Remember me when I am gone away,Christina Rossetti
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay …
The tool pictured above is a very old “split-tail” variety of “sumitsubo.”
Versions of this tool are used in many trades worldwide to mark a straight layout line on material being worked. In the West, the line is coated in chalk to produce a “chalkline” when snapped, but in Japan a silk line wound on the spool near the tail of the tool is soaked in ink as it passes through the “pond” near the pointy front of the tool to produce the same sort of layout line.
This particular tool is unusual not only because it is one of the best-preserved examples of Japanese sumitsubo in existence, but also because it was discovered during restoration work on the 27m tall Nandaimon gate of Todaiji temple in Nara Japan in 1879.
Since its discovery it has become famous as the so-called “Forgotten Sumitsubo.”
The reason for the unusual name, indeed the very reason it has survived in such a good state of preservation, is that Todaiji Temple’s Nandaimon gatehouse where this sumitsubo was found perched peacefully on top of a beam high in the structure was built in the year 1199, so it is likely this sumitsubo had remained there undisturbed for around 680 years, a long time for a wooden tool.
Was it really forgotten? I like to think some carpenter left it there on purpose to look after his work. But that’s just me…
So, if you ever misplace a tool at a jobsite, instead of fretting about it, just imagine that someone, someday, will find it hidden inside the building 700 years later and reverently put it in a museum. Certainly more romantic than any other more likely option. (ツ)
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4 thoughts on “The Forgotten Sumitsubo 忘れ物の墨壺”
That was a much nicer story of a tool left behind. I recently came across a chisel under a neighbours floor, it is an older Sandvik bevelled chisel when timber handles were all the rage ;). It appears to have been used as either a cold chisel or a small pry bar as the handle is smashed and the tang slightly bent. Cast aside rather than carefully placed.
It is one thing to use or lose a tool, but to abuse and discard it, to deny it the society of its friends, to never feed it yummy wood is a sad thing.
It is resting with other forgotten friends. There is a drawer full of them waiting for a bit of tlc . I’m a sucker for orphans .
You are a good man, Gavin. The gods of handsaws will bless you.