Jnat Stamps

Book Stone 1

Jnat Ink Stamps; Thoughts and Facts 

We all love the nice stamps on the tops of Jnats, well – most of us do. I suppose some think they’re, uhm… pointless and can’t wait to take them off. Me – I think they’re cool and very interesting, and I hate lapping them off but it just has to be done so that’s that. 

I am familiar with many of the typical stamps, after handling a fair number of Jnats, some of the common stamps have become almost commonplace. I’ve seen the marks for ‘Nakayama’ (中山) – and ‘Okudo’  (奥殿) enough times to be able to identify them easily. The same goes for the Kyoto Natural Hone Association stamp seen above on the cover of their booklet titled “The Charm of Kyoto’s Natural Hones”.   

What do the other stamps mean though? Well – they can mean something, or nothing. Some might be counterfeit (yes, it’s true). Wholesalers and retailers might put ‘their’ stamps on their stones, and some individual sellers might do the same. Often, but not always, the name of the quarry or mountain the stone was taken from will be present. One might also see stamps indicating that the stone is good for honing razors, or others that mean ‘high grade’ or similar subjective terminology. 

I have first hand experience with sellers who have admitted that some of the stones they are selling were purchased as used and stamped afterwards. I suppose they could very well know where the stones were quarried, but it’s also possible that we’re looking at a case of wishful thinking.      

One might wonder; does anyone stamp stones with the name of a highly recognizable mine so it will sell quicker and for more money? Has anyone ever lapped stamps off a stone and then told prospective buyers that it came from a quarry with a higher pedigree?

The answer to both questions is - ‘yes’. 

Many people know the names Nakayama, Ozuku, Shobu, etc very well – but fewer people know the names Hideriyama or Takashima. You can believe that the buying public’s reliance on name recognition and their lack of knowledge influences whetstone sellers, wholesalers and marketing exploits.  

One of the most famous stamps of all time, it seems, is the fabled Maruka stamp; which is believed to be a declaration of quality, or possibly just a ‘brand’ type of indicator, or both – depending on what point in history we’re talking about. The circled Kanji in that stamp has been referenced as ‘Maru” (for the circle) and ‘Ka’, as in KAto-san, who ran the famous Nakayama quarry/mine. 

A passing observation - These 3 characters =正本山 – translate to ‘shouhonzan’, which means true original mountain (meaning Nakayama in this case). The circled character - – is quite interesting; when discussing Kanji, this character - – is Chikara, meaning power or force. My meager studies show the same character as ‘Ka’ in Katakana. This is interesting because shouhonzan is written in Kanji.    

Then – there’s the Maruichi stamp. This one is a bit baffling, because there isn’t a lot of substantial info about it floating around. Some have said Kato-san used it before Hatanaka-san used the Maruka stamp. I’ve been told that’s not true – and that not every stone bearing that stamp was taken from Nakayama. Recently, an online seller alluded to the Maruichi stamp being ‘fake’ and meaningless; ironically – that particular seller is well known to be a liar, fraud and con artist. At the same time, a more trusted seller made claim to the Maruichi stamp as being verified by a well known seller in Japan as being an authentic old ‘brand’. I guess by ‘brand’ – this might be similar to the Hatahoshi stamped stones sold by Hatanaka. 

Whatever the actual facts surrounding those two stamps are, research tells me that full size Maruka stamped Toishi will cost 1.5k and up, and even a similarly-stamped mid-size Koppa would be extremely expensive. Yet, repeatedly, I’ve seen those stones selling for way less than market value, and that makes me wonder if there’s another storyline out there. 

Some say stamps don’t matter, but they do. But – they don’t matter like westerners want them to matter. We think differently – we want things to line up evenly on a graph, spreadsheet or whatever, and then we want to be able to formulate a solution to every quandary according to the plan we devise by collecting and mapping the ‘data’. 

