The website www.kougei.or.jp is particularly informative about various trades and crafts in Japan. This is what they have to say about the Akama suzuri:
Records exist showing that an Akama inkstone was offered at the Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura at the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333). By the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868) these inkstones were being sold up and down the country. By the time that Mori was leading the local clan, unauthorized people were prohibited from mining the stone from which these inkstones were made and should one be needed as a gift at such times at the Sankin Kotai, when feudal lords travelled to live in Edo, permission to mine the stone had to be given by the head of the clan. This made it quite difficult to obtain one of these much prized inkstones from the Choshu clan.
Akama inkstones possess all the right qualities of a good inkstone. The stone is hard and it has a close grain. It is beautifully patterned and is soft enough to work. The hobo on which the ink stick is ground has a close grain helping to produce ink quickly and of the best quality in terms of color and luster. These inkstones are now being produced by 7 firms employing 15 people, 2 of whom are government recognized Master Craftsmen.
The Akama suzuri is characterized by a deep red brick color. It is a hard stone which lends itself well to detailed carving. The Akama stone I own measures about 5 x 7.5 inches (12.5 x 20 cm), is quite heavy, and has a large area for grinding ink, and depressions on either side of it which lead to the well. The carving is clean and crisp, as well as rather cleverly executed with the grapes hiding in the well itself.
Recalling the “breath test” of yesterday’s entry, I breathed on the grinding surface a couple of times. It was absorbed very quickly when compared to the She stone. This stone takes more effort to create ink than does the gourd-shaped stone, and perhaps this is the reason why. When I tilt in the sun, there are few sparkles of pyrites, which are found in a good stone – there is something about pyrites and the ink stick interacting…. Anyhow, this is still a lovely stone, but admittedly, not my favorite for grinding ink.
There are some design elements in this stone which I really like. I like having a “moat” on either side of the grinding surface, as it allows me to create little areas of greyer tones once the darker ink is on the central plain. The plain itself has a shall indentation in the center, which rises a bit before curving steeply into the well beneath the grape leaves. This allows for a puddling of ink without it flowing into the well.
These next two pictures show the carving a bit more in detail, taken at different angles.
Finally, there is some writing on the back which I should get translated. You can see it on the reverse image at the top. These are the images, enlarged, from top to bottom.
This link will bring you to a page with a number of Akama inkstones, along with some rather hefty prices! Click on each inkstone image to see it enlarge – here you will really see the art of the carved suzuri.