A Little Bling

November 24, 2014

Ever since at least the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century, Japanese aesthetics have been a strong influence on the art and architecture of Northern California. For many of us, our houses and lifestyles all seem to reflect that subdued, not-too-flashy, modest approach.  As one small part of this, the appreciation of Viewing Stones was introduced to our area and taught exclusively by immigrants from Japan or their students, and focuses almost entirely on the Japanese Suiseki tradition.

So most of us are naturally attracted to the dark, subdued, introspective stones favored as suiseki.  But, into every life a bit of flash must come!  Even if you strongly love one particular aesthetic movement, there is nothing that stops you from also enjoying other views of the world.  Just for example, anyone who has spent more than a day in Japan is aware of the contrasts between the wabi-sabi of the countryside and the expensive Western-style bling of Ginza.  Both are very real expressions of modern Japanese taste and aesthetics – and happily exist side-by-side.

Most of the stones in this gallery were found in rockshops, where it is always fun to do a bit of “tanseki” –  most of them would never be considered “suiseki”, but that does not detract from their beauty and the pleasure they give us.  They fit comfortably next to our classic views of Mt. Fuji.

Click on the image to see the entire gallery.

2014 11 23 006 - final resize

Ancient Treasure


When to cut a stone

November 16, 2014
Sunrise - Natural View, Front

Sunrise – Natural View, Front

Some years ago we wrote about whether or not it is “permissible” to cut stones for suiseki (see To Cut or Not to Cut).

As we talked about in the first article, there is a lot of debate within the suiseki world on this subject.  In Japan there are a large number of suiseki enthusiasts and clubs.  Some of the groups concentrate only on natural stones, while others do accept cut stones.  San Francisco Suiseki Kai teaches that a natural stone is always preferred.  However, the club’s teachers, from the founding of the club in 1982, have allowed stone cutting when, and only when, it improves the presentation.

Mas himself loves the natural stones, but he also appreciates the great cut-stone suiseki.  He brought several stones to the club meeting this November to illustrate the decision making process.

There are several important points he made:

  • Take your time.  Once you’ve cut the stone you can’t change your mind!  And even if you are sure, there is always the chance that the stone will break during the cutting.  Cutting a stone should always be the last option.
  • A natural stone may not meet all the “rules” of suiseki, that is part of their beauty.  Like a human, each stone is an individual, with good points and bad.
  • A cut stone, however, should meet the basic rules of suiseki.  It should follow the so-called Rule of Three Dimensions (三面の方 San Men No Hō) and have good balance and proportions in all three directions.  It should have a good seat or posture (構え Kamae), with the ends and peak leaning slightly towards the viewer.
  • Daiza for natural stones are difficult to make well.  For beginners, start with your cut stones and keep your natural stones until you have developed your skills.

A gallery of photos that walks through the lecture is here: When to Cut – Gallery.

To my long-time readers – my apologies for such a very long absence.  Life intervened, and I haven’t been able to write anything for so long – but I hope now that I can now return to posting articles about Mas’ suiseki, and our life and travels!


Suiseki Program in October

July 21, 2010

As part of the Golden State Bonsai Federation convention this year, Bay Area suiseki enthusiasts are organizing a suiseki program, including a seminar, exhibit, and collecting trip. 

The convention runs from Thursday, October 28 – Sunday, October 31 at the Santa Clara Marriott.  Full information about the many activities and how to register for the convention can be found on their website: http://www.gsbfconvention.com/

The suiseki seminar is a panel discussion on Saturday Oct 30, 8:30 am – noon.  The panel members include some of the best-known suiseki teachers in California; they will discuss their views about how to find and recognize a good suiseki, how to finish or present it, and how to display the suiseki for others.  We expect this to be an interesting, informative, and provocative discussion.  

The stone-collecting trip, on Wednesday Oct. 27 – Thursday Oct. 28, will be a two-day trip to famous Eel River collecting sites where fine quality suiseki can be found. The trip is 1 1/2 days of stone collecting (all day Wednesday, and Thursday morning) with guidance from a team of experienced suiseki collectors.  The trip includes 2 picnic lunches and a dinner program.

Both the panel discussion and the collecting trip are paid convention events.  You can register for them through the convention website.

The bonsai and suiseki exhibit is open to the public free of charge.  It will be open from Friday, Oct 29 at 1:30 pm until Sunday, Oct 31 at 11:00 am.  Detailed open and close times can be found in the convention schedule. 

We are very much looking forward to seeing old friends, and making new ones, so please join us this fall.


Ryokan Keizo

February 10, 2010

Breakfast at Chef Keizo's

Whenever Mas and I visit Japan, our home base is my brother-in-law’s house in Nagoya.  Keizo and his son Ikuhito live in a small, comfortable, “mansion” (what Americans would call a condo).

Every day, Keizo shops for the best fresh fish and vegetables and cooks delicious, nutritious meals.  This breakfast from yesterday is typical: a rich red miso soup with mushrooms and tofu, some sweet, delicious local strawberries, grilled salmon, a small disch with spinach with miso, taro, grilled chicken liver, and Japanese style omelet, some “naga imo” (a kind of yam) with egg, and a bowl of excellent, perfectly cooked rice.  Keizo is also a potter, and made the dish holding the strawberries and the teacup.

