Suiseki Art 1 – The beginning

– by Mas Nakajima

I started studying suiseki in the late 1970s under Yukikichi (Keiseiki) Hirotsu, who was a popular suiseki artist and collector. Mr. Hirotsu was one of the people who introduced suiseki to Northern California. In 1963, he founded the first suiseki club in America, Kashu Suiseki Kai in Palo Alto, and in 1982 he and Mr. and Mrs. Iwasaki founded San Francisco Suiseki Kai, and I joined Suiseki Kai shortly after that.

For the first 15 years or so I concentrated on learning the techniques and traditions of Japanese suiseki. At first I was very busy running my general contracting business and raising four young children, but gradually I started going tanseki (stone collecting) more often and making daiza constantly. Eventually I had so many finished suiseki – way more than 100 – that I ran out of room inside the house and started storing the stones everywhere in my yard.

By the early 90’s I was quite a serious and crazy stone guy, and I started asking myself a new question: “what to do with Stones that Don't Fit these beautiful stones that just do not fit into the traditional rules and categories of Japanese suiseki?” Visiting many great national parks in the West such as Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia, Death Valley and especially the magnificent Grand Canyon made me realize that there are many great landscapes and scenes that are not seen in Japan. Grand CanyonThese scenes were way out of my imagination. I was also very much influenced at that time by my good friend Mr. Tei (Yu-Lin Chung), who was an established folk artist and antique collector from Taiwan. I used to visit his house regularly and exchange ideas about suiseki with him.

My mind started to open, and I found the courage to follow my own vision for each particular stone. Every stone is different and I realized that you cannot simply follow a rule. You have to pay attention to, and show respect for, the stones individuality.

Most of the stones that I collect fit well into the traditional suiban or daiza display – and that is always my first choice. I tried to approach some of these unusual stones by making daiza that showed them as abstract or figure stones. However, some of them were not happy to stay as suiseki – or perhaps I was not satisfied, so it seemed that the stone was not happy.

Maguro-ishi The first suiseki art piece I created was with this beautiful makuro-ishi (black stone) with a tamari (water pool). I thought about cutting the stone and making a daiza for it, but that would wreck the deep tamari. So I used large thick lumber to set the stone and tried to carve a daiza for a traditional kaburi-iwa (head cover stone) suiseki. Perhaps I would display it with a small boat to add to the scene. The more I carved however, the more the stone started losing its power and spirit and became just ordinary scenery, and the free imagination was going to disappear.

Carving the Seat So I tried again, this time using a solid piece of birch wood. I carefully selected the location based on study of the wood grain, and I made a seat for the stone by carving deeply into the wood. After the stone was properly seated, I polished the wood to enhance the grain.

I like the simplicity and flexibility of this style, where the wood board gives the feeling of limitless space for the viewer’s free imagination.

Looking Forward
“Looking Forward”; W 30″ x D 14″ x H 9″; Trinity River stone and birch

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7 Responses to Suiseki Art 1 – The beginning

  1. […] option was to finish this as “suiseki art” similar to Looking Forward.  But the combination of the snow mountain overhanging the wide board didn’t seem to […]


  2. Janet Roth says:

    Hi Raquel, your project sounds quite interesting! Your ceramics would not be suiseki however. Suiseki are stones shaped entirely by nature, not by human hands. So a clay sculpture of a stone would be, well, a sculpture of a stone, and not a suiseki.

    And thank you for reading and commenting. -Janet


  3. Raquel Thompson says:

    Hello, wow, I appreciate your deep obsession with the stones. I am a ceramacist in Sydney working on an idea for representing the earth in symbiosis with us- on a grand scale. your site is inspiring to me. Supporting me to just follow my heart and intuition also. If I were to actually make my own stones from the clay of the earth and colour them with glazes made from the land would that be an acceptable parallel on true suiseki?? Although there are presently no trees involved. My subject revolves around the earth being in danger.. I would love to hear back from you. Thanks Raquel.


  4. Janet Roth says:

    Dave, yes I also think the board does serve much the same compositional/artistic function that is intended by the suiban. It provides both a frame for the composition, while also giving the “limitless space” of the suiban and sand.

    Dou itashimashite đŸ™‚


  5. dewa api says:

    batunya sae pisan…


  6. Dave Caccamo says:

    Hi Mas & Janet,
    I`ve looked at most of the site now and am very happy that you have spent the time to share this with the world.
    This piece makes me think of the wood as a suiban and why not?
    Domo arigato gozaimas,

    Dave Caccamo


  7. Inquisitive says:

    Hi there, I have recently had a poem dedicated to me which makes reference to a wood carving called Looking Forward. Having googled this phrase, I came across this website and have been interested to read about Suiseki Art. The poem dates Looking Forward at 1982… please could you get back to me as to whether the wood carving mentioned in the poem & Mas’s are one-and-the-same? I am intrigued & would be very grateful to hear from you!


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