Kokan Shiren (虎関師錬), 1278–1347)

Kokan Shiren (虎関師錬), 1278–1347), Japanese Rinzai Zen patriarch and celebrated poet in Chinese, was the son of an officer of the palace guard and a mother of the aristocratic Minamoto clan.  Kokan studied under the celebrated Chinese monk Yishan Yining. Their relationship can be regarded as the beginning of the golden age of the Literature of the Five Mountains in Japan. He studied calligraphy under an additional Chinese master Huang Shangu. A portrait of Kokan Shiren is in the Kaizoin of the Tōfuku-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan.


The Japanese monk Kokan Shiren dated 1343, painted by Wang Zhiweng.

Our interest in Kokan is for the similarities that many of us experience today when sharing our stones (suiseki) with friends.  His experience was recorded in his  essay entitled Rhymeprose on a Miniature Landscape Garden.   Take a few moments to read a portion of his essay and see how well it resonates with your own experiences.

What I liked to do for fun when I was a child was to gather up sacks of stones and pile them on a table near the window high and free. When I reached middle age, I felt ashamed of doing this and so I stopped, becoming like any other ordinary person, obtuse like a brick. Finally, I have reached decrepit old age, and I particularly dislike the sound of children’s games in the summer. So I had the children gather up stones in the corner of the wall. I brushed them off and washed them, preparing a green celadon tray with white sand on the bottom. The result was poetry that would lighten your heart. The landscape lent a coolness to the air and dispelled the heart.

A visitor saw it and exclaimed, “Okay, okay, but it seems a little bald, doesn’t it?”

I responded, “You see a pile of stones and fail to see the mountains. The marvelous thing about miniature landscape gardens is that they are imitations of mountains and streams. The base is made to look flowing waves and the cliffs are made to seem covered with vegetation. Sometimes you can see miniature gnarled pine or knobby plum. You might see unusual blossoms or strange new shoots from their trimmed branches. Of course you will discover the utter vexation of your creations withering and wilting due to carelessness of slow watering and tending. If you fail to exert yourself, then you will simply fail to fashion a magnificent mountain and a smaller world among the smaller mounds and hills.

“Years ago I climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji. The climb took three days. For two days I passed through areas of great trees and forests, but on the third morning there wasn’t a blade of grass to be seen! At that point there were only great boulder-like cliffs and purplish-red stones. It was like this for a number of miles until I reached the peak itself. Of course Mt. Fuji is not unique in this respect as all peaks are without vegetation. People who climb mountains do not dislike the so-called baldness; rather, the love the sense of height.

“These stones then, just a number of inches tall, and this tray roughly a foot across, they are nothing short of a mountainous island rising from the sea! Jade-green peaks penetrate the clouds and are encircled by them. A blue-green barrier, immersed in water, is standing straight up. There are caves as if carved in the cliff sides to hide saints and immortals. Jetties and spits flat enough and long enough for fishermen. The paths and roads are narrow and confined, yet woodcutters can pass along them. There are lagoons deep and dark enough to hide dragons.

“So is it not fitting that I guard against weeds, carefully watching and laboring over the thing, taking delight in its total subtlety? Do you dislike the baldness of the small mounds and hills? Am I oblivious to the bareness of just the peak? I sometimes pick a flowering branch and place it in a peak or in a ravine. The alternations of plant life, their blooming in the morning and fading in the evening, are the splendor of the four seasons with their countless transformations and myriad changes! So therefore I say that it doesn’t have to be bare, and it does not have to be lush.

“Another thing, do you think this miniature landscape is big? Do you think it is small? I will blow on the water and raise up billows from the four seas. I will water the peak and send down a torrent from the ninth heaven! The person who waters the stones sets the cosmos in order. The one who changes the water turns the whole sea upside down. Those are the changes in nature which attain a oneness in my mind. Anyway, the relative size of things is an uncertain business. Why, there is a vast plain on a fly’s eyelash and whole nations in a snail’s horn, a Chinese philosopher has told us. Well what do you think?”

My visitor got up from his seat and made his excuses. He saw that these stones purified my senses and purified my intellect. He realized that events are really not what they seemed and yet they enriched me. I told him that he only understood what he perceived with his own eyes and did not understand my point of view at all. I asked if he wouldn’t like to sit for a while longer and study the matter afresh. He said he would, but there were no waves for him. He said nothing more and I was silent. After a while my visitor left without another word.

— Saihokushu, ch. 1, pp. 1–2.

An Example of a Miniature Landscape Garden

Kasuga gongen genki

Kasuga gongen genki, The Miraculous Tales of the Deities of the Kasaga Shrine

The Kasuga gongen genki by court painter Takashina Takakane in 1309 is one of the earliest examples of the usage of stones and trees together to create contemplative art.  As seen from the following black and white insert from this painting.

Kasuga gongen genki

An close-up of the miniature garden in the painting Kasuga gongen genki

We can see what appears to be a pine, a deciduous flowering tree and stones along with another stone in a pot above and to its right.  Note as well the handles on this portable wooden tray, thus allowing it to be moved about perhaps to be seen better from inside the home.

During this period Kokan is describing his experiences in creating these miniature landscape gardens and what his viewing experience does for him personally.  It becomes clear very quickly that Kokan and his friend see his display very differently.

A visitor saw it and exclaimed, “Okay, okay, but it seems a little bald, doesn’t it?”

His friend only saw a pile of stones with an admonition that it “seems a little bald.”  Oh, the times I have shown a stone display to a friend, or acquaintance, to hear the reply “oh, you collect rocks?”

Kokan replies to his friend:

I responded, “You see a pile of stones and fail to see the mountains….”

In a simplistic way, we could stop the evaluation of their respective viewpoints now.  One sees a pile of stones the other a majestic mountain that he continues to describe in vivid detail. One seems to have imagination the other none.

Kokan is describing the scene using his imagination and memories from prior experiences in nature while his friend’s imagination seems non-existent. His friend, like ours, might at this point have at least engaged Kokan to attempt to gain a better appreciation of what Kokan was attempting to create and experience through this miniature landscape garden and accompanying stones; as often our hope is that our visitors might do the same.  Yet, Kokan’s friend listens, perhaps politely, and at the end of Kokan’s vivid description of what he sees Kokan asks “Well what do you think?”

At this point one hopes for some engagement, some interest to be shown in this display.  One might assume Kokan was also waiting in hopes of some appreciation as well.  Yet, he like us, was only met with only disappointment.

“My visitor got up from his seat and made his excuses. He saw that these stones purified my senses and purified my intellect. He realized that events are really not what they seemed and yet they enriched me. I told him that he only understood what he perceived with his own eyes and did not understand my point of view at all. I asked if he wouldn’t like to sit for a while longer and study the matter afresh. He said he would, but there were no waves for him. He said nothing more and I was silent. After a while my visitor left without another word.”

So his friend made his excuses, said nothing more and soon thereafter he left without another word.  Can you feel Kokan’s disappointment?  Don’t you imagine Kokan was hoping that his sharing of the enrichment he was receiving from this scene could also be enjoyed by his friend.  The offer for discussion, to engage in conversation would have allowed his friend to at least gain a better insight into this garden display, but as importantly into Kokan himself.   What a missed opportunity.

Now before we get all in a huff and declare that his friend seems not to be a friend at all, if we allow ourselves to become introspective might we ourselves be that friend?  How easy it is for us to wax poetic about our stone displays, but yet to encounter someone else’s, especially if it differs from our aesthetic, how often do we see “it as a little bald” and then we sit, or stand, quietly and soon leave without another word with the exception of perhaps the ubiquitous “good-bye.”  Even worse today, those without understanding often begin to lecture us on why our display is done incorrectly; a topic for another day.

