The Suiseki Art of Mas Nakajima

February 14, 2021

Dear Friends, Sam Edge and I at long last have published The Suiseki Art of Mas Nakajima. This book is dedicated to Mas’ memory and includes photographs of 63 of his most evocative Suiseki, along with remembrances from friends, family, and students. This has been a labor of love for us, with help from so many of our dear friends.

Some technical notes in case you are interested in purchasing the book: This is a large hardbound book (102 pages at 11″ x 13″ or 33 x 28 cm). It has an ImageWrap Matte casewrap with the cover design printed directly on the cover and the photos are printed on Mohawk proPhotoPearl paper (an archival paper that will hold true color for more than 80 years). Blurb will ship to many different countries, and offers volume discounts for orders of 10 or more books and occasional general discount promotions for smaller purchases.

Sam and I hope this book brings pleasure to our fellow suiseki enthusiasts and all those who loved Mas. All my very best, Janet

The Suiseki Art of Mas Nakajima
Book Preview

Mas Nakajima 1948-2018

October 23, 2018

For those readers who do not know, Mas died on September 10 in an accident in our garden.  I am sorry it has taken me so long to post this message, and that it will be so short – I know there will come a time when I can write more. I am so very grateful to everyone who has gathered around me, wrapping me in love, in the wake of Mas’ sudden death.

The eulogies given at the memorial service, and other letters I have received, voiced the love that so many people felt for Mas.  I will gather these words and post them here very soon.  I cannot express how much I miss him, each and every day. But it is also true that Mas is embedded in my heart and will be with me for the rest of my days.

Mas’ obituary is here: .


How to find a suiseki

June 8, 2017


Finding suiseki is hard. A stone that might have the potential to be good suiseki must be made of good quality material with appropriate weathering, surface textures, colors, and shape.  When you are standing by the river, it’s daunting to realize that only a handful of those millions of stones are worth even taking home.

The question is, how do you search? If you try to pick up every stone and examine it closely, you’ll exhaust yourself (and run out of daylight) long before you’ve looked at even a tiny fraction – and you might not find anything. Instead, we scan the stones we see as we walk along, looking for ones that show at least one characteristic that might be promising.  What we look for depends on the location.

Black Butte Lake is a place known for its high quality, colorful jaspers – yellows, reds, browns, and beautiful black. The problem is that most of the exposed stones are encrusted in dried, baked-on, algae and dirt, so you can’t see the type or color of material.

In this case Mas scans the stones looking for ones which might have a good shape and then looks at the bottom side. The bottom is protected from the algae and dirt, and is also usually wet. The surface of the stone will be visible and he can see the color and the quality of the stone material.

If the shape is interesting, with no recent breaks or cracks, and the stone has great quality and color, then he is happy to bring it home for further study. He doesn’t hunt for anything specific, like a particular shape or color (e.g. searching for a mountain stone or a red-and-yellow jasper), but just looks at each stone to learn what it has to say. He probably would not find any specific thing he was looking for, and focusing like that would also limit his chance to find and enjoy so many other stones.

It was just an accident, great luck, to find a heart-shaped jasper with a good size and such fantastic quality and color. Mas’ teacher, Mr. Hirotsu, once said that his advice to suiseki enthusiasts was to “Just enjoy” – and Mas and I re-learn that lesson every time we go collecting.


Click here to see a slideshow of other views.

Lady Murasaki

January 2, 2017

We are very honored to have one of Mas’ suiseki, Lady Murasaki, included in i-j4vg3gw-sthe permanent collection of the Oakland Museum of California.  This piece was previously part of their special exhibit,  Unearthed: Found + Made (during the 1st half of 2016).

When viewed from the conventional front (see the photo to the right), the stone is a classic suiseki, or landscape scene stone.  The word “murasaki” means purple, and the stone evokes the image of a graceful mountain, perhaps in the purple light of dusk. (Unfortunately, the photo does not show the true color which is a dark purple rather than black).

However, when viewed from the side the stone reveals the image of a lady with the dress and hairstyle of ancient Japan.  It particularly reminds us of the images of Murasaki Shikibu which have been painted over the centuries.


Tosa Mitsuoki illustration of Lady Murasaki writing.  c. late 17th C.

The Lady Murasaki (c. 973 – c. 1014) was the great writer of the Heian period in Japan (794-1185), and is one of the most important figures in Japanese and world literature.  She is known for her diary of court life, a book of poems, and most particularly for The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari), which is often referred to as the world’s first novel.

