By Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Labolatory
This craft uses the natural gemstones—primarily crystal, jade, jasper, obsidian, and agate—that are native to Fuefuki city, Yamanashi, an area that is blessed with rich forests and abundant water. A wide variety of products are created from these precious stones, from Buddhist sculptures and household decorative objects in the shape of animals and birds to jewelry, such as necklaces, rings, and brooches. Objects made from quartz crystal, which is more than twice as hard as glass, are machined particularly slowly over a long period of time.
Jade futamono, Kōshū Crystal CarvingKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Because natural stone is used, the size and shape of the items that can be created is limited. And because the items are designed to feature the natural patterns in the stones to their best advantage, each resulting piece is the only one of its kind.
About one thousand years ago, quartz was discovered in the vicinity of Mount Kinpusan, beyond the picturesque Mitake Shōsenkyō Gorge. When it was first discovered, the crystals were displayed as ornaments on their own, but by the Edo period (1600–1868), they began to be processed into gems. About 200 years ago, craftsmen from Kyoto brought the technique of hand polishing crystal beads using emery powder to the area and a local crystal carving industry took root.
In 1876 (Meiji 9), a department for crystal craft was established at the Kōfu Center for the Promotion of Industry and three individuals were dispatched to China, the leading country for fine stone carving, to research Chinese techniques. As a result, technology advanced in the later Meiji period from hand polishing to pedal-operated rotary devices, then in the Taishō period progressed further to electric tools.
In the Meiji period, demand for obidome kimono sash ornaments and hair combs, netsuke toggles and other personal accessories increased, however by the late Meiji period quartz sources had begun to run dry. As a result, quartz, agate, diamonds, and other precious stones were imported from various countries in South America and Africa. In 1977, Kōfu crystal carving was designated a Traditional Craft Industry in recognition of its long history of producing intricately crafted objects and personal accessories using traditional techniques.
"Thunder", Agate cup, Kōshū Crystal CarvingKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Amitabha of tiger's eye gemstone, Kōshū Crystal CarvingKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
The task of shaping raw stone and polishing it requires the utmost concentration. Even the slightest wrong movement when applying the carving tool can damage or even destroy the stone in a matter of moments.
Taking into account the overall shape of the stone, a sketch of the piece to be carved is drawn onto the surface.
The stone is roughly carved out to the general shape of the sketched design.
Details are added with a mallet and chisel. At this point, it is important to be careful not to carve too deeply.
The rough polishing is done using an iron wheel and large grit emery powder.
Third and Fourth Polishing
The shape of the piece is gradually refined using varying sizes of iron grinding wheels with finer and finer polishing grit.
Using a wooden wheel and a fine abrasive paste, the stone surface is buffed smooth. Lastly, chromium oxide and other polishing powders are used to bring out the luster to complete the piece.
The amount of time required to make a single piece varies depending on the size of the object. In some cases, as many as three pieces can be made in a single day, but large pieces can take as long as three months to make one item. Each carving is unique and depends on the natural features of the stone, so mass production is not possible.
After World War II, there was a sudden increase in exports and at one time 80% of products were being made for the overseas market. However, today these objects featuring great technical mastery are aimed primarily for a domestic market. Technology continues to advance and a new generation of artisans is being trained in order to ensure the continued development of the art form while at the same time preserving the long history and tradition of this industry.
Rosary with onyx and coral, Kōshū Crystal CarvingKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Turquoise vessel, Kōshū Crystal CarvingKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Information and images provided by:
Association of the crystal Art Carving Guild
This exhibition is directed by:
Association of the crystal Art Carving Guild
Exhibition created by:
Sugishima Tsubasa, Kyoto Women's University
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University
Dr Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University