Might we learn from Kokan’s essay to seek to understand what at first seems a little bald?  Should we not at least put in a some effort, if nothing more to support our friend and/or companion?  I find that often when it comes to beauty, we are quick to judge and slow to contemplate.  In less than a moment, we process what we see, attempt to categorize it, apply a set of rules that we believe in and then if it doesn’t resonate with us, we simply dismiss it and we are done.

All of us have much to learn from Kokan’s essay.  Perhaps we have much to learn from this quote within the essay to Kokan’s friend:

“If you fail to exert yourself, then you will simply fail to fashion a magnificent mountain and a smaller world among the smaller mounds and hills.”

Let’s not fail at seeing and experiencing the magnificence of our imagination as we gaze upon ours and others stone displays.  Let’s be willing to exert ourselves!


The Book of Tea, Part III

The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō, 1906

This is the third part of this story and comprises the final section.  Let us continue with Kakuzō’s writing on the tea ceremony.

“The tea-master, Kobori-Enshiu, himself a daimyo, has left to us these memorable words: “Approach a great painting as thou wouldst approach a great prince.” In order to understand a masterpiece, you must lay yourself low before it and await with bated breath its least utterance. An eminent Sung critic once made a charming confession. Said he: “In my young days I praised the master whose pictures I liked, but as my judgment matured I praised myself for liking what the masters had chosen to have me like.”

“It is to be deplored that so few of us really take pains to study the moods of masters.  In our stubborn ignorance we refuse to render them this simple courtesy, and thus often miss the rich repast of beauty spread before our very eyes. A master has always something to offer, while we go hungry solely because of our own lack of appreciation.”

This so reminds me of a story that my good friend Mas Nakajima relayed to me in one of our study sessions.  Mas’ teacher, Mr. Hirotsu, spent many afternoons discussing suiseki with him.  On one occasion he gifted him with a stone.

Gift to Masahiro Nakajima from his teacher Mr. Hirotsu; photo used with permission.

Gift to Masahiro Nakajima from his teacher Mr. Hirotsu; photo used with permission.  An Eel River stone on a painted fine base; 4.5″ x 3.5″ x 4″


Mas was in his mid-30s and had admired a number of Mr. Hirotsu’s suiseki.  When he was gifted with the stone above, Mas was quite unhappy.  He had hoped to be gifted with a more traditional stone which would show the beauty of a landscape.

As he told this story a large smile came across Mas’ face as he continued to describe to me that his appreciation for this stone has grown over the years as he realized that Mr. Hirotsu was teaching him that the spirit of Zen in the stone can far outweigh the style of the stone.  Mas continued to describe the stone in attributes of it being quiet, humble and very modest.

If you would like to acquire this interview of Mas and his wife Janet, it can be found in the magazine Works and Conversations, Number 32, entitled Living on Earth.  You can obtain a copy by emailing rew1428@gmail.com.  If you would like to read this article online – please click here.


Janet and Mas; December 4, 2016

As Mas was my mentor, I took this story to heart as I vividly recall times he would look at a stone that I had found and remark that is was good suiseki.  I struggled to see it frankly, and that was quite exasperating.  The best example of this occurred on a collecting trip with him and his wife Janet to a lake in Northern CA known for its beautiful Jasper stones.  It was coincidentally my birthday and I very much looked forward to this trip as it was just the three of us that day; to have time alone with your mentor is to be treasured.

Mas and Sam, Trinity River, 2013

Mas and Sam studying a stone on the Trinity River in 2013.

After an early morning of collecting, I decided to take a long walk to an area where we rarely found anything approaching a stone to take home.  During my walk westward along the lake, I happened to notice a stone that appeared to have a pool in it.  I picked up the stone to note that it has no evidence of Jasper whatsoever, what I was focusing on collecting, but the pool was interesting.  The issue was that the stone was very dark gray, it has bumps or nodules on both the front and back and the pool was not very wide but very deep in the stone.  I must admit that I more than once thought about putting it back down on the ground as it wasn’t full of color nor was the pool what I thought it should be for a pool stone.  However, if I had learned anything it was when in doubt put the stone in my backpack and show it to Mas during lunch.  After our lunch at the top of the largest hill overlooking the lake, I summoned sufficient courage to take the stone out and show it to Mas.  He became very quiet…

I have to admit that quietness was unsettling.  I had experienced enough times bringing stones to Mas in my early days of collecting for him to politely, but firmly, inform me that the stone wasn’t good suiseki, thus my fear was am I wasting his time once again?  I’m sure all students standing before their mentors have had similar encounters.

Mas continued to study the stone and he finally simply said “I will trade all the stones I have found today for this stone.”  Now mind you, he had collected more than 20 stones that morning.  I’m not sure what emotion swept through me more – one of I must have found a spectacular stone or two what am I not seeing!  I thanked Mas and asked for him to describe what he saw.  He then took me through an observation of the stone and how he saw in it an ancient mid-1700s tea cup.  He smiled at me and said that I had found my meiseki; the designation for a very rare stone due to their outstanding qualities and beauty.  My heart soared with joy!

So at the Sung critic stated “In my young days I praised the master whose pictures I liked, but as my judgment matured I praised myself for liking what the masters had chosen to have me like.” I would like to think I’m on that same journey of liking what my master (Mas) had chosen for me to like.

Let’s continue…

“We must remember, however, that art is of value only to the extent that it speaks to us. It might be universal language if we ourselves were universal in our sympathies. Our finite nature, the power of tradition and conventionality, as well as our hereditary instincts, restrict the scope of our capacity for artistic enjoyment…It is much to be regretted that so much of the apparent enthusiasm for art at the present day has no foundation in real feeling. In this democratic age of ours men clamor for what is popularly considered the best, regardless of their feelings.  They want the costly, not the refined; the fashionable, not the beautiful.  A collector is anxious to acquire specimens to illustrate a period or a school, and forgets that a single masterpiece can teach us more than any number of the mediocre products of a given period or school.  We classify too much and enjoy too little. The sacrifice of the aesthetic to the so-called scientific method of exhibition has been the bane of many museums.”

One hundred and ten years later nothing has changed in this regard.  I still observe, and have participated myself, in indiscriminate collecting.  We seem to enjoy the “hunt” of finding art but yet then spend almost no time being taught by it.  In retrospect, I think of the number of inferior stones that I have purchased when I could have aggregated my funds to obtain a specimen where much could be learned. In many ways this is a human normality. When we begin to collect we are unsure of ourselves so we tend to restrict our purchases to smaller transactions.  Then as we begin to better understand the art form we expand our collection to include better specimens.  Yet, we must be cautious that our collecting isn’t just for collecting sake!

Our displays might also reflect this sentiment as well.  Are we better to have fewer displays rather than more?  Might this allow more contemplation rather than just seeing?

Again I wish to make clear; I’m not referring to today’s suiseki shows in the US in a denigrating way, not at all.   I clearly understand the needs of most clubs to share their member’s stones.  I do though think we need to think of suiseki in terms of a real art form worthy of being shown amongst some of the finest paintings and sculptures in our best museums.  In this setting, those that are so inclined will have only an opportunity of introduction as well as a few moments to reflect and contemplate these natural forms.

As we close our study of The Book of Tea, perhaps the following this text will resonate with you. It is from the Taoist tale of the Taming of the Harp. The story well illustrates the mystery of art appreciation.

