Exhibition of Japanese Suiseki Masterpieces

by | Mar 12, 2024 | In evidenza, Suiseki | 0 comments

Exhibition of Japanese Suiseki Masterpieces

by Wil in Japan


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This February, the 61st installment of the “Exhibition of Japanese Suiseki Masterpieces”, commonly known by its abbreviated Japanese name, “Meihinten” (literally, “masterpiece exhibition”), was held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, alongside the popular Kokufu bonsai exhibition.
Many questions have been asked, and even more theories pondered from afar, so I would like to take this opportunity to set the story straight, or at least as straight as can be.

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Lo scorso febbraio, presso il Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, si è tenuta la 61a edizione della “Mostra dei Capolavori Suiseki Giapponesi”, comunemente nota con il nome abbreviato giapponese “Meihinten” (letteralmente “mostra dei capolavori“), contemporaneamente alla Kokufu, la popolare mostra dei bonsai.
Sono state poste molte domande e molte teorie sono state formulate a distanza, quindi vorrei cogliere l’occasione per chiarire alcune cose, o almeno il più che posso.

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Why the name change ?

The first Meihinten was held in Tokyo in the summer of 1961, at the Mitsukoshi department store in the upscale Nihonbashi area.  It became such a popular annual event that there were hundreds of applicants each year, and from the stories of those who remember these early days, the judging was quite strict as there was simply not enough space to exhibit all of the stones that people wanted to enter.  The venue changed over the years, along with the leadership of the NSA, and in its most recent incarnation, it has been held at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.  Large stones and bonsai were displayed in a covered wing of the main outdoor courtyard, and the majority of the stones were exhibited in a separate indoor space. 
As of 2020, however, Covid put an end to that tradition.  As an important national institution, the shrine did not want to take the risk of creating a cluster for the infection to spread, and a reluctance to host such public exhibitions emerged.

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Perchè il nome è cambiato?

La prima Meihinten si tenne a Tokyo nell’estate del 1961, presso i grandi magazzini Mitsukoshi nell’elegante zona di Nihonbashi.  Divenne un evento annuale così popolare che ogni anno c’erano centinaia di candidati e, stando ai racconti di coloro che ricordano questi primi tempi, la valutazione era piuttosto severa perché non c’era abbastanza spazio per esporre tutte le pietre che le persone volevano presentare.  La sede è cambiata nel corso degli anni, insieme alla leadership della NSA, e nella sua versione più recente si è tenuta al Santuario Meiji di Tokyo.  Le pietre e i bonsai di grandi dimensioni erano esposti in un’ala coperta del cortile principale all’aperto, mentre la maggior parte delle pietre era esposta in uno spazio interno separato.  A partire dal 2020, tuttavia, la pandemia di Covid ha posto fine a questa tradizione.  In qualità di importante istituzione nazionale, il santuario non voleva correre il rischio di creare un cluster per la diffusione dell’infezione, ed è emersa una riluttanza a ospitare tali mostre pubbliche.

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The Japan Suiseki Exhibition

In the meantime, however, the NSA was able to gain acceptance at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and a new exhibition series was born.  The first installment of the so-called “Japan Suiseki Exhibition”, or JSE as it has come to be discussed in the West, was in February 2014.  As mentioned, this venue and timing was chosen so that the exhibition could take place alongside the Kokufu bonsai exhibition, and the results were better than expected.  It not only became a new destination for suiseki lovers, but bonsai enthusiasts now had a new opportunity to see stones, and for the first time, so too did museum-going members of the general public.  The number of visitors soon far surpassed the visitors of the Meihinten in June, and in the course of its short, ten-year history, the JSE managed to outshine the Meihinten, which had always been the premier suiseki exhibition in Japan.

