Hi! It's time to talk about Upgrade Materials in Sekiro. In this post we'll be looking at all common upgrade materials, their descriptions, where they can be found and what Prosthetic Tools use them. If you want to learn more about unique upgrade materials, such as Malcontent's Ring, Phantom Kunai or Pine Resin Ember, you can find them in their corresponding Prosthetic Tools posts.
Disclaimer #0 — common sense is still everything. Please do not assume that I have access to some secret true knowledge; I'm just entertained by reading Sekiro in Japanese. My lore theories are just theories so treat them accordingly.
Disclaimer #1 —
trust me, I'm a professional if this fact is somehow important - I am a certified linguist. My major is English and Japanese as foreign languages, my minor is intercultural communication. Fun stuff!
Disclaimer #2 — I am not a professional translator, I have never worked in localization. Yes, I will say that something is translated poorly and something is not, and it will be my personal point of view. People have been complaining that I am picking on minor things or have weird opinions when it comes to "better translations". I want to emphasize that it's okay to have those :) Ultimately, my goal is to give you the information so you can see if the localization was good or not, whether something important was lost or not. My opinion is just that and I choose to share it, however odd it might seem.
Disclaimer #3 — I am not an expert on Buddhism, so if I get something wrong in the religious side of things, I'm sorry :D FromSoftware had a theological consultant who helped them build the religious narrative in Sekiro. I will leave links to the Buddhist terms that we will undoubtedly encounter so you can read more on your own, if you are interested.
This is a popular question in the comment section. In a nutshell, Japanese kanji usually have two types of readings: on-reading and kun-reading, there might be a number of them in each category. On-readings have carried over from Chinese since kanji were borrowed from there, and kun-readings are native to Japanese. When a kanji stands on its own and is used as a single word, it is read with its kun-reading. When a kanji is used as a part of a multi-kanji word, it is read with its on-reading. It is slightly more complicated, but in broad strokes I think it explains it.
As far as I know, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was localized into English by Mugen Creations.
[:] — colon after a vowel means that it's a long sound;
['] — apostrophe after a vowel or before a vowel (or between two [n]) means that these are two different syllables, not a single long one.
The transcriptions I give do not follow all academic rules, and I don't think it's necessary. They are just here to represent the pronunciation.
For this research I mostly used Sekiro Shadows Die Twice Official Artworks, English wiki and a number of dictionaries.
We'll start with the most common material of the bunch - Scrap Iron. Its original name is 鉄屑 [tetsukuzu], literally "scrap iron". 屑 [kuzu] generally refers to dregs, scrap, or garbage. There are several stages of upgrades for Prosthetic Tools and each material is used in a specific type of reinforcement. Scrap Iron is widely used as a base for Prosthetic upgrades.
The last line of this description is very interesting. It mentions 砂鉄 [satetsu] - iron sand or black sand. It can refer to a partly magnetic mixture of fine sands that indicates the presence of a placer formation - an accumulation of valuable minerals. However, the comparison drawn by the original description states that the grains, or beads of iron found in Ashina are so big they cannot be called "black sand".
「葦名は雪深く土地も瘦せているが、鉄屑は、砂鉄とは呼べぬほどに粒が大きい」 - "even though the land is infertile and covered in snow, scrap iron's grains are so big they can't be called black sand". I hope I got it right :D
Scrap Iron can be obtained in a variety of places, it's not exactly a rare item. It's all over Ashina Castle, both Fujioka and Anayama sell it and there's a few handfuls stashed in Senpou Temple. It is used in many Prosthetic modifications, from basic upgrades for Shuriken and Firecracker, to more advanced ones like Phantom Kunai, Spiral Spear and Phoenix's Lilac Umbrella.
Another common upgrade material, Scrap Magnetite. Its original name is 磁鉄屑 [jitetsukuzu] - scrap magnetite. When we were talking about Loaded Umbrella - Magnet, I mentioned that in Sekiro the word 磁鉄 [jitetsu] is used to denote magnetite instead of a more common word that has one more kanji: 磁鉄鉱 [jitekko:], and we can see the same thing here. It literally means "magnetic iron", which is true because magnetite is one of the main iron ores and the most magnetic naturally occurring mineral on the planet.