“At the magic touch of the beautiful, the secret chords of our being are awakened, we vibrate and thrill in response to its call. Mind speaks to mind. We listen to the unspoken, we gaze upon the unseen. The master calls forth notes we know not of. Memories long forgotten all come back to us with a new significance. Hopes stifled by fear, yearnings that we dare not recognize, stand forth in new glory. Our mind is the canvas on which the artists lay their color; their pigments are our emotions; their chiaroscuro the light of joy, the shadow of sadness. The masterpiece is of ourselves, as we are of the masterpiece.”

This last paragraph is eloquent and holds great truth.  As we think of encountering beauty, be it a painting, a sculpture or a stone, memories are brought back to us – good or bad – and often as stated with a new significance.   The work of art, its beauty, and those memories somehow become intertwined and become a part of us and thus we become a part of the masterpiece itself.

In closing…

My mentor and friend Mas Nakajima passed away on September 10, 2018.  For many of us and especially for me this is a tremendous and very personal loss.  As I struggle today to comprehend the loss of my friend, I can truly say that Mas will never leave my heart.  He taught me so much.  Many of the things that he taught me I’m only now beginning to understand.  I truly miss him.  There is a passage in this Book of Tea that I wish to dedicate to my friend Mas.

“To the sympathetic a masterpiece becomes a living reality towards which we feel drawn in bonds to comradeship.  The masters are immortal, for their loves and fears live in us over and over again. It is rather the soul than the hand, the man than the technique, which appeals to us—the more human the call the deeper is our response.”

The Book of Tea, Part II

Part II, The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō, 1906

If you haven’t read Part I, we suggest you do that before beginning Part II.

“The tea-room (the Sukiya) does not pretend to be other than a mere cottage—a straw hut, as we call it. The original ideographs for Sukiya mean the Adobe of Fancy.  Latterly the various tea-masters substituted various Chinese characters according to their conception of the tea-room, and the term Sukiya may signify the Abode of Vacancy or the Abode of the Unsymmetrical.  It is an Abode of Fancy inasmuch as it is an ephemeral structure built to house a poetic impulse.  It is an Abode of Vacancy inasmuch as it is devoid of ornamentation except for what may be placed in it to satisfy some aesthetic need of the moment.  It is an Abode of the Unsymmetrical inasmuch as it is consecrated to the worship of the Imperfect, purposely leaving something unfinished for the play of the imagination to complete.”

“The first independent tea-room was the creation of Senno-Soyeki, commonly known by his later name of Rikiu, the greatest of all tea-masters, who, in the sixteenth century, under the patronage of Taiko-Hideoshi, instituted and brought to a high state of perfection the formalities of the Tea-ceremony.”

“The Sukiya consist of the tea-room proper, designed to accommodate not more than five persons. The tea-room is unimpressive in appearance.  It is smaller than the smallest of Japanese houses, while the materials used in its construction are intended to give the suggestion of refined poverty.  Yet we must remember that all of this is the result of profound artistic fore-thought, and that the details have been worked out with care perhaps even greater than expended on the building of the richest palaces and temples.”

To be noted is this reinforcement of the concept of “unfinished for the play of the imagination to complete.”  In Part I, the author connects this concept with the following:

“In art the importance of the same principle is illustrated by the value of suggestion.  In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it.”

Let’s for a moment leave the tea-room and discuss how this concept adds value to suiseki display.  Does our display concept allow for this “leaving something unfinished for the play of the imagination” to complete?  Let’s take a moment to study this brilliant stone from the Iwasaki collection.


Kamaogawa Yase Sudachi-Maguro-ishi (A-8); Title: “Ugo no Sansui” (The Landscape After Rain)

Before you proceed into the following text take a moment and truly study this stone.  Click the above image to see the full resolution photo while also obscuring the text.  Spend 3-5 minutes observing each aspect of the stone and its display.  See you back in a few!

I hope you will agree that this is a fabulous example of suiseki.  This Iwasaki stone carries the number 2 in kanji character form and also the number 18.  So what do you see?  Let’s take a moment to analyze this stone.

We find a well-proportioned stone with a distinctive peak that has a beautiful waterfall cascading down the right-hand side of the tall peak.  What about the white inclusions we see running across the bottom of the stone?  Is this tidal foam or as the name suggests simply the reflection of rain off the landscape? The stone is presented in river sand contained with an older bronze/copper doban that shows great age and patina.  The doban is well matched to this stone as there seems to be from the photo just a hint of red in the stone.  The texture of the stone and doban is rough – a smooth doban would not seem as congruent with the roughly textured stone, so an excellent choice by its owner.

This rather quiet, un-busy display, in our opinion, speaks volumes to this concept of letting us “complete the idea” of what we are observing.  How so, let us give just a few thoughts to this subject. When we see this stone our mind’s eye can be taken into two directions, or more.  One this distant mountain stone rises from a vast plain.  After an afternoon storm, the sun just begins to peak out amongst the clouds and as the heat begins to rise so does the evaporation of the late afternoon rain from the forest trees and plants.  Do you recall on a hot summer day after a cooling rain seeing what looks like water evaporation almost like mist rising into the sky?

A secondary view might be of a coastal mountain.  Now the sand represents the ocean. The waterfall is moving the fallen rain; thus returning it to the vast ocean below.  Also we can see the remnants of the tide cascading up the slope of the mountains rocks. If we continue with the later view, we might also add the sounds of gulls, plovers, terns or sanderlings.  The added noise of a cacophony of elephant seals might mentally enhance our view of this stone.

In a Tokonoma, a scroll might be added to provide some visual clues as to the season, the locale or even the weather.  But absent of anything else is this the end of the display or where we should start?  I think perhaps that the inclusion of only a few elements allows us a rather quiet, un-busy display, in our opinion, speaking volumes to this concept of letting us “complete the idea” of what we are observing.

To stand across the street, so to speak, on this issue is there anything wrong with adding even more elements? No, and especially if this is a display primarily for us or our home.  However, might we be wise in a more public setting to allow each viewer to visually and mentally explore the scenes evoked by this wonderful suiseki without too many added elements?

Let’s continue with more of Kakuzō writings.

“The simplicity and purism of the tea-room resulted from emulation of the Zen monastery.  On the altar, flowers and incense are offered up on the memory of the great contributions which these sages made to Zen.  We might add here that the altar of the Zen chapel was the prototype of the Tokonoma—the place of honor in a Japanese room where paintings and flowers are placed for the edification of the guests.”

“The roji, the garden path which leads from the machiai to the team-room, signified the first stage of mediation-the passage into self-illumination.”

Note: The koshikake Machiai is an area for guests, who have come from the Yoritsuki (waiting shelter of the outer garden) and walked down the garden path. Here, they wait for the host to welcome them inside the tea house. It is usually fitted with Enza, individual round mats of woven rush, and an ashtray. In colder months, there is often a small heater for guests to warm their hands.

“The roji was intended to break connection with the outside world and produce a fresh sensation conducive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself.  One who has trodden this garden path cannot fail to remember how his spirit, as he walked in the twilight of evergreens over the regular irregularities of the stepping stones, beneath which lay dried pine needles, and passed beside the moss-covered granite lanterns, became uplifted above ordinary thoughts.  One may be in the midst of a city, and yet feel as if he were in the forest far away from the dust and din of civilization.”

Let’s pause for a moment and discuss this idea of a transitionary approach to the tea-room.  The concept of using a transition point is paramount as the author states its purpose is for “breaking connection with the outside world.”

