Friday, March 17, 2006

Toyama ishi

Toyama ishi - 24 x 9 x 14 cm

This stone was found in the river Aare in Switzerland.
Its a fine example of a well balanced mountain "yama" seen from the distance "to". The three peaks are well located and differ in hight. The color is a dark gray and the surface is softly erroded with small petrusions all over.
The stone is good water keeping, "mizumochi no ii ishi".

Mizutamari ishi

Mizutamari ishi - 11 x 5 x 5 cm

This stone was found in the river Aare in Switzerland.
The stone belongs to the caegory of the "mizutamari ishi" waterpool stones. Waterpool stones can suggest either a small place with a little pool as well a landscape with a lake or several lakes. When presented in the suiban mostly the waterpool is filled with water

Sajigawa kuzuya ishi

Sajigawa kuzuya ishi - 8 x 9.5 x 6 cm

This ston was found in the Saji river "sajigawa) in Japan.
It is a good example of a "kuzuya ishi" a stone suggesting a little, aged hut somewhere in the nature near to fall apart.
In such stones, the viewer not search for stones that look like a castel or a house but this kind of old small hut some where in the nature once a while used by a traveler.

Iwagata ishi

Iwagata ishi - 24 x 6 x 9 cm

This stone was found in the river Aare in Switzerland.
It is a nice example of a cave stone or a coastal rock with deeply erroded caves.
The surface "hada" is "saba" meaning the surface was erroded by the river's ground water before the stone came into the river flow where it would have been rounded and polished

Toyama ishi

Chichibu Toyama ishi mei Fuji san - 30 x 10 x 12.5 cm

This stone was found in Chichibu, Japan.
It is a great example for a suggestion of mount Fuji with its white snow cape.
The stone is well presented in the daiza, but not in a suiban because the part below the mountain is to high.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Toyamaishi - 21 x 13 x 9.5 cm

This stone was found by the author in te river Aare in Switzerland. The stone represents a beautiful distant mountain. Its well balanced and slightly bulky shape suggests a small mountain. This stone is presented in an old Chinese lily container whichmatches the color and the surface structure of the stoene in its best way.

Shimagata ishi

Shimagata ishi - 20 x 7 x 14 cm

This stone was found by the author in the river Aare in Switzerland in 2001. The stone represents an island in the ocean, featuring deeply erroded parts called "hame". The surface of the stone is called "saba" and is tipical for sufaces erroded by the water in the underground before getting polished by the force of the river.

Sajigawa kinzanseki

Sajigawa kinzanseki - 15 x 17 x 8 cm

This stone was found around 30 years ago in the Saji river (sajigawa). It represents a steep cliff with a surface erroded by the forces of the nature. The structure of the stone is distinctive of stones forund in the Sajigawa.

Iwagata ishi

Iwagata ishi - 28 x 8 x 8 cm

This stone was found by the author at the river Aare in Switzerland in 1992. The stone suggest a rock at the ocean shore (iwa) and shows beautifully the erroded parts which have been washed out by the forces of nature. Further on the stone shows a water pool on its surface "mizutamari" which suggests a little lake on the plateau of the rock. The parts with fine crossing quart lines are called "kachi". This stone was exhibited at the Suiseki Meihin Ten in 2002 and was considered by the jury as a good suiseki.

Ibigawa toyamaishi mei zansetsu

Ibigawa toyamaishi mei zansetsu 27 x 15 x 8 cm

This stone was found in the Ibi river (ibigawa). The stone represents a distant mountain (toyama) but also an island (shima). The stone's color has a slightly purple touch and is called "murasaki" in Japan. The white quart inclusions are called Dragon eyes "ryugan". The large white spot in the center of the stones suggests the reflection of the full moon.
An outraging of the stone is its ability to keep water for a very long time when moistened for presentation. Stones with these qualities are called "mizumochi no ii ishi".

This stone was in the collection of Tokugawa Iemitsu some 150 years ago and was later in the possession of a member of the "ichi-U-kai". In 1995 stone became part of my private collection.

Old storage box made of pawlonia wood (kiribako). Written on lid: "Ibigawatoyamaishimeizansetsu"

Kamogawa yoryukannon

Kamogawa kannon ishi mei yoryukannon, 7 x 6.5 x 21 cm

This human shape stone (sugata ishi) was found in the Kamo river (kamogawa) and is suggesting the godess of mercy "yoryu Kannon". The stone was in the posession of a temple in Kyoto in the ealy Edo Period (1600 - 1886) more than 350 years ago. Later on it became important treasure of the private collection of Tokugawa Rairin. Later it was owned by Ooishi Kenjiro a member of Japan's most famous suiseki association. the "ich-U-kai" (one rain society). Since 1998 the stone is part of my personal collection.

The deep compassion and mercy of Kannon (embodyment of enlightened compassion) and her response to all beings is compared to how the willow bend and sways gracefully in the wind, turning in all directions. One of the 33 appearances of Kannon. She holds a willow branch in her right hand and holds her left hand in the "samui mudra" (causing no fear) position. Also known as *Yakuo Kannon (medicine king Kannon), the one who heals us of all spiritual distress.

Among sugataishi, in this field the most numerous are those in the form of the Bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokitesvara). In this Kannon figure we can discover the crimson color (beninagashi) that is distinctive of stone obtained from the Kamogawa region. This increases the charm and beauty of the stone. In appreciating stones with particular forms, it is not simply a matter of appreciating the the interesting shape. Needless to say, the stone should have a stately bearing to being with. Rather than very graphic and realistic representation of a figure, the ideal is a stone in which one fels the original form subtly suggested in the shape of the stone. Here lies the true beauty and wonder of such stones.

