All About Japan

Learning to Love 'Sumi' Ink Sticks

| Learning Japanese , Stationery

Ink sticks, or sumi, were a very practical way of conserving and transporting ink. Useable ink is obtained by rubbing the ink stick upon the surface of a stone vessel, called a suzuri, in combination with small quantities of water.

How to Make Ink Using an Ink Stick

You can see how it's done in the video above. The process of slowly grinding the ink against the stone and pushing the finished ink into the well is quite relaxing.

Ink Stick Production

Japanese production of ink sticks dates back to the eighth century. The video above (Japanese only, sorry!) gives a very good overview of the production process, from burning wood and collecting the ashes to adding glue, forming the sticks, drying and adding illustrated embellishments at the very end.

Shinseido Ink Sticks

Established in 1947, Shinseido is one of five remaining makers of Japanese ink in Suzuka, a city famous for both its F1 racing circuit and its traditional ink sticks.

Shinseido has been recognized as a traditional producer of ink craft by the Japanese government, offering traditional inks for general use as well as special inks for writing kanji and hiragana or for drawing.

One recent Shinseido innovation has been a series of ink sticks that include color pigments that create natural accents when used.

Shinseido Colored Ink Sticks

These colored inks allow calligraphers to add colorful accents to their works. The light, watery colors combine harmoniously with the black ink base of each stick. Eight different shades are available.

Shinseido Ink Stick for Kanji with Real Gold

This luxury ink stick is made for calligraphy masterpieces. Embellished with rich illustrations, when using this ink stick, the gold pigments dissolve into the ink and leave golden sprinkles in the calligraphy.

Black Ink & More

Shinseido also offers blueish ink sticks and, of course, several grades of black ink for various purposes. Check out the entire set below!

Calligraphy Brushes

And if you'd like some calligraphy brushes to go with your ink, take a look here!