As China is Japan’s largest granite supplier, it is possible that Chinese granite will someday make up the bulk of Japanese tombstones.

Importers say Chinese stone dressers have improved their skills sufficiently to be able to process raw granite into polished gravestones inscribed with family names.

There are Chinese workers in the 17-20 age bracket fully competent in the skill of chiseling delicate, curved lines into tombstones.

“A veteran Japanese artisan was surprised when he saw me and said I was better than him,” one such worker said with a smile.

Japan imported about 1.28 tons of granite products last year, with shipments from China accounting for 1.23 million tons, or about 97 percent of the total. China’s Fujian Province is particularly rich in this stone.

Quanzhou, located near the trade port of Xiamen, is home to nearly 1,000 stone dealers who have made the journey from rags to riches and now run their businesses along a street in town.

Stone dealer Dong Hui Long makes tombstones from granite and ships all of its products to Japan.

It is a midsize stone-processing company but ships around 270 tons each month to Japan. Its yearly sales total 6 million yuan (about 79.75 million yen).

Japan began importing granite in the 1960s, with the volume rising sharply amid the high-rise construction rush during the bubble era in the 1980s. Imports of raw stone from China began around 1990.

Hisao Yonekawa of Yonekawa Stone in Ibaraki Prefecture has engaged in transactions with Chinese stone dealers since the 1970s.

“Stone in Japan was no good because it had streaks and was uneven,” Yonekawa said.

Recalling his first experiences of dealing with the Chinese stone industry, Yonekawa said he encountered a succession of problems.

The quality of the stone was uneven, he said, adding that while Chinese workers lacked skill, they accepted orders and as soon as they took the money they cut corners.

“We suffered quite a lot of losses,” he said.

But by 1997, Chinese workers had improved their stone-cutting techniques, with China having become the world’s largest stone accumulation site as a result of its efforts to tap markets on a global scale.

This led it to process stone brought in from India, Africa, Europe and the United States.

The Jianlei stone carving company in the city of Quanzhou handles a wide variety of sculpted products, ranging from a statue of a Buddhist saint more than 10 meters tall to a tiny ornament that can be placed in the palm of a hand, along with gravestones bound for Japan and Europe.

According to the company, 80 percent of its products are exported to Japan.

Jianlei President Zhang Lijian, a stonecutter since childhood, pointed at a statue of a Buddhist saint in a pamphlet of a Hokkaido cemetery, saying proudly, “This is our product.”

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