Kiri-bako for your collectibles

One of the first things we noticed when obtaining an older, high-quality pot or stone is that it often comes stored in a wooden box.  Known as a kiri-bako, these lightweight but very strong boxes keep things safe and allow for your collection to be stacked when storing them away.

Ueno Green Club

Ueno Green Club

There are several people in the US that makes these boxes and the wood can be purchased in the US to make your own.  Often when acquiring a pot or stand in Japan, we have kiri-bako made so that the shipment has a better chance of arriving intact.  After shipping several stands to see them broken or destroyed the investment in the kiri-bako became more of a necessity than a luxury.

In our search, we discovered a kiri-bako maker in Osaka, Japan.  Soichiro Kobayashi is a third-generation maker of kiri-bako. On his web site he refers to them as Paulownia wooden boxes.  Paulownia wood can be obtained from China at very reasonable prices; however, Sochiro explained to me that he purchases his Paulownia from North American because the grain is so much straighter.


Soichiro Kobayashi

Communication with Soichiro was excellent and he was very careful to understand our requirements.  The order was for 11 boxes; ours and our friend Paul’s. We provided exact measurements of each object; pot, stone and stand.  Next we decided which style of box would be best.  There are numerous designs available based on the size of the object, how you wish to access it and how large it is.


Production Area

The company is small but they have a significant output of high quality boxes.  From the photo you can see lots of wood working equipment and Paulownia everywhere!


Katsumi Saito

Katsumi Saito has been making Paulownia boxes since he was 12 years old. He is a very skilled craftsman and with his years of experience you can be assured your box will be of the highest quality.


Tetsuko checking the fit of the top of a beautiful Paulownia box.

Tetsuko, Soichiro’s wife, also works on the production team.  Note from her picture that these boxes can be made in all sizes including quite large.


An example of kiri-bakos made for us.

The first thing we noticed is the quality of the Paulownia.  The grain is very straight and the finish is superb.  The framing used on the lids was an extra touch that we did not expect.  It is this attention to detail, in our opinion, that separates their work from those making boxes in the U.S.


Kiri-bako for a stand

One of the stands we purchased from Japan and shipped to the US arrived damaged.  Fortunately, our friend Jeff knew an antique restorer in San Francisco and we were able to have it repaired.  It was nearly impossible to tell that it has been damaged as their work was superb.  To avoid this from occurring again, we decided to have a box made for it; see photo above.  This type of box has two parts – top lid and container underneath.


Notice the detail in the lid with the cut-outs to allow for easy lifting of the lid from the bottom container.  We really appreciated this design for its simplicity and protection.  The box was also fitted with material so that the box could be tied. This provides a way to carry the box.

One of the tell-tale signs of how old the kiri-bako might be is the beautiful patina that it takes on over the years.  We were never quite clear on how this occurred but in speaking to Sochiro he explained why.  “We practice the “Uzukuri-shiage” to show the grain beauty. The Uzukuri method is the traditional process which has been applied since Edo period, to emphasize the grain by rubbing the surface and embossing. It results that the surface of wood gets strengthened and does not get damaged easily. The box also has an insect wax, Ibotaro.  Ibotaro is a natural wax which has the high melting point. Varnishing it over the surface makes it elegantly glossy especially for Paulownia wood. This method gives the wood surface preservation.”

Overtime this wax begins to turn a beautiful shade of amber that gives it that aged patina that we so much appreciate.

Another service Sochiro provides is written documentation on the outside or inside of the box.  Note, that this can add considerable costs to the box.  We had 11 boxes made at the cost of ~$650. The addition of writing on the box added another ~$300 in charges.  You will have to decide if the additional cost is worth it.  Our writing fees we higher due to the amount of Kanji characters used in the description.  Since some of our most valuable pots, stands and stones were going to be housed in the kiri-bako we thought the additional cost for having them documented was worth it.

If you think you might like to have one or more made, please click on the following URL:

Please let Sochiro know that you found him from our blog.  He was kind enough to answer our questions and send us photos so we would like for him to know his time was well spent.  We have no business arrangement with him therefore there is no monetary relationship.  Our only hope is to provide you with an excellent source to have kiri-bakos made to house and protect your collection.

