Saturday, 27 August 2016

A Dusty, Dirty Looking Inkstone

I hate seeing a dusty, dirty-looking inkstone with an inkstick that has been used in a slovenly way so that it is rubbed down on only one side. It also makes an unpleasant impression if someone puts a cap on a writing-brush whose head has become large and shaggy.

It is even more important for a man to keep his writing-table in perfect order. If his inkstone-case is not made in several tiers, it should have two fitted boxes, and its gold lacquer design should be attractive without looking contrived; his inkstick, brush, and other equipment should all be chosen to attract attention.

antique Japanese writing box

Some people seem to think that the actual appearance of their writing utensils is unimportant. They have a box of plain black lacquer with a cracked lid, into this they put a tiled inkstone, which is broken on one side and whose every crack is so embedded with dust that one feels that a lifetime would not be long enough to clean it properly. They rub a little ink on the stone, barely blackening the surface, and pour water over it all out of a celadon jug, whose tortoise-shaped spout is broken so that there is only a gaping neck. Yet they are quite content to let people see this unsightly collection of objects. 

Korean 12thC celadon water jug
Sometimes it will be a woman who has a poor hand yet who always wants to be writing something. She picks up a brush which one has used until it has acquired just the right hardness, and very awkwardly she soaks it in ink. "Is there anything inside this chest?" she asks as she starts scribbling something on the lid. Then she flings one's brush down on its side so that the head is immersed in the ink. Her behaviour is hateful, yet how can one bring oneself to tell her so?

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Sei Shonagon was a court lady in tenth-century Japan. In her Pillow Book she notes down all the things that attract, displease or interest her in daily life. 
Translated by Ivan Morris.

Penguin Classics 1971
pp. 205 -206

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