Yesterday Mas and Keizo and I drove to Dachi, their home town, to visit their mother and older brother (see The Art of Craft).  Today, rested and refreshed by Keizo’s care, we will go to Tokyo for the night and visit the Kokufu-ten bonsai show in Ueno Park.  Then tomorrow we leave for Fukuoka to explore the island of Kyushu.


Bay Island Bonsai 11th Annual Show

December 29, 2009

The 11th annual Bay Island Bonsai “Exhibit of Fine Bonsai” is coming up on January 16-17 and Boon has again asked Mas to participate as a guest exhibitor.

The BIB show consists of formal 6-foot seki-kazari displays, in which the main display object is paired with one or two other elements, such as a scroll or a small plant.  Mas has often chosen to make a contemporary display, pairing one of his own paintings with a suiseki, rather than using a more traditional Japanese scroll.  It is always a challenge to select a painting that will harmonize with the suiseki and help to create a meditative space.

This year Mas plans to show two stones that I have recently written about: Longevity and Pietà.

Our club is excited about our new location at the Alameda County Fairgrounds and hope that everyone can find us there! Please go to the Bay Island Bonsai Exhibit page for details about the show.

Mas’ display at the 2008 BIB Exhibit:

"Silence"; Klamath River stone (W 8 1/2" x D 6 1/2" x H 4 ") in copper suiban; Oil painting on wood - 48" x 24"


Live Long and Prosper

December 4, 2009

When Mas is out collecting, he will pick up a stone if he sees something of interest.  If the stone material is good enough, with beautiful color or texture, he will bring it home for study even if he does not immediately see the potential suiseki.

Mas collected this dramatic piece of jadeite simply because it is so beautiful.  He hoped to perhaps find a good mountain shape in it.  He left it in the yard for several months while studying it .

During that time he noticed that in some views it looked like some sort of animal, maybe a cow or a sheep.  Then one day he happened to put it in the right orientation, and discovered the image of a turtle.  Mas cannot even find the words to describe his feeling – it was such a big surprise.  For a Japanese (and other East Asian people) the turtle is a powerful symbol of good luck.

Minogame - Edo period scroll The minogame (蓑亀), or 1000 year turtle, is a mythical animal that symbolizes longevity and brings good fortune.  It is usually depicted with a long, feathery tail of seaweed, which is thought to grow in the turtle’s shell. 

His first daiza presented the stone very explicitly as a turtle.  It had large legs and tail and he proudly showed it in 2001 at the 20th Anniversary exhibit of San Francisco Suiseki Kai.  But his excitement quickly faded.  By making such an obvious turtle, he hid the beauty and mystery of the stone.  To me, it became “cute” instead of profound. 

Following this Mas tried a couple of non-traditional approaches.  He first used the “Suiseki Art” approach he was developing at that time.  He used a large Cedar board as the base and carved out a seat for Kame-san (Mr. Turtle).  This was okay, but that Mas felt that it was missing something important.  Sitting on the large board did not emphasize the beauty of the ancient turtle.  (Click here for some earlier posts about Mas’ Suiseki Art.)

  A few years later he tried a this rather contemporary sculptural form, with simplified long legs and an open tunnel under the stone. He did it in plaster just to see if it would work, and he says it absolutely did not!  You can judge for yourself in this picture.

So Mas decided to go back to suiseki for this stone.   He first tried the “contemporary style” of daiza that he has been using recently for some natural stones (see, for example, Hideko’s stone).  This is a somewhat minimalist style, and Mas felt that it didn’t have enough “bite”. 

None of the bases he had made so far satisfied him.  They did not harmonize with the aged, dignified, feeling of the stone and Kame-san was not happy.

Finally he has gone all the way back to a traditional daiza.  The simple elegance of the two-level rim, with its slightly decorative touch, supports and harmonizes well with the stone.  While the finished piece does acknowledge the turtle shape (with the legs and fan-shaped tail), it does not over-emphasize it.  The viewer can enjoy the suiseki, using her own free imagination.

Mas says that it is amazing to find a stone such as this. He has been constantly trying to change the daiza and the way of displaying the stone, hoping each time for a bit of improvement.  He says that the more he loves the stone, the more it gives him energy to continue meeting its endless challenge.

As always, click on the photos for larger views, and a gallery of additional pictures.

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The Sky Behind the Sky

October 16, 2009

About eight or nine years ago, Mas started using spray paint on   wood boards to create his suiseki art, and soon developed his technique to make paintings. 

When I first met him, Mas was making paintings in his “Atmosphere” series.   At the time, Mas told me that he was trying to “paint the sky behind the sky”.  Light seems to pour from his paintings, and I swear they can brighten a dark room. 

Mas’ pictures are not representational landscapes, rather he tries to free his mind from any intention when he paints.  But, like suiseki, the resulting images evoke the natural world and bring it into our human life. 

Space: Sunrise, 2/24/2009; 24
Space: Sunrise, 2/24/2009; 24"x48", oil on panel
click the photo to see more paintings

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