Shipping cost were reasonable as the boxes are lightweight and can be stored inside each other (depending upon sizes of course) to reduce the overall package size.  Communication with Sochiro was excellent with an acute attention to detail.

Share with us what you have made by his company.  If you have other questions, please feel free to contact us.

Kan Yasuda | Touching Time

As we continue to study the aesthetic of various countries and how they display stones, we are reading a number of books that give us insight into how particular areas of the world view art and stone viewing in particular.  Here are a couple if you have interest:

  • ›Izutsu, Toshihiko and Toyo, 1981, The Theory of Beauty in the Classical Aesthetics of Japan, The Hague, Boston, London: Nijhoff.
  • ›Tanizaki, Jun’ichirō, 1977, In Praise of Shadows, trans. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, New Haven: Leete’s Island Books.

In our own stone collecting, purchased or personally collected from a stream or river, we tend to be drawn to stones that attract our heart and eye.   There are just certain shapes and colors that draw us in.  In continuing to research these various aesthetics, we came across the stone and bronze sculptor Kan Yasuda from Japan.  We were drawn to his work as it reminds us of many viewing stones we have seen.


“Kan Yasuda was born in the city of Bibai on Japan’s nothern island Hokkaido in 1945. He received a master’s degree in sculpture from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1969. He moved to Italy in 1970 on a fellowship from the Italian Government and studied with Professor Pericle Fazzini at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Afterwards he set up his studio at Pietrasanta in nothern Italy, world famous for its superior quality marble. There he continues to live and work at marble and bronze sculptures”


We were immediately drawn to the form and color of his works.  Christie’s in New York is holding an exhibition of his work entitled Touching Time being held from February 24 through March 26, 2016.

There is wonderful video of him describing his work which can be viewed here. “In this film, Yasuda talks of wanting ‘to express in a subtle way something of our relationship to the earth that is crying out in pain’, a feeling he articulates in the plinth he made for ISHINKI for the New York exhibition.”


TENPI, Arte Piazza Bibai, Kan Yasuda Sculpture Park,
Hokkaido, Japan. Photographer Yoshihiro Kimura

This sculpture is reminiscent of some of the finest suiseki we have seen from Japan both beautiful form and color.  We view this and instinctively sense tranquility and quietness; attributes we love to have in stones in our personal collection.


A lovely setting in a park with a white marble sculpture that reminds us of so many river stones that we have seen in various other colors.


A similar shaped stone sculpture in a darker color  The form is very pleasing and reminds me of a suiseki stone in the book Suiseki. An Art Created by Nature.  The Nyogakuan Collection of Japanese Viewing Stones.  2005.


Kan working in his study and his art being displayed with children playing on and around it.  That his sculptures can be touched rather than just seen is quite appealing.


This sculpture was accomplished in bronze.  A pleasing form in both smooth and rough textures.  It reminds us of a stone that might be seen in a suiban display.

It is difficult to comprehend the complexity in creating these sculptural forms.  Kan states that he creates with the intent of these lasting for 500 to 1,000 years.  Perhaps this also gives us insight into the complexity of his mind that can devise such a pleasingly simple visual design in such scale.

To see more of his works, please visit his website.


ISHINKI, White Marble, H 116 x 320 x 220 cm
White Bronze, H 200×90×30 cm


White Marble H 59 x 87 x 23 cm, wood base H 95 x 100 x 40 cm




NHK World On Demand Videos – Suiseki & Tea Ceremony

NHK Television has posted two very lovely videos in the English language that are available until 2/3/2016.  The first is entitled:

Suiseki: A World of Understated Beauty within Natural Stone


An excellent overview of suiseki was some very fine stones being shown as well as locations to find them throughout Japan.  The video is 28 minutes in duration.

The second title is:

The 10 Artisans of Senke: Tea Utensils Heighten Rustic Simplicity


An excellent introduction into the tea ceremony that runs 28 minutes.

We hope you see both of these video before they are taken off-line.

