Preserve to trasmit

by | Apr 13, 2021 | Il (Bu)giardino, Suiseki | 4 comments

Preserve to trasmit

by Wil in Japan
Hoshun’in Bonsai Garden Newly Opened in Kyoto

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

Though much of life is still on hold due to the pandemic, certain movement is nonetheless taking place.  Just last month as the cherry blossoms were peaking, a new bonsai garden opened in Kyoto to a small number of invited guests, which in the future will give interested visitors to the city a new place to put on their list of sites to see.
Mr. Morimae
, who has had a long relationship with the temple and organized many exhibitions there over the years, was invited by the abbot to create this space on a plot within the temple grounds that had gone unused for many decades.

Of course, bonsai and suiseki can be seen in a number of places throughout Japan, but apart from the Taikanten and smaller exhibitions organized by local clubs, there are not many public places in Kyoto where these traditional arts can be readily enjoyed.  What makes this new development particularly interesting is its location – the temple Daitokuji.  In the northern part of the city, this Rinzai Zen sect temple dates back to the early 14th century, and over the years has been associated with many important historical figures. Perhaps reaching its peak in the Momoyama and early Edo periods, it remains important to practitioners of the tea ceremony still today, due to its association with Sen no Rikyū (1522–1591), and Kobori Enshū (1579–1647).  It is also famed for its multiple rock gardens, and houses old bonseki which have only recently come to light in the suiseki world, such as that featured as the special entry of the 4th Japan Suiseki Exhibition in 2017.

The bonseki housed at Shinjuan, part of the Daitokuji temple complex, in Kyoto

Being primarily a bonsai garden, that is what takes center stage; and being the cherry blossom season, well… you can guess what was in the first alcove of the indoor display area. A young, weeping cherry tree, with the figure of an elderly man sitting below admiring the blossoms, all under the glow of a full moon.

Informed viewers will immediately recognize this as an allusion to the monk and poet Saigyō (1118–1190), who wrote over two hundred poems on the subject of cherry blossoms alone, and one of whose most famous poems is about wanting to die in the spring under the flowering trees. Should we all be so lucky !

Of greater interest to us, however, are the five suiseki that were on display.  An important point to note before considering the stones chosen for the inaugural exhibition, however, is the mission of the garden. 
What does it hope to achieve in such a place? 
Visitors to the exhibition received a short guide to the displays, with the following statement by Akiyoshi Sokushu, the abbot of the Daitokuji sub-temple Hoshun’in, within whose grounds the garden lays:

“On this occasion, on a plot within the grounds of the Daitokuji complex, we open the first bonsai garden in a Zen temple. Bonsai came from China in the ancient past, and through the varying aesthetic sensibilities of the people who cared for them over the years, they have become the very living form of the Buddha nature that resides in all aspects of the natural world. Fusing bonsai and Zen rock gardens in this historical temple, we created the garden with the hope that a great number of visitors will leisurely look at, discuss, and enjoy the “living Zen and philosophy” that is bonsai.

Suiseki developed over time as well, transforming from the bonseki favored in the Higashiyama culture of the Muromachi period, to the suiseki practice we have inherited today. They are simple stones lying in rivers and mountains, which convey the poetics of landscape beauty. Through the spirit of allusion, they allow people to enjoy boundless worlds in the palms of their hands, or placed in trays.

People, history, culture. Nature, plants, and stones. It is our sincere hope that standing still in this garden, you will all feel something special in your hearts.

With that introduction, it is clear that the purpose is quite simply to introduce these arts to temple visitors who may not otherwise know much about them.  Accordingly, the inaugural exhibition was not a parade of great masterpieces put out to impress the cognoscenti, but rather simple, straightforward displays that even someone who had never heard of suiseki could look at and understand.  Included were clear examples of the different types you might choose to introduce the art to any beginner: a yamagata ishishimagata ishitaki ishi, and funagata ishi.

In another alcove was a three-trunk pine displayed with a small waterfall stone.

