Ogatsu inkstones Ogatsu suzuri
Beautiful smoky lustrous black
The calligrapher’s perfect companion
Ogatsu Suzuri are inkstones produced in Ogatsu, Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, where even today artisans still carefully hand-carve and polish each individual piece. Under the aegis of the Date domain and with an abundance of good quality quarried slate a thriving industry was established some 600 years ago.
The characteristic features of Ogatsu Suzuri are its lustrous smoky black and beautiful natural patterns; it is also hard wearing, and ideal for smooth rubbing of ink sticks with good color development. Ogatsu stone, the raw material also known as genshoseki, is a highly durable black hard slate resistant to compression and bending, with a low level of water absorption; it is also used for roofs and as a building material, and recently has arrived on the dining table in the form of stone serving dishes and plates.
The production of Ogatsu Suzuri was temporarily suspended due to the Great East Japan Earthquake, but fortunately, neither the technology nor the quarries were lost, and with the reconstruction of the region, production has started again.
The origins of Ogatsu Suzuri date back to around the Muromachi period (1336-1573). In a 1396 document, the term suzuri-hama is mentioned; from this it appears that Ogatsu Suzuri had already existed although exact details are unclear.
There is also an anecdote from the Edo period (1603-1868) that Lord Date Masamune was very pleased to be presented with an Ogatsu Suzuri, and an inkstone was discovered in his grave, from which we can infer it was a treasured possession. The artisans were much appreciated by his son Tadamune as well, and were employed by the Date domain. Not only artisans, but also the quarries fell under his protection; so the inkstone industry with an abundance of quality raw materials, highly-skilled artisans, and powerful patronage was set to increasingly prosper. According to Honai Fudoki (description of regional climate, culture, etc.), in the late Edo period, Ogatsu Suzuri became a local specialty, leading us to understand they were items indicating their owner’s refinement and good taste.
In 1985, Ogatsu Suzuri was certified as a Japanese traditional craft and the skills to make beautiful and practical Ogtatsu Suzuri have been passed down to the present day.
General Production Process
- 1. Making the Edge
Each inkstone is made from one small slab of stone. The stone quarried from an openwork quarry is selected and cut to size in accordance with the inkstone to be produced. After cutting, by using river sand and water, the rough surfaces are smoothed ready for edge making. An outline of the inkstone is created on the periphery, and in accordance with the inkstone shape, the borderline edge is carved using a hori-nomi (carving chisel) or komaru-nomi (small round chisel). The interior of the inkstone has two main parts: a deep section for pooling the ink, called umi (the sea), and a flat section for rubbing the ink stick, called oka (hill). Both sections have many other poetic names such as kenkai (inkstone sea), bokuchi (ink pond), gensho (inkstone marsh), suichi (water pond), or ike (pond); and riku (land), bokudo (ink shrine) or bokudo (ink path).
- 2. Rough Carving
In this stage, along the completed edge, the sea and hill is roughly carved with a chisel. A large chisel called kuri-nomi is used for this carving and requiring substantial force; craftsmen carve each stone with their whole bodies. Any decoration to the edge or other parts is carried out after the rough carving.
- 3. Carving the Sea
Next, the sea section is fully cut out. In addition to the sea to pool ink, a gentle slope from the hill to the sea is also carved. The dimensions of the sea are traditionally prescribed; 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 touch.
- 4. Polishing
Polishing is a process to adjust the shape while smoothing the surface. The process consists of three stages: inner, outer, and final polishing. In each stage a different whetstone and water-resistant paper is used.
- 5. Leveling the Underside
The underside of the inkstone must be smoothed absolutely flat and even to ensure the inkstone is stable in use.
- 6. Finishing
There are three types of finish. The first gives a beautiful high gloss shine by using urushi (lacquer). The second is a matt firing finish in which after lacquer coating, the inkstone is fired to remove the shine. The third involves applying an ink finish instead of lacquer. All the methods increase the durability of the inkstone and appeal to different tastes.