Nara Sumi(奈良墨:Nara Ink)

Traditional crafts

1.What is Nara Sumi?

The origin of sumi goes back about 2200 years and is said to be the Han era in China.

Many ink-printed wooden and bamboo slips have been found in the tombs of the Han dynasty.

In addition, it can be inferred from the shape of the excavated inkstone that there was a small spherical ink called “Sumimaru” in the Han dynasty.

A record of Japanese ink can be found in “Japanese Secretary” Vol.

It is said that the oldest thing is to say, “Empress Suiko’s King of Goryeo in the spring of March 18th.

The oldest surviving inks today are Chinese and Korean inks preserved in Shosoin, and it can be said that the inks of this period have passed through Korea.

However, in the era of Empress Suiko, under the influence of Chinese Buddhist culture, copying sutras became popular in Japan, so importing alone could not keep up with demand and manufacturing began.

Taiho era 701-Engi ceremony around 927

It will be manufactured and sold not only by the government but also by the private sector.

According to the Taiho Ordinance enacted in the first year of the Great Treasure of Emperor Bunbu (701), four ink-making artists were placed in the library dormitory of the Ministry of the Center. There is a record of the distribution of 1 ink stick to the government and 3 ink sticks to the Saikyu dormitory.

In addition, the name of the brush shop can be seen in this section, and it seems that it was manufactured and sold not only by the government but also by the private sector.

Heijokyo era

Ink making was also done in rural areas, and the ink was treated as an annual tribute.

In 1958, an archaeological excavation was conducted at the Heijo Palace site, which was the center of Heijokyo, but there is a description that ink is treated as an annual tribute in the excavated woodwind, and ink making is It shows that it was also done in rural areas.

Pine smoke ink(Shouenboku)

If you follow the beginning of Nara’s sumi, you will reach pine smoke sumi.

In the latter half of the Nara period, crude pine smoke ink was manufactured for the first time at Wazuka, where the branch office of the Heijokyo Library Studio is located.

Wazuka ink is refined to make pine smoke ink for sutra copying, and it is the first ink whose production area name is clearly stated throughout the Nara dynasty, and it seems to be the first pine smoke ink in Japan.

After that, in order to increase the production of this ink, he began to make ink in the Nishi-Hari region (Harima province), and in the first year of Jingo Keiun (767), he wrote a copy of all the sutras of the Emperor Koken’s request. Ink and Harima ink are used (from the Shokurain document).

Oil smoke ink (Yuenboku)

At the end of the Heian period, only Tanba Province produced pine smoke ink and supplied it to the capital, and it was difficult to reach the rural areas.

Therefore, it has come to be used to make ink using the oil of perilla, which has been manufactured at hand for a long time.

Especially in the Nanwa region, 600 volumes of the Daihanwakkei and all the sutra-copying sutras of Horyuji Temple were performed, so the Tasago village heads gathered under the monks of each temple to create ink for copying sutras.

Around this time, the Kofukuji Kasuga version was opened (woodblock printing), and oil smoke ink was used.

Nara Sumi that attracts the world’s attention

There are also modern voices saying that ink is not just an office supply.

Dr. Murozoski (a world-famous carbonist) of Buffalo University in New York City, USA, saw the blue ink of old ink and was pointed out as “the best ink color”, and at the time of the Osaka World Expo, Dr. Kristen of Denmark from Heijokyo Looking at the excavated wooden cylinder, he became interested in sumi and was praised as “a cultural heritage not seen in Europe”. Recently, Kiyoshi Hasegawa used sumi to print 18th century copperplate prints, which is the best in France. There are endless compliments, such as having won the art award of.

Nara’s sumi is not one of the products of the declining local industry, but is attracting the world’s attention as the essence of oriental culture and indispensable for calligraphy.

2.Working process

Introducing the specific method of making oil-smoke ink.

If it is manufactured in the warm season, one of the components of the ink, “glue”, will rot, so the manufacturing period is from October to May, avoiding the hot season.

By the way, it is the coldest time in February that you can make the best products.

① Smoke collection(Saien)

“Remove the soot attached to the lid of the pottery”
Put rapeseed oil, sesame oil, etc. in a pottery called “Kawarage”, insert the wick and light the fire, and remove the soot from the pottery lid that covers it from above.

② Dissolving glue and stirring raw materials

“Add water and glue and boil in hot water for about 4 hours while stirring to make a glue solution.”
In order to melt the animal glue evenly at a certain temperature, put a certain amount of water and glue in a kettle called “tampo” in boiling water and boil it for about 4 hours while stirring to make the glue solution. make.
After that, add a solution of soot, spice and glue, stir, and put on a roller to knead well. Further step on it with your feet and rub it by hand to make raw ink.

③ Wooden mold / mold

“Put it in a pear wooden wooden pattern with engraved letters and patterns”
The weight of the ink stick type product is about 15g (4 momme), but when you put it in the wooden mold, the raw ink contains water, so it is made large so that you can put about 26g.
Here, the raw ink is weighed to a specified size and placed in a wooden pattern.
At this time, it is important to knead enough so that air does not get into the raw ink.

