Akama inkstones Photo:Yamaguchi Prefectural Tourism Federation

Akama inkstones Akama suzuri

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


What is Akama inkstones ?

Akama inkstones are produced around the city of Shimonoseki and Ube in the Yamaguchi prefecture. They use Akama stone, which is an ideal material for producing the inkstones. Therefore Akama inkstones are favored by their capability of giving smooth and fine ink rubs with an excellent color and texture.
The characteristics of Akama stone include a solid stone quality with a large amount of quartz and iron, which are the ideal component for inkstick rubbings. Akama stone have a high stickiness which eases the carving and allows producing different types of Akama inkstone. There are nozura inkstones made of rough stone, sculpted inkstones with beautiful carving artworks, and lidded inkstones.
Akama inkstones artisans are known for their work not only producing the inkstones but also quarrying the stones by themselves. Akama stone quarry requires underground mining instead of ground mining as it gets dry more easily than other stones. Artisans need experience and skills to spot quality stones, as well as the skills to handle explosives and mining techniques. Therefore it is said to take 10 or more years for an artisan to be able to mine the stone. Akama inkstones have high aesthetic value and are very practical too.


Akama inkstones - History Photo:Yamaguchi Prefectural Tourism Federation

Akama inkstone has a long history of over 800 years as it was already manufactured in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Akama inkstones were in fact dedicated from the first shogun (Japanese military director) Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199) of the Kamakura shogunate to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (a Shinto shrine, Important Cultural Property) in Kamakura and they still remain there.
From the Edo period (1603-1868), the quarrying of Akama stone was restricted by the Choshu domain, which increased the value of Akama inkstones as its availability was limited. For this reason, Akama inkstones were valued as gifts to domain lords. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), the amount of written records increased along with higher literacy rate, which thrived the production of Akama inkstones. It is said that there were around 200 to 300 Akama inkstone artisans from the beginning of the Meiji period to the mid-Meiji period. Ancient traditions are still preserved and handed onto the next generations although the number of artisans is much less important today.

General Production Process

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

  1. 1. Quarrying First of all, the most suitable Akama stones for the inkstone are mined. There are 4 more kinds of Akama stones other than the generally known reddish shiunseki stone. Mined Akama stone is as thick as 10m, however only a layer of 1 out of 10m can be processed for Akama inkstone.
    The quarry is conducted with explosives or electric drills and the mined stones will be kept in the dark in a controlled humidity for a certain period of time making sure it doesn"t dry out to preserve its quality. The stone is then cut to size in a plate shape with a hammer and a special stone cutting tool called wariya.
  2. 2. Bank making A circular saw is used to further trim the mined stone to shape and finer adjustments are made with a cold chisel called tagine. Then the back and front surfaces of the inkstone are cut with a large chisel called onomi. The flat surface is then smoothen using sand or water before the bank making.
    The process of bank making is to roughly shape the stone into round or rectangular shapes and then cut the inner side with a depth of about 3 mm. After the roughly shaping, the area of the bank where the inkstick is rubbed and the ink pool are determined.
  3. 3. Rough cutting The bank and ink pool are roughly cut out with a large chisel to shape the inside of the piece. The work requires strong power as the handle of a chisel is laid on the artisan"s shoulder and pressure has to be given from the upper body when carving.
  4. 4. Final carving The fine engravings are made directly on the surface of the carved and lidded inkstones. The engraving of Akama inkstone employs traditional techniques, such as relief engraving (ukashi bori) to raise the patterns, fine line engraving (ke bori) to cut delicate hair like lines, and beating (tataki bori) to bring out the natural texture of stone all done by the chisels technically called tagine. Sometimes it can take weeks of carving intricate designs on the inkstones.
    Moreover, there are seven to eight types of small chisels used for the internal carving. The most difficult part in the inkstone production is the boundary link between the bank and shore.
    Chisels with a width ranging from 2 to 10 mm are used for carving.
  5. 5. Polishing When the carving is complete, the chisel marks are polished away. Then, an even finer polishing finish is made with sandpaper after the surface is smoothen using rough whetstone. However, over-polishing may cause difficulties in rubbing the inksticks. Therefore the final polish is given with a medate stone to avoid this issue.
    Japanese lacquer (urushi) is applied evenly with a cloth except the bank and shore where the ink will be used in order to prevent from the weathering.

Where to Buy & More Information

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