Old storage box (kiribako) made of pawlonia wood. The outside of the lid shows the character for "kamogawayoryukannonishi" inside of the lid, a poem about the stone is written by Yamamoto.

Setagawa maguro ishi mei eboshi

Setagawa maguro ishi mei eboshi - 11 x 9.5 x 3 cm

This stone was found in the Seta river (setagawa). Beside of the beautiful black color (maguro), the stone represents a little black hat (eboshi), which the gentlemen of the cort have carried on their head in the early Nara period.
I received this stone as a gift from Matsuura Arishige, the president of the Nippon Suiseki Kyokai in 1999.

Kamogawa beitenmoyo ishi

Kamogawa toyama maguro beitenmoyo ishi, 23 x 7 x 7 cm

This stone is what they call "subarashii" in Japan, which means outstanding. Beside of an extremely well balanced shape of a distant montain "toyama", the stone has a marvellous black color and an elegant soft surface. As additional feature the stone shows a pattern which looks like rice grain "beiten moyo". The pattern is blooming "sakari" all over the stone's surface.
This suiseki was found 80 years ago and has been exhibited on many important exhibitions like the Nippon Suiseki Meihinten in 2003.

Kamogawa maguro danseki

Kamogawa maguro danseki, 21 x 11 x 8.5 mm

This suiseki was found in the Kamo river (kamogawa) some 50 years ago ad belongs to the category of plateau stones (danseki). The shape is well balanced and the main qualities of the stone are its deep black color (koiro) and the old patina (hadaai). Stones like this are also called "bonseki" and have been used for display by tea masters in the art of tea (chado).

Suiseki and the unique view of nature in Japan

«The outstanding aestetic and quality of Japanese art and crafts based on the unique view of nature in Japan and in specific the art of stone appreciation suiseki has always been my deep passion. Although I have intensively studied and learned, my knowledge is still on an unsatisfactory level. All I know today, I have learned from people in Japan, well known connoisseur of the arts, from viewing and studying images of catalogues and books, studying stones in private collections and on exhibitions and of coarse reading books. I would like to thank everybody who has helped me for better understanding among them the most important ones are Arishige Matsuura, president of the Nippon Suiseki Kyôkai, a person with an extremely refined taste, who has thought me the real essentials of suiseki and the Japanese art. Seiji Morimae who I first met some ten years ago at the beautiful house of Chikufuen, where he worked as a student at that time, showing me his boss collection while he was out.

I also received deep insights through important publications like «Zen no Kenkyû“ of Kitaro Nishida, the founder of modern Japanese philosophy, „Die Philosophie Japans“ of Peter Pförtner and Jens Heise, Inoue Tetsujiro, Die japanische Philosophie, in „Die Kultur der Gegenwart“, Nakamura Hajime, „A history of the development of Japanese thought“, the tales of Lafcadio Hearns, Curd Glauser in his books on “Die Kunst Ostasiens”, the marvelous book of Izutsu and Toshihiko “The theory of beauty in the classical aesthetics of Japan” and many more. For me particularly mention-worth still are the remarkable publications of Professor Isamu Kurita: Ippen shônin: „Tabi no shisaku-sha“ (Priest Ippen: a poet on the road) Asuka-Yamato: „Bi no junrei“ (Asuka and Yamato: a pilgrimage of beauty), „Setsugekka no kokoro“ (A heart of snow, moon, and flowers), „Dôgen no yomikata“ (How to read the works of Priest Dôgen), „Nihon no Kokoro“ (Japanese Mind) and least but not last his genius essay: „Setsugakka“ on which the following compilation about nature bases.

Martin Pauli

We always tend to mystify things, which we don’t understand. If we want to understand, Japanese fine arts, no matter whether it is bonsai, suiseki, ikebana or kendo, judo and karate, we not only have to pay attention to the art we are interested in. We have to study the Japanese history, culture and philosophy. At a certain point we start to understand and many things we didn’t understand before will become simply clear and comprehensible.

“In the first place, we should note that the Japanese are willing to accept the phenomenal world as Absolute because of their disposition to lay greater emphasis upon intuitive sensible concrete events, rather than upon universals. This way of thinking, with emphasis upon the fluid, arresting character of observed events regards the phenomenal world. What is widely known among post-Meiji philosophers in the last century as the “theory that the phenomenal is actually the real” has a deep root in Japanese tradition” (“Nihon no shisôkai” The intellectual world of Japan, 1967 by Nakamura Yûjirô)

“They also have rites and ceremonies so different from those of all other nations that it seems they deliberately try to be unlike any other peoples. The things which they do in this respect are beyond imagining and it may truly be said that Japan is a world the reverse of Europe; everything is so different and opposite that they are like us in practically nothing. So great is the difference in their food, clothing, honors, ceremonies, language, management of the household, in their way of negotiating, sitting, building, curing the wounded and sick, teaching and bringing children up and in anything else, that it can neither be described nor understood.

Now all this would not be surprising if they were like so many barbarians, but what astonishes me is that they behave as very prudent and cultured people in al these matters. To see how everything is the reverse of Europe, despite the fact that their ceremonies and customs are so cultured and founded on reason, causes no little surprise to anyone who understands such things. What is ever more astonishing is that they are so different from us, and even contrary to us, as regards the senses the natural things and in specific their view of nature”. ..

