Despite the pandemic

Despite the pandemic

by Wil in Japan
“The 8th Japan Suiseki Exhibition”

(Posizionando il mouse sul testo si sovrappone la traduzione in italiano)

Though the situation was uncertain until only one week before, the 8th Japan Suiseki Exhibition opened as originally scheduled on February 14th, 2021. Soft restrictions applied to restaurants and bars throughout the city, but public museums were allowed to remain open according to their regular schedules. As a precaution, temperatures were taken at the entrance, hand sanitizer was provided, and masks were required at all times while in the exhibition venue, but importantly, the show went on.

As expected, attendance was a fraction of the usual, with no visitors from outside of Japan and very few from outside of the greater Tokyo area for that matter, but there was a great sense of joy and relief in the air amongst those who did attend, as it was likely the first opportunity since last February’s exhibition for many of these old friends to meet and enjoy stones together face to face. Fearing a poor performance, the Nippon Suiseki Association made extra efforts to encourage participation, and much to our delight, the show had over 170 entries – a new record for the exhibition series, despite the pandemic.  So, with masks on, the tape was cut and the show began

The centerpiece of this year’s exhibition was the well-known Kamuikotan stone named “Takachiho” from the Nyogakuan Collection.


Its history is elucidated in both the exhibition catalogue and the bilingual Japanese/English publication, Suiseki – An Art Created by Nature – The Nyogakuan Collection of Japanese Viewing Stones (2005). It is perhaps one of the most revered stones from Hokkaido in the Japanese suiseki world, and one of only a few with a demonstrable prewar history.


Also in the special entry section was a Sajigawa stone resembling a recumbent bull from the Ukigaya family collection in Chiba Prefecture. As a couple, Ukigayas have long been patrons of the Nippon Suiseki Association, and though the husband passed away in recent years, Mrs. Ukigaya continues to enthusiastically participate in exhibitions like this still today.

Sajigawa stone resembling a recumbent bull from the Ukigaya family collection

Near the special entries on an off-set table of its own was the annual display by the Hosokawa Bonseki School.  Every year since the third installment of this series, the head of the Hosokawa school has been invited as a special guest to create a display and share their art with the suiseki community.  This year, using a number of old bonseki that have been passed down within their tradition, they created the scene of a lakeside temple complex, named “The Temple Ishiyamadera off Lake Biwa”.  The sensitive placement of each stone and miniature bronze, and the delicate rendering of various designs in fine white sand was indeed a wonder to behold.

“The Temple Ishiyamadera off Lake Biwa”  by Hosokawa bonseki school

Rather than having a separate section displaying important accessories like suiban, doban, and display stands, last year the Nippon Suiseki Association decided to focus an area of the show on stones from a specific place, in that case stones of the Tamagawa that flows by Tokyo.  This year too, we intended to organize such an area-specific sub-section of the exhibition, though the uncertainty caused by the pandemic interfered and the idea was put on hold.  In its place, twelve important stones from the privately owned Jizaian Collection were featured. This section featured well-known stones on both daiza and suiban, such as this famous Ibigawa waterfall stone:

Ibigawa waterfall stone 

and a mountain stream Iyo stone beautifully displayed in a lobed suiban:

A mountain stream Iyo stone

Of special interest was also a two-tiered display of historical stones, contrasting traditional Chinese and Japanese display styles.  On the upper tier, a well-published antique Chinese stone on a traditional wooden stand named “Mount Emei” after the famous mountain in Sichuan Province; on the lower tier a Kifune bonseki with a wonderful patina displayed on a silk mat named “Nunobiki” after a famous waterfall in Hyogo Prefecture.

“Mount Emei” and “Nunobiki”

Though not visible to viewers during the exhibition, the bottom of this bonseki was cut and lacquered, which is a traditional technique commonly employed to protect the lacquered trays used in bonseki displays from being scratched by the rough bottoms of stones. Stones like this are incredibly rare, and highly prized by collectors in the suiseki world today.

