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  • Writer's pictureAkiko Murakami

Nara's products 1: Ink stick (sumi 墨)

Ink stick (sumi) and brush manufacturing businesses is a time-honored industry in Nara since Nara period ( 8th century ).

As an ancient capital of Japan, Nara was where new cultures were officially introduced from abroad. Every time a foreign messenger arrived or a Japanese envoy made a safe journey back, they brought many precious books, Buddhist sutras, paintings and scrolls, etc. So there were huge needs and demands to hand-copy them to spread the precious teachings. This is why Nara became famous for making high quality ink sticks and brushes, as well as paper.


If you arrive Nara, there are many shops selling those products along the small streets. Especially on the both sides of Sanjo-dori street, you can find them easily.

One of the famous Ink stick brand is , KOBAIEN (古梅園)“. One shop is located near Kintetsu Nara station and the other is near Todaiji-temple. Kobaien produces and sells many different kind and seizes of Ink sticks and popular among calligraphers as well as painters.

The ink stick (sumi 墨) was first introduced to Japan from a Korean priest. The priests of Kofuku-ji Temple in Nara learned how to make them using the "soot" from candles. The soot is collected by burning plant oil (such as rapeseed oil, sesame oil, camellia oil, etc. ) in ceramic pots, mixed with “animal glue” and water. Sometimes incense or medicinal scents are added.

Even after the relocation of the capital city to Kyoto in the end of 8th century, Nara stayed as a spiritual capital with many major temples played rolls as Universities or monasteries for buddhism monks to study Buddhism.

Today, in case of ink sticks, there are about 30 makers, and more than 80 % of the production in Japan is produced in Nara.

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