Tuesday, February 17, 2015


How many times have you heard or read about ‘instant bonsai’? If you have not yet, ‘instant bonsai’ refers to get a bonsai from raw material in only one session (typically, in one demonstration or workshop). Of course, it is not possible to achieve the goal and that the tree sill survive.

But, is it possible to get ‘instant suiseki’? After all, the stone is not a live being, isn’t it? Well, you may decide to buy a nice stone with a well fitted daiza, if you can afford the price, even so, you shall only possess a good stone, just to start the preparation of a suiseki display.

Provided you have a suitable stone without daiza, you may consider to get a suiban (bronze or ceramic trays, without holes, for stone display), as well as display sand. However, you should not consider that getting a finished suiseki is so easy as to cover the inside of the suiban with the sand and then placing the stone on the sand. Only taking into consideration the proper matching between suiban and stone, you have to consider the following balances: size, shape, depth, colour, position and season. So, it is not so ‘instant’.

Another option is the use of a proper cloth or cushion. To a certain extent, this avoids questions related to season, but to determine which is the proper colour or pattern is, at least for us Westerners, more difficult.

Of course, there is a last resource: to place the stone directly on a slab, if the stone remains stable and in the desired position. This approach is used in some Japanese club exhibitions. You only must have a mature suitable stone.

I am confident you will have noticed my indications about ‘suitable’ and ‘mature’ stone and many will have guessed it is related with ‘patina’, ‘age’ (in Japanese, ‘yooseki’); if so, you are right. In other way, it is very unlikely that a stone you have just collected from the field or a waterside should be allowed for immediate display, whichever the support you consider. If you do not have a clean and prepared viewing stone, you can not do suiseki; and it usually takes more than an instant.

Actually, most so explicit as implicit comments that refer to ‘instant suiseki’ deal to a great extent with the topic of  ‘daiza vs. suiban’.  Though arguments based on history, symbolism and/or aesthetics, I wonder whether the underlying issues relate to more ‘mundane’ circumstances that I connect with the positions of ‘collector’ and ‘collectionist’:

-          the term ‘collector’ refers to the one that ‘harvest’ the rocks mainly in the nature, define their best view and clean and prepare them,

-          the term ‘collectionist’ refers to the one that gets the stone mainly in their final status, typically in specialized markets and shops or from collectors.

An exclusive collector usually makes also the daiza for most of all of his stones. In this way he/she will become more involved with the stone and contribute to ‘age’ it, getting a deep knowledge of it that will help him to show the stone at its best.

 An exclusive collectionist often is not allowed to get the time and/or facilities for ‘rock hunting’ and ‘cultivation’, nor will have developed the skills for making daiza; however, from books and exhibition, he may have acquired an aesthetic taste to prepare beautiful suiseki displays. The problem for the collectionist is for stones without a daiza: he will have to command an experienced artisan for making the daiza and this will take time and money; in the meantime, the stone will stay with the artisan, usually for several months, and will not available for display. The option of the suiban appears if he is not willing to wait until the daiza is ended, but this option works better in Japan (where there is a higher supply of suiban and doban) than in the West. And yes, a suiban may suit to more than a stone. What about cost? there is no absolute answer, but it may be said that a high quality suiban is not cheap and the same may be said on a good quality daiza.

So, there are many ways for doing suiseki, but there is no way to ‘instant suiseki’, as far as I know.



Wednesday, February 11, 2015


These comments attempt to address a proposal of guidelines for the setting of an interesting collection of viewing stones. Previously I have to advice you that they do not provide a closed set of ‘laws’ or ‘rules’ on what, how many, how large and similar requisites must the stones be. Anyway, I hope they can prove to be useful for you as well as they are for me.

 These guidelines may be summarized as DIVERSITY, ORIGINALITY, REPRESENTATIVITY and PERSONALITY.




A Japanese master stated that ‘suiseki starts from toyama and ends in toyama’ or something similar [toyama: distant mountain] and I adhere his statement. However, it does not preclude that the best suiseki collection is that one composed exclusively of toyama-ishi nor the opposite.


The opening statement suggests that understanding of viewing stones begins when you identify in a stone the resemblance of a distant mountain landscape and that as you advance deeper in the way to understanding, you will eventually arrive to perceive the true gentle and subtle beauty of the distant mountain landscape contained in a stone (’10.000 li in a few inches’, according to a Chinese old saying). But if you do no perceive the beauty of the many stones alongside your path, you shall have likely lost much of the enjoyment.


