Writing the history of northern Japan
Calligraphy is an art form that binds together history. Inkstones are tools of the calligrapher, whose high quality and ease of use are always sought. The inkstones of Ogatsu are formed of Ogatsu stone; the expert carving techniques of these fine inkstones gives the calligrapher confidence that the ink ground will be of the best color and quality.
The Life in the stone
Grinding ink on an inkstone involves rubbing the ink stick against the stone in water. The fine particles of solid ink are suspended in the water to make liquid ink. "Not any rock will make an inkstone. Stone that will make a good inkstone has to be carefully chosen," so said Mr Chiba, a member of the Ogatsu Inkstone Association. The qualities of a good inkstone are:
The particles (the 'teeth') of the stone must be of uniform size, hardness, and be balanced to grind ink evenly.The stone must be impermeable and absorb but an appropriately tiny amount of ink.The stone must be chemically inert and not change in time.The stone surface should have a natural pattern that is beautiful.
Stone that has all these qualities can be found in strata under Ogatsu formed 2.5 billion years ago. That is Ogatsu stone.
The crystalline structure of a fine inkstone should have the appropriate balance to 'welcome' the ink--without this balance ink cannot be made. This balance is seen at its best in Ogatsu inkstones.
One of a kind
The Ogatsu stone stratum was formed 2.5 billion years ago in the muddy bed of a river. This slate cleaves beautifully, which allows inkstones to be made with matching covers. With a piece Ogatsu stone that cleaves well, one section will be carved into the inkstone and one section into the cover. Inkstone and cover will fit naturally and perfectly, allowing each inkstone/cover combination to be unique.
Natural inkstone/cover combination; the cover is cleft from the same stone as the inkstone, allowing a perfect fit.
Lord Date used an Ogatsu instone
A replica of an inkstone used by Lord Date Masamune, lord of the Sendai domain in the 17th century (original in the Sendai Municipal Museum), is in the Ogatsu Inkstone Traditional Craft Center. The piece is surprising in its simplicity and small size. "Lord Date took this everyday inkstone to war battles because it is small, easy to carry, and very easy to use. It is also amazingly elegant." stated Mr Chiba.
This old, simple inkstone was made with the highest techniques; making another one just like it is practically impossible today. A careful look at this beautiful little square inkstone reveals that the corners and edges all have lovely curves, not sharp edges. The area where the ink is ground is slightly raised, allowing the liquid ink to flow to the sides and into the reservoir at one end. In this little piece, the highest technical artistry is concentrated.
Cross-sections of Lord Date's inkstone..The area where the ink is ground is slightly raised, allowing the liquid ink to flow to the sides and into the reservoir at one end.
Born 1932. Became an inkstone craftsman at age 21. "I guess making beautiful curves is the most difficult."