Kyoto natural sharpening stone shop visit
While at the Kezuroukai in Odawara, Japan last year I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of natural sharpening stone (ten-nen-toishi) sellers there. Most were from Kyoto, the epicenter of the natural stone mining business, and where we were heading in a couple days.
Most sellers at Kezuroukai brought select stones to sell, but nobody was set up for you to actually try the stones in a meaningful way. When we spoke to a few of the more talkative sellers, they were quick to invite us out to their shops where they have their full inventory and encourage visitors bring blades and try everything.
In line with the invitations, the recommendations we got from some veteran Kez contestants was to do exactly that: go out to a shop, take a couple blades, and try a lot of stones. They also pointed out that since some of the shops are (or are close to) the source of the stones, in addition to very good and very expensive stones, they often have small, irregular, or less-than-perfect-but-very-usable stones for sale at modest prices. This proved to be true.
Time did not allow for us to go to more than one shop because the shops actively (or recently) mining stones are outside of Kyoto. Kyo-e (共栄砥石工業所) , Totoriya, and Ishihara Toishi (石原砥石工業所) are out around Kameoka, west of Kyoto. Of the 3, Kyo-e appears to be the smallest operation, but it is the only one right at a train station. Yagi (八木) is the station and Kyo-e has plenty to offer. Unfortunately the sign was missing due to a recent typhoon but it is facing the tracks off to the left when you exit the Yagi station platform.
|Walk out from Yagi Station, take a left along tracks, look for this bldg.|
Owner of Kyo-e is Hitomi Hideo (人見英夫), 4th (?) generation stone cutter.
By "ample" I mean there were teetering stacks of finished stones heaped up all around the showroom. A bit nerve-racking to tip-toe between, but pretty much an endless collection of stones to try.
I don't claim to know much about toishi but I have found the 5 stones that I bought during my visit to be good additions to those I had. I tried many stones before picking out the 5 but these fit my modest budget and needs. An knowledgeable friend has since tried one of them and liked the results he got from it. If you are able to make the trip, if you are not fluent, you will need an interpreter and you need to call ahead to arrange the visit.