In addition to being a continuing subject of study by scholars of literature, Genji is read and enjoyed by people around the world in modern translations.

The Tale of Genji was something of a best-seller in its time.  New installments were eagerly awaited and even read to the emperor, with copies distributed throughout Japan. Within a century it had been recognized as a classic of Japanese literature. Lady Murasaki is one of the towering figures in human history, and she and her Tale of Genji have inspired readers, scholars, and artists worldwide for centuries.

This suiseki is our tribute to her, and we could not be more proud than to have it in the Oakland Museum.

Yosemite Falls

June 18, 2016


“Prayer (Yosemite Falls)”

This Suiseki Art sculpture, which Mas made back in about 2002, can be appreciated in many ways.  The stone is a classic waterfall stone, or taki-ishi, and especially evokes the image of Yosemite Falls.


Winter view of Yosemite Falls

Looked at another way, it seems to be two hands folded in prayer (perhaps to the Poloti, the witches that were believed by the Ahawahneechee to inhabit the pool at the bottom).

The base holding the stone is a Douglas Fir roof beam from a house that Mas had renovated.  He loves the feeling that the same beam that supported a family’s home also supports this suiseki.

Mas and I are fortunate to visit often at Yosemite National Park.  His favorite time to photograph the falls is early in the morning just as the sun starts to rise, when everything is quiet and he has it all to himself.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service – “America’s Best Idea”.  I hope everyone reading this has the opportunity to enjoy some of these incredible places which have been protected for everyone in the world.

We’ve collected a few of our favorite  pictures of Yosemite Falls – please click here to go the gallery of images.



Bay Island Bonsai 2016

February 1, 2016

Ever January, Mas is a guest artist at the Bay Island Bonsai exhibit at the Lakeside Garden Center in Oakland.  Boon Manakitivipart, our founder and teacher, gives Mas two six foot tables and no restrictions on what he can exhibit.  In this setting, surrounded by some of the finest bonsai in the country, Mas feels the freedom to experiment in ways that he can’t at our suiseki club exhibits. He often uses challenging stones or settings, which would not fit within a traditional suiseki display.  Instead of antique Japanese scrolls, Mas uses his own paintings to create the displays.

Mas and I found this stone in May of 2015.   We had gone up to the Eel River early in the morning, the day before a club collecting trip. The particular spot we went has some excellent stone material, but is not suitable for a large group.  It’s a small area and difficult to access, requiring a fairly steep, slippery, climb.  On that day neither of us was feeling good, and having climbed down with difficulty, the stone seemed large and heavy, and maybe not very attractive.

Once we got home though Mas couldn’t get this stone out of his mind, he didn’t want to just leave it.  It seemed like it might be one of those once-in-a-lifetime stones. So the next weekend we went back to get it.    Naturally we couldn’t remember where we had found it, and wasted the morning at a different location.  But luckily I had snapped a photo on my phone and, when I finally thought to check, the time-stamp told me right where to go.  So after a nice picnic lunch, we finally made it back.

This time we both felt much better, the climb down was actually fairly easy, as long as we could hold a rope to keep us from slipping on the dry grass, and the stone isn’t really all that big – Mas carried it easily in a backpack up the hill.

The human mind seems to naturally see images in abstract patterns such as clouds – and stones, turning abstract pieces into figurative sculptures.  When we first found this stone we immediately started calling it “The Mushroom”.  Then after getting it home and watching it for a few days, Mas pointed out that it really looks like a black pine bonsai.  After he set it upright we started seeing a dinosaur, or perhaps a “rising dragon”.  Several viewers at the BIB exhibit started calling it “E.T.”   As the stone ages over the next few years, and the black color on the neck starts to develop, I’ll be interested to see if other images emerge.

Click to see a gallery of past BIB displays.

Yosemite Winter

December 22, 2015


Bridge over Merced River

Mas and I feel very lucky to live within a few hours drive of Yosemite Valley.  We visit often and there is always a warm feeling of being at home, walking familiar paths to well-loved places.  But each time we are there, it is different.  The sun and shadows lie on a cliff face differently, a tree has grown or died, some rock has fallen. It is a living place which feels like a friend.

This visit we walked up to Mirror Lake by a route we hadn’t used before, and found this bridge across the river.

Click on the photo for the Winter Yosemite gallery

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:

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.

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