Sunday, February 12, 2017

Toishi-Sharpening Stones and Kyoto Crafts

Yesterday was my last full day in Kyoto, most of which I spent back in Kameoka. My friend Harada sensei took me to visit the shop of perhaps the last full-time miner and maker of sharpening stones in Japan. It was pretty fascinating. Afterwards I stopped at the Gallery of Kyoto Traditional Arts and Crafts, which showcases work by students of the Kyoto Crafts University. I highly recommend the gallery to visitors to Kyoto, as I guarantee you will be amazed by the work done by students in all realms of craft and design.

My friend Yamauchi san and his girlfriend live at the edge of Kameoka's valley backed up against the foothills. Yamauchi san is the boatbuilder for the Hozugawa Kudari but also is an avid hunter. He has a side business butchering and selling venison and boar meat. He had just gotten a deer that morning and he served me some raw venison.

Note the winch for hanging carcasses.

Raw venison with wasabi and soy sauce. It's good.

Japan is overrun with deer and boar, a real problem as an urban society doesn't produce enough hunters and the forests are growing back providing perfect habitat. Yamauchi san can take one deer a day during a 90-day season! We've had some interesting discussions about Japan's gun control laws since he owns a rifle, but in talking to him this time I learned he gets most of his deer with traps.

I never knew Japan had vanity plates, though its numbers only. Boar is "enoshishi" and meat is "niku." You pronounce this plate shi-shi-ni-kyu or roughly "boar meat."

My friend Harada san drove me up into the mountains to an idyllic little village. The stone supplier has a lovely little storehouse, or kura, in front of his house.

The farmhouses here are quite large, with high-pitched roofs. This one has tin roofing over the old thatch.

In front of the house is a massive cedar which merits its own shrine venerating the tree. 

Thatched-roof farmhouse with clay tile overlay.

The stones are beautiful to look at.

The miner's family has been making sharpening stones for four generations and the man's two sons are helping him now. He claims this one vein is unique in Japan and yields the best quality stone. He acknowledged there were veins in Hyogo and Nagasaki as well, but I've heard from craftsmen that none match the stones from here.

We spent some time discussing exactly what kind of stone this was, and consulting computer dictionaries came up with mudstone. Another word that came up was tuff, but it seems like it would be too soft by definition. Harada san did some later research and also came up with slate.

He was telling me his stones run from 7,000 to 10,000 grit, so they are very hard. The finest synthetic stone I own is 5,000 grit, and it will give an edge a mirror polish.

Unfortunately we didn't have time to go to the mine. He said he spends three days a week mining and three days cutting stones in his shop. He said about 50% of the material he removes from the mine ends up as waste.

This small, unpretentious stone was $750.

This is his retail shop and he also has a website.

His very old stone saw.

The stone supplier is on the right, wearing my wasen baseball cap. 

I was a bit embarrassed coming because I knew I couldn't afford his stones (most are well over $1,000), but he was so taken by the story of my work he gave me these two small stones, 3,000 and 9,000 grit. The larger stone comes from Hyogo and the smaller, harder stone is one of his. 
NOTE: As a follow-up I went to his website and here is the page with his stones and prices. Basically drop the last two zeroes for a rough cost in US dollars, but this means his stones start at $750 and go as high as $7,500!

The road leading to his mine. This May he and a friend will be opening the sharpening stone museum in a culture hall nearby. There's a museum for everything! (Update: the museum is now open and the website is:

Back in Kyoto, student work at the traditional crafts center.

Wood carving. They also have an entire program in Buddhist religious carving.

The matchlock rifle is NOT functional. This is Japan, after all.

The stock is lacquered and decorated with gold leaf.

One floor features students working on display. 

1 comment:

  1. Douglas
    Thank you for directing me to your blog, super information and a touching experience for sure. The owner of the Maruoyama mines name is Tsuchi Hashi-san. I can easily see your two getting along famously. I have had the honor of actually going into his mine and helping just a little to remove some stone that he had just then pried from the mines wall.

    I hope you have a chance to visit Tsuchi-san in the near future. The 2020 Kezuroukai will be hosted by Tsuchi Hachi in Kameoka.

    hope to see you there,

    Alex Gilmore


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