These are 「磁鉄の屑」 - "scraps/pieces of magnetite", gathered or extracted from Ashina lands. It is also described as a material widely used in 「中段階以降の作成」 - "intermediate and higher stages of creation".
We already know that forging with magnetite produces a stronger Prosthetic Tool - Magnetite Umbrella has a magnetite axis that makes it especially durable. The original says that magnetite is 「貴重な銭の種だ」 - "a precious type of money/currency". It proceeds to describe quite a desperate situation: 「だが、これが採れる岩盤は稀で、掘れ尽くされつつある」 - "however, the [magnetite] bedrocks are rare and they are being exhausted". Magnetite crisis is imminent!
Magnetite Scraps can be obtained in the Sunken Valley, which is not surprising. It can also be looted from Ministry enemies after the Ashina Castle has been overrun. Some magnetite, interestingly enough, can apparently be looted from Elite Okami warrior that wields a spear.
The third and final scrap in upgrade materials - Adamantite Scrap. Its name is 金剛屑 [kongo:kuzu] - adamantite or diamond scrap. The word 金剛 [kongo:] denotes vajra, indestructible substance, a buddhist symbol. As such, it also denotes the hardest natural material - diamond. Adamant is an archaic form of diamond in classical mythology, the word itself has a funny origin story: the Greek adamas, adamant- that translates to "untameable, invincible" came to Latin taking the form adamans then aged into Medieval Latin diamas, diamant-, then went to Old French diamant and then into Middle English, eventually taking the form that we all know today - diamond. Fascinating how these things work :D
Anyway, the term "adamant" for denoting the hardest stone was becoming increasingly archaic, replaced by the more contemporary "diamond", and now it is reserved for mostly poetic use, as we can see here. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the first documented use of the word "diamond" but I think that this word is still too modern to be used while localizing the name of this item. I know that probably no one would care except me because I get super excited over these things but I am glad they chose more archaic "adamant" and transformed it into "adamantite", great job! Really keeps the historical integrity of the setting together.
Curiously, I was able to find a similar localization case: in both manga and anime series Inuyasha, one of the characters uses a special move called 金剛槍破 [kongo:so:ha], which was localized into English as "Adamant Barrage". Incidentally, the action takes place in Japan during the Warring States Period, also known as - you guessed it - Sengoku period, when the events of Sekiro take place. I'm sure that the localization team also wanted to keep the archaic tone with their localization and thus chose the word "Adamant".
The description says that this material is used in 「深い段階の作成」 - "late stages of creation". It also emphasizes that adamantite can be mined only in the most ancient parts even within Ashina, and as we know, Ashina land is pretty ancient as it is. I really like how the last sentence was localized, it's quite accurate and sounds great. We can also see the full name of this material: 金剛鉄 [kongo:tetsu], adamant or indestructible metal.
Since this material is rare and occurs only in the oldest parts of Ashina, it comes as no surprise that it can be found in Mibu Village and Fountainhead Palace. Adamantite Scrap is needed for top tier upgrades such as Sparking Axe and Golden Vortex, and its supposed connection to gods allows it to be a part of some Lazulite Upgrades.
There are three types of explosive powders used in Prosthetic Upgrades and we'll start with the most basic one: Black Gunpowder. Its original name is 黒色煙硝 [kuroiro ensho:] - black gunpowder. Sekiro descriptions often use two words for gunpowder: 煙硝 [ensho:] and a more common and widely-known 火薬 [kayaku]. Naturally, I got curious as to how they are different and did a little bit of research! Turns out, 煙硝 [ensho:] usually refers to saltpetre, one of the components of gunpowder. However, during the Edo period, which came right after the Sengoku period, this word was also used to denote gunpowder in general. 煙硝 [ensho:] had been used in many regions of Japan to describe the type of gunpowder loaded into firework toys, up until fairly recently: year 30 of the Showa Era, which corresponds to 1955. 火薬 [kayaku], on the other hand, is a broader term that denotes gunpowder, explosive powder and can refer to explosive-type items in general.
From the first sentence we can conclude that this item is not really gunpowder but a component of it, that is why the word 煙硝 [ensho:] was used, quite likely in its first sense - saltpetre, a gunpowder component. However, since the next two upgrade materials also have this word in their descriptions we will call it just "powder".
「火薬の元となる黒い煙硝」 - "black powder, a base [component] of gunpowder".
