The Fascination and World of the Inkstone

History of the Inkstone

The inkstone, known as “suzuri” in Japanese, originates from ancient China and is an essential tool in East Asian calligraphy, including Japan and Korea. Calligraphy, the art of writing, dates back to around 2000 BCE. The inkstone is central to this art form, used to grind ink sticks and mix with water to produce liquid ink for writing.

In ancient China, early inkstones were made from stone or pottery. By the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), sophisticated stone inkstones became prevalent. Inkstones were introduced to Japan through missions to China during the Asuka (538-710) and Nara (710-794) periods, becoming integral to Japanese calligraphy.

Structure and Types of Inkstones

Inkstones are primarily divided into two major types: “Duan” and “She” inkstones.

Duan Inkstone (端硯)

Origin: Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, China
Features: Known for their hardness and fine polish, Duan inkstones provide a smooth surface and are highly durable, suitable for long-term use.

She Inkstone (歙硯)

Origin: She County, Anhui Province, China
Features: Softer compared to Duan inkstones, making them easier to carve. They often feature intricate carvings and decorations.
In addition to these, Japan has its own renowned inkstones, such as Nara inkstones from Nara Prefecture and Nagoya inkstones from Aichi Prefecture.

How to Use an Inkstone

Using an inkstone involves several steps:

  1. Preparation: Pour a small amount of water onto the surface of the inkstone.
  2. Grinding Ink: Rub the ink stick in a circular motion on the inkstone. This process takes time, but it’s important to grind the ink slowly and carefully.
  3. Dipping the Brush: Dip the brush into the liquid ink, ensuring the ink is absorbed evenly from the tip to the base of the brush.
  4. Writing: Use the inked brush to write or draw, enjoying the art of calligraphy.
  5. This process is not just about preparation; it is a meditative ritual that calms the mind and enhances focus.

Clare and Maintenance of Inkstones

Proper care and maintenance can extend the life of an inkstone. Here are some tips:

  1. Cleaning: After use, rinse the inkstone with water and wipe it dry with a cloth. Avoid letting ink dry on the stone as it becomes difficult to remove.
  2. Storage: Keep the inkstone in a place away from direct sunlight and extreme dryness. Storing it in a wooden box is recommended.
  3. Regular Inspection: Check the inkstone regularly for any damage and seek professional repair if necessary.

Cultural and Artistic Significance

Inkstones are more than just tools; they embody significant cultural and artistic values. Historical inkstones often feature beautiful carvings and decorations, sometimes inscribed with poems or illustrations. These inkstones are valued not only for their functionality but also as art pieces.

Using an inkstone is a spiritual practice, where grinding the ink and writing with a brush reflects the calligrapher’s mental state and personality. This practice emphasizes the harmony between the artist and their tools.

Literary Thoughts on Inkstones

Ancient Chinese literati had a deep affection for inkstones, viewing them as more than mere tools. Their reflections offer insights into the cultural significance of inkstones:

  • Su Shi (1037-1101), a famous Song Dynasty poet, emphasized in his writings that the essential qualities of an inkstone are its smoothness and the quality of the ink it produces. He noted the challenge of finding an inkstone that perfectly balances these qualities.
  • Mi Fu (1051-1107), another Song Dynasty calligrapher, highlighted the importance of practicality over decoration. He believed that the true value of an inkstone lies in its usability rather than its ornamental features.
  • Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), a Ming Dynasty calligrapher, provided detailed instructions on the care of inkstones, stressing the importance of proper handling and maintenance to preserve their quality.

Decline of Quality Inkstones?

By the Ming Dynasty, there was a sense that the quality of inkstones had declined. Gao Lian (1573-1620) noted in his writings that while the appearance of inkstone mountains had changed, a good inkstone should still provide a smooth surface and produce high-quality ink regardless of its origin.


The inkstone is a vital tool in the art of calligraphy, deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of East Asia. Understanding its history, types, usage, and maintenance allows one to appreciate the depth and beauty of calligraphy more fully. Whether you are a practitioner or an admirer, the inkstone offers a tangible connection to the rich tradition and artistry of calligraphy.

In using an inkstone, you engage not only with the physical act of writing but also with a spiritual practice that has been cherished for centur