Private Collections – Hidden from View

In our last blog post, we discussed ways in which to build a respectable collection. Today, we would like to raise the topic of private collections.

How many of you have seen an original Harada Houn doban, a hand-painted Yusen pot, a Tokufuji glaze up close, or a true chrysanthemum stone?  We recall having seen them in books but those photos simply don’t do justice to seeing them in person.  Our post today is going to suggest two ways for us to share our collections beyond a friend or two.

We often like to visit museums or art galleries to view the work of well to little known artist.  Recently the Dixon Gallery and Gardens located in Memphis, TN had a Rodin exhibit of some 60 pieces of his works.  We had only seen photos of his masterful sculptures before so it was a wonderful experience to see them up close.


There are museums in most major cities worldwide.  But a shift has occurred in the last 100 years where many of the top art collections are in private hands.   According to an article on the five most valuable art collections are now valued at over $11 billion dollars.

The other interesting trend is the number of private (single collector) collections being setup and earning the collector a sizable tax benefit.  Here is a quote from a New York Times article in January, 2015:

“Mr. Brant’s five-year-old museum, cloistered as it is, nonetheless is the beneficiary of what is in effect a federal subsidy. Operated by a nonprofit charitable foundation created and controlled by Mr. Brant, this cozy museum is tax-exempt. Wealthy collectors, of course, have long saved millions of dollars in federal taxes by donating art and money to museums and foundations. But what distinguishes Mr. Brant’s center and a growing number of private tax-exempt exhibition spaces like it is that their founders can deduct the full market value of any art, cash and stocks they donate, even when the museums are just a quick stroll from their living rooms.”

There are countless other collections some open to the public and some not.  I recall when working at Corbis, we gained permission to photograph the Barnes Collection outside of Philadelphia.  If you don’t know the story of this collection it is worth Googling it.

He amassed an incredible collection of post-impressionist and early-modern art. More than 3,000 masterpieces, including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modigli­anis, and 7 Van Goghs, plus textiles, metalwork, decorative objects, African sculpture, Native American ceramics and jewelry, and Pennsylvania German furniture.  We convinced the foundation to allow us to photograph some 300 works to create a CD called A Passion for Art.  At the time it was the top selling art CD at Microsoft moving more than 250,000 copies.  We actually built in a back-door on the CD to access our archive of hundreds more of his paintings because we knew that few would ever visit the museum itself.

At this point you might ask “what has this got to do with anything?”  Many of the readers to our blog are in fact collectors of stones, bonsai pots, stands and the like.  We each tend to collect what we like and I would suggest that most of it is hidden away unseen by anyone including often ourselves.

Sharing our Collections

Our first suggestion, which you may already do, is to open up your home to share your collections to others.  Use them as a invitation to create interest.  I recall sharing with a young man at our home our love for stones.  He saw them in our house, in our garden and in our greenhouse.  It led to him asking questions and then expressing interest.  We then invited him to go collecting with us and he obliged.  Is he going to be an avid stone collector – likely not but he did become educated in the beauty of them and his eye improved to the extent that he collected some very lovely stones.

If there is a show in town, be it bonsai or viewing stone related, offer to open up your home to those guests to enjoy and hear about your collection.  Share and educate your visitors while at the same time learning from those visitors.  Ryan Bell visited our home a few months ago,, and took some time to look at a few of our bonsai pots and quickly helped identify a few potters for us that we were unaware of even though we had their pots in our collection.

Open Up our Shows or Create New Ones

The second suggestion is for us to open our shows, or even create new ones, to display portions of our collections.  There are numerous high quality bonsai shows across the country.  I have asked this simple question: Why don’t we use that opportunity to combine these shows and show art in similar form?  If it is a bonsai show why not also display suiseki, bonsai containers and the like.  Offer a program of education about these subjects be it a introductory course or an in-depth dive into a specific subject.

Yes, I can hear the howls right now – who is paying for this?  Where do we get the space?  Who gets to decide what is shown? All reasonable questions.

Perhaps we who collect should consider having a show every few years where we combine the best of what we have to create a wonderful show.  Should we actively talk to one of our local museums to see if they can host a show?

