Sakai City, Japan
Shogun Iemitsu slammed the doors of Japan to European trade in 1637. Tired of the undermining missionaries, he banned all ships from Europe. When a Portuguese vessel failed to respect the ban, he had the entire crew decapitated. This period of isolation, known as sakoku had dual consequences. On the one hand, Japanese craftsmen were deprived of access to European technologies. While on the other hand, this isolation bred a climate of refinement that became a way of life. The challenge was no longer about making the perfect object, but bringing it into existence without it appearing to require any effort.
Almost four hundred years later, one sword rests in a silent glass case below the faded pictures of Yasuhiro Hirakawa’s family. The eternal shine of its blade is a reminder of an unbroken family lineage. For five generations the Hirakawa clan has shaped steel ranging from swords to bonsai scissors in the seaside town of Sakai. As a cell phone vibrates on the tatami we are reminded that we are not in the 1600s, rather it is 2012. The workshop, known as Sasuke-Smith, is not a historic site but a living entity. Its contents and practices highlight the elastic nature of time as it blurs the boundaries between past, present, and future.