…it is no less astonishing to see the importance that they attach to things which they regard as treasures in Japan, although to us such things seem trivial. They have a kind of earthenware bowl from which the “cha” is drunk. The king of Bungo once showed me such a small bowl for which, in all truth, we would have no other use than to put it into a bird’s cage as a drinking-trough; nevertheless, he paid 9’000 taels (or about 14,000 ducats) for it. Although thousands of similar bowls are made, the Japanese can immediately pick out these valuable items from among thousands of others, just as European jewelers can distinguish between genuine and false stones… (Allessandro Valignano 1539-1606)

Painting subjects of winter snow, the autumn moon, and spring cherry blossoms, often presented in a triptych format. The subjects are thought to originate from a verse by the Chinese poet, Bo Chui (772-846; Jp: Haku Kyoi or *Haku Rakuten), which contains the line, „Setsugekka no toki mottomo kimi wo omou.“ (When I see the snow, moon, or flower, I always think of you.) The theme was also worked into Japanese waka poetry and later appeared in “renga” poetry from the 15th century. The earliest known use in Japanese literature occurs in The pillow book (makura no sôshi ; ca.1000) by Sei Shônagon. The subject not only represents seasonal changes, but also holds various literary allusions. In painting, the theme was often combined with the views of famous places (meisho-e). For example, the winter snow might appear atop a depiction of Mt. Fuji, the moon in a scene of autumn foliage along the banks of Tatsutagawa, and the cherry blossoms in a view of Mt. Yoshino. Setsugekka was a popular yamato-e subject, and it was also favored by “rinpa” artists. In ukiyo-e the theme was often used as a parody (mitate-e) in pictures of beauties (bijin-ga), or incorporated into landscape scenes (fûkeiga).

The unique view of nature in Japan
Japanese artists have turned more frequently to nature for their subject matter while Western artists have tended to focus primarily on human subject. Ancient Buddhist art containing representations of human form is above all concerned with expressing the truth of Buddha’s law. Buddhist images symbolized, in iconographic form, a universal view that set forth humankind’s relation to nature.

Subsequently, art expanded beyond the realm of religion, evolving first through the Heian imperial court (794-1185), then into the austere period of samurai ascendancy during the Kamakura (1185-1333), Muromachi (1333-1568), and Momoyama (1568-1600) periods, and further still into the modern aestheticism of the Edo period (1600-1868). Through every era, despite numerous changes in modes of expression, one common artistic thread persisted: a profound interest in natural scenery and landscape.

For Japanese, it seems that the portrayal of nature by its symbolic beauty, its harmonious interplay, its inherent order, and its evocative power should be the predominant subject of art.

In early Western art, nature was mostly a backdrop for depictions of Christian figures and narratives. Then through the renaissance and up to the modern time, portraiture and figure painting tended to dominate artistic concerns.

In Western art nature has generally become a prominent theme only in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and it was only in the 19th century that paintings of people at work or at prayer in nature began to appear.

Nature has always had a special significance for the Japanese, especially in the arts.

Non-Japanese often say that they find the thinking of Japanese people difficult to comprehend. The rules that define the norms for Japanese people are different. Underlying their guidelines are a number of basic tenets: nature is beautiful, nature is harmonious, it has an intrinsic order and rules, and in certain way it can be seen to have an ethical or moral dimension.

These ideas are shaped by the belief that humankinds exist with the order of nature. Where the Japanese perhaps differ from other peoples sharing these same views is in their seeming inability to define nature’s laws in clear, objective terms.

Among the terms used by Japanese to define their sensibilities, are “mono no aware” (the pathos of things). The term informs the norms believed to govern Japanese behavior, and is based of a deep affinity with nature and beauty, and a spontaneous, emotional response toward them.

The term is also used in a broader sense to describe a corresponding emotional affinity between humankind and the other creatures in the natural universe, or the love that exists between a man and a woman.

The capacity to be moved deeply, an aesthetic ideal associated with Heian period literature and aristocratic values. An empathetic response to the ephemerally of existence, aware usually implies sadness, although implications of joy and amazement are also possible. The word, a conjunction of the exclamations a and hare, first appeared in the “man'yôshû”, but reached its peak of popularity in The Tale of Genji „genji-e”, where it is used 1,044 times as either a noun, a verb, awarebu or as adjectival phrases, awarenaru and awareto. Aware was used often as a critical term, hanshi, in poetry competitions, utaawase, and also appears in waka criticism such as Fujiwara Shunzei's (1114-1204) “korai fûtaishô” and later in theory on linked-verse “renga”. In this linked-verse usage, aware acquired a connotation of elegant beauty. Although aware most properly distinguishes an internal, personal response to external phenomena, the association of the term with ephemeral beauty had repercussions for Heian art, adding a layer of depth to the outer expression of courtliness “miyabi”. The presence of aware in literature, such as the tale of Genji and the tales of Ise “Ise Monogatari-e” then provided subjects for various forms of art, including painting, thus extending the influence of aware well beyond the Heian period. The phrase mono no aware the "pathos of things," was used by Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) to distinguish the broader Heian use of the term from the personal and idiosyncratic Edo period usage.

Japan has continued to believe in ancient spiritual elements that at one long time, until the Christianization was implemented in the western world, where actually global viewpoints.

It is only these elements that In fact set the Japanese apart. You can see Japanese uniqueness as simply coinciding with the most ancient fundamental notions that have governed humankind’s behavior everywhere on Earth since the earliest times.