For example, I applaud Christina Linden, the museum’s Associate Curator for Painting and Sculpture, for setting up an exhibit which included suiseki at the Oakland Museum:

If you live in the Bay Area please support and visit it.

How many of you would attend a show in the US that combined exhibits of the best bonsai, bonsai containers, viewing stones, suibans, dobans and the like?  How many of us have flown to Japan to attempt to see this very thing!

Do we have “the answer” – frankly no.  But we are hoping to create a dialog around this subject to see what others think and to learn what others are doing.  Please email us and let us help share what shows you are planning. If you have an interest in opening up your show to a wider art form let’s discuss that too.



Collections – Being Purposeful

Those of us that collect viewing stones, bonsai pots, etc. have likely had a long history of collecting things.  As KJ can attest, I have a collectors mind and I like to collect many things.


With over 5,000 classical and jazz records in our collection – you can say that we have a record collection.  They vary in age – 1940s through the 1980s. Some of historical significance and others of little value other than to me.


We have also amassed a book collection as well; though not as bad as this photo.  I have authors that I love to read, technical books on my field of study, those given the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and of course books on things that we collect or are thinking about collecting.

Over time we collected small bonsai pots and we then progressed to collecting viewing stones and accessories such as dobans, suibans and small bronze accessories.

If you at this point in the article are saying “I can surely relate” then this article is written for you.  Let’s discuss some of the practical sides of creating a collection.

Collect With a Purpose

Here are six guidelines (ours not necessarily yours) to building a collection.

  1. Collect what you like. This is rule number one for us.  We collect what we like, what we are drawn to and what brings us joy.  What we collect may not be what you collect or even like, but that is OK with us.
  2. Educate yourself. To collect without educating yourself on what you are collecting seems foolish but believe me many people do just this. When we started to collect small bonsai pots, I would spend about an hour per day researching them.  I would buy and read any books we could find even if it meant buying them overseas.  We talked to anyone that would listen to us to gain more knowledge about these containers.  If you consider this work, then perhaps you are collecting the wrong things.
  3. Know who sells what you like.  Once you begin to collect it behooves you to learn who sells what you like and get to know them as best you can.  This includes dealers, shops, individuals sellers and other collectors.  The side benefit from this is you also educate yourself.  This point goes beyond knowing the seller by name – truly get to know them.  Who are they, what do they like, why do they sell the items that you collect – show them your passion.  In doing so, you may find a friend.
  4. Comparison shop.  This works for certain types of collections such as books, albums, etc. With some collection types it can be more difficult.  We find viewing stones in the later category; well at least most of the time.  It isn’t like there is a shop on every corner much less one in every city. However, it still pays to compare when possible.  Good examples of this are the Green Club at the Ueno Park in Tokyo, Japan.  If you have been here you know it is loaded with suiseki, bonsai pots, and the like.  What you need to learn quickly is that the prices can be significantly higher here than at the same proprietor’s shop.  It is expensive to be a dealer at the Green Club and prices can reflect that.  Holding out to near the end of the Kokufu show can bring wonderful bargains, or perhaps we should say reduced prices.  Prices from a store front may be significantly higher than those from a collector.  You get the point.  So how do you obtain better prices – see points 2 and 3.
  5. Build a superior collection.  This is where most of us fail including us.  To build a superior collection we must not be random in adding to our collection.  When you see a superior collection – every piece belongs.  How many times in the early days of collecting did we buy lots of things; this was especially true in our bonsai collection.  Over time we learned to only buy the best of what we could afford.  One incredible tree was worth much more than 10 so-so trees.  It is hard as we all want to build our collections quickly, but all of us could use more patience in adding to our collections.
  6. Collect what you like – see number 1 above!