From this description we can also derive various types of upgrades within Prosthetic Tools, namely 火薬 [kayaku] - explosive and 呪物 [jubutsu] - fetish, meaning "an object believed to have supernatural powers", the localization fittingly calls it "occult".
The last line was translated accurately: even though this material is common, it has a wide variety of practical applications.
Black Gunpowder can be purchased from Anayama or found in a variety of places, such as Ashina Outskirts, Ashina Castle or even Abandoned Dungeon. It is used in most middle-grade modifications for explosive and occult Prosthetic Tools, such as Long Spark, Sparking Axe, Okinaga's Flame Vent, and Double Divine Abduction.
Moving on to Yellow Gunpowder - 黒色煙硝 [kiiro ensho:] - yellow gunpowder, or yellow powder.
「強力な火薬の元となる黄色い煙硝」 - "yellow powder, a base [component] for powerful/highly explosive gunpowder".
I am not sure if there is a real-world material that corresponds to Yellow Gunpowder. My guess would be smokeless powder that is more potent than regular black powder and can be yellow in color. However, as far as I know, it was first developed in the late 19th century so it doesn't really fit. No matter though!
The original says that 「黒色煙硝よりも強い発破を起こせる」 - "yellow powder allows for a stronger explosive blast than black powder". The last line comments on how the Gun Fort of the Sunken Valley exists because of the Yellow Gunpowder.
This material is used in intermediate upgrades of explosive and occult tools, either with Black Gunpowder, like in Leaping Flame, or exclusively, for example in Suzaku's Lotus Umbrella, Great Feather Mist Raven or Lazulite Sacred Flame. It can be found mainly in the Sunken Valley, a couple packs are in Ashina Depths, and it always drops from Long Arm Centipede Sen-Un.
The final explosive powder - 雷汞 [raiko:] - mercury fulminate or fulminated mercury.
「凄まじい威力の火薬の元となる、特別貴重な煙硝」 - "especially valuable powder, a base [component] for a gunpowder of devastating [explosive] power".
The description is pretty accurate, the Interior Ministry did obtain the knowledge of in from overseas, the original once again mentions 南蛮 [nanban], only here not as Nanban trade period but as a place: Spain and Portugal and their South-East Asian colonies that traded with Japan at the time. However, there is also a bit of time travel involved because mercury fulminate was first prepared by Edward Charles Howard in 1800 and was first used as a priming composition in small copper caps in the 1820s so it was hardly possible for this powder to show up in Sengoku period :D The crystal structure of mercury fulminate was determined very recently, in 2007.
It's been speculated that the phrase "ows much to this tiny tweak of chemistry" is a reference to a Breaking Bad episode and while I cannot say whether it is or it isn't, I can tell you that the original just says "ows much to the power of fulminated mercury".
As expected, Fulminated Mercury drops from Ministry Red Guards after they invade Ashina Castle. This material is used in top tier upgrades of explosive and occult nature such as Purple Fume Spark, Suzaku's Lotus Umbrella, Lazulite Sabimaru and others.
Moving on to the two waxes! Lump of Fat Wax is called... well, I am not sure how to read this, honestly :D I'd say it is 脂蝋の瘤 [shiro: no kobu]. 脂蝋 can be read as [yaniro:] if 脂 is used in its "resin" meaning but that's not the case here, so I think it's 脂蝋 [shiro:]. The localization is on point, it is a lump of fat wax.
「人の体にまれに生じる脂蝋の瘤」 - "a lump of fat wax that rarely forms in a human body".
Then, as usual, the classification part: lump of fat wax is used in intermediate+ upgrades of occult tools. The rest of the description was localized accurately: this thing is an omen of some kind of disease and it grows as the disease worsens. Yuck. It reminds me of Shelter Stone, another formation that can grow inside of a human body, although that item is considered to be a good omen and isn't a result of a disease.
It drops from Monks in Senpou Temple and from blue Palace Nobles, and Doujun also gives it as a reward for his quest. Fat Wax is used in such Prosthetic Upgrades as Golden Vortex, Lazulite Shuriken, Purple Fume Spark and others.
Funnily enough, if my reading of the Fat Wax is correct, it means it coincides with the reading of Grave Wax :D 死蝋の瘤 [shiro: no kobu] - lump of grave or death wax.
