple. Yukawa took it over when the previous swordsmith passed on a few years ago. The walls are made of corrugated metal, and out of the earthen floor the furnace rises like two mountain ranges divided by a gorge where the charcoal lies.

Just to learn to cut the red-pine charcoal by hand — in the right way and in the right sizes for the different steps in the sword-making process — is supposed to take three years.

“I am pretty good at it now,” says Yukawa, the son of parents from Sweden and Japan, speaking in Swedish with a clear Stockholm accent.

It has been nine years since he showed up on the doorstep of his master, Matsuba Kunimasa, to become his apprentice. Yukawa wasn’t wearing suitable work clothes and immediately received an earful. At that time he couldn’t even imagine how tough the path to becoming a licensed swordsmith in Japan would be.

Yasha Yukawa works on a sword at his forge outside Hofu in Yamaguchi Prefecture. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN

A couple of months before that, Yukawa woke up after a nap in his cabin in the Swedish countryside having dreamt of a katana sword. The picture of it was engraved in his mind, and he suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to become a swordsmith.

Encouraged by his wife, he immediately called Kunimasa, the swordsmith Yukawa had met a decade before at the wedding of his father, a Japanese artist who had also run a karate dojo and a sword appreciation club in Stockholm.

Yukawa told Kunimasa over the phone that he wanted to take up the trade.

“It’s impossible,” the master claimed, but he asked him to send an email anyway.

Yukawa, 37 years old at that time, didn’t have the internet at home, so he went to the public library in a nearby town to email Kunimasa. The veteran swordsmith accepted the younger man’s request to become his apprentice, but he strongly discouraged Yukawa from going through with it, saying it would take him 15 years to learn the ropes and that even then, he would never pass the swordsmith licensing test.

In a matter of weeks, Yukawa and his girlfriend sold everything they had in Sweden and moved to Kunimasa’s village in Miyazaki Prefecture.

Up to this moment he had mainly been an artist working in paint, and during a long period in the 1980s and 1990s he had worked as a graffiti muralist in Tokyo. He had also toured around Sweden with a puppet theater and made music. The profits from selling all his analogue 1980s synths facilitated the move to Japan.

The first stage of creating a sword involves forging pieces of raw steel into thin plates. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN


After the scolding for not turning up properly attired, Yukawa started the shūgyō, the austere traditional training.

In the initial months he was expected to learn just by attentively observing his master’s work, and then suddenly Yukawa was thrown into a variety of different tasks. If he asked a question, his master got angry and let him know in no uncertain terms that he would never become a swordsmith if he didn’t have the answers himself.

“As an apprentice, you have to take mental beatings and you get broken down. If you take it personally it becomes unbearable,” says Yukawa. “I had to erase the illusion of myself as a person, but I was seeking this, because that illusion stands in the way of the absolute state of being. It was very tough at the time, but now I’m grateful for it.”

After five hard years of unpaid apprenticeship, conducted over the course of seven years because Yukawa’s father fell ill and then passed away in Sweden, the apprentice was ready for the mandatory test he needed to pass in order to be allowed to forge swords in Japan.

Pieces of tamahagane raw steel are first forged into thin plates, which in turn are broken into pieces and stacked together for strength. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN


The first year Yukawa failed, like everybody else in his group. But he gave it another try.

“It is among the most arduous projects I’ve ever undertaken,” he says. “And I was working with a crushed thumb and deep burns and cuts on my hands.”

The exam stretched over eight long days. Five of Japan’s leading swordsmiths and representatives from the culture ministry closely followed all the steps in the process, taking notes and keeping a close eye on their watches to ensure the candidates kept to the tight time schedule to the second.
Performing the difficult tasks under that pressure meant calling upon all Yukawa’s reservoirs of mental strength. The examiners critically scrutinized every detail of his work, but after they broke his completed sword in two and announced he had passed the test, their demeanor changed and they warmly congratulated him.

Yasha Yukawa was officially a traditional Japanese swordsmith, and, as far as he knows, the only one of foreign heritage.

Kunimasa cried when he received the news about his former apprentice over the phone. Since that day Yukawa has been able to freely ask him questions, and his former master helps him navigate the very strict governmental regulations surrounding sword-making — restrictions that date back to the American Occupation after World War II.

Pieces of tamahagane raw steel are first forged into thin plates, which in turn are broken into pieces, stacked together and covered with straw ash and clay slurry before being melded together in thhe furnace. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN


Now, the Swedish-Japanese can celebrate 46 years of life as Yasha Yukawa and a two-year professional life as an independent swordsmith by the name of Kagami Yashamaro. But Yukawa says he doesn’t keep track of time; he loses all sense of it in the forge, where he continues the work refined by swordsmiths over the course of thousands of years.

Yukawa lights the charcoal in the furnace and waits until the color tells him that the temperature is right.

Out of glistening lumps of tamahagane steel, exclusively produced for Japanese swordsmiths, he has forged thin plates of steel that he breaks into pieces. He stacks the fragments like a multilayered puzzle, wraps the whole lot in paper and covers it in straw ash and clay slurry before leaving it under the glowing charcoal.

“It is almost like weaving in steel, because I combine pieces with different qualities,” Yukawa explains.

He is standing in a hole in the ground in the forge, from which he can reach all the tools and workspaces he needs. With a rocking motion he pushes the Japanese-style bellows back and forth; his gaze is fixed on the flames as he listens for the sound of boiling steel.

Suddenly he intensifies the huffing and puffing of the bellows. He uses his free hand to turn on the power hammer. It is the only semi-modern tool that is considered not to affect the quality of the steel, provided it is used instead of a sledgehammer only in the early stages of the process.

The dai, the end of the bar that his puzzle of steel pieces is balanced upon, looks like one big chunk of glowing steel when he puts it under the hammer to unify the pieces.

Then it is heated again, and using a chisel he beats a deep cut in the steel and doubles it back over itself with the force of his hammer blows. He does this over and over again, until the steel has been folded into thousands of layers.

Yasha Yukawa checks his handiwork at his forge in the valleys around Hofu in Yamaguchi Prefecture. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN


The first time Yukawa hardened his own sword, he came closer to comprehending why he had felt a great calling to become a swordsmith.

“The glowing sword bucked when I quenched it in the water, and when I took it up it was as if a living essence had been born,” he says.

His understanding of the sword’s meaning, and his own relationship to it, has deepened over the years.

“It is a weapon of noble and enlightening properties that are created in almost magical circumstances. From this, spiritual dimensions grow and the Japanese sword becomes a talisman,” Yukawa says. “To me, the sword is an expression of the absolute.”

The final product at Yasha Yukawa's forge is the result of a long, complicated and painstaking process. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN

 CHRISTINA SJOGREN

Yasha Yukawa checks his handiwork at his forge in the valleys around Hofu in Yamaguchi Prefecture. | CHRISTINA SJOGREN