Before You Buy Ask Yourself These Questions

  1. Why do I like it?  This helps to avoid impulse purchases. You know those times that once you get your purchase home you ask yourself “why did I purchase this one?”  That wastes money that could have been applied to an item that increases the value of your collection.
  2. Determine what attracts you to add this item to your collection.  Is it the subject, its color, the shape, its historical nature or simply the artist?  We recognized very early when we starting collecting stones that our value of them went up if the daiza, or stand, was made by Suzuki Koji.  Understand what it is that attracts you to add to your collection.  Having this understanding will help you avoid wasted resources, time and money, and allow you to build a better collection.
  3. Does the item you are collecting help to take you to a special place.  For those of you that are members of BCI, you might have seen the short article I wrote about a stone we purchased from Kyoto, Japan.  The stones attributes reminded me of my mother who had just passed away.  Now whenever I see that stone I’m reminded of my mother.  The final sentence in our article sums up this point for me: “A good stone, like a great Mother, provides us with a lifetime of memories which can be recalled and enjoyed even in their absence.”
  4. Lastly, evaluate and understand what it is that you admire about it.  Is it the technical knowledge of the collection, its artistic beauty, that it reminds you of other experiences or things you love?  If the item doesn’t fit into things that you admire you should probably be asking yourself why am I collecting it?

Document Your Collection

This is likely the greatest failure for all of us who collect.  We don’t take just a bit of time and record in writing the details of the item we just collected.  As most professional collectors know, provenance can add significant art value to any art piece.  This is true for almost all art forms.

We have a friend who is a wonderful painter living in Memphis.  We first met Danny Broadway at an art show that my sister invited us to.  We love his work. KJ and I were at his gallery one day and saw this painting.


The title of this piece is called Dixie Chain Gang.  You might look at it and wonder why is this colorful piece named as such?  We did too so we asked Danny to tell us the story.  He described that he had studied what happened to African Americans in jails back in the 1920-40s in America.  He had found a photograph of a number of young men who were in prison and in a chain gang – they were literally tied together in iron chains working outside.  This old black and white photographed had inspired him to paint this colorful portrait of four men with musical instruments.  He was transforming their sadness into joy, their chains into freedom.

We were struck by how more meaningful this painting was by knowing the story behind it.   Our documenting our collection is important for us and for the future.  At some point our collections are going to be inherited by someone else or broken up and distributed so it would be helpful for others to understand its history.

Here are a few things to think about recording for each piece in your collection:

  • Artist
  • Dimensions
  • Object characteristics
  • Location of origin
  • Location of purchase
  • Prior ownership history, if available – this is also known as provenance
  • Date acquired
  • Date created, if applicable
  • Was it collected in a memorable moment?  For example, did a once in a lifetime trip to Japan allow you to add something very important to your collection.

I recall one summer hiring an intern to enter our entire album collection into a database that I created.  Yep, they entered over 5,000 albums and their associated data into this well designed database. This leads to our final point:  keep a paper copy of your collection history.

All of the money spent to create the collection database went into the proverbial trash when the computer crashed and our backups were lost.  We highly suggest if you use computerized records – print them out!

In the next few days we will post again about collections but the focus will be on the thousands of private collections and how they are never seen by anyone other than the owner.  What a shame.

Merry Christmas!

Sam and KJ

Suzuki Koji

For all of us in the small world of suiseki, we lost our good friend Suzuki Koji today. To his family, close friends and many admirers our best wishes go out to all of you.  He will be missed.

We want to take a moment and share our fondest memories of him.

If you have participated in suiseki anywhere in the world you might know his name but most likely you have seen his ubiquitous artist mark found upon hundreds, if not thousands, of daizas.


We still recall turning over a few nice stones to find this mark. At the time, we had no idea who made this daiza but we wanted to know because the workmanship was beautifully done.

We began to do some research and we found a short bio on Koji Suzuki in the book Suiseki-II An Art Created by Nature: The Sen-En-Kyo Collection of Japanese Viewing Stones published by BeeBooks in 2008.

“Suzuki Koji – he is a craftsman of bases born in 1939 in Hammamatsu City, Shizuoka.  His pen name is “Koju.”  After graduating Shizuoka University, he was teaching for a while.  He became ill and when he was recuperating, he came across suiseki and started to make bases.  He learned under the craftsmen working at the quarry sites of the Furuya stone in Wakayama and the Fujieda stone in Shizuoka, and became an outstanding craftsman today. He is a Director of the Japan Suiseki Association.”