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La Japan Suiseki Exhibition

Nel frattempo, però, la NSA è riuscita a farsi accettare dal Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum ed è nata una nuova serie di mostre.  La prima edizione della cosiddetta “Japan Suiseki Exhibition”, o JSE come viene chiamata in Occidente, si è tenuta nel febbraio 2014.  Come accennato, la sede e il calendario sono stati scelti in modo che la mostra potesse svolgersi in concomitanza con la mostra di bonsai Kokufu, e i risultati sono stati migliori del previsto.  Non solo è diventata un nuovo appuntamento per gli amanti del suiseki, ma gli appassionati di bonsai e, per la prima volta, anche il pubblico del museo, hanno avuto una nuova opportunità di vedere le pietre.  Il numero di visitatori ha presto superato di gran lunga quello dei visitatori della Meihinten a giugno e, nel corso della sua breve storia decennale, la JSE è riuscita a superare la Meihinten, che era sempre stata la prima mostra di suiseki in Giappone.

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The new evolution

As the population of suiseki enthusiasts here grows older and smaller, the NSA was finding it increasingly challenging to maintain the standards and numbers for two major exhibitions every year.  The Covid cancellation of the Meihinten gave NSA board members an opportunity to reflect on the situation, and an important decision was made. 
With a 60-year history, no one wanted to see the Meihinten series become secondary, or even worse come to an end altogether.  Yet, the JSE had proven superior in many ways, so after a ten-year run, it was decided that the Meihinten tradition would continue, but in the new-and-improved JSE format. 
This new evolution of the show places it in a time and place where bonsai enthusiasts gather from around the world, many of whom enjoy suiseki as well, and it gives the art more public exposure than it has ever had before.  The catalogue has expanded, its text has become bilingual, and international participation is up. 
From the perspective of the NSA, this is a very positive development, and a great improvement for the Meihinten tradition.

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Una nuova evoluzione

Poiché la comunità degli appassionati di suiseki qui cresce e diminuisce, per l’NSA è stato sempre più difficile mantenere gli standard e i numeri per due grandi mostre ogni anno.  La cancellazione della Meihinten a causa del Covid ha dato ai membri del Consiglio Direttivo dell’NSA l’opportunità di riflettere sulla situazione e di prendere una decisione importante
Con una storia di 60 anni, nessuno voleva che la Meihinten diventasse secondaria o, peggio ancora, terminasse.  Tuttavia, la JSE si è dimostrata superiore sotto molti punti di vista, così, dopo dieci anni di attività, si è deciso che la tradizione della Meihinten sarebbe continuata, ma nel nuovo e migliorato formato della JSE. 
Questa nuova evoluzione della mostra la colloca in un momento e in un luogo in cui si riuniscono gli appassionati di bonsai da tutto il mondo, molti dei quali amano anche il suiseki, e dà a quest’arte un’esposizione pubblica maggiore di quanto non abbia mai avuto prima.  Il catalogo si è ampliato, il testo è diventato bilingue e la partecipazione internazionale è aumentata.  Dal punto di vista della NSA, si tratta di uno sviluppo molto positivo e di un grande miglioramento per la tradizione Meihinten.

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In conclusion…

In conclusion, the long tradition of the Meihinten will continue, but in an even bigger and better way.  The successful experience of the JSE is what made this improvement possible, and we are hopeful that the increased exposure will inspire a new generation of enthusiasts here in Japan, and abroad. 
We are grateful to all of the exhibitors who have made this possible, and promise that we will strive to keep the standards high for all to enjoy. 

Now, let’s look at some of this year’s entries!

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In conclusione…

In conclusione, la lunga tradizione del Meihinten continuerà, e in un modo ancora più grande e migliorativo.  Il successo della formula della JSE è ciò che ha reso possibile questo miglioramento e speriamo che la maggiore esposizione ispiri una nuova generazione di appassionati qui in Giappone e all’estero. 
Siamo grati a tutti gli espositori che hanno reso possibile tutto questo e promettiamo che ci impegneremo per mantenere alti gli standard per tutti. 

Ora, diamo un’occhiata ad alcuni dei suiseki esposti quest’anno!