Thus, your collection must evidence the diversity of Nature, in colour, size, features, shape and texture. Even if it is exclusively composed of toyama-ishi, there should not be ‘twin’ stones. Even if it is exclusively composed of a sole origin, it is advisable to look for variation in colour and, category. Otherwise, if they are too similar, the impression will be of manufactured objects.




In your walk along the viewing stones road, you will meet many people: some of them will walk in opposite direction, so the meeting will be just a glimpse, while others will share your path for a while; even a handful of them will go with you most of the time, but you will not wear their shoes, nor you will pick up the same stones.


It is a sure way to frustration trying to find a stone just like other one you have admired in a collection, even if it is your own collection. Even more, there is no need that your collection meet the same criteria of any other collection.


My suggestion is this: if you have to choose between two stones, one that reminds you of  a wonderful stone you admire and other not so wonderful but that does not resemble you any other, you should choose the latter. In other words, it is to be preferred a not-so-perfect original to an absolute perfect copy.


When looking for stones with friends, I often let them to choose first, even when I have already seen a piece that attracts me the most; after they have chosen, then I choose from the remains: it is a bit risky, but proves to help to get original, not repetitive, stones.




Please, imagine all your stones could be displayed together in a public exhibition. Which is the message you would like to address to every individual viewer? Let me help you with some tentative and non-comprehensive suggestions:

-          Stones of your region or country

-          Stones from the seashore

-          Stones from the field

-     Stones from the world

-          Harvested stones

-     Historic evolution

-     Styles and schools

-          Figure stones

-     Waterfalls

-          Pattern stones


Of course, you can arrange your collection according to more than one category or criterium, provided that an appropriate balance exists among the different categories: if one of them prevails in quality and/or quantity of stones, other categories will appear as a ‘glued’ attachment and the whole collection will be less appreciated.


[Yes, I should have written ‘representativeness’, but I think you agree ‘representativity’ matches better with the terms used for the other guidelines.]



 In a subtle way, your stones will emanate an indication about you, like it or not. They will tell about your tastes, ambitions, cultural values, individuality and so on. Even if you commission another person to do the job, a message will be perceived: this collection will borrow from the criteria and tastes of such person and will add little to the contemplation enjoyment.


This guideline may be seen as complementary of the previous one (representativity): representativity refers to the visible and physical features of the stones, while personality deals with the hidden unvisible ones and is to be applied not only to the whole collection but to every single stone as well. No stone should be perceived as useless or meaningless.


I guess that some of you will consider these guidelines as too vague and more concerning the global valuation of a collection than choosing a single stone.


Regarding the ‘vagueness’ criticism, it is to be noted that it is not only a common characteristic of Japanese and oriental culture (like ‘wabi, sabi, shibui, yuguen’ or ‘shou, zhou, lou, tou’), but also of aesthetic and etic terms (beauty, nobility, balance, adequate, quality, etc.). They usually refer to something that is better perceived than described.


Regarding the higher attention paid to setting a collection over choosing a stone, it is true only at a superficial level. There is another hidden and deeper implication. In setting a collection you are looking into your soul and for your perception; if you succeed, you will get the enjoyment from the adequacy of your visual perception to your mind and heart perception and will be able to share this enjoyment. So, you will choose only those stones that add significance to your collection and harmonize with it. And so, even a single stone is able to show a portion of the spirit of the whole collection, at least, if properly displayed.



UBI 2014, Torino (Italy)
Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Journeys produce a striking effect: they let you  to leave behind the intensity and worries of daily routines and get you immersed in another different (ir)reality, but when they are gone, you have to effort to come back to the ordinary. At least, this is true for me.


From 10 to 14, April, the 2014 UBI (Unione Bonsaista Italiana) Congress has been held in Torino, Italy. Though UBI Congress is a national event, it is one of the best known in Europe. This year edition gathered in addition to well known Italian masters (Liporace, Bandera, Pappalardo, Stemberger) other significant artist as Kevin Wilson and Craig Coussins. Furthermore, the trade zone included stalls from Italy, CzeckRepublic, Slovakia and Spain (Medibonsai), as far as I remember.


The event was held in a large tent, placed in Vittorio Veneto square, enough to keep not only the bonsai and suiseki exhibition, but the space for demos and lectures. Gala dinner was held inside the Musseo del Risorgimento, within Palazzo Carignano.


Suiseki exhibition contained only 12 items, though of an average high level, with some outstanding stones. I was particularly pleased by the interest expressed by the exhibitors about composition: the goal is not so much to display a stone but to suggest a scene or moment through a proper of the different elements and that anything looks useless or redundant. Other issue I appreciated was the care for the cleanliness of the displays. The most unpleasant fact was the ‘dissapearing’ of two bronze tenpai; it is very sad to realize how some people take off something that they will likely are unable to appreciate, instead of enjoy the beauty of the displays; these attitudes may impede other people be able to enjoy in the future.