A few months later, via a friend in Japan, we made contact with him and arranged to have a number of stones sent to him for daizas to be crafted. Our friend, Jefferey Stern, and I sat in our greenhouse cataloging stones to be sent to him excited that the Japanese master of daiza making was going to hold our stones and craft a base for them.


Here Mr. Suzuki is studying the photos we sent with our stones in his home. Over the years, many a bubble wrapped stone made its way from the West Coast of America to his home in Japan.


Over the years he crafted many daizas for important and not so important stones.  We loved to see how he shaped the wood to caress the stone.  He did this so eloquently.

Finally in 2010, we headed to Japan and had the opportunity to meet him at the Green Club in Ueno Park.


KJ was kind enough to take this photo with included Mr. Suzuki, Jeff and Mary Stern and even Peter Tea in the background!  It was a memorable moment for us.  We had admired his work, spoken to him through a third-party but to finally met him was an event. For us it was like meeting Claude Monet, Diego Riveria or Pablo Picasso.

Having made a few daizas ourselves we came to appreciate the difficulty in taking a raw piece of wood and turning it into a work of art.  How he could work so quickly in making them still astounds us today.

So few people make an impact on so many.  Suzuki Koji was one of those that touched so many lives across many geographical boundaries.  He will be missed by all of those whose passions he shared.


Little did we know when this picture was taken of him and KJ in February 2010 this would be the last time we saw or spoke to him.  This creates sorrow in our hearts.  I think he knew how much we appreciated him and what he had done for our love of suiseki; at least we hope he did.  There is more that we wish we could say to him but now that opportunity is lost.

In closing, what is in our heart today is to say thank you to those very special people who had impacted our love of stone collecting.  We urge you to take a moment and do the same before it is too late.

To Mas Nakajima and Janet Roth, thank you for igniting in us the passion of stone collecting.  For Mas’ patience in answering ours thousands of questions and for quietly evaluating the dozens of absolutely terrible stones that we found while collecting with him in the early days.  For he and Janet in opening up their home to us, and yes backyard, to see what comes of a lifetime of collecting stones from dozens of rivers.  I guess if we needed someone to “blame” for loving this art form it would the the two of you.  You are very near and dear to us.

To Wil in Japan, a friend of so many suiseki lovers over the world.  Thank you for your patience, your willingness to correspond with us, your assistance in building our library of wonderful stone books and for helping us ship stones in and out of Japan so that daizas could be made by Koji.

To Tom Elias and Hiromi Nakaoji whose passion for stones takes them all over the world as ambassadors of the art form. Many thanks to you both for your excellence in collecting, writing and communicating about suiseki and viewing stones.  Your friendship to us means a great deal.

To our friend Paul Gilbert and brother in Christ, whose passion for stones runs as deep if not deeper than ours.  Thank you for all the times we have written each other as we continue to explore this art form.  How many evenings have we sent emails back and forth discussing a stone, a suiban, etc?  Thank you for your friendship.

To David Sampson, thank you for your passion for Japanese suiseki and your willingness to share it with so many of us.

To Jeff, Peter, Rusty,Brent, Randy and all the others who have helped us collect stones, share them or purchase them. Thank you for being in our lives.  We hope to see each one of you again soon.

And lastly, to Hideko Metaxas who on one cloudy Saturday afternoon in her home opened my eyes to what it meant to hold a “mountain” in the palm of my hands and to contemplate its place in the universe.

To each of you our words have likely never conferred our love and appreciation and we doubt these few paragraphs will adequately do so now.

To Koju and all the rest, our very best wishes.

Sam and KJ Edge


An Old Suiseki from the Kamogawa


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It is hard to believe we haven’t posted since who knows when but life has been busy as we moved across the country to be closer to family.

We haven’t been to Japan in a few years which means our collection of Japanese suiseki has been sparse. Our time has been spent collecting stones from Northern California rivers and about those we hope to post soon.  Today, we want to share with you a stone we purchased from Kyoto, Japan.

