The Four Treasures: Inkstone / Suzuri, vii

Every region has its artistic styles, as well as every time period. The same may be said for production of the suzuri, with a classical shape and style modified according to era and taste.  The most common suzuri is a rectangular stone with a deep well on one end, and a flat surface sloping into it  This makes sense, as it is practical and probably fairly easy to accomplish. Decorative elements and embellishments in the non-working areas are certainly possible, and I would be inclined to say almost inevitable for the expression of the carver’s creative force.

Besides the impact of regional and time preferences, the economics behind the stone’s production itself may be seen.  Stones for the masses – the daily stone – are probably more plain than those for the aficionado, simply because of their utilitarian role. These can be made quickly, with or without attention to quality or aesthetics. Today, stones for tourists may be pretty but worthless as far as usability; other stones may be far better in quality and less ornate. A good stone is absolutely necessary, whether for calligraphy or painting, if you are using an ink stick.

Kiri Wood Box

Today’s stone is from Japan. It does not have a rosewood box, but it is very nicely encased in a kiri wood box. Unfortunately, I cannot read the label! (If anyone can translate for me, please let me know.) This is the only stone in my collection I have not yet used, and I am still deciding on whether or not I should – it is so beautiful as it is! Knowing me, though, I will at some point when I am not rushing around – I want to take the time to enjoy it.

I am under the impression this stone is carved from nachiguro, a lustrous black slate or river shale unique to Japan, and has been used since the Nara period (710 – 794 CE) for carving practical and ornamental items, such as suzuri, go stones, and suiseki, This stone is a sedimentary shale which originates in the upper side of the Kumano river in Japan’s Mie prefecture, and is characteristically very dark and shiny.

Suzuri Lid with Carving

Many traditional Japanese themes and symbols may be considered by a master craftsman in creating a high-end suzuri, but this artist has taken a considerably more modern approach.  The abstract elements of the lid are suggestive of many things, and certainly some traditional themes as well.  Just in a glance, I can envision falling leaves or swimming koi.  The carving is very subtle and pleasing, working very well within the smooth borders of the circle.  To the touch, the different textures are smooth and rough at the same time, without any sharp edges.

Inside Well of Suzuri

The smooth elegance of the polished stone is a bit more rough on the grinding surface and the well, having the necessary tooth to create sumi ink.  The borders of the well are polished and shiny, in keeping with the rest of the stone.  The contrast of these two areas repeats the circular motif of the suzuri’s shape, as well as the framing of the lid’s pattern.  The underside of the lid is as smooth and reflective as the underside of the lower portion of the stone.  Even the underside of the suzuri well is smoothly finished, and follows the circular motifs of lid surface and underside, and the well.  This stone is not especially old, probably produced in last quarter of the twentieth century.  It is a large, heavy stone, measuring more than 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.

Suzuri Well on Left; Underside of Suzuri Lid on Right

Underside of Suzuri Well

I expect this stone could be considered something of a luxury item, for oneself or as a special gift. Given this, I cannot help but wonder if the beauty of the stone is all it has – can it be used to produce good ink? Even if it does not, there is something to be said for simply beautiful objects. The suzuri’s circular shape is pleasing, the lid’s carved surface intriguing, and the soft, candescent glow of the stone subtly elegant. Aesthetically, this suzuri is a sculpture to be appreciated in its own right.


9 thoughts on “The Four Treasures: Inkstone / Suzuri, vii

  1. Actually from what I can read from the box this would be a wakata stone(若田硯) of a pale blue gray black. They are from the Nagasaki province(長崎県).
    A nachiguro stone would be pure black, according to what I know. But I could be wrong =P
    But wow that is a beautiful suzuri! Where did you buy it? It is very difficult to find Japanese suzuri outside japan…
    Thank you for always sharing your treasures with us!
    Take Care!

  2. Hi Ricardo,

    Thank you for your translation. It got me curious. The stone came directly from Japan, and now I have just sent the person I got it from an email about it, along with pictures of the lid and box. Maybe I will find out! I have had it awhile, but just didn’t write it up until now.

    The stone is very dark, but the carving is a dark blue grey. I looked for “wakata stone” on google, but nothing. So much I do not know!!

    I’m glad you enjoyed my posts.


  3. Hi Naomi,

    Yeah, you wouldn’t be able to find any information on google since japanese inkstones are not very well known outside japan…and the information is very scarce, but if you put the japanese words you can get some images(若田硯) .

    And I can’t figure out all kanjis in the box since they are stylized but I can identify tsushima(対馬) on the upper right corner, which is the place the inkstone comes from, and the main words(若田硯) indicating it is a wakata suzuri(If got the pronunciation right…not so sure about that).

    Also, here are some links about these stones…they are in japanese so I put the addresses in the google translator so you can understand even a little bit…(but google translation is reeeally bad so it won’t of much use I’m afraid =P)

    But it is good that you wrote to the seller so you can be sure of the stone’s origin! I hope you can find out for sure what kind of inkstone it is!

    Do let us know what you find out about it!

    Best Wishes

  4. Hi Shirley –

    I am glad you have enjoyed the posts. We just do not have the opportunity to appreciate these parts of Asian cultures as much as I wish we could! How I would absolutely love to be able to go to a stationary store and peruse stones, brushes, ink, and paper!!


  5. Ricardo – thanks for the links. Certainly I would not have found them on my own. I’ll look at them a bit more when I have some time. And yes, if I get more info on this stone, I will definitely post it. –Naomi

  6. I was pleased to find this site– we are looking for large, antique suzuri and there don’t seem to be very many out there. I’m talking about some I’ve seen as large as 12″ x 26″, used for the big brushes and “stand-up” calligraphy done on large scrolls (as I understand it). Would anyone have any leads for me? It would be much appreciate– they are such a great joining of form and function, and so beautiful in their execution, it would be an honor to have one in our home.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s