A Micro Universe in a Stone
A chunk of stone aged 230 million years is peeled into thin, delicate yet durable slate with 600 years of craftsmanship. First as suzuri—a tool for calligraphy—and now as tableware, Ogatsu Stone has enriched Japanese everyday life with its sophisticated beauty and unique texture.
The history of the town, suzuri and high-quality stone production of Ogatsu dates back hundreds of years. According to oral history, it started about 600 years ago, in the Muromachi period. “Ogatsu Suzuri” appears in a document that dates from between 1615 and 1624, which records that two suzuri were dedicated to the famous Masamune Date, lord of the region. The record goes on to state that he was very pleased and rewarded the craftsmen well.
According to other research, during 1764-1772, Ogatsu was already described as a town famous for its sophisticated suzuri.
Having been indicated amongst National Traditional Crafts of Japan in 1985, Ogatsu Suzuri is still produced in essentially the same way that is as it has been for hundreds of years: handmade by highly skilled craftsmen.
The Chinese character for suzuri is composed of two simpler Chinese characters: "stone" and "seeing", representing that skilled suzuri craftsmen understand how a whole chunk of stone is composed by simply looking at it, just like a masterful sculptor. Handling Ogatsu Stone requires extremely high skill, precision and knowledge, which can be obtained only through many years of training and experience.
With its outstanding durability, Ogatsu Stone has been selected as a roof and wall material in a number of buildings, both in Japanese and Western styles, including Tokyo Station.
Rebuilding from the Tsunami and Beyond
Located right by the sea, the town of Ogatsu was devastated by the March 11th Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. The Ogatsu Suzuri Association was no exception, losing all of its facilities for production. It has, however, worked restlessly since the disaster and, three years on, it is launching a new studio in May 2014.
Suzuri is an essential tool for Japanese calligraphy: a grater of ink-stone which also serves as an inkwell. Over hundreds of years it has assumed spiritual value and importance that go far beyond being just a tool. The inkwell part is called "the sea", while the horizontal part with grater function is referred to as “the land”, representing that, just like calligraphy itself, suzuri is seen as a micro universe in stone. With its solidity and intricate texture, Ogatsu Stone is known as one of the best materials for suzuri, once accounting for 90% of all suzuri production in Japan.
In recent decades, Ogatsu Stone’s 600 years of tradition and craftsmanship have been finding new expression in tableware. The slate’s silky texture, waterproof quality and high retention of temperature—both heat and cold—make Ogatsu Stone a perfect material for tableware, enhancing the beauty and taste of any food. In the near future, Ogatsu Stone products are set to expand, going beyond tableware and introducing new lines of interior products that complement a variety of situations in contemporary life.
Making of Ogatsu Suzuri
At an open-air quarry, stones are peeled one by one, using levers.
The stones are cut with consideration to the size, thickness and shape of the suzuri each would make.
3. Sand filing
Stones are smoothed on a rotating disk machine using water and sand.
Each smoothed stone is now carved in three stages: framing, rough carving and finishing. Craftsmen use chisels with their shoulders, carving each stone with their whole bodies.
Three stages, inner polishing, outer polishing and finishing, make up the polishing process of suzuri; the surface of each suzuri is thoroughly worked with whetstone and water-resistant paper.
For suzuri, there are three finishes: a glossy finish using urushi (Japanese lacquer), a firing finish and an ink finish.
Ogatsu Suzuri Association
shimo-Ogatsu-2-17 Ogatsucho Ogatsu, Ishinomaki, Miyagi 986-1335, Japan