Unfortunately, for some – and fortunately, for others; the Jnat game doesn’t work that way, and people in Japan don’t roll that way. Stamps on stones are but a fraction of a concern to a user. Most ‘real’ collector stones do not have stamps. I know several Togishi that have never heard of a ‘Maruka’ or ‘Asano Stamped Nagura’, so what does that tell you? 

Yes – Asano stamped Nagura are ‘the’ authentic Nagura that Iwasaki referenced and worked hard to standardize quality control for. Remember – Iwasaki also said that Tsushima Black Nagura were not good for honing razors, and should be avoided. Well – that’s not exactly what I’d call ‘accurate information’; I use TSB very successfully when honing razors, and so do many others. 

In a milieu where personal gain is not the primary focus, the origin of any stone is passed on by word of mouth most of the time; it’s the wholesalers and stone sellers in the open-air markets and shops that stamp, box and brand stones for retail sale.   

There are a lot of reasons why anyone selling anything want’s to have their logo/mark/stamp/etc on their product. But this is not the quandary – the issue, if we can call it that for now, starts when someone says this/that label/box/mark/logo/etc. is inferring the stone in question is ‘superior’ and ‘the best’, and then they charge you a premium price for it. 

So yeah, while stamps don’t mean much in one sense, the simple fact is that those merchandising exploits have a huge impact on the buyer’s/user’s wallet, and it can also have a negative impact on their learning curve as well.  So stamps don’t mean a damn thing until they make the price of the stone go up, and stamps always make the stone’s price go up - so stamps do mean a lot. If you’re going to pay more, that’s fine – but you should be getting what you’re paying for. 

Regardless of price or collectability, whatever any stamp is, says, indicates or suggests – it pales in comparison to what the stone is all about, and what it really does in the hands of the user/owner. For anyone who is using the stone to sharpen something - nothing else really matters.   

This does not mean every stamp is counterfeit though – there are many reputable sellers, collectors and retailers who do their best to be accurate, honest and totally upfront.  

In the end though – knowing where your stone is from, or thinking you do, carries zero weight when the final result of the equation is revealed. The edge either cuts right, or it does not. Period. 

No one in their right mind has ever shaved with a razor honed on a Umaji and said – “what was I thinking? I should have honed this on an Oozuku.”

However –they might say “I could have honed this better on my Oozuku than I did on my Umaji… “. 

That does not mean Umaji stones are inferior to Oozuku – it only means that the user in question has two stones and they hone better on one than the other. This is a critical point to understand. And it should be shared clearly to help avoid confusion. 

Brand – mine – stamp – box – label – etc….

It doesn’t mean a damned thing.

Stop thinking like you’re buying cereal in the grocery store.

Start thinking like you need to understand your stone; that you need to listen to what it’s telling you, and then you need to learn how to respond.   

What matters is the edge.

And the edge knows no mountains, stamps, kanji, boxes or labels. 

With all due respect to the Kyoto Whetstone Association and their agents, the simple fact is that a stone is a stone and it’s true qualities can’t be told with an ink stamp. I don’t believe that these stamps are intended to be an ‘ingredients’ list though, and I don’t want to infer anything negative. 

Admittedly, an authentic Nakayama that is stamped as such is a wonderful Toishi to own; but how it performs with the task at hand is what is most important. The stamp tells me where the stone came from, but it’s the stone itself that tells me what it can do. 

There were/are great stones from Hideriyama and crappy stones from Takashima, mediocre stones from Narutaki, etc. A rainbow of stone qualities were possible at any given location. All of the quarries in Japan produced a lot of stone – some great, some good, some fair to midland – and so on. 

So – what does it all mean? Well, I can only relate what stamps mean to me – and for the most part, they are more of a visual enhancement. I do not rely on any stamp, box or label to produce an edge. 

When I have a stone, and it was sold to me as being from ‘wherever’ – I refer to it as such for the sake of discussion only. I have quite a few Marukas and Maruichi stamped stones, and I’ve had stones with stamps from too many quarries to count. Even so, some of the stones that have impressed me the most, came to me with no stamps. Go figure. I have a stone right here on my desk as I’m typing this and I have no idea where it’s from – but it’s a really sweet stone and anyone would do well to be adding it to their collection. Yes – it’s that good, even though it doesn’t have a ‘name’. 