 ④ Ash drying

“Small size takes 1 week, large size takes 3 to 5 weeks to dry water little by little.”
In order to absorb the moisture, the raw ink taken out of the wooden pattern is sandwiched between newspapers and buried in wood ash that contains a little water, and then gradually refilled with dry wood ash.
This ash drying can be continued for 1 week on a small scale and 3 to 5 weeks on a large scale.
If you let it air dry all at once, it will crack, so use this method to gradually dry the water.

⑤ Natural drying

“Furthermore, let it dry naturally from 3 months for small to 6 months for large.”
When about 60 to 70% of the water is removed, ash drying is completed, and the small size is naturally dried for 3 months to the large size for nearly 6 months.

⑥ Polish

“Apply the medicine, roast it on charcoal, and polish it with clam shells.”
After air-drying, the ink is washed with water to remove ash and other impurities adhering to the surface, then coated with a pill, roasted on charcoal, and then polished well with clam shells.

⑦ Color

“Coloring patterns and letters using gold powder, silver powder, and other pigments”
Polished ink is assembled into a well shape for about 3 days to 1 week to remove the water contained in the ink when washed with water, air-dried, and then gold powder, silver powder, and other pigments are used to make a pattern or character. I will color it one by one.

3.Traditional craftsman

Mr. Suminobu Nagano, the 6th generation sumi master

The splendor of Japanese culture that I felt again when I was living abroad

After graduating from university, I didn’t suddenly become an ink craftsman, and I was a salaryman. After that, I lived abroad for several years, but at the age of 30, I took over the family business. Since ancient times, there has been a saying, “I grow up looking at my parents’ backs,” but since I was born and raised in a craftsman’s family for generations, I naturally took over the family business after that.

I felt that I was able to rediscover the splendor of Japanese culture that I felt anew when I was living abroad, as I took over the family business.

In recent years, it is one of the greatest pleasures to be able to talk about Japanese culture, especially calligraphy and ink, with people from Japan and abroad through the “Nigiri Ink Experience”.

We would like to continue to protect Kinkoen for a long time so that such people can easily gather.

Mr. Atsushi Nagano, the 7th generation sumi master

I would like young people to know the existence and splendor of sumi and the traditional culture of Nara through sumi.

The demand for solid ink in Japan has been declining year by year. The current situation is that the act of “rubbing ink” is no longer done in school education.

At Kinkoen, we are also doing activities to let such young people know the existence and splendor of ink and the traditional culture of Nara through ink.

In recent years, foreigners have come to study and experience Japanese culture enthusiastically.

Naturally in Japan, Kinkoen will continue to devote itself every day so that the traditional culture of Nara can cross national borders and spread all over the world.


While the opportunities to polish ink are decreasing, including in the field of education, the 6th generation of the long-established “Kinkoen” (Sanjo-cho, Nara City), Suminobu Nagano, has been in business for over 150 years to make ink that lives in modern life. (72) is challenging.

We carry out “nigiri ink experience” where you can touch soft and warm raw ink like candy, and develop products such as interior figurine “fragrance ink” that enjoys the scent devised by the 7th generation eldest son Mutsumi (42). ing. Two generations will challenge the changes to pass on Japanese culture to the next generation.

For about 15 years, Kinkoen has been conducting the “Nigiri Ink Experience” to make ink by holding the soft and warm raw ink that is kneaded with the materials.

Mr. Nagano started to let people who go sightseeing in Nara experience not only temples and shrines but also how to make ink, and to get to know the history of ink through it.

An original ink stick with the experiencer’s own fingerprint and palm print is completed. “Not only is it used as ink, but it is also used as an interior.”

Mr. Nagano said, “In these days when the demand for ink is decreasing, we must not just make good products and stubbornly protect them. Unless we increase the number of people who use the products, Japanese culture will end. We have to think about ways, especially in the family business that deals with old things and traditional crafts like us, change and challenge are important. “

Mutsumi paid attention to this fragrance and released “Scented Ink Asuka”, which is an elaborate fragrance used in ordinary ink.

The design incorporates the shapes of the faces of Gigaku’s “Karura,” “Rikishi,” and “Kurejo,” and is sized to fit in the palm of your hand.

A stylish product that you can place near your desk and open the box to enjoy the scent that spreads, giving you a sense of reset, rest, and relief.

In order to continue to protect Japanese culture, it is not the time to keep only the characters of “tradition”.

Mr. Nagano’s parents and children continue to challenge new possibilities and ways of life, and to shed light on the new ink that lives in modern life, the ink as a calligraphy, and Japanese culture.

Source: See Kinkoen website


Like the Nara Fude I posted last time, ink is needed to describe the history of Japan.

However, nowadays, it is easy to use ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils, and at a reasonable price, you can get the writing instruments necessary for modern times.

All the inks currently used are manufactured by machines, and the number of ballpoint pens that can be produced per day is about 1.7 billion, and it takes half a year to make one ink. Ten years ago, the annual production was only 2.1 million.

As with the production volume, we are expanding into the interior field with new scented ink sticks for those that are not in demand, and are steadily embodying epoch-making ideas.

There is no doubt that it is a craft that symbolizes Japan, whose appearance is as familiar and strict as it is today, as overseas customers purchase many types of ink as souvenirs.

We are working hard every day to open up new paths, led by Mr. Nagano.

I would like to study further so that I can support myself in opening up a new tradition as much as possible!

Next time preview

Thank you for reading to the end (^^) /

Next time, I would like to post about ” Akahada Yaki ”.

Let’s have a good trip!