In the exercise of my duties as judge, I was allowed by organizers to apply ‘my method’ of three steps: stone, support, composition. If anyone does not know, the method is as follows:


Step 1:     Stones are assigned quality grades from A (top) to E (bottom); very often three levels (A, B, C) are enough. Quality depends on material, color, shape, ‘patina’ and … cleanliness.

Step 2:     Stands (daiza) and trays are graded in the same way. Quality depends on finish, care and color and shaping matching to the stone.

Step 3:     The same grade critérium is applied to the composition as a whole. Special attention is paid to the table/slab, arrangement of the elements and the use of the space.


Cuando la exposición es reducida, como en este caso, aplico las tres fases a todas las piedras. De esta forma, cada piedra obtiene una calificación que se parece a la de las agencias de calificación de valores (AAA, ABB, BAA, BCC, …); por ejemplo, ABB es mejor que BAA. Si lo que hay que evaluar es la mejor presentación, la 3ª fase pasaría a ser la primera.


In a small exhibition as in this case, every stone is given a qualification that resembles those applied by financial assets qualifying entities (AAA, ABB, BAA, BCC, …); for instance ABB is better than BAA. If the

Awarding target is composition, Step 3 would became Step 1 and the other two will be stepped down.


When there is a large number of exhibits (over 30), the process may be eased considering every step as an eliminatory round: only those exhibits receiving an A grade (sometimes, B grade are kept as well) in step 1 are considered in step 2, and step 3 is only applied to exhibits with AA grade in step 2 (sometimes, AB and BA grades may also be included).


This method does not ensure objectivity (it is impossible, as aesthetic criteria present a strong personal factor, being so subjective), but it helps the judge to avoid focusing on a single aspect but to pay attention to all of them and to take into consideration the visual impact and the suggestiveness of the composition as a whole.


The awarded stones are now displayed.




UBI 2014 Award

Abegawa-ishi (Igor Carino)




UBI Merit Certificate: “Il saggio”

Campania (Antonio Marino)



UBI Merit Certificate

(Ezio Piovanelli)


In addition to UBI awards that were my sole responsability, other distinctions were granted to the following stones: 


IBS Plate: “L’approdo”

Liguria (Daniela Schifano)


AIAS Plate

Japón (Mauro Stemberger)


BCI Award: “Ai chiaro di luna” 

Toscana (Umberto Zinitti)



Estas fotos las he tomado de, donde hay un excelente reportaje realizado por Daniela Schifano, porque, sinceramente, son mejores que las que había sacado yo.

"Suiseki - Kazari"
Thursday, April 3, 2014

April 1st, 2014


 Had I said I was not willing to be so many weeks without any news? Oops, it happened again. Of course I have a pretext: in last 3 years I had made very few repottings, mainly due to an unfortunate coincidence between their season with unstable weather. Thus this year I decided to immerse to be updated: 148 repots in the first step (it is yet a second step guessed of 25/30 repottings for this month of April).

 “Wait, wait! Repottings? So do you have bonsai?”, some of you will ask. I am going to be sincere: I likely do not have any true bonsai, but only small trees that I try to care and develop according to bonsai guidelines. As a matter of fact I do not exhibit trees since quite years ago; maybe some day, if I consider any of them is worth to be called properly a bonsai.

Coming to the topic, 2014 is intended to be the year of ‘suiseki – kazari, at least for my own. Some of you will think I will continue to be the same tiresome as in previous years, while others will say that suiseki is ok, but what is about ‘kazari’?

Certainly, this Japanese word is being used in different ways, but they are always referred to decoration, exhibit or ambientation. In the fields of Japanese culture we are most  familiar with (bonsai, suiseki, ikebana, tea ceremony) it is related to the exhibition of these objects for appreciation. In a practical way, the goal is to properly arrange and display these objects according to Japanese aesthetic criteria, for their appreciation by other people.

And it is true: since some years on I am insisting in the reduced relevance is being given to this aspect in most exhibitions I attend or I am able to look at photos of. But it must be recognized I had limited almost exclusively to verbal comments and remarks. But this is the moment to start to put in writing my ideas on the topic, mainly coincident with ‘traditional’ ones, though not wholly coincident.

