Suzuri (ink stone) ()

Suzuri is a stationery made of stone or kawara (the clay tile of the roof) that sumi (ink) stick is ground on it with water. In China, together with the paper, ink brush and ink stick, the suzuri is regarded as one of the Four Treasures of the Study. The case in which keeps the suzuri and other writing instruments is called suzuri-bako (suzuri case) and there are many excellent crafts since ancient times. Generally, many suzuri-bako are made of paulownia or karin wood.


Today, plain polished stone and so on is used. The surface is minutely toothed so that sumi stick can be ground on it. The shallow cavity that stores sumi is called umi (the ocean) and the higher part for grinding the sumi stick is called oka (land or hill). Today, the material of Japanese suzuri is slate, Ogatsu-ishi stone in Ishinomaki City of Miyagi Prefecture or Nachiguro-ishi stone in Kumano City of Mie Prefecture.

The history of this type of suzuri is later than that of sumi. In ancient times, sumi was ground into powder in a mortar like before use. The modern-shaped suzuri appeared in the Six Dynasties period of China. In the beginning, an earthenware was used. In the end of Six Dynasties period, a ink stone made of stone appeared and spread in the Tao period.

In Japan, the suzuri has been seen since Kofun period (the tumulus period). Originally the suzuri was earthen and some of them were recycled from cups or the bottoms of pots. Stone suzuri has appeared since 11th century.

For a craftsman, plaining the smooth curve between umi, which stores ink and raised riku is the most difficult part.

Types of the suzuri

Among a variety of suzuri according to the localities, materials, forms and the decoration of the engravings, the famous suzuri are Tankeiken (Duanshi ink stone) and Kyujuken (Shezhou ink stone). Among the different grades of the ink stones, the superior Tao River stone and Songhua stone suzuri have excellent grinding and coloring qualities for the ink stone although they are not well used. Some suzuri are highly traded.

Tankeiken (Duanshi ink stone)

About 100 km away from the east of Guangzhou City of Guangdong Province in China, there is a town named Zhaoqing. This town is faced to the Xi Jiang river and has Mt. Fuka in the east. The mountain stream that meanders between rock mountains and flows into the Xi Jiang river is known as tankei. In this beautiful place with deep mountains and dark valleys, raw stone is produced. The Duanshi ink stone has been used since the Tang period and became very populer when it was mass producted in the Song (Dynasty). The light green spots in the beautiful, purple-based color stone are referred to as the 'gan' (eyes). The bird's eyes-like patterns are insects fossils and are greatly prized although they are not related to practical use. The Duanshi stone is good for fine stone engraving and there are many ink stones engraved in different styles. The value of Dunashi ink stone depends on with or without the gan, sophistication of the engraving, the tone of the color and the decorations. All of them express the antique value.

Kyujuken (Shezhou ink stone)

Shezhou ink stone is another famous ink stone compared with the Duanshi ink stone. The raw stone of this ink stone is digged out in She County from 200 km away from the south of Nanjing City. Neighboring Mt. Huang know as a sightseeing spot, this area is a mountain range with numberless monstrous rock peaks. She County located in the south of Mt. Huang, was known as Shezhou in past times. While the Duanshi ink stone has feminine luster, the Shezhou ink stone is blue-based black having masculine solidness and excellent quality. It has heavy specific gravity and when tapped it produces a metallic sounds higher than that of the Duanshi ink stone. The stone is hard and layered that doesn't suit for fine stone engraving. The Shezhou ink stone has sharp and powerful grinding to create extremely black ink while the Duanshi ink stone has soft grinding. This suzuri is characterized as showing 'ramon,' wave-like patterns like layers of silk fabrics create.

Maintenance of suzuri

The suzuri can be used semipermanently as long as it is well maintained.

Sharpening ho-bo (a tip of an edged instrument). Suzuri is gradually wore out and finally becomes smooth. When sumi stick is unable to be ground on it, suzuri must be sharpened on a special whetstone.
This process is called 'sharpening "ho-bo" (a tip of an edged instrument).'
When the light is shed on the surface of suzuri, sparkling particles are seen. These particles are ho-bo for grinding sumi. The more fine, dense and homogeneous particles enable more excellent sumi ink. The more sharpen ho-bo, the more sumi can be ground fast.

Clean wash
After using, every corner of suzuri must be washed up clean. Shukuzumi (old sumi) causes the deterioration of the fresh sumi, which is newly grinded. Also, sumi, which has just grinded must not be left on the suzuri. Good suzuri makes sumi more stuck to the suzuri; the force that removes the ink causes peeling off the surface of the suzuri.

[Original Japanese]