The tokonoma displays featured the usual variety of seasonal themes, and two displays in particular make for an interesting contrast.

One is an atmospheric nighttime display, featuring a desolate island off in the sea below a moon slightly obscured by clouds, with a single bird in flight above.

Senbutsu ishi in tokonoma display

Many Senbutsu ishi like this stone have wriggling surface textures and a greyish brown coloration, which in this case matches well with the sea-dragon design and polished bronze coloration of the doban by Harada Houn.

Senbutsu stone in a doban by Harada Houn

Though doban by this famous craftsman have attracted much attention by Western collectors in recent years, it is important to recognize the characteristics that distinguish authentic works from later reproductions. The best way to learn this, of course, is to look at and study well-recognized works of the finest quality, which may be difficult without visiting Japan to see exhibitions like this, but quality pictures, they say, can be worth a thousand words. This particular design is one that Houn often employed, and the sharp, detailed lines of the decorative pattern and flawless consistency of the thickness of the rim speak to a quality cast that later attempts by less skilled craftsman never achieved. This is a true masterpiece of its type, and the dark coloration and stern simplicity of the display stand brings a final element of consistency to the brooding atmosphere of the scene.

As if its mirror reflection, a colorful daytime display presents a scene of just the opposite intention; an inversion of both form and content. The sun hovers over a clear blue sea, bathing a mountainous island below in bright red light.

Sado akadama ishi in tokonoma display

The color of the sun in the hanging scroll and the blue pigment used to render the sea perfectly complement the coloration of the Sado akadama ishi and glaze of the refreshingly cool-feeling suiban, making for a perfect match. The decorative openwork of the stand adds a further sense of flare to the already showy and colorful display, which might be best suited to the New Year, a wedding, or some other auspicious, celebratory occasion.

Sado akadama ishi in a refreshingly cool-feeling suiban

The yin-yang balance observable between these two displays makes for an interesting study on many levels.

Another important note for discussion observable in this exhibition is the ongoing debate surrounding natural vs. enhanced stones. As has been widely written about in the past, the Chinese tradition has been far more forthcoming in acknowledging not only that such work is done, but in some cases is even required to improve a stone. Offering a stone a helping hand to bring out the best of its natural features has not been historically objected to in that particular practice, and examples of such stones from China were on display.

Enhanced Chinese stone

The Japanese tradition, however, has most certainly not always presented such a clear picture. Different teachings have long existed side-by-side, leaving enthusiasts to choose which practice they prefer, and while for some the issue is black and white, there is no denying a vast grey area in between. Which is not to say that the distinction has been left vague in all cases, but rather that many Japanese collectors appreciate both natural and enhanced stones, and that the views one might hear on the subject vary from person to person in such a dramatic manner that it is impossible to say which is “right” or “wrong”. Nor should the enhancement of stones be viewed cynically as a phenomenon driven purely by the economic forces of supply and demand in the market of any given time in Japanese history. Long before the so-called “stone boom” of the 1960s and 70s that saw a rapid increase in the popularity of stone appreciation in Japan, stones were being enhanced for a variety of both pragmatic and aesthetic reasons.

Chrysanthemum stones present one area where this phenomenon is quite clearly visible. The technical aspects and varying extents to which Japanese chrysanthemum stones have been enhanced over the years is most thoroughly discussed in the book Chrysanthemum Stones: The Story of Stone Flowers by Thomas S. Elias and Hiromi Nakaoji (2010), and examples are almost always to be found in Japanese suiseki exhibitions. This year was no exception, and two particular entries exemplify different types commonly encountered.

One was a small kawazure, or “river worn” stone in its natural state. Left untouched, it has a fairly dry-feeling surface, and the petals of the flower remain flush with the surrounding material.