In this post I will only expose a handful of basic statements:

1.         There is no art without display

It is surprising that even many of those boasting full adherence to Japanese criteria (that they assume to be close to ‘compulsory laws’)  pay so little attention to those criteria in the display of their exhibitions. It should not be forgotten that the final goal of bonsai, suiseki or ikebana is to be used (exhibited) to achieve a unique unforgettable moment.

2.         Suiseki – kazari evidences distinctive features

Perhaps it is due to the scarcity of written material easily accessed and devoted exclusively to suiseki, but it is a trend to address straight to suiseki the guidelines for bonsai exhibition. Previously it is to be noted that many specialists and some bonsai masters use to focus mainly in cultivation and shaping of the plant, leaving display matters in a lower level.

Furthermore, it is just enough to look at a bonsai and at a suiseki of similar relevance and size class to realize that their visual characteristics are very different indeed. For instance, a suiseki of 60 cm (about 15 inches) fills a vertical area from 5 to 10 times smaller than a bonsai of the same width. Other instance, the color of suiseki is ever more uniform and dark than that of a bonsai. Hence, even rooted in a common set of principles, these will tend to materialize in a difference way according to the expressed and others dissimilarities.

3.         Present ‘tradition’ is actually modern

Everyone that had procured a deeper knowledge of Japanese culture with an historic approach will have quickly realized that, as every culture, it has evolved through the time and that aesthetic criteria in, let us say, XIX century were not the same that in XVII century; even more, that these criteria changed sharply from XV century to XVII century. Even he will likely perceived that Meiji era produced very relevant changes in all fields of Japanese culture, even those related to bonsai and suiseki; guidelines presently expressed as ‘traditional’ were actually set at the end of XIX century, adapting, purging and ‘re-building’ those previously applied.

4.         ‘Keido’ is a style but not the only style

It can not be denied the influence of ‘keido’ in the most refined  circles related to Japanese displaying arts and I find evident the influence of ‘zen’ and ‘shoin-tea’ in its statements. However, it is to be observed that keido is not applied always and in strictest way even in those circles. And of course, there are other aesthetic orientations rooted also in tradition and, though they are not organized as ‘school’, they are being also applied in Japan.

5.         Traditional static approach is not suited to present public exhibitions

Frequent invocations to tea ceremony (something is to be said on the difference between wabi-tea and shoin-tea) place Japanese guidelines inspired on tradition as pursuing an extended contemplation of an individual exhibit. However, in present public exhibitions (Japanese or not) there is not enough neither time nor space for this type of appreciation; by the opposite, the visitor walks along the exhibition, occasionally stopping for some seconds in front of one of the exhibits, and then continues almost immediately. Under these circumstances, it makes sense to guess that these traditional guidelines will not be so effective and that they should to be revised and adapted once again.

From this ‘manifest’ it is not to be derived that I am against traditional guidelines.  It is just the opposite: we are to search in tradition the basic principles that inspired such guidelines in order to find the best way for applying them in present times.

Which are those basic principles? Not attempting to be exhaustive, I am just to mention:

-         Relevance of emptiness

-         Refinement emanating of a sober elegance

-         Age, patina

-         Asymmetry, naturalness

-         Simplicity, coherence, balance

-         Harmony without repetition

-         Suggestion related to nature

-         Impermanence of the moment

-         Season

Just to close with, I surrender you a couple of questions, to be considered for further exhibitions:

-         Do you think that tables for bonsai are equally suited for suiseki?

If your answer is ‘no’,

-         which are to look lighter?

-         which are to be higher?

-         About the benches on which bonsai and suiseki are placed, do you think they are to have same height? If your answer is ‘no’, which are to be lower?



Monday, February 10, 2014

As some of you are well aware, Arishige Matsuura left the chairmanship of NSA (Nippon Suiseki Association) two years ago, I guess. After a transition period, the new chairman is Kunio Kobayashi, well known by many of you as a reputed bonsai master, but that is a great connoiseur of suiseki as well; the general secretary is Seiji Morimae, known through 'Bonsai-S-Cube' and 'Wabi' magazine.

To start this new period, an exceptional exhibition has been organized, that runs parallel in location and dates to Kokufu-ten. As far as I have been able to watch and read, it is the most important exhibition of Japanese stone in the last years, with famous stones that have not been publicly displayed for many years. Furthermore, it is the first time that a public exhibition shows tokonoma displays (28). The total number of exhibited stones reachs almost 170. In addition, there have been displayed some tables and trays made by well-known craftmans.

The catalogue has been beautifully prepared and contains high quality photos. The price is 30.000 yen in Japan; it may be estimated that total cost, including mail, will be in the range of 30 to 35 euros.

