Ogatsu inkstones

Ogatsu inkstones Ogatsu suzuri

Beautiful smoky lustrous black
A calligrapher's perfect companion


What is Ogatsu inkstones ?

Ogatsu inkstones are produced in Ogatsu, city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, where artisans still carefully hand carve and polish every piece even today. Under the aegis of the Date domain and with an abundance of good quality quarried slate, the inkstone industry was thrived.
The characteristic features of Ogatsu inkstone are its lustrous smoky black and beautiful natural patterns. It is also hard wearing and is ideal for smooth rubbing of inksticks with good color development. Ogatsu stone, the raw material that is also known as genshoseki is a black hard slate. This black hard slate is known for its durableness and is resistant to the compression and bending with low water absorption.
Therefore the slate is also used for the roofing tiles and building constructive material by utilizing its features and recently it has come to be used as stone serving plates and other tableware.
The production of Ogatsu inkstone was temporarily suspended due to the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tohoku. Fortunately, neither the technology nor the quarries were lost, and the production has activated its revival along with the reconstruction of the region.


Ogatsu inkstones date back to the Muromachi period (1336-1573).
Scholars indicate that the inkstone already existed around that time because the term suzuri hama was mentioned in a book from 1396, suzuri meaning "inkstone". However, this has not been clarified yet.
There is also an anecdote from the Edo period (1603-1868) that the lord Masamune DATE was very pleased to be gifted an Ogatsu inkstone. It can be inferred that it was one of his treasured possessions since an inkstone was discovered in his grave. The artisans were much appreciated by his son Tadamune DATE as well and were employed by the Date domain. Not only artisans, but also the quarries were placed under his protection. This powerful patronage encouraged this craft to grow even more. According to a book called Honai Fudoki (description of regional climate, culture, etc.) it is indicated that the Ogatsu inkstones became a local specialty and were treated as the owner's refinements and quality items.
In 1985, Ogatsu inkstone was registered as a Japanese Traditional Craft and the skills to make beautiful and practical Ogtatsu inkstones have been passed down to the present day.

General Production Process

Ogatsu inkstones - General Production Process Photo:Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Division

  1. 1. Edge making Each inkstone is made from one small slab of stone. The stone is quarried from an opencast mining and cut down to size according to the inkstone to be produced.
    After the cutting, the rough surface is smoothed using river sand and water to prepare it for the edge making.
    An outline of the inkstone is created on the convex periphery, and the borderline edge is carved using chisels called hori nomi or komaru nomi according to the inkstone shape.
    The interior of the inkstone has two main parts including a deep part for the ink pool (its Japanese name literally means \"the sea\"), and a flat section for rubbing the ink stick (its Japanese name literally means \"a hill\") for rubbing the inkstick. Both sections have many other poetic names such as kenkai (inkstone sea), bokuchi (ink pond), gensho (inkstone marsh), suichi (water pond), or ike (pond) for the ink pool and riku (land), bokudo (ink shrine) and bokudo (ink path) for the bank.
  2. 2. Rough carving In this process, the ink pool and bank are roughly carved with a chisel along with the completed edge.
    A large chisel called kuri nomi is used for this carving that requires substantial force as craftsmen carve each stone using their whole bodies.
    Any decoration engravings on the edge or other parts are applied after the rough carving.
  3. 3. Carving the ink pool The ink pool part is fully cut out. In addition to the ink pool, a gentle slope from the bank to the ink pool is also carved. The dimension of the ink pool is traditionally prescribed as the area is one third of the whole inkstone, and the deepest part is two thirds of the inkstone thickness. In the course of carving, the craftsman checks the depth, area, and smoothness of the slope by hand touch.
  4. 4. Polishing This process adjusts the shape while smoothing the surface.
    It consists in three stages of inner, outer, and final polishing. In each stage, a different whetstone and water resistant paper are used.
  5. 5. Leveling the bottom The bottom of the inkstone must be smoothed absolutely flat and even to ensure the inkstone is stable in use.
  6. 6. Finishing There are three types of finishing. The first one gives a beautiful high gloss using Japanese lacquer (urushi).
    The second one is a matt firing finish which is made by firing the inkstone after the lacquer coating to remove the shine.
    The third one involves applying an ink finish instead of lacquer. All the methods increase the durability of the inkstone and appeal to different tastes.

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