The last of the four treasures is the ink stone. Handmade from slate, ink stones are smooth, very heavy and made to last forever. The ink stone is designed for ink making in batches. There is a raised part that slopes downward into a well. Ink is mixed at the top and pushed down into the well. To make the ink, you start with a bit of water at the top of the stone. Then, place the ink stick in the water and “grind” the ink. Grinding the ink is a slow, meditative act. Passing the smooth ink stick across the smooth ink stone is soothing and repetitive. The earthy scent of the ink permeates the air. It’s extremely relaxing and calming. This slow preparation allows the mind and the body to become centered and ready to write. It takes a lot of time and experience to know when the ink is ready. (Our ink was not the right consistency when we had our practice session. You can tell it wasn’t mixed long enough because it was gray and a bit watery. We need more practice!)
When the first small batch of ink is ready, you push it down (using the end of the ink stick) into the well of the ink stone. Then, add a bit more water to the top of the ink stone and continue mixing more with your ink stick. Repeat this process until you have enough for your project. If the ink is prepared correctly, it will be a deep black with a light, almost oily sheen and it will be slightly thicker than water. I’m no expert, but I could feel the difference between our hastily mixed ink last week and this ink, which I ground ten times longer. You really can’t take shortcuts. I have a small ink stone that I bought for my class, but the ink stone pictured today is from Naoto’s aunt’s collection. It is six by nine inches large and it is heavy. (We carried it all over Japan on the train after his mom gave it to us. Actually, I should say Naoto carried at all over Japan.) Because it is in such a lovely wooden box, I keep it on the table in the living room. But I have to admit it is much more fun to actually use the ink stone. Hopefully when I get back from Japan I will be a little bit more skilled at using these family treasures.