One of the suiseki sites we take a peek at a few times a week is Mr. Kawai’s located in Kyoto.  We visited him a few years ago and he is not only a delightful individual he has a great collection of stones for sale in his second floor shop above his flower store.  We had seen this stone on his site, but unfortunately the photos were small and didn’t reveal how beautiful this stone actually is.  We were fortunate to have Dr. Tom Elias and Hiromi Nakaoji post a photo of this stone on their VSANA Facebook page after their return from Japan last month.  When we saw it we immediately went back to Mr. Kawai’s site to see if it was available.  After a few days of negotiations on price, we purchased the stone.

Kamogawa (11x4x5")

Kamogawa (28 x 10 x 12.7cm)

This is a remarkable stone and without question one of the nicest in our collection. It reminds us of the stone said to be owned by Rai San’yo a very long time ago and reportedly is from the Kamogawa . The name of this stone is Yamato Murayama (“Mountains of the Kanto Plain”) and is 27.0 x 10.0 x 8.0 cm.

Rai San'yo stone

Rai San’yo stone

We wonder if our stone wasn’t modeled after the Rai San’yo stone. What do you think?  Let’s take a look at the other views of the stone and its daiza.

IMG_0007-6 IMG_0008-6IMG_0003-7Unfortunately the daiza isn’t marked so it is impossible to tell who made it, but their craftsmanship was superb as seen by viewing the detail on it’s edges. Click the photo for a much larger version.

So what about the stone being worked. It is clear to us that it has as we can see marks on the stone. Does it diminish it for us? Not at all.  The Rai San’yo stone was worked as well and it is still shown at the Nippon Suiseki show in Japan.  Clearly because it is an important stone, has a provenance and it quite beautiful.

We only know the stone was in a collection in Japan for a very long time. We have no idea what was the cause for selling it but often stones exchange hands at the end of one’s life.  Regardless of the cause we are quite happy it has a home with us.

Japanese Aesthetics and Suiseki

I was given 20 minutes at our last suiseki club meeting to give a presentation.   My first thought was to give somewhat of a historical overview of stone collecting that started in China and progressed to Japan and then to the US.  However, there was a subject that was to me perhaps more important to discuss and that was the Japanese aesthetic and how it influences the Japanese view of suiseki and other art forms as well.

Often in the US I hear people talk about how the Japanese “see” suiseki.  That always puzzled me since often what I heard from collectors in Japan differed greatly from what I heard Americans convey about their view.  This set me on a quest to try and understand how do the Japanese people really see suiseki or any art for that matter. It lead to a few weeks of research in regards to the Japanese aesthetic and frankly the start of a better understanding of their viewpoint.

Do we as Americans need to understand their view of art – I leave that answer up to you. I will state for us that I believe if we are going to pursue suiseki in the Japanese form, which many profess, then it becomes imperative to understand the Japanese perspective on how they view this art form.

I prepared 16 slides for this presentation. I understand that slides without being present is less than optimal but our hope is that this presentation encourages you to do more research for your self.  We have listed a set of references that we used to help you quickly find authors with a much deeper understanding of this subject.   Note: to truly understand the Japanese art aesthetic from my perspective requires being Japanese since it is so immersed in who they are not just what they like, so I say up front I understand so very little of this subject but do want to gain a better understanding.

Japanese Aesthetics and Suiseki

Slide1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4Slide5 Slide6 Slide7 Slide8 Slide9Slide10Slide11Slide12Slide13Slide14Slide15Slide16

Shiokai Kenji Pots – Kaohsiung Koha or Takao-koyo


Shiokai Kenji who lives in Kyoto, Japan began making pots in 1972.  There is a good bio of him on Ryan’s site that can be found here. We purchased one of Takao-koyo’s pots a good while back from Koju-en located in Kyoto.

Takao-koyo glazed pot.

Takao-koyo glazed pot.

We placed a very nice exposed root maple over rock in this pot.  I always smile when I tell this story because almost everyone who saw the pot and then the tree said it will never work together.  Everyone’s attitude changed once the trident/rock was in the pot as it was a stunning combination.  It is clear that Shiokai Kenji has been influenced by Tofukuji by just looking at the glaze treatment.  This is the only one I have seen on Koju-en’s web site.  Ryan has several of them and I believe he would agree they are quite lovely.