Lingbi stone “Ryushin” (67 x 30 x 60 cm)

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In the traditional Chinese calendar, 2024 is the year of the dragon, so a very large and impressive Lingbi stone resembling a dragon flying through the heavens was chosen as this year’s main entry.  As one might surely imagine, it is far more impressive in person than the photos could ever justify.

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Nel calendario tradizionale cinese, il 2024 è l’anno del dragone, quindi una pietra Lingbi molto grande e imponente, che ricorda un dragone che vola nei cieli, è stata scelta come opera principale di quest’anno.  Come si può sicuramente immaginare, dal vivo è molto più impressionante di quanto le foto possano rendere.


Kamogawa ishi (73 x 28 x 25,7 cm)

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This large stone from the Kamogawa is a bit of a hybrid – with characteristics of Kamogawa maguro or “jet-black” stones on the left, and the dry, brown character of Kurama stones on the right – speaking for the variety of material actually discoverable in nature.

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Questa grande pietra del fiume Kamo è un po’ un ibrido – con le caratteristiche delle pietre del fiume Kamo maguro o “jet-black” a sinistra, e il carattere secco e marrone delle pietre Kurama a destra – a dimostrazione della varietà di materiali effettivamente rinvenibili in natura.


Origin unknown (1,5 x 2 x 1,5 cm )

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Merely a tiny little pebble that one might never take note of otherwise, but upon close inspection the exhibitor saw a turtle resting on a rock, put it in his pocket, brought it home, placed it in a suiban, and then in this exhibition. Suiseki in its purist form.

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Solo un piccolo sassolino che nessuno noterebbe mai, ma ad un attento esame l’espositore vide una tartaruga appoggiata su una roccia, la mise in tasca, la portò a casa, la mise in un suiban e poi in questa mostra. Il suiseki nella sua forma più pura.


Enbutsu seki 23 x 14 x 24 cm)

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This Enbetsu ishi is a type of conglomerate and quite uncommon in the suiseki world, but paired with a suggestive piece of driftwood, is displays to wonderful effect.  The abbreviated literati painting of a rustic hut under a pine tree completes the scene.

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Questa pietra Enbetsu è un tipo di conglomerato piuttosto inusuale nel mondo del suiseki, ma abbinato a un suggestivo pezzo di legno alla deriva, viene esposto creando un effetto meraviglioso.  L’essenziale dipinto literati di una capanna rustica sotto un pino completa la scena.


Kibune itokake ishi (28 x 18 x 23 cm)

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While not all of the tokonoma displays can adhere to the season of the show, the beautiful painting of plum blossoms accompanying this dry-feeling island stone is perfect for February in Japan.

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Anche se non tutti i tokonoma possono aderire alla stagione della mostra, il bellissimo dipinto di fiori di pruno che accompagna questa pietra isola dal sapore asciutto è perfetto per il mese di febbraio in Giappone.


Setagawa ishi (10 x 12,5 x 37 cm)

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This upright pinnacle Setagawa ishi looks like an imaginary mountain that one might find in a literati landscape painting, making the choice of an old bronze container with an archaic Chinese design a perfect match.

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Questo pinnacolo verticale del fiume Seta somiglia a una montagna immaginaria che si potrebbe trovare in un dipinto paesaggistico literati, rendendo la scelta di un vecchio contenitore di bronzo con un design arcaico cinese un abbinamento perfetto.


Kamogawa ishi (12,5 x 7 x 8,5 cm)

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In the dark green “soba” glazed suiban, this small stone from the Kamogawa is very suggestive.  A perfect stone for the summer, when one might long for a visit to the seaside.

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Nel suiban smaltato verde scuro “soba“, questa piccola pietra del fiume Kamo è molto suggestiva.  Una pietra perfetta per l’estate, quando si ha voglia di visitare il mare.


Magomegawa ishi “Nagasaki yama” (25 x 13 x 10 cm)

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