Someone that understood this well was Walt Disney.  Disney World is 40 square miles or the same size of the city of San Francisco, CA.  Upon taking the exit into Disney Land, Walt was intent in having a great deal of land, thus a drive, before entering into the actual theme park.  He wanted to remove you from the busyness outside the park so he could begin to bring you into his magic kingdom.

As noted earlier, for me attempting to contemplate suiseki at a show is very difficult based on the number of distractions present.  In your mind think through the last experience you had at a stone show. What was that experience like in terms of attempting to contemplate each stone? Museums attempt to correct these problems in how they present art.  The room is lit only where it enhances the art, the room tends to be very quiet, and often there is a place to sit and observe.  All of these help us to transition to a mode of contemplation.  Our Dixon Gallery, located in Memphis, TN, utilizes a tree lined walkway that guides you from the parking lot to the ticket kiosk from where you are led next to a continuation of the tree-lined path leading into the entrance of the museum.  This is quite effective at beginning to “calm the soul” before entering into this house of art.

As we think of contemplating suiseki for ourselves, we like many of you, have stones scattered around our house amongst other pieces of art, furniture, rugs, and the like.  Frankly, it is so busy it is hard to compare it to this idea of the roji as one approaches the tea-room.  Perhaps this is why garden stones were so popular in China and Japan as the ability to set a mood was easier to establish in a garden setting.  Before we delve deeper into a potential solution for the contemplation of stones, let’s continue in the text as Kakuzō is about to really enlighten us on what to me is one of the most key attributes of the tea-room.

“Thus prepared the guest will silently approach the sanctuary, and, if a samurai, will leave his sword on the rack beneath the eaves, the tea-room being preeminently the house of peace. Then he will bend low and creep into the room through a small door not more than three feet in height. This proceeding was incumbent on all guests—high and low alike—and was intended to inculcate (instill) humility. The order of precedence having been mutually agreed upon while resting in the machiai, the guests one by one will enter noiselessly and take their seats, first making obeisance to the picture or flower arrangement on the Tokonoma.  The host will not enter the room until all the guests have seated themselves and quiet reigns with nothing to break the silence save the note of the boiling water in the iron kettle. The kettle sings well, for pieces of iron are so arranged in the bottom as to produce a peculiar melody in which one may hear the echoes of a cataract muffled by clouds, of a distant sea breaking among the rocks, a rainstorm sweeping through a bamboo forest, or of the soughing of pines on some faraway hill.”

Close your eyes for just a moment and replay this scene in your mind’s eye.  As you have walked down the garden path and your mind and soul begin to relax immersed in the trees and moss and soft wind, the approach to the entry to the tea-room creates the need to bend low to move into the room.  This requirement of bending down will be discussed later in this post, but remember it well as it is highly important to this experience.  Quietly in silence one enters into the tea-room and takes their place amongst the other guests.  Entering into this quiet space the outside fades away and we are introduced into a new environment; one where virtually the only noise is that of boiling water in a kettle.  Note how the author describes for some it is as if the sea is breaking for others a rainstorm sweeping through a bamboo forest or lastly the soughing (moaning, whistling, or rushing sound) of pines on a faraway hill.  This reminds us of his earlier admonition to allow us to complete the idea of our surroundings.

I find that I don’t often allow sufficient time for this transition of busyness to quietness when observing to occur.  A fast entry into the room where the stone is displayed, an immediate thought as to what I see, my mind racing.  This often, perhaps always, leads to a quick review of the stone and then my mind is off to the races again. Is it no wonder that I don’t often see the greatness in the little things of the stone?  Shouldn’t we transition from the point of busyness and distraction to quietness so that we can at least give respect to the stone via our full attention?

Let’s continue…

“Even in the daytime the light in the room is subdued, for the low eaves of the slanting roof admit but few of the sun’s rays. Everything is sober in tint from the ceiling to the floor; the guests themselves have carefully chosen garments of unobtrusive colors. The mellowness of age is over all, everything suggestive of recent acquirement being tabooed save only the one note of contrast furnished by the bamboo dipper and the linen napkin, both immaculately white and new.  However faded the tea-room and the tea-equipage may seem, everything is absolutely clean…not a particle of dust will be found in the darkest corner, for if any exists the host is not a tea-master… what Rikiu demanded was not cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural. Dripping water from a flower vase need not be wiped away, for it may be suggestive of dew and coolness.”


We love the thought of allowing dripping water to be present as the author writes.  One must be careful that the environment doesn’t become sterile.  To confirm this view, Kakuzō continues.

“In this connection there is a story of Rikiu which will illustrate the ideas of cleanliness entertained by the tea-masters.  Rikiu was watching his son Shoan as he swept and watered the garden path. “Not clean enough,” said Rikiu, when Shoan had finished the task, and he bade him try again. After a weary hour the son turned to Rikiu: “Father, there is nothing more to be done. The steps have been washed for the third time, the stone lanterns and the trees are well sprinkled with water, moss and lichens are shining from a fresh verdure; not a twig, not a leaf have I left on the ground.” “Young fool,” chided the tea-master, “that is not the way a garden path should be swept.” Saying this, Rikiu stepped into the garden, shook a tree and scattered over the garden gold and crimson leaves, scraps of the brocade of autumn! What Rikiu demanded was not cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural also.”

One might propose in establishing a display for our stones this concept of cleanliness but also room for the beautiful and the natural as well should be followed.  I seek the reader’s guidance in how this might be accomplished.  Should our display include a freshly cut flower in an earthen or bronze vase with water droplets on the leaves of the flower slowly dripping to the surface of the display.  Might it be as simple as a grouping of flowers but yet one small petal has fallen to the floor?

Let’s continue…

“The term, Abode of Vacancy, besides conveying the Taoist theory of all-containing, involves the conception of a continued need of change in decorative motives.  The tea-room is absolutely empty, except for what may be placed there temporarily to satisfy some aesthetic mood…To a Japanese, accustomed to simplicity of ornamentation and frequent change of decorative method, a Western interior permanently filled with a vast array of pictures, statuary, and bric-a-brac gives the impression of mere vulgar display of riches.  It calls for a mighty wealth of appreciation to enjoy the constant sight of even a masterpiece, and limitless indeed must be the capacity for artistic feeling in those who can exist day after day in the midst of such confusion of color and form as is to be often seen in the homes of Europe and America.”

“The Abode of the Unsymmetrical suggests another phase of our decorative scheme. The absence of symmetry in Japanese art objects has been often commented on by Western Critics.  The dynamic nature of their philosophy laid more stress upon the process through which perfection was sought than upon perfection itself.  True beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally completed the incomplete…In the tea-room it is left for each guest in imagination to complete the total effect in relation to himself.  Uniformity of design was considered fatal to the freshness of imagination. Thus, landscapes, birds, and flowers became the favorite subjects for depiction rather than the human figure, the latter being present in the person of the beholder himself.”

There is a great deal to digest in these last two paragraphs.  Do we merge the idea of vacancy and unsymmetrical into our display methodology?  I believe the author is correct that in the West we tend to overwhelm our designs with too many objects—often random and without connection to the whole; but perhaps more importantly too many items thus relegating the viewer to the displayer’s perspective rather than allowing the viewer to “complete the total effect” individualistically.

Can we begin to understand the philosophy of stressing the “process through which perfection was sought than upon perfection itself?”  This idea of dissymmetry as something imperfect which is in the process toward perfection is difficult to grasp.  “Perfection” is grasped as an ideal end to arrive at, whereas the dissymmetry is understood as something which, being imperfect, has not yet arrived at the end and which is halfway to being completed by one’s imagination.  So might we then consider that “perfection” is different for each individual, therefore if I as the displayer achieve perfection is that perfection only for me, such then the display must be headed towards perfection thus allowing the imagination of each viewer to continue on the journey to “their” view of perfection.

