Memories of Baking Stone
The old Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was known for its beautiful decorations. It was the softness of Oya stone, combined with the unmatched skills of the craftsmen, that made his designs come to life.
During the hotel’s construction, over 100 craftsmen worked tirelessly, hammering away to follow Wright’s designs & turn the rough stone into art.
We were able to visit the workshop of Mr. Tetsuo Watanabe, one of the craftsmen who has inherited the proud tradition of sculpting Oya stone.
“The surface of stone carved by hand has a distinct luster to it. It’s like a carpenter working with a hand plane. We work with something that’s from nature, each stone is completely unique. We may be able to get an even grind using a diamond bladed machine, but that won’t give it any dignity. Each stoneworker sharpens his tools & changes his blades depending on the stone he’s working with.
Oya stone is made from lots of different minerals, & each has a different hardness there are the soft brown spots known as miso, for example, or the pieces of crystal we call Aottama. A craftsman shows his skill in how he subtly adjusts his carving based on the changes in hardness. When finishing up the surface of the stone, the hardest part of figuring is the polish.
The craftsmen carve out the flat surfaces using only Tataki*. The perfect finish will have a graceful smoothness that you can feel when you touch it. Oya stone is fun, but it’s also tricky. That’s why we never get bored.”
It was the pride of the craftsmen that made Oya stone famous.
*A type of chipping hammer, also known as a Sashiba or a Ryouha.