Setsugakka, the three symbolic elements
To understand how the Japanese have traditionally looked upon nature, we can look up on the well-known speech of the author Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) when he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968. Entitled “Japan the beauty and Myself”, the oration focused on a discussion of the phrase setsugakka, which is linguistically lycomposed of tree elements: Snow (setsu), Moon (getsu) and Flowers (ka).

The phrase however is more than mere descriptive terminology. As the artworks on display here vividly demonstrate, these three elements appear repeatedly in Japanese painting and fine arts. Snow expressing the winter season, moon providing a year-round constant in the night sky. Flowers symbolizing the myriad plants and trees in endless transition amidst the cycle of the four seasons.

The perceptive observer will quickly discover, that the elements represented by setsugakka appear not only in Japan’s work of fine art. They also appear in all kind of design elements of daily life and even in the family names of the Japanese, indeed they are a part of almost every aspect of Japanese life.

Flowers (ka)
Flowers – especially cherry (sakura) and plum (ume) blossoms – are an integral feature of Japanese painting. Wherever they appear, flowers and plants in general are usually depicted in their natural, wild state.

In Japan, flowers, grasses and trees are not viewed merely as tangible objects but as symbols of life itself. In flowers we perceive the universal laws of nature, the unending cycle of life, birth, death and rebirth. As evidence, consider the numerous flower-related festivals and events that have been celebrated each spring in Japan since ancient times.

The first record of cherry blossom viewing appears in Tale of Genji, the pinnacle of classical Japanese literature, written in the 12th century. One entire chapter of this work is devoted to a description of a cherry blossom to make merry with food, music and poetry until late into the night. It is here that Genji meets his eternal love, Oborozukiyo, the lady of the misty moonlit night for the first time

Cherry-blossom viewing has long had special significance in Japan. Yoshinoyama, located in the historic heartland of Nara, is said to have been the earliest center of religious faith in the country. Still today the entire mountain is covered with cherry trees.

A legend speaks of Konohana Sakuyahime, daughter of the god of agriculture, who was herself viewed as a goddess of spring and vernal abundance. According to popular belief, her spirit takes possession of a cherry tree, enabling her to descend from heaven to earth.

Through the ages people have gathered under blossoming cherry trees, believing them to be sacred, and offered up their prayers to Konohana Sakuyahime for a plentiful year’s harvest. Other festivals incorporate flowers offerings to ward of illness and nature disasters.

Blossoming cherry trees have been a revered symbol of spring, while brightly tinged leaves have symbolized autumn. Since ancient times, people have gathered to admire autumn foliage. The Japanese fondness for making excursions to view autumn leaves was recorded by the Portuguese as early as the 16th century.

A pair of painted screens dating from Muromachi period is providing early evidence
One is depicting a cherry blossom-viewing scene, the other an outing to view maple leaves. Together these screens demonstrate the strong affinity that the Japanese have long felt to cherry blossoms and autumn’s brilliant foliage. But what is the meaning behind these activities?

The repertory of the Noh theater, which emerged in the late 14th century, includes a song about gathering autumn leaves. It describes a courageous man who passes a night in a forest underneath the shedding trees. There suddenly appears an alluring enchantress who drives the youth to distraction.

While the cherry blossom of spring represent the birth of new life, autumn foliage, as this Noh song reveals, symbolizes the final burst of flame, of life, that precedes the arrival of winter, that represents death.

Autumn is also a time of heightened sensuality, and the time when we become most intimately conscious of death – together with the promise of rebirth in the spring – within the dynamic cycle of nature.

The Japanese do not look upon flowers and fall foliage as objects or pretty decorations, flowers are imbued with connotations of the grand natural flow between life and death.

Snow (setsu)
Snow is a symbol of winter. A white covering that blankets all that which is visible in other seasons. At the same time a snows cape, through seemingly devoid of everything, in fact offers a hint of new life, weather it be a single plum blossom coming into bud or a tiny blade of new grass – harbingers of a scene that is soon to unfold. Snow is a favored backdrop in Japanese drama, especially Noh theater and Kabuki.

A snowy landscape heightens the tension of the story through its inherent, vivid contrast. The contrast between a completely white snow cover that buries all life and creates a frigid world of death and the stalwart portrayal of life in the fact of, and even overcoming, death.

Flowers and fall foliage reveal the life force of nature, snow serve as a symbol of the world of winter, darkness and death and as a foreshadowing of life to come.

Moon (getsu)
In Japanese culture, the moon is more than simply a heavenly body. Since ancient times the Japanese have believed that the moon is the abode of the god of moon viewing.
In Buddhism it is seen as a symbol of the truth of Buddhist law. This belief originates from the fact that the moon always remains in the sky; no matter how much a person might move about, walk from palace to place or even travel across the world. It reveals itself again and again, in perfect form, everywhere. As a reflection it can appear in the water of a pond or drop of water in the palm of one’s hand.

The moon is constant, something that never leaves us. And because it always remains in the sky, the moon represents the fundamental truths of the universe.

Obviously, Japanese have not viewed or portrayed nature simply in the terms in which it appears. Japanese have taken elements of nature, flowers, snow and the moon, symbolizing the continuum of nature, the nature’s life-given powers and the comprehensive and unchanging truth that governs all things, which itself includes the first two elements, and understood themselves to be an integral part of this context.

Japanese people wish to be at one with nature and they work toward this through the creation of works of beauty. Japanese art is a manifestation of this desire to be one with nature.

When a Japanese artist draws a landscape painting, it is not so much a description of a particular or isolated scene, but rather a suggestion of a universal idea underlying the overall composition.