Keido teaches that bonsai and suiseki should not compete with one another in tokonoma displays, and therefore must not be displayed together, but let us remember that bonsai and suiseki were being displayed together in this manner long before Katayama created Keido and its various principles and aesthetic philosophies.  In the mid-20th century suiseki experienced great growth in popularity as an independent pursuit, but before that time it was practiced by many as a companion art of bonsai, and displaying them together in this fashion was not at all uncommon in the past.

The important point is that they harmonizeCompletely separating them is not the only way to ensure they do not compete.

In this case, the stone is clearly taking on the role of a secondary element in the display, with the bonsai garnering the attention.  Figure stones of various shapes, including hut and boat stones, and small landscape stones such as this have long been used as suggestive accessories in bonsai display, and the practice continues in the bonsai world today.  The opposite pattern of using bonsai as secondary elements in suiseki display, however, is something one does not encounter in the mainstream.

With the development of this new garden, it is hoped that bonsai and suiseki both will have the opportunity to reach new audiences, helping preserve the traditions in an idyllic setting, while providing a means of outreach to a new generation.

Wil in Japan


Shakkei Group thanks a very special correspondent, who is becoming, with his reports from Japan, an important trait d’union between the lovers of the art of suiseki in the world, in a moment in which we are denied the joy of meeting and sharing. Japan seems at the moment the only country where life seems to continue as always, although with due precautions. I therefore thank Wil for keeping us updated, with pictures and comments, on the initiatives in which he takes part; this, in particular, arises from the intention of transmitting some traditional arts, such as bonsai and suiseki, to the new generations. This report is available in Italian also, in the Italiansuiseki website, at the page Apre a Kyoto il Giardino Bonsai Hoshun’in.

Shakkei Group ringrazia un inviato molto speciale, che sta diventando, con i suoi resoconti dal Giappone, un importante trait d’union tra i cultori dell’arte del suiseki nel mondo, in un momento storico in cui ci viene negata la gioia dell’incontro e della condivisione. Il Giappone sembra al momento l’unico paese in cui la vita sembra continuare come sempre, anche se con le dovute precauzioni. Ringrazio quindi Wil per tenerci aggiornati, con immagini e commenti, sulle iniziative a cui prende parte; questa, nello specifico, nasce dall’intento di trasmettere alcune arti tradizionali, come il bonsai e il suiseki, alle nuove generazioni. Questo reportage è disponibile anche in italiano, nel sito Italiansuiseki, alla pagina Apre a Kyoto il Giardino Bonsai Hoshun’in.

Daniela Schifano

Passioni: i suiseki, i gatti, tutto ciò che è giapponese tranne il sushi. Leggere, scrivere, studiare, divulgare, viaggiare.

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  1. Fabio Perissinotto


  2. stefania

    Ho letto l’articolo Preserve to trasmit di Wil in Japan qualche giorno fa e avevo trovato informazioni interessanti per esempio l’apertura del giardino bonsai e suiseki nell’area del tempio Daitokuji dove si percepisce un’aria austera e rarefatta, piena di pace. Ma ho riletto l’articolo perchè vi si fa riferimento alla Scuola del tè Sen no Rikyu ed io ho appena finito di leggere “Morte di un maestro del tè” per l’appunto il Maestro Rikyu e mi ha fatto piacere collegare concretamente queste notizie.
    Infine, le osservazioni sulle pietre naturali e le pietre migliorate sono molto ragionevoli e motivate. Sono una suisekista alle prime armi -istruita da una eccelente sensei- e ho imparato che questo argomento è oggetto di aspre diatribe in Italia, l’articolo scritto da Wil con sensibilità e educata chiarezza dovrebbe essere letto dai suisekisti che alimentano i dissensi su questo argomento.
    Grazie Wil, aspetto altri articoli

  3. Go Here

    Very good written information. It will be valuable to anybody who employess it, as well as yours truly :). Keep up the good work – for sure i will check out more posts.

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