「人の体内で黒々と育った死蝋の瘤」- "a lump of grave wax that grew pitch black in the interior of the human body".
Fat wax forms just 人の体に - somewhere in a human body, it doesn't say inside or outside, but grave wax grows 人の体内で - inside the human body. The rest of the description is accurate, although I cannot help but wonder about 「死なず病」- "undying illness". The localization translated it as "long-suffered disease", which can be true, you know, the disease that just won't go away, but at the same time we know that the undying is a special group inside Sekiro lore. Curiouser still that the main source of Grave Wax is Palace Nobles, including even poor Mist Noble in Ashina Depths. Gives some food for thought, doesn't it.
Finally, Lapis Lazuli! Its original name is 源の瑠璃 [minamoto no ruri] - lapis lazuli of the fountainhead.
The original description implies that "eternity" or "perpetuity" is a quality of the lapis lazuli itself:
「源の瑠璃には、常しえがある」- "there is perpetuity to lapis lazuli".
When something is forged with lapis lazuli, it will never break or rust because it 「神なる竜の恩寵を受けるがゆえだ」 - "receives grace of the dragon who became god". Every Lazulite Upgrade's description opens with a phrase "blessed with the favor of Fountainhead Lapis Lazuli", and the word used for "favor" is the same as the one used here for "blessing" - 恩寵 [oncho:].
The last part says that the weapons forged with Lapis Lazuli are 「賜わりもの」- "bestowed items", I suppose because Sakura Dragon's blessing comes as a bonus. There is also an interesting localization case lurking in the phrase 「神なる竜の神器」- "treasures of the Divine Dragon".
There are several ways you can translate 神器 [shinki] (it can be read in several ways, we'll use [shinki]). This word specifically refers to Imperial Regalia of Japan - 三種の神器 [sanshu no jingi]. Imperial Regalia includes Three Sacred Treasures - Kusanagi sword that represents valor, Yata no kagami - a mirror that stands for wisdom, and Yasakani no magatama - the jewel that represents benevolence.
神器 [shinki] consists of 神 [kami] - god and 器 [utsuwa] that has a wide pool of meanings, including "instrument", "tool", "vessel" and such. I cannot help but remember Noragami manga, where gods have companions that can turn into weapons, and these companions are called 神器 [shinki]. That's why I read this word as [shinki], all because of Noragami :D If my memory serves me right, those were also localized into English as "Regalia".
Whether "weapons", "regalia", or "treasures", these Prosthetic Tools are tied to Sakura Dragon because they received his grace via Lapis Lazuli.
You cannot get any Lapis Lazuli if you go for the Shura ending, and you can get only 6 per playthrough if you turn on Owl and choose to proceed to the Fountainhead Palace. All of them can be obtained through Fountainhead Palace except for two that drop from Demon of Hatred. I am not sure there is a lore implication as to why he drops it, maybe because it's the end of the game and he is a difficult optional boss. I don't think Sculptor ever had a chance to obtain Lapis Lazuli to stash it for a rainy day.
Lapis Lazuli has been a valuable semi-precious stone since ancient times for its deep blue color, its name means "a stone from sky" or "a stone from heaven". Unfortunately, I can't tell you anything about the kanji used in Japanese for Lapis Lazuli - 瑠 and 璃 - because their sole purpose seems to be to denote this stone, both kanji are just marked as "lapis lazuli" in the dictionary. The word 瑠璃 [ruri] also denotes beryl and several blue birds but I wasn't really able to find any other words with these kanji apart from 瑠璃 [ruri] and 浄瑠璃 [jo:ruri] - a type of dramatic recitation accompanied by a shamisen :D
This post turned out to be shorter than usual but I didn't want to add anything else :D While playing I didn't really pay much attention to the upgrade materials. Turns out, they constitute a solid system: there are three types of scraps, three powders, two waxes and precious Lapis Lazuli, each material is tied either to the stages of enhancement or a tool type. There isn't a lot of them but they work so well you actually don't need more.
I also read a bunch of stuff on chemistry, and gunpowder, and history of Japan that I want to learn more of. Sekiro is definitely making me smarter :D I hope I didn't tire you much with all my digressions though.
Next up - Prosthetic Combat Arts! As usual, stay tuned here and on the Lair's YouTube channel not to miss out on anything.
Thank you for your time.