This is such a central core thought for the tea ceremony that it bares spending some time considering its potential influence for the our personal, or small group, study of suiseki.  Let’s review the photograph of stone A-12, titled “Araiso” (reef).  This is a Kamogawa Shizuhata Itomaki-ishi and is displayed in an oval basin of white Cochin ware.

Kamogawa Shizuhata Itomaki-ishi A-12

The Iwasaki family stone, number 6 written in red and in kanji the character three in white, is described as a scene of roaring waves dashing against coastal reefs.  The name “Araiso” translates as reef.

This is further emphasized in this photo through the use of a small bronze figure on the leftmost jutting point on the stone.  So does this element help to complete the display? It certainly adds scale doesn’t it.  However, in the context of the ideal that we should allow the viewer’s imagination to complete the picture does the addition of the small figure go too far, or does it help move the scene more towards perfection but still allowing the viewer to use their imagination to complete the scene?

For me personally, I would prefer it without the figure, but I can see its use in that the stone has somewhat of an odd shape for a coastal stone with the secondary jutting precipice at the top left.  Perhaps the use of the figure centers the viewer that this is a coastal scene and now the imagination of the viewer can be utilized more towards what is unseen in the display.

Is the person fishing, staring into the distance attempting to see an approaching vessel, or perhaps just lost in thoughts of someone they miss seeing?    Perhaps one can see that with a simplistic display such as this one’s imagination and what our mind’s eye sees can be vastly different than the person sitting next to us viewing the very same display.  One can only assume that is the point of this ideal.

Let’s continue…

“In the tea-room the fear of repetition is a constant presence.  The various objects for the decoration of a room should be so selected that no color or design shall be repeated twice.  If you have a living flower, a painting of flowers is not allowable.  If you are using a round kettle, the water pitcher should be angular. A cup with a black glaze should not be associated with a tea-caddy of black lacquer. In placing a vase of an incense burner on the Tokonoma, care should be taken not to put it in the exact center, lest it divide the space into equal halves.  Here again the Japanese method of interior decoration differs from that of the Occident, where we see objects arrayed symmetrically on mantelpieces and elsewhere.”

“The simplicity of the tea-room and its freedom from vulgarity make it truly a sanctuary from the vexations of the outer world. There and there alone one can consecrate himself to undisturbed adoration of the beautiful. In the seventeenth century, after the strict formalism of the Tokugawa rule had been developed, it offered the only opportunity possible for the free communion of artistic spirits. Before a great work of art there was no distinction between daimyo, samurai, and commoner.”

As we now close this post, how appropriate that the author illuminates this ideal.  A great piece of art stirs within all of us an emotion regardless of our station in life or even the troubles we might have that day. For a moment, in its presence our imagination can take over – we can remove ourselves from the outside world to enjoy a brief respite.  Nothing in our imagination can be blocked by an outside force from seeing and experiencing beauty, even if only for just a few moments.

Our next post will continue with Okakura Kakuzō writing on art appreciation.

The Book of Tea, Part I

The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō, 1906

The Book of Tea (茶の本 Cha no Hon) by Okakura Kakuzō (1906) is a long essay linking the role of chadō (teaism) to the aesthetic and cultural aspects of Japanese life.  This essay, or book, was written for a Western audience where the book emphasizes how Teaism taught the Japanese many things; most importantly, simplicity. Kakuzō argues that this tea-induced simplicity affected art and architecture in Japan. It is a 53 page book that can be easily found in PDF format if one has a desire to read and study his writings on this subject.

Okakura Kakuzō (February 14, 1863 – September 2, 1913) was a Japanese scholar who made contributions to the development of art in Japan.  Okakura was one of the principal founders of the first Japanese fine-arts academy, Tokyo bijutsu gakko (Tokyo School of Fine Arts).  He also founded Nihon Bijutsuin (Japanese Institute of Fine Arts) with Hashimoto Gahō and Yokoyama Taikan.

Our study of this book was to gain influence into the Japanese aesthetic and a way of seeing beauty. Our desire was then to apply these concepts to our study and practice of suiseki.  Today’s blog post will contain a few key quotes from his essay and our thoughts on them.

“The long isolation of Japan from the rest of the world, so conducive to introspection, has been highly favorable to the development of Teaism.  Our home and habits, costume and cuisine, porcelain, lacquer, paintingour very literatureall have been subject to its influence…Our peasants have learned to arrange flowers, our meanest laborer to offer his salutation to the rocks and water.  In our common parlance we speak of the man “with no tea” in him, when he is insusceptible to the serio-comic interest of the personal drama.  Again we stigmatize the unnamed aesthete who, regardless of mundane tragedy, runs riot in the springtide of emancipated emotions, as one “with too much tea” in him.

The Outside may indeed wonder at this seeming much ado about nothing. What a tempest in a tea-cup! He will say. But when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup.”

What a start to his essay. He quickly grabs the reader’s attention.  Tea was introduced to Britain in the 1700s and any student of history understands its significance to the creation of the United States of America.  However, how many of us would view a cup of tea in the context in which it is being presented here?

We are also struck by his observation “how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is” as insightful for 1906 but how even more insightful for us more than 100 years later.  Life is so busy, so full of mundane or meaningless activities.   How often can we say our days are full of enjoyment, much less our very lives?

Let’s move forward.

“In the liquid amber within the ivory-porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweet reticence of Confucius, the piquancy of Laotse, and the ethereal aroma of Sakyamuni himself….Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others.”

Note: Confucius (551–479 BC) was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. Traditions hold that Lao Tse lived in the 6th century B.C., possibly from around 570 to 490 B.C. He served as keeper of the imperial archives or court librarian at Loyang, in Honan province, and was a contemporary of Confucius, though about 20 years older. Sakyamuni is one of the titles of the Buddha, deriving from the name of Sakya where he was born.

How do we interpret the author’s view that if we cannot “feel the littleness of great things then we are likely to overlook the greatness of little things in others?”  I think of the many times in the evaluation of suiseki how quickly I make a “decision” on what I see!  How this initial view entrenches me into a position that with further study holds no value whatsoever.

Kamaogawa Yase Maguro-ishi

Kamagawa Yase Maguro-ishi titled “Unjo Enbo” translated as Distant View Over the Clouds.

I distinctly recall seeing this stone for the first time in the book Suiseki An Art Created by Nature, The Nyogakuan Collection of Japanese Viewing Stones, Volume I.  This is the first stone discussed in the book and carries the label A-1.  Staring at it I could not fathom why this stone was in the book much less the first to be described!   The description for this Kamagawa stone is as follows: “This stone appears plain at first glance, but when observed closely, it can be noticed that it is plump and warming.”

Quickly I flipped the pages to the next stone hoping there were better examples to be found.  This was more than 10 years ago and over the years I found myself returning to stone A-1 to study and enjoy it.  What changed?    As Kakuzō so eloquently writes, perhaps I was becoming better at seeing the “greatness in little things.”  The Unjo Enbo is plump; it does have a warm feeling.  Is it a classical distant mountain stone with sharp peaks – well no – but it certainly does in a romantic way represent a distant view over clouds doesn’t it?

I learned from this experience to withhold quick judgments with suiseki.  We must study to see what the stone is offering to us and how it speaks to our view and perspectives on life. How does it interact with our surroundings, what memories does it invoke and what feelings are derived from its study?

