Akama inkstones Photo:Yamaguchi Prefectural Tourism Federation

Akama inkstones Akama suzuri

High-grade inkstones from quarry to a carved masterpiece
Simple, beautiful and highly practical

Description

Akama Suzuri are inkstones produced in an area around Shimonoseki City and Ube City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Using Akama stone, an ideal material for inkstones, Akama Suzuri allow fine rubbing of ink sticks to produce ink with an excellent color and texture. The characteristics of Akama stone include a solid stone quality with a large amount of quartz and iron, ideal for rubbing ink sticks. Akama stone with high stickiness makes carving easy, resulting in different types of Akama Suzuri, such as nozura (plain) inkstones of raw stone, carved inkstones with beautiful carvings, and a lidded inkstone. Akama Suzuri are also known for the skills of the artisans, not just as carvers, but also as quarry men as they quarry the stone themselves. Akama stone compared to other stone used for inkstones easily dries and so it must be mined rather than open-cut from the ground. Artisans need a good eye to spot quality stone, as well as be familiar with handling explosives and mining techniques. It is said to take ten or more years for an artisan to be able to mine the stone. Akama Suzuri while showcasing the techniques of artisans are eminently suitable for practical use, and are articles of high aesthetic value.

History

Akama inkstones - History Photo:Yamaguchi Prefectural Tourism Federation

Akama Suzuri have a long history, and were being manufactured by the Kamakura Period. Akama Suzuri has a history of 800 years or more, as proved by the existence of a Akama Suzuri, believed to have been dedicated to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, a Shinto shrine in Kamakura by Minamoto no Yoritomo, the shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate. The name Akama Suzuri is derived from Akamagaseki, present-day Shimonoseki City, where the manufacture of Akama Suzuri started.
In the Edo Period, quarrying of Akama stone was restricted by the Choshu domain, increasing the value of Akama Suzuri as they were not easily available. For this reason, Akama Suzuri were given as gifts to domain lords. In the Meiji Period, along with increasing literacy, the amount of written records increased, and the production of Akama Suzuri also thrived. It is said that around 200 to 300 Akama Suzuri artisans were working from the beginning of the Meiji Period to the mid-Meiji Period, currently numbers are much less, but the old traditions are still preserved and handed on to the next generations.

General Production Process

Akama inkstones - General Production Process Photo:Yamaguchi Prefectural Tourism Federation

  1. 1. Quarrying In addition to the generally-known reddish shiunseki stone with its cloudy purple color Akama stone is characterized by four quite different types. When mined the stone is usually found in bands some 10 m thick, but only a layer around 1 m wide will be suitable for making Akama Suzuri.

    The stone after quarrying with explosives, electric drills, etc. is stored in a dark place maintained at an optimum humidity, as it does not like a dry atmosphere. The stone is then cut to size in a plate shape with a hammer and wariya, a stone cutting tool.
  2. 2. Making the Edge The stone is roughly shaped; rounded or rectangular shapes are usual, and the inner side is cut to a depth of about 3 mm. The locations of the oka (hill), where the ink stick is rubbed, and the umi (the sea), where ink will pool, are also determined.
    A circular saw is used to further trim the stone to shape, and finer adjustments are made by a tagane cold chisel. The back and front surfaces of the inkstone are cut level with an oonomi large chisel; the flat surface is made smooth by rubbing with sand and water.
  3. 3. Rough Cutting The oka and umi are roughly cut with a large chisel used to shape the inside of the piece. A large amount of force from the upper body is applied to the chisel with a shoulder pressed against the chisel handle.
  4. 4. Finishing Carving Carved and lidded inkstones have their surface delicately carved. The carving of Akama Suzuri employs traditional techniques, such as ukashi-bori (relief engraving) to raise a pattern, ke-bori which cuts delicate hair-like lines, and tataki-bori which brings out the natural texture of stone by using tagane. Weeks are sometimes spent on delicately carving intricate designs.
    Seven to eight types of small chisels are used for uchi-bori. The hato curve, the boundary between the oka and umi, is the most difficult part in the making of an inkstone. Chisels with widths ranging from 2 to 10 mm are used for carving.
  5. 5. Polishing With the carving finished, chisel marks are polished away. After the surface is made smooth with a rough whetstone, small parts are finished with sandpaper. Over polishing may, however, lead to problems when rubbing the ink stick. To avoid this, a final polish is given with a metate-ishi stone to make irregularities. Urushi lacquer is applied for preventing wear to sections other than the oka and umi where the ink stick is rubbed and ink pools. A thin coat of urushi is applied and evenly spread with a cloth to complete the Akama Suzuri.

Where to Buy & More Information

Akamatsuzuri No Sato