Instead of reproducing visual scenes just as they appear to the eye, Japanese artists prefer to crate scenery in a symbolic and stylized manner. Japanese art is expected to be replete with profound significance, philosophically, literally and ideologically. This multidimensionality is perhaps most recognizable in ink paintings and landscapes.

Landscape (sansui)
The Japanese word for landscape is sansui. The term is composed of two elements: San (mountain) and Sui (water). The majority of Japanese landscape paintings include depictions of mountains and flowing water. In Japan, mountains traditionally have been regarded as sacred locations, places where spirits dwell or to which they descend from heaven. Ideally, mountains should be viewed from afar and worshipped.

Rivers on the other hand have been regarded as places where mortals can wash away their spiritual impurities, clean their souls, and thus become more vigorous, more vital. No wonder that many Shinto shrines in Japan face onto rivers or streams.

After visitors cleanse themselves in the river water they are sufficiently purified to worship at the shrine.

Given this background, Japanese landscape paintings, depictions of mountains and water, and occasionally including the sun or moon, do not represent isolated scenes from nature in realistic detail. Rather at their deepest level they attempt to portray the universal framework and natural truths that underlies such scenery.

Elements behind the Japanese view of nature
There are three mayor elements in the Japanese view of the natural world.

The first element can be defined as the changes that occur through the passage of the four seasons, a repetitive and orderly cycle of flux.

The second element relates to the invisible forces that effect nature, creating the shape of a tree, the form of a mountain or a stone.

The third element is the energy that creates life ad all forms of living.

Together, these three elements exert their various effects on the physical world, sometimes in clearly manifested ways and sometimes in unseen ways.
In the Japanese view, these events all occur due to the existence of a mysterious, spiritual power. In other words, Japanese people view nature as part of a total cosmic realm.

This Japanese view diverges widely from the view of nature we have in the West. The Japanese view relates to the ancient word musubi, literally “birth giving spirit”, which implies life is generated spontaneously.

The modern western view sees nature in material parameters, as negative and passive, a created, statistic work. In the West, the belief in the existence of sacred, life-giving force in all objects is referred to as animism. But, there is a difference between Western animism and the Japanese view of nature. According to animism, each object, whether it is a rock, a tree or water, is home to its own peculiar spirit that makes the object what it is.

In the Japanese view, at the root of these myriad manifestations exists one invisible, underlying and uniform sacred entity, the one life-giving force. This sacred entity exists in all objects as itself. This is why the Japanese believe that nature is in close relationship with the sacred, a view somewhat akin to animism.

The modern Japanese word for nature is shizen. It is a relatively recent coinage dating only to the Meiji period (1868-1912). Its adoption as a translation for the Latin word natura was first proposed by Amane Nishi (1829-1897) a leading philosopher of his days.

Prior to that time, the Japanese view of nature was expressed by the word zôka, made up from two characters meaning “creation” and “change”. The fusion between this early connotation of creation and change and the Japanese notion of nature signifies the inseparable relationship between these two concepts in the Japanese view.

Matsuo Bashô (1644-1694), one of the most well known proponents of the Japanese view of nature said that a close rapport with zôka is the continuous thread that binds all of Japan’s most famous thinkers and artists down through history.

Transcending human knowledge
One of the common criticisms of Japanese art is that it is merely decorative or “artistic” in character. Given the thinking that underlies it, as described above. Japanese art, in truth, has a profundity that transcends many of the conventions associated with modern art.

The Japanese do not see art as a message from one human being to another. Nor do they believe that art has value because it is entirely “human” in character or origin. In the field of ceramic for example, prized everyday utensils made by unknown artisans, and works imperfect or irregular in shape, sometimes even cracked have been highly appreciated.

For Japanese not only admire artworks that are geometrically perfect, such as Chinese celadon or white porcelains, but often display a strong affection for beauty that appears to be imperfect. This Japanese love of the imperfect stems from an acknowledgement of the inherent limitations of human creative powers. No matter how hard a human being might try, we are ultimately incapable of creating something that is absolutely perfect. Perfection, on the contrary, is the product of the creative powers of nature, zôka.

The ceramic piece that emerges from kiln is the end product of spontaneity beyond the power of human control. It is evidence of the powers of nature. Ceramic is only one manifestation of the grand and mysterious power of nature.

Another example is ikebana. The Japanese art of flower arranging. Flower arranging is no unique to Japan. In the West as well, flowers are placed in abundance in both public and private settings. But unlike the West, where flowers are typically seen as an interior accessory, in ikebana the goal is to arrange the flowers in such a manner as to reproduce them in their natural, uncut setting.

The principal location for displaying an ikebana arrangement is the tokonoma, in a Japanese-style tatami-matted room. The tokonoma is not regarded as part of the interior space, rather like a sacred place. Even a single flower serves as a symbol of universal truth, providing the medium trough, which humans can become, one with the nature.

For this reason, an ikebana arrangement, particularly when created for the tea ceremony, is usually kept simple. Rather than a flower at the peak of its bloom, a flower still in the bud is welcomed, for it demonstrates all the more vividly and clearly the process of life unfolding. Indeed, it is said that nothing is more magnificent than an ikebana arrangement that, once set in place, spontaneously settles overnight into its own arrangement, confirming to the order of nature without the touch of a human hand. The Japanese thus view even a single flower in the wider context of its relationship to nature, part of the totality of the world that embraces humanity.

The Japanese do not view art as decorative ornamentation. They view it as an integral element of everyday life. The inherent function of art is to transport one into close and harmonious union with nature.