“For Teaism is the art of concealing beauty that you may discover it, of suggesting what you dare not reveal. It is the noble secret of laughing at yourself, calmly yet thoroughly, and is thus humor itselfthe smile of philosophy…The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”

Evanescence is defined as disappear, vanish.  There is a dual meaning for me in this statement as the viewing of suiseki leads to both an eventual remembrance and disappearance of memories invoked by the stone itself while at the same time realizing the experience of observing and feeling at that very moment will also vanish quick quickly. So there is a longing of desire to linger in its beauty for a few more moments.

“The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane.  The tea-room was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travelers could meet to drink from the common spring of art-appreciation. The ceremony was an improvised drama whose plot was woven about the tea, the flowers, and the paintings. Not a color to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break the unity of the surrounds, all movements to be performed simply and naturally-such were the aims of the tea-ceremony.  And strangely enough it was often successful. A subtle philosophy lay behind it all.”

“In art the importance of the same principle is illustrated by the value of suggestion.  In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it. A vacuum is here for you to enter and fill up the full measure of your aesthetic emotion.”

As we think of stone display, stones are often placed on a stand or perhaps a white museum box with barely another article surrounding it.  There might be a singular colored material covering the display tables.   Does this lack of complexity inhibit or improve our aesthetic emotion?

2017 Nippon Suiseki Association Exhibition

Photograph from the 2017 Nippon Suiseki Association Exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park.

Or is it better to add an object, or two, to the scene to better yet contribute to how the stone is received?  Does this add to its aesthetic emotion?

Clearly a exhibition like this has an obligation to its participants to display numerous stones so that its many visitors have an opportunity to see a large collection of suiseki.  But from our viewpoint, these types of shows have a very different purpose than that of the historical tea room or the tokonoma found in Japanese homes.

We find that attempting to study stones in a general exhibition is quite difficult due to not only the volume of stones being displayed but also inability to quietly study the stone without distractions such as noise and lighting.  This is not to be taken that exhibitions should not be planned and executed, not whatsoever.  We are challenging the notion that one can really achieve what is being written by Kakuzō in these types of displays; therefore shouldn’t we attempt to create some type of atmosphere that gains us entry into the tea-room concept for stones?

Nippon Suiseki Association
© 2017, Nippon Suiseki Association, The 3rd Japan Suiseki Association Exhibition, All Rights Reserved

“The ceremony was an improvised drama whose plot was woven about the tea, the flowers, and the paintings. Not a color to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break the unity of the surrounds, all movements to be performed simply and naturally-such were the aims of the tea-ceremony.”

This ideal seems to us to be better achieved in a display such as a Tokonoma.  The NSA catalog beautifully illustrates this point with 10-15 types of these displays where the owner/artist can evoke a vision as to their intended purpose in the display.

Our collection contains stones that at first do lend themselves to continue to be in our collection.  Yet, with quiet contemplation, sometimes over a period of years, we begin to see a hidden beauty in these ancient stones.   Is it possible that we needlessly discount beauty simply because we the viewer will not take the time to properly establish the appropriate conditions for study?

In addition, even with stones that upon first glance capture our imagination, we find that quiet contemplation of these stones allow us to capture more nuanced aspects of them.


Kamogawa, Edge Collection

A striking stone that has been suiseki for a very long time.  When observing this stone we are drawn to its mountain peaks and the flowing lines from right-to-left.  But one can easily miss the valley floor at the bottom of the stone almost immediately below the highest peak on the right.  This small detail when carefully observed adds a great deal of texture and context to the stone and It adds a sense of three dimensionality that is often missing in stones whose fronts simply descend in an angular line to the bottom of the stone.So how best to display this, or any other, stone so that we can attempt to achieve this concept? Let us review again what Kakuzō states:

“In art the importance of the same principle is illustrated by the value of suggestion.  In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it. A vacuum is here for you to enter and fill up the full measure of your aesthetic emotion.”  [Emphasis added by author.]

 In our next blog post, we will further explore Kakuzō’s writing of the tea-room’s characteristics and the importance of same.

Tanimoto’s stone “Ryozan”

Tanimoto Hyakusui was a well known collector and seller of Furuya stones and was considered by many to be an expert on these stones.  It is rare to find a stone from his collection that is also double-boxed with an album.


Ryozan literally means “fine mountains” which seems appropriate for the much smoother and fine examples of a Furuya stone like this particular one.


This set included a double box. The outer box is made to protect the inner box which contains the various signatures of is owners and the name and type of stone.  The brown and green ribbon used to close the box was one of Tanimoto’s signatures.   Some double boxed stones have the outer box made in highly polished lacquer, but that is not the case for this stone.


Inside the outer box we find the box containing the stone and a secondary layer that contains the album.

Inscribed on the box lid from right to left is, “Furuya-ishi’, the two large characters in the center is the stone’s name Ryozan and to the left is Tanimoto’s “Sekiyusai Hyakusui” signature.


The album’s outer label reads “Furuya ishi Unkon shi” which means Furuya ishi Stone Record or Album, followed by Tanimoto’s Hyakusui seal.  This was a part of the literati tradition dating back to the Edo period of Japan, where honored guests who viewed the stone were asked to paint a picture, write a poem, or record their thoughts.


In this instance, Tanimoto himself furnished the stone with the album and wrote the first inscription – it would have been left to future owners to inscribe, or invite others to do so, yet as can be seen no other inscriptions follow that of Tanimoto.

Tanimoto’s entry is written in Kanbun, which is a Japanese attempt at reproducing classical Chinese, and is therefore very difficult to understand without specialized training. It seems to say something to the effect of, “Simply placed in the alcove of a room, one cannot help but feel the great wonder inspired by these strange stones (kiseki).”  This Chinese style entry and the use of the word “kiseki” rather than suiseki adds to the literati atmosphere of the set.



The daiza was carved from rosewood in Japan and is signed by the maker “Kaidou” who was a very fine carver from that time period.   Tanimoto was known to carve daizas himself, however, later in life he lacked the strength to carve them in hardwood with precision, so many of his daizas in that period were commissioned to other carvers.

This stone was not in his book that he co-authored with Murata Keiji in 1969 entitled An Overview of Furuya ishi Masterpieces.  Coupled with the signature on the outside of the box “Sekiyusai Hyakusui” it is assumed he had this piece after the publication of the book, therefore one can assume likely in the 1970s or early 1980s as he used that artistic name late in his career.

The stone was acquired from a preeminent collector outside of Japan and our thanks to him for such detailed information on the stone and its history.

It is our hope that this recording of provenance is something each serious collector will consider.  We have started having kiri-boxes made with the drawer for an album to be stored.  Two of them are making their way from Japan to our home as this article is being written. Once they arrive, another article will be written showing where you can find albums to record your own stone’s history.

A Older Japanese Boat Stone


This boat-shaped stone, or Funagata-ishi, is a very small stone at nearly 10 cm in width, but it is highly expressive.  The stone is a tad darker than shown in the photograph as we wanted you to see the daiza, unique as it is.

Boat-shaped stones are often difficult to come by and one that has not been worked is truly delightful.  This is an older suiseki as its patina is just really lovely.  We have examined the stone very closely and can find no tool marks of any kind.

The daiza maker was very artful in presenting the stone.  It has been carved to make it appear that water is rippling just underneath the boat thereby giving it a feeling of movement and three dimensionality.  The treatment at the rear of the stone is nicely done as it allows the stone to hang over the daiza.  It would have been easy to have made the daiza fully extend to the right, but by reducing it the appearance is greatly improved.

This stone may also be shown in a suiban or doban.  An alternate expression of display would be a thin slice of highly polished wood to provide a reflection of the stone as if it is gliding through the water or a nice highly polished lacquerware stand.