I might, when talking/typing, refer to a stone as a ‘Nakayama Maruka’, or whatever, but I don’t throw that out there like it’s a badge of honor or to infer that it’s a ‘superior’ stone. The magic has nothing to do with the name of the mine.

The Magic has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE NAME OF THE MINE. 

As far as I’m concerned, the best hone in the world is the one under my blade. Period. If I thought anything else then I’d have to ask myself what the hell I was doing and why I was bothering to do it.

I have a lot of hones, so they can’t all be ‘the best’ at the same time, but they can all be ‘the best’ - one at a time.

Admittedly, that’s a bit of a conundrum, but - I like puzzles.  If you get it, you’ve stopped thinking like you’re buying cereal, and you’ve started thinking like the stone is trying to tell you things you need to know. 

So, you might be asking yourself – “what’s with this seemingly endless litany?” 

Well – I remember when I was ‘newer’ at this than I am now, and I knew a lot less. I was so confused by all the chatter in the forum threads – Nakayama this, Ozuku that, Maruka, Maruichi, Shobudani, etc…… 

These days, when I’m reading through forum threads, social media groups, etc – quite often I remember having the very same questions that I’m seeing or answering in my personal emails.   

Look – a great stone could be one from any mine or quarry; there are many great Jnats out there, along with a bunch of turds too. Not every Nakayama is great, not every Maruka is a razor hone, and not every boxed NOS Hatahoshi is worth the 2k or even the 500 USD that some online guru might be asking for it. When you buy a stone, either it performs or it does not.

Believe this; there’s a big business in antiquing boxes, forcing patina, weathering a wood Dai, and so on. There are sellers who will tell you all kinds of nonsense about how they can tell where a stone came from by smelling it, tasting it, honing on it or even just looking at it.   

Some of the gems; older stones are better, rough saw marks mean the stone was cut in 1932, Goma is good, Goma is bad, Kiita is better, soft stones are better than harder stones, sparkly shit in the Kawa means the stone is from Nakayama…. 

Sometimes, I just want to scream “MAKE IT STOP!”

But forum mods and the admin Nazis in social media groups don’t take kindly to trashing bullshitters, liars and frauds in front of everyone. I guess it upsets their equilibrium or maybe the truth gets in the way of their hidden agendas. 

I’ve seen a well-known Jnat seller intentionally lap stamps off a stone he bought at Ohira and sell it as a Nakayama for quite a pretty penny. I’ve seen more variations of the fonts in Maruichi stamps that you’d believe. Similarly, I’ve seen Maruka stamps in a myriad of fonts, some upside down, others on top of the stone and some on the long side of the stone too. I’ve been approached to purchase, for the purpose of reselling, Shobudani stones that were not from Shobu, I’ve also seen two stones being sold by two different sellers that were so identical in pattern, color and cut they looked like neighboring jigsaw puzzle pieces, and I’m certain that is exactly the case; yet their stamps showed them to be from two different mines.  

Sometimes, often actually, the allegation of a stone not performing is due to user error. Other times, the stone is just not what it was sold as, cracked up to be, etc. The trick – is to figure out where the responsibility lies and that’s a difficult task sometimes. No one wants to admit they can’t figure out any stone, so – quite often – people blame the rock, saying it’s ‘bad’. Similarly, a knowledgeable and experienced user can wind up with a stone that just don’t measure up and then the seller doesn’t want to admit they sold a turd. It’s a double-edged sword that can only be defeated by relying on sellers that actually use the stones they sell and having a good relationship with them. Communication is key here – and by communication I mean conversation, not just notes sent with electronic payments and ½ assed text messages. 

Three things to remember, always… 

1.) Not everything that glitters - is gold. 

2.) If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t. 

3.) Stamps take a back seat to how well the stone handles the task at hand.


© Keith V Johnson 2014 - 2018