Art: Sculpture in Cutting Steel

One of the humiliations of Japanese history took place in September 1945, just after the start of the U.S. Occupation. General Douglas MacArthur decreed that every sword in Japan should be confiscated as a dangerous weapon. Out went the Jeeps, and thousands of blades, some dating back to the 10th century, were rounded up from museums, private collections and shrines.

It was a moment of utter mutual incomprehension between two cultures. The Japanese felt that their principal art was being looted from them, and they were right. Hundreds of ancient swords, including 42 documented National Treasures made between the 12th and 15th...

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