Though this particular stone is without a box, or provenance, it was acquired from Matsurra Arishige’s personal collection of suiseki in 2017.


Tsukiji Market, an 83-Year-Old Tokyo Icon, Set to Close


Saturday, October 6th is the last day the Tsukiji Fish Market will close ending its 83-year run as one of the largest fish markets in the world.

“The market in Chuo Ward opened in February 1935 after wholesale markets in the capital, including a fish market in the Nihonbashi district, were ruined by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.”  More than 500 varieties of seafood can be found there each day with an estimated 90% of all of Japan’s seafood going through this market.

We have visited this location several times on our trip to Japan and it is amazing to see the intricacy of the stalls but yet thousands of workers are zipping throughout the market.


Once in the market, you had best be very watchful otherwise you might end up underneath one of these speeding carts loaded with seafood.

The daily tuna auction, except Sunday and holidays, was always a big draw for tourists.  Seeing dozens of fresh and frozen tuna being bid by multiple wholesalers was both fast and furious.

Another attraction were the number of shops surrounding the market.  From restaurants, to knife shops there was something for everyone.


The Tsukiji Fish Market closing is not without controversy however, as many of the long-term vendors are vehemently against moving the market.  “If the new place were better, I’ll be happy to move,” said Tai Yamaguchi, whose family has run fish wholesaler Hitoku Shoten since 1964.  The 75-year-old leader of a group of 30 women whose families run shops in Tsukiji opposed to the move, Yamaguchi feels it has been mishandled by authorities who failed to fully consult those affected.  “They are hiding so much,” she said.

“Tsukiji now has more than 500 wholesalers employing several thousand people. About 40,000 people visit each day. Much of the angst over the move has to do with closing down a beloved local institution.

A labyrinth of quaint sushi stalls and shops selling knives and ice cream encircling the huge wholesale market famous for its predawn haggling over deep-frozen tuna and other harvests from the sea, Tsukiji has been supplying Tokyo’s fancy restaurants and everyday supermarkets since 1935. Its origins date back nearly a century.

Opponents of the move fear tourists will be less likely to visit out-of-the-way Toyosu, which resembles a huge, modern factory and lacks the picturesque quality of Tsukiji.

Makoto Nakazawa, 54, who has worked in Tsukiji for more than 30 years, said he dislikes the new space he will be working in and is angry over the closure of a market that has “fed Tokyo for years.””

As with any significant change, small vendors are more likely to be hurt by this move and those shops will certainly take a huge hit in business.

The Tsukiji Fish market has been a staple of fresh fish for Tokyo and beyond since 1935 and it is sad to see it close for what will likely be just more apartments, shops or something that will not have the memories and special feelings of this market.  For those of us who have had the opportunity to visit this amazing place, we are sad it is closing but thankful for the many memories we have.  We also wonder where Jiro Ono will get his fresh fish everyday? Well it seems the new market is not too far away!

Suiseki Stones for Sale

Paul and I are offering a number of suiseki for sale.  Please email me at “suiseki at yahoo.com” with any questions or requests for more photos.

Shipping costs will be determined at the time of the sale and will be dependent on the number acquired and the shipping address.  Thanks!


Paul’ Stones

Clear Creek, CA Jadeite - 26 cm wide, 13 cm high and 13 cm deep. $265

Clear Creek, CA Jadeite – PG1
This expressive mountain viewing stone is eye catching!  Collected in Clear Creek, CA, this Jadeite has a tall peak and a shorter peak.  Stone has been cut and fits nicely in a daiza carved out of African Walnut.  Stone measure 26 cm wide, 13 cm high and 13 cm deep.  $265.


Ibigawa Stone, 29 cm wide, 10 cm high and 20 cm deep. $395

Ibigawa Stone – PG2      [SOLD 7/24/18]
This beautiful, exhibition quality, mountain stone is from the Ibi River in Japan.  This stone is sure to be a center piece of any stone collection.  It provides grand and imaginative scenery with its peaks and valleys from ever angle.  It is truly a evocative piece of natural art with the typical Japanese style sand blasted bottom and some grinder marks on the back bottom edge and the right edge. The marks in no way affect the over all appearance of this awesome stone.  Stone measures 29 cm wide, 10  cm high and 20 cm deep.  $395.




Tobetsugawa Stone (Hokkaido) - 12 cm wide , 13 cm high and 10 cm deep. $295

Tobetsugawa Stone (Hokkaido) – PG3 [SOLD]
This unusual stone from the Tobetsu River which is on the northwestern side of the Japanese Island of Hokkaido is sure to be appreciated by the true stone connoisseur.  This stone with a deep cavern in the center  was aptly named “Dragon Lives on the Edge.”   This stone was a part of the esteemed Suiseki Association of Hokkaido Exhibtion two years ago.  The softwood daiza fits the stone perfectly and is obviously crafted by an expert daiza maker (Unsure of the craftsman’s name). Stone measures  12 cm wide , 13 cm high and 10 cm deep.  $295.

Harry Hirao Stone - 7 cm wide, 5.5 cm high and 5.5 cm deep. $115

Harry Hirao Stone – PG4
This little mountain stone came from the Harry Hirao Collection.  Uncertain as to which Southern California river Harry collected the stone from, although it resembles materials taken from the Eel River.   Its natural base fits nicely in the rosewood daiza and is 7 cm wide, 5.5 cm high and 5.5 cm deep. $115.


Ligurian Alps Stone This charming little, palm sized stone has three distinctive peaks and a natural bottom. Collected by the late Nelda Rodriquez, outstanding suiseki artist from Puerto Rico. Nelda’s initials are on the bottom of the daiza. Works as a complimentary stone for bonsai or as a stand alone viewing stone. Size 16 cm wide, 11 cm high and 8 cm deep. $295.

Ligurian Alps Stone –PG5  This charming little, palm sized stone has three distinctive peaks and a natural bottom. Collected by the late Nelda Rodriquez, outstanding suiseki artist from Puerto Rico. Nelda’s initials are on the bottom of the daiza. Works as a complimentary stone for bonsai or as a stand alone viewing stone. Size 16 cm wide, 11 cm high and 8 cm deep. $295.




Sam’s Stone


Flower Stone - Japan - 17x9x16cm - $500

SE-1 Flower Stone – Japan – 17x9x16cm – $400; the front of the stone has been lacquered and the back has not.


Japanese Carved Hut Stone, 8x6x9.5cm - $450

SE-2 Japanese Carved Hut Stone, 8x6x9.5cm – $450; this stone has been highly carved and is not a natural stone; however, it is a lovely form and could be easily used in a bonsai or kusamono display.

Japanese Waterfall Stone, Red Lava - Previously Owner is Chuji Sugii - 11x4x5.5 - $700

SE-3 Japanese Waterfall Stone, Red Lava – Previously Owner is Chuji Sugii and Koji Suzuki – 11x4x5.5cm – $700; The daiza was crafted by Koji Suzuki and previously owned by Chuji Sugii as prolific collector from Kyoto, Japan.  This stone doesn’t have Sugii’s normal sticker but I can confirm in was in his collection as I purchased the stone directly from Koji-san.


Setagawa - Doha - 13x11.5x5 cm - $350

[SOLD] SE-4 Setagawa – Doha – 13×11.5×5 cm – $300 (small crack in daiza); a very fine patina on this stone with a well made daiza sans the crack.


[SOLD]  SE-5 A Ligurian mountain range. No daiza but can be used in a suiban or doban. 12.5 x 5 x 5 cm. $250; do not place this stone in water at any time as water impacts the surface texture.  It is very difficult to photograph this stone to show the fine surface textures.  Ligurian stones from Italy are highly similar to Furuya stones from Japan.