According to Japanese common practice, the catalogue is prepared in advance to the opening of the exhibition, so no 'live' images of the exhibition are included. Fortunately, Bill Valavanis has included in his blog a report that may be accessed through the link:

Bill Valavanis is chief editor of 'International Bonsai' magazine and one of the prominent personalities in USA for bonsai and suiseki.

It should have been better to be at Tokyo, but I consider all will have a chance to learn by visiting this link.



Unforgetable: Pamplona 26-10-2013
Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Whether you have known or read something about the Japanese tea ceremony, you are likely aware of the play between the instant and the permanent. And it will be no surprise for you that the characteristic elements of tokonoma in a wabi-tea ceremony be a kakemono depicting a buddhist personage or a calligraphy with a sutra or classic poem and a simple ikebana, often made of a single flower or branch. At the end of the ceremony, it was usual that the host showed some particularly valued objects, by its artistic quality, history or age. The final target was to transform the meeting in a unique unforgettable moment, what otherwise could be perceived a rutinary event.

I personally consider this a manifest of principles that may be extender to all fields of our lifes. Even more, my idea about what our journey through the world of viewing stones should be is just that: to use viewing stones to get unforgettable moment of peaceful moments shared with other people.

Do you think I should be more precise and less philosophical? Let us be so. A comment/criticism that is often thrown on us crazy of stones (petromaniacs, if you prefer) is that suiseki ends when the stand has been finished. My answer is immediate: suiseki does not end in the stand but it just starts after that. The final goal of bonsai, suiseki, kusamono or ikebana is always the same: to use one of these objects to perform an aesthetic pleasant display that guide the host and his guests to experience an unique unforgettable moment. In such a way, the same element should produce different emotions every time it is used in a display.

More and more I am a collectionist of unforgettable moments. And this in Pamplona has been one of them.

All this began before summer. Juantxo Labiano lives in Pamplona and, who knows in what a way, entered into the grey of ‘isolated’ to which many stone lovers have pertained or are still pertaining. To cope with this isolation, he has paid a visit to Parla for some years, on occasion of the National Contest that every year is held in June and so he contacted the suiseki group of Parla and me too. This year, within the several events being held to commorate the IV century from the first Japanese diplomatic legation to Spain, it has been organized a Japanese week in Pamplona, and Juantxo was proposed to perform a suiseki exhibition to be included.

The problem Juantxo had to face was to prepare an exhibition according to the importance of the global event and furthermore this would be the first suiseki exhibition to be ever held in Pamplona, and he was an ‘isolated’ and having only a reduced collection of stones. So, he readily addressed to some colleagues requesting for help. And more than a handful immediately accepted: Rafa Monje, Iosu Andueza and Iñaki Isasi, from Guipuzcoa, Beti Andrés, from Vizcaya, Nico, from Burgos, and José Antonio del Llano (on behalf of the Club de Amigos del Bonsai de Parla) and myself, from Madrid (about 400 km).

José Antonio and I arrived on Friday afternoon and were checking with Juantxo on how to arrange the exhibition, considering the space distribution and the available benches. Further, it was required to discuss with the co-ordinator of the Week to get their approval; there was no special problem, but it always imply some time spent. Finally, we started to prepare the exhibition, about 25 stones for 10 benches 180 cm long; this was a more difficult task. It was required to carefully estimate the individual space for every stone, caring that no stone became ‘soffocated’, keep rythim and variation through the whole exhibition, decide the opening and closing stones and some other minor details. Close to 21:00, the exhibition was prepared in the await of the last stones.

On Saturday 26, at 09:00, Rafa, Pili and Jose arrived, places their stones and all together made the final adjustments. The exhibition looked sober and subtly elegant and not too crowdy considering the circumstances. Then, along the whole day, we assisted the visitor and performed two guided visits, explaining not only the basic concepts on suiseki, but some exbition details and criteria as well. And, above all, we talked a lot among us, in a friendly and relaxed environment. Well, we also enjoyed a fellowship meal, invited by Juantxo. At that moment, Julia and Jaime had already arrived from Alcalá de Henares (Madrid).  And in the evening, to dismantle and  take back everything and home back, with the exception of José Antonio and I, that sleeped in Pamplona to drive home on Sunday early in the morning.

There were no award or reward (apart of the meal). And, however, almost 10 people travelled from different location at the request of a friend to hold a one-day exhibition, the first exhibition ever in Pamplona, with a very good level at national level. And I guess all congratulated for participating and returned our homes after a fellowship cellebration.

At least for me, it has been an unforgettable moment indeed.