Ogatsu slate

Ogatsu suzuri: Ogatsu slate and the art of the inkstone / 雄勝硯:雄勝からの粘板岩と硯


Date Masamune, a famous noble of the Muromachi period of Japanese history and a local hero in Tohoku, is credited with finding that the best slate for making inkstones was available right in the Ogatsu area. Slate is a metamorphic rock that originates from volcanic ash, or clay, transformed by the passage of time.

An inkstone is one of the “Four Treasures” of the traditional Asian calligrapher. China, Japan and Korea all share in the tradition of beautiful writing as an art form. In all three cultures ink comes in compressed, rectangular cakes. In Japan, the ink, sumi, is made of soot kneaded together with a binding agent and water. Making ink is a slow, meditative process. A small amount of water is added to the flat surface of the inkstone. The sumi is then moistened and ground gently against the flat depression below the well in steady, graceful movments. The fineness of the inkstone affects the fineness of the ink created, and thus the finished calligraphy. Over time, an inkstone will take on a patina that adds richness to the ink created in it.

Seto-sensei, the art teacher we meet in the film, considers the native slate a very special thing, and taught class after class how to carve the stone, not only into traditional inkstones, but other works of art. She lamented that many of the more impressive pieces her students had made apparently got lost in the tsunami, like a large clock made of the stone. Other unique objects only exist as photographs. But the Ogatsu stone plaques hammered into the walls marking room numbers and for other purposes survived the force of the tsunami that swept most of the homes and businesses of the peninsula out to sea.

The craftsmen who make Ogatsu suzuri had their workshops washed away, and their quarry made inaccessible. However, work is going on to give the craftsmen a new studio, and to make the quarry accessible again for extracting the stone that both Seto-sensei and the legendary hero Masamune regard with such esteem. The volunteer organization Peace Boat, which appeared in our documentary working alongside groups like JEN, Mudbusters and Humanity First, has hit upon collecting the smaller pieces that cannot be used for traditional purposes and create little decorative plaques and necklace pendants with them. Here’s the article about that: http://peaceboat.jp/relief/reports/ogatsu-stone/ .

Well before the tsunami, someone did a video of a craftsman making a traditional style Ogatsu suzuri. Here it is, thankfully, another little bit of Tohoku culture preserved for posterity.

Return To Table of Contents