The superior or successful work of art is not an object that has achieved perfect beauty. To be truly outstanding, a work of art must serve as a means to morally purify and elevate the world of universe, the environment, and in turn, the beholder.

This notion can perhaps best be understood through the specific, if perhaps atypical, examples of Japanese art described below.

The way of art as a moral force
Japan, of course, is not without its many artistic geniuses and skilled and specialized artisans. In all areas of the traditional arts, the ordinary person commonly participates in the production, performance and enjoyment of artistic endeavors.
Almost one thousand years ago, in the tale of Genji, Genji is portrayed not as one of the leading statesmen of these days, but also as an accomplished poet and painter.

Artistic undertakings where not only reserved for the elite. Traditional Japanese verse, for example, in both its waka (31 syllable) and haiku (17 syllable) forms, was an immediate part of the life of the ordinary person to relay their deepest sentiments to the object of their affections.

Within the circles of the imperial court, the ability to compose poetic verse was regarded as the highest asset of a truly skilled functionary. This view derived from the power that poetry was seen to have harmonizing human relationships and in infusing harmony, beauty and moral astuteness into every human setting.

A corresponding situation also exists in tea ceremony. Although there are headmasters (iemoto) of the various schools of this art, the tea ceremony continues to be practiced and enjoyed by people from every station in life. Ikebana, likewise, is not restricted to a special few, but is common part of life. Similarly Noh, Kabuki and other related forms of art.

Also calligraphy, a basic task of everyday life, was elevated to a status approaching, sometimes even transcending, that of a painting. In religious contexts, calligraphy was even believed by many to be imbued with spiritual power.
During the mid-nineteen century, it was common practice for children to take lessons in calligraphy as an indispensable artistic, and practical accomplishment. These pursuits and also the so-called martial arts like kendô, judô and so on, typically contain the suffix dô. The term is normally translated in English as “way” and in effect implies a code of behavior that follows the laws of nature, which the Japanese see as the morally upstanding way to live.

The Japanese suffix dô has its origins in China. It corresponds to the Chinese word Dao, the Japanese transformed its basic principles into concrete terms that served as a practical and ethical way of life, in accordance with the law of nature. It might also be mentioned here that Buddhism was similarly accepted into Japan, where it flourished as a “way” of life, the way of Buddha.

Japanese people look upon nature as the fundamental truth of the universe and believe that humanity is able to live in harmony with nature precisely by pursuing and maintaining the various “ways” described above. These notions continue to live in the hearts of Japanese people even today.

Basic Information about Suiseki

One of the most exceptional Japanese arts, representing the unique view of nature in Japan, is “suiseki”.

Suiseki is the art of striving to symbolize natural phenomena, from countryside to the universe, using a stone a few inches to a foot and a half in dimension.
The art of suiseki begins with the acquisition of stones in nature and consummates in a sensation of beauty and in a spiritual connection between the collector and the stone. The stones are natural and not to be worked on or altered in anyway by human being.

The five main elements
Many different things have been written about facts and terms from the world of suiseki during the last few years. I am writing this text in the hope it can clear up some inconsistencies about the art suiseki.

A beautiful suiseki is a natural stone, which suggests, in its natural form, a scene from nature (sansui), a personage or an object (sugata), an animal (butsu) for example.

This act of association evokes a spirit of calm and restfulness in the soul of the viewer. In order to grasp this concept in concrete terms it is important to understand what are known as the five elements of suiseki. In other words, the aesthetic value of a stone is influenced by the shape, quality, color, texture and age of the stone.

The final judgment of a stone is an overall appreciation of these various elements interweaving and interacting with each other.

First at all, it is important to accept, that the suiseki is a pure Japanese art form developed during several hundreds of years by peoples with refined taste, well educated in chado the way of Tee and a deep understanding of nature.

If one have found a nice stone in Europe or somewhere else and you ask a Japanese person to judge it, one will mostly be disappointed. The reason why is, that a Japanese person was brought up in a world totally different to ours in all aspects of life and culture, religion, symbolism, colors, shapes, food, signs, language and his profound relation to nature.

Sansui ishi (landscape stone)
In Europe a typical mountain is such one like Matterhorn of sharp edged, vertically oriented shape. The ideal mountain in Japan is Mt. Fuji. A horizontally oriented, well balanced mountain with slopes descending softly to the ground, its peak surrounded by clouds.

Sugata-ishi (human shape stone)
If a person in the West will be approached by a stone representing a human shaped it would rather by a stone looking like a famous actor or a garden dwarf. A personage in the eyes of a Japanese person would rather be one of the 33 appearances of Bodhisattva Kannon or an appearance of Daruma, maybe a dancer from the Nara period.

Keisho ishi (object shape stone)
If a stone suggest us a boat, we see a steamboat or a sailboat, the Japanese see a vague suggestion of the treasure boat (takarabune), which plays an important role in Japanese history.

Dokutsu-ishi (animal shape stone)
Westerner sees a dog, a wolf, a dinosaur a cat just because of, it reminds us to it. Japanese do not have the same relation to dinosaurs or wolfs, they appreciate a vague suggestions of animals, which play a specific role in their culture and life. The fox (Inari) for example is one of the many commonly known ghosts (kami), if something goes wrong it must have been the fox.

There are many stories about the fox and if you have a stone suggesting a fox in a certain position, Japanese know exactly which story it tells. There is also a very famous story about the ox and a boy. However, the more one knows about Japanese culture the better one understand suiseki.