Kamogawa - 15x4x3cm - $175

[SOLD]  SE-6 Kamogawa – 15x4x3cm – $175; I assume this is a worked stone so be conscious of that if your aesthetic doesn’t allow for those.

Doha, 13x2.5x3 cm - nice rosewood daiza - $85

SE-7 Doha, 13×2.5×3 cm – nice rosewood daiza – $85


Kamagawa Hut Stone - 11x7x7.5cm - $200

[SOLD]  SE-8 Kamagawa Hut Stone – 11x7x7.5cm – $200; a natural stone, surprising since most hut stones have been heavily worked.

Mountain Stone - Washington State - Black Jadeite - 17x9x7cm - $275

[SOLD] SE-9 Mountain Stone – Washington State – Black Jadeite – 17x9x7cm – $275; very good patina on this stone with a very pleasing shape.

Sagigawa - 16x6.5x6.5 - Some see a human on the left side - Excellent daiza - $450

SE-10 Seigaku – 16×6.5×6.5 – Some see a human on the left side – Excellent daiza – $450; not an inexpensive stone for its size but it is an excellent small stone with a beautifully made daiza.


Seigaku - 15x6x6cm - $200

SE-11 Seigaku – 15x6x6cm – $200; a quieter stone than above.  It almost looks like a Furuya stone.


Sagigawa - Can be used as a brush rest - 14x5x4cm - $300

SE-12 Sagigawa – Can be used as a brush rest – 14x5x4cm – $300; a nice literati stone if used as a brush rest or from a Japanese perspective a good mountain stone.  A very rough texture with good movement.



Sagigawa - 16x5x6cm - A truly lovely stone, well shaped with a nice daiza - $375

SE-13 Sagigawa – 16x5x6cm – A truly lovely stone, well shaped with a nice daiza – $375; An excellent stone with terrific movement, excellent location of the peaks both left and right.  Overall a stone that is visually very pleasing.

Japanese, Mountain with distinct pool - 11x7x5x6.5 - $125

SE-14 Japanese, Mountain with distinct pool – 11x7x5x6.5 – $125; a fine patina for this mountain stone with a large lake – hard to see in the photograph.  This is a cut stone on the bottom with good finish work.  This stone can be displayed in a suiban or with a daiza; no daiza is included.


Figure Stone - Seated person - Japanese - 6x4x6cm - $75

SE-15 Figure Stone – Seated person – Japanese – 6x4x6cm – $75; One might see a see a sumi-e artist with a robe in this stone as he/she sits to create an artistic expression.


Black Butte Mountain Stone - 12x6x4.5cm - $150

SE-16 Black Butte Mountain Stone – 12x6x4.5cm – $160; the patina is beginning to develop nicely on this newer stone.  It has a cut bottom, thus having a daiza built for it will be simple.  Lovely jasper colors in reds, yellows, white and black.


Eel River Mountain Stone - 13x6.5x5.5cm - $150

SE-17 Eel River Mountain Stone – 13×6.5×5.5cm – $150; reminds me of the Bay Area after heavy rains when a portion of the mountain slides.  A cut stone.


Mountain Stone with Cave - Cave is all the way through the stone - 13x5.5x4.5 - $50

SE-18 Mountain Stone with Cave – Cave is all the way through the stone – 13×5.5×4.5 – $50


Ligurian - 6x4x5cm - Nice for a doban or small daiza - $50

SE-19 Ligurian – 6x4x5cm – Nice for a doban or small daiza – $50; we enjoy these tall peak stones – they are quite small but are fun to display in a small suiban.


Ligurian - 4.5x2.5x5cm - Nice for a doban or small daiza - $50

SE-20 Ligurian – 4.5×2.5x5cm – Nice for a doban or small daiza – $50


Norther CA Red Jasper - 13x7x14 - $200

SE-21 Norther CA Red Jasper – 13x7x14 – $200; note the figure on elephant or horseback in the bottom left and notice how the rider’s head is thrown back and connected to the cloud above.  There is also a figure like element to the right/bottom of the stone.  On the back side is another figure (below) that stands out quite well.  Some don’t appreciate these kinds of stones but we enjoy both the color and how the imagination can be used to visualize its textures.


Larry Ragle’s Buffalo Stone

We have seen ten of thousands of stones from stone shows, to personal collections to uncountable stones on some of the finest rivers in Northern California.  Some stones we see and almost immediately forget, others we see and instantly appreciate them for what they are – beautiful art.  Then there is the rare stone that captures one’s imagination and  heart.  Larry Ragle’s Buffalo stone is one of the rarest of stones for us, it is completely captivating in every way.

Larry at the 2018 Japan Suiseki Exhibition – Buffalo 11″ w x 8.5″ h x 6″ d

My first encounter with a stone that has a similar feeling for us is Gagyu-ishi (An Ox Pretending to Sleep) formerly owned by Kamiya Yoanken and you can read about that here.   The buffalo stone is all natural including the patina and was collected in the mid-1970’s on the Eel River near Garberville, CA.  The bottom is naturally flat which really compliments the stone in how it sits.  An incredible marvel of nature, how this stone was shaped to resemble in such romantic detail a buffalo in a reclining position will never be known.

The Japanese aesthetic appreciates when something mimics nature but isn’t a “photographic” representation in every detail.   This lovely stone personifies that feeling for us.

The shape, quality of stone, and patina all work harmoniously in near perfection for a viewing stone.  What great pleasure and satisfaction it must be to have found this stone, and to have brought it home to add to one’s collection.  I know we would have been ecstatic!

The stone personifies why we love viewing stones.  How long this stone was in the river, who knows? Was it at some point broken to form this shape and then over years of water-flow and sand smoothed to perfection to then one day be placed where Larry was to find it?  The stories of these stones to me are almost important as the stone itself.

We have been fortunate enough to be around great artwork.  Our software was used to manage the art collection of NY MOMA and SF MOMA.  We were privileged to be a part of the digitization of the Barnes Foundation collection of impressionist art.  From our perspective, this viewing stone easily stands with the very best works of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne or Henri Matisse.

Let us congratulate Larry on this absolutely stunning viewing stone.  For those of you in the suiseki world we would personally classify this as a Meiseki stone (exceptional suiseki, a masterpiece).



Viewing Stones for Sale

Eleven viewing stones are being offered by Paul Gilbert and myself.  You can contact me at suiseki@yahoo.com and I will then forward your information to Paul.  His stones are the first seven and mine are the last four.  Let us know if you have any questions. Click the photo for a larger version.

Update: Six of the stones have sold and have been removed as of 4:36pm, 3/15/2018.

Sam and Paul

Ligurian Palombino stone –collected in Italy by Andrea Schenone. Stone was shown in Visions of the American West International bonsai and stone exhibition in Denver in 2012. Stone has good patina and measures 28 x 17 x 7 cm. $550.

Sajigawa stone with an excellent Koji Suzuki daiza, very expressive mountain stone with a natural bottom. 14 x 12 x 8 cm. $400.

Snowy Range (2), Wyoming mountain stone, with natural bottom, daiza carved from black walnut. Measures 20 x 16 x 10 cm. $190.

Doha from the Kamogawa River in Japan. This stone was purchased in Kyoto. It has been outdoors for a very long time and has a nice patina. 24 x 7x 5 cm. $400.


A Ligurian mountain range. No daiza but can be used in a suiban or doban. 12.5 x 5 x 5 cm. $250