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Mon, Mar 2, 2020

Horaiji inkstones: Symbol of 1,300-year-old history and craftsmanship in Shinshiro

Japan’s beauty in the eyes of CIRs

By Marie Alvandi / CIR for Shinshiro, Aichi Pref.

A soft refined glow radiates from a single piece of jet-black stone. The satiny sheen from its smooth, polished surface exudes sophistication, tradition, and above all-else, superior craftsmanship. This is the Horaiji inkstone, handcrafted to perfection using techniques passed down from generation to generation since the Edo period for the sole art of Japanese calligraphy.

Horaiji inkstone made from homei-seki
Artist: Nagura Hozan (Photo courtesy of Hiroshi Hirasawa)

Inkstones, often thought just as “utensils” to rub pieces of charcoal to make liquid ink in calligraphy take on a different meaning in the Horai district of eastern Aichi, where the stones are picked one by one on the foothills of Mt. Horaiji, examined for its quality by the most skilled craftsmen.

Horaiji inkstone made from homei-seki
Artist: Nagura Hozan (Photo courtesy of Hiroshi Hirasawa)

The practice of making inkstones from stones native to Mt. Horaiji dates as far back as 1,300 years ago. During the Edo period, inkstones were bought as souvenirs by visitors of Horaiji temple that were seeking peace and tranquility. During the peak of the temple’s popularity, eight stores specialized in inkstone production. Today, only two stores remain, with only one workshop in operation year-round in the Horai area.

Working away at his quiet studio along the main street leading to Mt. Horaiji sits Hozan Nagura, chisel in hand, carving away at a solid piece of stone. He is the 5th generation owner of Homeido which opened its doors 130 years ago. In 1997, an inkstone that Nagura crafted was purchased by the Agency for Cultural Affairs to be displayed in the Tokyo National Museum, making it the first inkstone the Agency purchased made by a Japanese craftsman. Following in 2010, the art of crafting Horaiji inkstones was designated as an intangible cultural asset by the city of Shinshiro, to honor and preserve the ancient art.

Nagura Hozan, the fifth generation owner of Homeido, crafting a Horaiji inkstone.

The defining characteristic of Horaiji inkstones is that a single piece of stone is used to the fullest extent and applied with lacquer for its finishing touches. Three types of stones picked from Mt. Horaiji are used for Horaiji inkstones: kimpo-seki, engan-seki, and homei-seki. Inkstones made from kimpo-seki are considered the highest quality, possessing a large amount of crystals. Inskstones made from engan-seki have a yellow/brown striped pattern. Homei-seki inkstones are similar in look to kimpo-seki but are composed of course particles.

Horaiji inkstones are a symbol of the deep history and tradition of the Horai district of Shinshiro that honors the millennium-old craftmanship and the unchanging beauty of the Horai area. Besides it being an essential item for calligraphy, the inkstone itself is also truly a work of art.

Horaiji inkstones can be viewed or purchased in person along the main road of Kadoya which leads to Mt. Horaiji, accessible by public transport by taking the JR Iida line from Toyohashi Station to Hon-Nagashino Station and by Toyotetsu Bus bound for Mt. Horaiji Peak.

The main street of Kadoya which leads to the foothills of Mt. Horaiji

(Cooperation: Council of Local Authorities for International Relations)


Marie Alvandi

Marie joined Shinshiro City Hall Planning and Policy Division as Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in 2018. She is originally from Chicago (United States) and graduated from Purdue University. Her work is centered on international exchange promotion and content development/strategic analysis for inbound tourism.



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