Unkei, for his part, gave no indication of anything odd or amiss as he carved on with all his might. One young man, who'd been gazing up and observing Unkei's manner, turned to me and began praising him. "Look at that Unkei. To him we don't exist. The only things in his world are himself and the Niō. He's brilliant!"
I found the young man's words interesting. As I turned to look at him he continued. "Look how he handles his mallet and chisel. He's completely at one with his work."
Unkei was now moving sideways, carving out thick eyebrows as he went. Each time he shifted his chisel blade up, down came his mallet to meet it. He worked the hard wood one cut at a time, chips flying to the rhythm of his mallet. Before my eyes, the flared wing of an angry nostril emerged into view. He applied his blade without the slightest hesitation, always knowing exactly where to cut.
"He wields his chisel with ease. Eyebrows, or a nose, take shape to his mind's eye." I was so impressed that I voiced my admiration, to no one in particular.
The young man heard me and replied, "He's not really shaping those features with his chisel. He's using the force of his mallet and chisel to reveal eyebrows, or a nose, that already lie buried in the wood. It's just like excavating a rock from the soil. That's why he never errs."
This was the first time I'd ever heard carving described in this light. It occurred to me that anyone, then, should be able to carve. I suddenly decided to carve my own Niō. I left the scene and hurried home.
I took a hammer and chisel from my tool box and went out back. A recent storm had toppled an oak tree, so a pile of firewood, that I'd had the sawyer cut up for me, was conveniently at hand.
I chose the biggest piece and began carving with great vigor. To my disappointment, I found no Niō inside. In the next piece too, unfortunately, there was no sign of a Niō. Nor in the third piece. I carved through every piece in the pile, but none was hiding a Niō. I realized, finally, that no Niō lies buried in Meiji wood. I also understood now the reason why Unkei was still living.