A natural Chrysanthemum stone in display

In contrast was an incredibly large stone that could not be moved without the efforts of at least three strong individuals, the flowers of which are so clearly defined and distinct from the surrounding matrix that there is no doubt the natural form of the petals was carved around to make them more explicit and recognizable.

An enhanced Chrysanthemum stone in display

Regardless of one’s own preferences, the point is that even at what may be considered Japan’s premier suiseki exhibition, such stones are readily accepted and prominently displayed.

With over 20 entries from abroad, this year’s exhibition was regarded by all as a great success, despite the ongoing pandemic and limited attendance.

As the Nippon Suiseki Association works to finalize the catalogue detailing the entire show, I hope this little review helps inspire discussion and offer encouragement to those of you hoping to organize exhibitions moving forward this year, as we hopefully round the corner of what has been a most trying time for all.

Wil in Japan


Shakkei Group thanks a very special correspondent, who accompanied us on a virtual visit among the suiseki exhibited at the Japan Suiseki Exhibition, an edition closed to the presence of the Western world of enthusiasts, to whom we are giving the version in the original language, of this reportage, available in Italian also, in the Italiansuiseki website, at the page Nonostante la pandemia

Shakkei Group ringrazia un inviato molto speciale, che ci ha accompagnato in una visita virtuale tra i suiseki esposti alla Japan Suiseki Exhibition, edizione chiusa alla presenza del mondo occidentale degli appassionati, a cui stiamo regalando la versione in lingua originale, di questo reportage, disponibile anche in italiano, nel sito Italiansuiseki, alla pagina Nonostante la pandemia

Shōjō, una pietra dal fiume Tama

Shōjō, una pietra dal fiume Tama

猩々Shōjō  “Il gran bevitore
“Quando un suiseki ha la carta d’identità”
di Giorgio Rosati

Attraverso questo blog mi è stata data la possibilità di condividere la storia di una pietra, entrata a far parte della mia collezione alcuni anni fa, cosa che faccio con grande piacere.
Quando arrivò a casa era corredata del suo daiza, purtroppo rotto durante la spedizione, riposta all’interno del suo kiribako e accompagnata da un certificato scritto a mano con sigilli vari e una piccola foto.
Per prima cosa ho rifatto, sia pure a malincuore, il daiza perché non era riparabile, utilizzando una tavoletta di palissandro, materiale degno di tanta pietra.
Naturalmente poi ho cercato al più presto, con l’aiuto di amici giapponesi, di tradurre le scritte sul kiribako e il certificato.

La pietra con il suo kiribako

La scritta (hakogaki) sulla scatola recita, da destra: 菊花石 pietra crisantemo, in centro 猩々ShōjōGran Bevitore”, nome poetico della pietra a cui segue la firma illeggibile con sigillo del proprietario.

La pietra, quindi, è una pietra crisantemo e il certificato, redatto dall’Associazione Amatori Pietre del fiume Tama, ne completa le notizie sull’origine e ne data il suo ritrovamento:

“Questa pietra del fiume Tama, larga 11 cm., alta 22, e profonda 10,5, è stata trovata nel corso superiore del fiume Tama nell’anno 38 dell’era Showa (1963), dal signor Shohei TAMURA, ed è stata classificata come “pietra eccellente” il 5 agosto dell’anno 40 dell’era Showa (1965). Sakamoto Ichiro Associazione Amatori Pietre del fiume Tama.”

Naturalmente è stata una grande soddisfazione avere acquistato, insieme alla pietra, la sua “carta d’identità”, cosa che avviene assai raramente; al più si riesce a risalire ai precedenti proprietari se si ha la fortuna di venire in possesso della scatola con le notazioni sul retro del coperchio. L’unica cosa che non mi convince del tutto è il nome che il precedente proprietario, avendo forse immaginato nella sagoma della pietra un individuo un po’ barcollante, malfermo sulle gambe, le ha conferito.

