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 refers to stonework and precious stonework 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 and still remains unchanged there.
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 that was nurtured in the culture of Kyoto have been eligible to produce stone lanterns, multi-story pagodas, 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 change with a slight force, which represents the sophisticated stone carving techniques among masons in Kyoto.
Stonework was founded 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. Measuring and inking
A stone lantern is composed of six parts: the jewel, the umbrella, the fire box, the central platform, the post and the base platform.
The following describes the production process of the lantern roof covering the fire box. This process includes inking dimension lines on a coarse stone while imaging the completed lantern.
- 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 haikara and carving with chisels.
The roughly carved stone is technically known as hatsuru.
- 3. Making the umbrella
This process consists in leveling out the back of the umbrella technically called shitaba using special tools such as haikara, chisels, hapishan and pishan.
The umbrella is important to keep the sides of the lantern straight, and even a slight error could affect the entire balance.
- 4. Making the flank This process allows to place the flank of the lantern. The flank will be built perpendicularly to the umbrella. The flank is technically called nokiba.
- 5. Ink marking and carving
This process consists in putting marks on the grooves or pointy and curled parts called warabite that appear on the back of the umbrella. After the inking, the stone is carved along the lines or marks.
It is a difficult task as the artisan has to keep the warabite straight during the carving.
- 6. Warabite adjustment The artisan then 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. Scraping the top of the umbrella
The rough carving is technically called hatsuri and it is an intensive technique and elaborate work, much more delicate than it seems.
By making subtle adjustments, the piece will gain in elegance and will bring calm around it.
- 8. Mortise joint making
This step consists in making mortise joint on hoju in order to combine the umbrella together.
The mortise joint eases the process of combining them together well when building up the whole lantern.
- 9. Carving the hollow
Before all the pieces of the lantern are combined together, the hollow for the joint of fire box is carved.
- 10. Finishing
Before building the lantern, adjustments are made to all the pieces.
The lantern is built from the base platform, fire box, central platform, post, jewel and to the umbrella to be completed as a Kyo-ishi lantern.