Kyo-ishi craft

Kyo-ishi craft Kyo ishi kogeihin

Art created by a single artisan
Prodigious techniques influenced by the tea culture and Buddhism


What is Kyo-ishi craft ?

Kyo-ishi Craft called Kyo-ishi Kougeihin in Japanese, are stonework and gem carvings produced in and around the cities of Kyoto and Uji, in the Kyoto prefecture. Abounding in quality granite from the village of Kitashirakawa at the foot of Mt. Hiei, this well-endowed environment made Kyoto a favorable place for stonework production. Kyo-ishi crafts have been cherished in the best Japanese gardens and guest houses in Japan up to today. It is characterized by its traditional start-to-finish production in which all the processes are carried out by a single mason. Only artisans with prodigious techniques and a finely honed aesthetic sense nurtured in the culture of Kyoto have been eligible to produce stone lanterns, multi-story pagodas, and garden ornaments such as pots, while refining the techniques of Kyo-ishi craft. The designs engraved on the surface of the stones are so exquisite that their expression can change with a slight difference of strength, which represents the sophisticated stone carving techniques among masons in Kyoto.


It is said that stonework started in the late Nara period (710-794), but actually the transfer of the capital from Nara to Heian (ancient name of Kyoto) in 794 spurred the development of the art of stonework in Kyoto because a number of stone crafts were needed in order to build the capital. Stone Buddha statues, stone pagodas, stone lanterns and other stone crafts were produced for the construction of temples and shrines in step with the widespread adoption of Buddhism from the Heian period (794-1185) to the Kamakura period (1185-1333). As a cultural center, Kyoto allowed various traditional crafts to reach a higher level of sophistication even after the Kamakura period while delivering elaborate and beautiful stonework through subtle techniques. The tea culture flourished in Kyoto during the Azuchi Momoyama period (1573-1600), which exerted a profound influence on stonework and popularized stone lanterns as a decoration in Japanese gardens. Harmony between the beauty of tea ceremony and stonework enhanced the traditional stone carving techniques.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Measuring and marking A stone lantern is composed of six parts: the jewel, the shade, the fire box, the central platform, the post and the base platform. The following describes the production process of the lantern shade covering the fire box. This process includes marking the dimension lines on a coarse stone with ink while imaging the completed lantern.
  2. 2. Rough carving Four corners of a stone block are carved to make arrow holes by scraping off the outer parts from the inked line using a hammer called haikara, and chisels are used for carving. This process of roughly carving the stone is technically known as hatsuru.
  3. 3. Making the shade The bottom part of the shade is leveled out using special hammers and chisels. This process is important in order to keep the sides of the lantern straight, and even a slight error could affect the entire balance.
  4. 4. Making the sides Once the bottom of the shade is complete, the sides are built perpendicularly.
  5. 5. Ink marking and carving The grooves and pointy, curled decorations called warabite on the back of the shade are marked with ink and carved with chisels. The artisan has to be careful so that the warabite will not tilt while carving.
  6. 6. Adjusting the warabite The artisan carves the warabite carefully while making fine adjustments to the curves with a chisel. It requires careful and elaborate work not to chip the corner.
  7. 7. Finishing the top of the shade The top of the shade is finished using a chisel. Working with the chisel is elaborate work, much more delicate than it seems. By making subtle adjustments, the piece will be finished as an elegant and tasteful piece.
  8. 8. Mortise joint making The mortise joint to combine the shade and gem shaped part placed on the top of the shade is made. The mortise joint eases the process of combining the shade and gem well when building up the whole lantern.
  9. 9. Carving the hollow Before all the pieces of the lantern are combined together, the hollow for combining the fire box is carved.
  10. 10. Finishing Before building the lantern, adjustments are made to all the pieces. The base platform, fire box, central platform, post, gem and shade are combined to complete the Kyo-ishi lantern.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design

Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design

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