Historical Pots

Heian Tofukuji (平安東福寺)

Heian Tofukuji (平安東福寺)

If you follow Tofukuji pots at all then this pot is instantly recognizable. Beautiful glaze combination and a very nice form.  This pot was for sale at Kokufu-Ten this year.  We bid $5,000 US for it – it sold for over $12,000.  It is one of our very favorite Tofukuji pots.  You can easily see how Shiokai Kenji styles his pots after the glazes of Tofukuji.

Another favorite of ours is Yusen.  We believe his paintings are the best of any potter/artist that has painted scenes on pots in Japan.  We are fortunate to own two of them, thank you Peter, and we enjoy them due to Yusen’s ability to paint highly detailed scenes in very small spaces.

Tsukinowa Yusen (月之輪湧泉)

Tsukinowa Yusen (月之輪湧泉)

This pot in our collection is just barely 5cm in size, but look at the detail in his painting.

Collecting Before the Potter Becomes Famous – or Dead

So at this point you are likely wanting to know – if you are still reading – why talk about Tofukuji and/or Yusen in a post about Shiokai Kenji?  So here is the reason why.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have said something like this: “I sure wish I had been in Japan when Tofukuji was alive and selling his pots. I bet I could have gotten a hand full of them at a great price!”  There are a number of potters we could say this about: Yusen, Kouzan, etc.  So back to Shiokai Kenji – one day I was reading Ryan’s blog post about Shiokai Kenji and his comparing his painted pots to Yusen it struck me – “wait a minute this potter is awesome, his pots are reasonably priced, and his paintings are excellent.”

I think you know what comes next.  Duh – “KJ we should buy some of his pots for our collection.”  Yes, we were awed at our own stupidity – wishing for something that will never occur while an opportunity literally sitting in our lap – or perhaps on our American Express card.

We have only been able to find Shiokai Kenji’s pots at Koju-en owned by Tomohiro Masumi.  So we went to his site to see what he had and then we reached out to Tomohiro to see what he had in stock.  He has just left for Kokufu-Ten (February, 2014) but promised on his return he would check to see what he had in inventory – we had ask for a specific pot on his site.

In the end we decided to purchase 11 of his pots. Nine we have received and the other two are being made by Shiokai Kenji.  Tomohiro was kind enough to ask Shiokai Kenji to paint a pheasant by his signature on one of them and on the other to hand sign Higa and Yogi in Kanji as these are KJ’s dad and mom family names.

So let’s take a brief look at Shiokai Kenji pots.  We will post more details as we take photos of all sides of these pots.

Shiokai Kenji – pots signed as takao-koyo


Tsukinowa Yusen (月之輪湧泉)

Tsukinowa Yusen (月之輪湧泉)

We learned from Tomohiro that pheasants are Shiokai Kenji’s favorite animal.  They are often seen on his pots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto 1This is Shiokai Kenji artist mark.  On some of his pots only the square mark is shown. We know that some of the pots that he paints are purchased from a third-party while some he makes himself. Our guess is that those that he has made and painted have both marks.

Classical Bonsai Art

Classical Bonsai Art: A Half Century of Bonsai Study – The Creations & Passion of William N. Valavanis

We always enjoy reading new books about bonsai or suiseki and Bill’s latest book is no exception.  You can pick up a copy for a very reasonable price by clicking here. This is quite a large book at 9×12-inches with over 250 pages of color photographs.

CoverIn addition to the beautifully photographed trees he also includes: Drastic Pruning of Maple & Deciduous Bonsai, Improving Design by Inarch Branch Grafting, Improving Deciduous Surface Roots, Bud Pinching Used to Limit, growth & Reduce Foliage Size, Bending & Moving Heavy Trunks & Branches, Juniper Approach Grafting
and more

We think you will really enjoy this book as it truly does show Bill’s passion for bonsai.  Enjoy a few other selected photos from his book.  All photographs are copyrighted by William N. Valavanis 2013.