A sinistra, il retro della pietra, a destra il fronte 

Le pietre crisantemo sono un tipo di pietre che rientra nelle monyo seki, pietre con disegni sulla superficie, ed in particolare nelle kikka seki, pietre con disegno a forma di fiore di crisantemo.

La conoscenza e diffusione delle pietre crisantemo non è antica come quella delle Kamogawa o delle Furuya, ma risale agli anni ‘30 del secolo scorso, quando un professionista di Gifu, Koichi Shiraki, acquistò dei terreni nella valle del fiume Neo, a nord di Nagoya. Avendo avuto notizia del ritrovamento di pietre con disegno di fiore nei dintorni, cominciò a cercare nei propri terreni e vennero alla luce parecchi esemplari.
Nel frattempo la popolarità delle kikka seki aumentò a dismisura, anche grazie al fatto che il crisantemo è il fiore simbolo dell’immortalità e l’emblema dell’Imperatore del Giappone. Attraverso le sue influenti amicizie Shiraki arrivò a omaggiare l’Imperatore stesso di alcune sue pietre.

Il simbolo dell'Imperatore del Giappone

L’emblema dell’Imperatore del Giappone: il crisantemo a sedici petali

Alcune pietre crisantemo sono molto famose, quasi leggendarie nel mondo suiseki, per non parlare dei prezzi a cui sono state acquistate…..
I principali siti di ritrovamento, oltre alla valle di Neo, sono la valle del fiume Tama, ad ovest di Tokyo, e la zona di Shimonita.
Sono costituite da una matrice di colore e origine geologica varia e da agglomerati di cristalli di calcite o quarzo disposti radialmente a formare disegni che ricordano I petali di un crisantemo. Possono essere naturali (saba) quando la formazione di calcite è ruvida, non lisciata né dalla permanenza nel fiume né dalla mano dell’uomo, oppure levigate.

Il fiume Tama

Il parco nazionale Chichibu Tama Kai, che comprende una parte della prefettura di Tokyo, è stato istituito nel 1950, ed è il parco nazionale più vicino all’area metropolitana di Tokyo. All’interno del parco, nella sua parte orientale, scorre il fiume Tama, che sfocia nella baia di Tokyo.

Immagine autunnale del parco Chichibu Tama

Nel fiume Tama, oltre alle pietre crisantemo, ormai probabilmente esaurite, si trovano altri tipi di pietre molto interessanti, che sono oggetto di ricerca degli appassionati. Anche io ho avuto la possibilità di farlo un paio di volte in zone diverse, tra l’altro interessanti anche per motivi ambientali…

Giugno 2019: alcuni scorci del fiume Tama durante la mia visita

(cliccare sull’immagine per scorrere la galleria)

…. e non sono tornato a mani vuote, entusiasmandomi per la varietà dei materiali che si trovano, come la pietra successiva che ho trovato sul Tama :

Mi rendo conto di avere un po’ divagato, ma spero che queste notizie siano gradite ai Lettori che immagino informati e attenti a questi argomenti, e vorrei concludere affermando che il piacere di percorrere la via del suiseki aumenta enormemente se alla contemplazione di una pietra bella e ben presentata si aggiunge la ricerca e la conoscenza delle sue caratteristiche, della sua storia e delle sue vicende.

Giorgio Rosati


  • Sen – En – Kyo, “Suiseki: an art created by nature”
  • Covello, Yoshimura, “L’arte del suiseki
  • Wikipedia, “Il parco nazionale Chichibu Tama Kai”


Shakkei Group ringrazia l’amico Giorgio Rosati, di cui apprezziamo le molteplici qualità e la pluralità di interessi, che spaziano dallo studio del giapponese alla realizzazione di daiza. Viaggiatore e non turista, attento ricercatore sul territorio, italiano e non, amante della montagna, presidente del Club Amatori Bonsai e Suiseki di Genova, colleziona con attenzione pietre italiane e straniere, dando loro interpretazione e sostegno, idea e corpo, sulla linea della tradizione orientale.

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