First element: Shape (katachi)
This is the most important element in judging the relative qualities of a suiseki. The most common method of appreciation is to sit at some distance from the front of the stone and gaze at it. Any stone that has an unnatural feeling at the first glimpse is considered unsuitable. We can also mention the following about the ideal method of viewing a stone.

Three Surface Method (sanmen no ho)
This is considered to be the most basic approach to appreciating suiseki. Three surfaces (sanmen) refer to the front & back, the left & right, and top & bottom of the stone. A balance among these different surfaces is considered to be basic when viewing and judging a stone.

When viewing a stone from the vantage point of these three surfaces, there should be a balance in terms of mass and shape. An outstanding stone is also one in which there is a harmony regarding the size, thickness and shape of the three surfaces.

For an example, if there is a mountain foot on the front of a distant mountain stone (toyama ishi), there ideally should be a foot section on the back as well.

If the right side of the mountain protrudes out, there must also be an extension of some degree on the left side as well. The bottom of the stone is good when the stone „sits“ well in the center in relation to the whole. However, these are all ideals. In actual practice, the three surfaces should basically display a representative form and a certain degree of unity.

Unnatural feeling
Note that suiseki are representing an idealized picture of Japanese nature and culture. (Sanmen No Ho), the Japanese system only plays with these 3 surfaces, but it judges all 6 sides. Front and back: As Matsuura Arishige says, the front of a stone is the most important side of the stone because of stones are presented in the alcove (tokonoma) and you sit or stand in front of it to view the tokonoma display (tokokazari). Likely a human being, Japanese understand a tree or a stone as a creature or a "living been that cannot speak" they somehow personify Mountains as Fuji-san or stones suggesting Kannon as Kannon-san. Lafcadio Hearn mentioned in one of his books: Japanese believe, that there are to kinds of existences such with “wishes” (humans) an such without wishes

A stone lover has said once: "An outstanding person is hardly to be found, to find an outstanding stone is even worse."

Front & back means all aspects like the stones contour or outline, the depth and so on. The line of the mountain ridge should be soft and rhythmical and the viewer’s eye should be able to follow easily. The slopes descent softly to the ground and the mountains foot should run out to the viewer. On the backside, the mountain should not look like cut or broken and it should not bend in. There should be a mountain foot running out as well but not as far as on the front side.

Left & right: Same like front and back, the mountains shall look harmonious and natural. The mountain food shall run out on the left side and on the right side. The peek of a mountain shall ideally stand one third from the left or right side, following the principle of the golden section

Top & bottom: Seeing from top, the stone should bend a little toward the viewer, as bonsai should. The stones middle section shall be deeper than its ends. The stones bottom should be - more or less - flat, natural, not cut (It’s allowed to remove a small protrusion if it makes it difficult to place it in the tray (suiban) or carved wooden stand (daiza).

Mass & Shape
Thickness: A stone can be slim, light and elegant, another can be powerful and heavy.
A stone should “sit” well. If one place a stone in a suiban one will immediately see what is mend. If a stone is laid in the suiban, the whole base should touch the sand. Sand is always representing a lake or the ocean and shall be ideally of the color of ivory. A suiban has not necessarily to be very shallow. There are also deep suibans used to present a suiseki with an uneven base. But the dimension of a suiban shall always harmonize with the dimension of the tone.

Second element Quality (shitsu)
As for the qualities stone suited for suiseki, the stone should be hard and dense enough that it does not immediately change in quality and where there is no danger of breaking. Moss grows readily on soft stone that absorbs water. Lava can break readily.

On the other hand, if the stone is too hard it will lack that special element of beauty that appeals to our hearts. In other words, a suiseki should have the proper hardness to maintain its shape but also have a tactile element that exudes peace and repose. It should also be suited to pouring water on it to maintain a moist feeling over a long period. Such stones are known as «mizumochi no ii ishi» good water-holding stones in the world of suiseki.

But such characteristics are difficult to bring out in stones, which have been newly retrieved from rivers, known as araishi; ara comes from atarashii (new). In order to improve the water holding qualities of the stone it is important to expose the stone to the daylight and to irrigate it. Even if the stone originally have poor water absorption qualities, it is possible to improve those qualities by „breaking them in“ over a long period. By exposing the stones to the elements it is possible to bring out the qualities that allow them to harmonize more readily with water.

In preparing stones, it is common to place them on bonsai shelves or in sunny areas of the garden and to pour water (in Europe distilled water would suit best) on them every day. The position of the stone should also be changed once a month. However, when exposing the stone to the daylight this is generally limited to stones, which will be exhibited in the suiban.

For stones to be appreciated on daiza pedestals, such as stones with a beautiful texture, such a method outdoors is not suitable. In this case, the stones are kept indoors and rubbed with a dry cotton cloth regularly.

This period and treatment of bringing out the qualities of the stone is actually the most important element of suiseki. The types of stone appreciated on daiza pedestals include some Kamuikotan-ishi, Seigaku-ishi, Furuya-ishi and Chrysanthemum stones (Kikkaseki).

Breaking them in means, that the continuous process of watering and sunshine opens the surface of the stone. It erodes and physically seen, the surface becomes more and more porous and extended and the colors of the surface appear darker.

Third element Color (iro)
Important in this case is that the color of the stone does not evoke a feeling of the strange or unnatural. Instead it should call to mind natural scenery and feelings. In the word of suiseki, the dignity and composure of the stone are especially important. That means solid, well-defined dark colors with a feeling of depth are most appreciated.

A black stone, which produces a feeling of refined taste and sleekness when water is poured on, it is considered the ideal. The black stones from Kamogawa (Kamo-River) are rated best in this regard. How ever, connoisseurs also appreciate Kurama stones with their dark brown color close to that of iron rust. Then there are good dark tones as blue-black or gray-black. Black colord stones of simple and elegant shape are often called “bonseki” and are used by tea masters for “chanoyu” events.

An unusual and strange color is a color, which is not to be seen in (Japanese) nature.

Colors symbolize seasons. For example the rusty brown color of the Kurama-ishi is representing late summer or autumn. When the Japanese maples on the mountain slopes “bloom” (sakari), turn in to a wonderful red. There is another specific color very much appreciated by suiseki lovers the carmine red (Beni) found on stones from Kamo-River (kamogawa). They are known as kamogawa-beni-nagashi-ishi. It is said that this is the make-up color used by the ladies of the court during the Heian period.

Fourth element Texture (hada-ai)
Natural stones are washed by the motion of the water in rivers or the ocean, creating a unique texture on the surface. This is known as “hada-ai” in the world of suiseki. The section, which has resisted erosion, is known as the “hame”. The softer section, which has been worn by wind and waves, is known as the “hadame”. The areas where the hadame has been carved with particular depth are known as the «shin» bone of the stone.

The texture must not necessarily be smooth. There are also stones with a rough texture. There are also special words used to express the features of the texture.

For example, “jagure” is the word used to describe irregular indentations and protrusions on the surface. “Sudachi” refers to a texture featuring multiple round holes measuring 1-2 mm across. Rice grain (beiten-moyo) refers to a surface with mainly small protrusions of rice grain shape and size. There is also “shun” which refers to a pleated surface. Such a texture is often found in Furuya stones. A word of similar meaning used to express complex and fine pleats on a stone surface is “shiwa” wrinkles.

A texture in which quartz on brown sandstone surface creates irregular lines horizontally and vertically is known as “itokake” or “itomaki” thread.

Pear skin surface (richi-hada) refers to innumerable spots on the surface like the skin of a pear. Then there is “ryugan” dragon eye to refer to the spot like veins of quartz and limestone in the main stone as often found in the white section forming the waterfall of stones of that name.

Another type is one in which the softer section of a natural chrysanthemum-shaped stone falls off due to the weathering so that the center of the petals appears. This is generally referred to as “saba”. The common term “sabahana” refers to this “saba” state on chrysanthemum shaped stones.

Unique texture
In Japan it is said that the water of the rivers produces the best stone surfaces. Such stones are called “sawa ishi”. There are only few places at the shore of the ocean where good stones can be found and they are called “kobi ishi”. Sawa- shi and kobi ishi have normally a much more interesting and smoother surfaces than stones found in the mountain.

A very few places up in the mountain are known where good stones can be found for example the Furuya-ishi and Seigaku-ishi. Stones found in the mountain are called “yama ishi”. There are also stones found in caves they are called “do ishi”.
Important note: The place of origin has nothing to do with the form of “yoseki”.

Fifth element Age (jidai)
As in the case with bonsai, there is also reference to the age “jidai” regarding suiseki. This word refers to the composed nature and texture, that is, the special character of the stone, which appears a result of aging “yoseki” of the stone mentioned above.

The shape, quality and texture of the stone all come to completion when the proper age “jidai” is reached. This is the feeling of quiet composure resulting from the physical process of weathering. But this requires the care and attention of the owner to bring out the unique qualities of the stone.

It is said that it takes at least ten years to bring out the true suiseki qualities of a new stone. Indeed, depending on the stone’s character, this can take as long as twenty years to bring out the age “jidai” or old color “ko-shoku” of the stone. In short words: The harder the material of a stone the longer it lasts to bring out the quality.

To be resumed. A new, young stone with a good shape, good quality, good color and a good texture is not jet a suiseki it’s called an “araishi” new stone. When you are viewing an old dark stone placed in a old suiban, the water disappearing from the surface, it will give you an impression of age that you will never get from a new stone. An old stoneÂ’s satin like surface seems to be eager for water. If you blow on it, it takes the liquid of your breath and keeps it for a while.

Enjoyment of suiseki
A suiseki is nothing more than a chunk of rock. We cannot expect to immediately feel the movement of nature in the stone and let our spirits play in that world. However, if there is something that attracts you in viewing stones, that is enough to develop an interest in suiseki. Interest in suiseki takes on depth together with the spiritual development of the individual person.

When person examines the way of “tokonoma kazari” presenting the suiseki in the tokonoma, one can immediately tell the taste and skill of the owner. When one view a suiseki presentation one can tell what thoughts the person had and what world he had entered. One can feel his sensibility, not to mention his aesthetic eye and consciousness. Persons of like tastes will feel the same thrill and joy on viewing a particular suiseki kazari.

In other words, presentation of a stone “kazari” requires deep knowledge and learning in several fields such as poetry, literature, hanging scrolls, symbolism and writing utensils. This is why it is said, that an interest in suiseki extends into the deep recesses of the human spirit.

Nevertheless, one need not consider suiseki as an exceedingly demanding interest. One can start out by simply finding a stone, which suggests some shape, such as that of a mountain, and placing it in a water basin or on a pedestal for enjoyment. Rather than just the bare rock, you can let your imagination take wing and consider possibilities for the background.

An interest in suiseki develops a feeling of repose and richness in the soul, which can then be a source of energy in your daily tasks. Please take this opportunity to develop an interest.