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Articles on stone appreciation by Thomas S Elias and other authors are available from the VSANA Article Archives categorized by year. See list on the right for links to each article.

Elements of Success: The Sixth Japanese Suiseki Exhibition

By Tom Elias

The Sixth Japan Suiseki Exhibition (JSE) held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum February 14-17, 2019 was hugely successful. This event was planned and staged by the Japan Suiseki Association, a small organization whose board of directors is dominated by bonsai and stone dealers in Japan. Their efforts over the last six years are raising awareness of traditional Japanese stone appreciation domestically and internationally. Even though there are many viewing stone exhibitions held throughout the world annually, this one stands high above the others for its overall quality. This article examines the elements of this exhibition that contribute to its success and serve as a model for others to emulate.

First Gallery


The venue of the exhibition is critically important. In this case, the JSE was held in a large urban center constructed for multiple concurrent displays of major exhibitions organized by different organizations throughout Japan. The stone exhibition was scheduled over a major holiday and held at the same time as their national bonsai exhibition—the Kokufu-ten. The museum is located in Ueno Park along with several other museums and Japan’s largest zoo. As a result, a large number of people come to this park and art museums.

The second factor is the high quality of the display tables, display cases, backdrops give the exhibition a thoroughly professional appearance. The Japan Suiseki Association contracts with a company to set up the furniture and place the table coverings and skirts. This contributes greatly to the viewing and appreciation of the stones and accessories.

A series of special entries and fine accessories is a major factor in setting this exhibition above others. This year, the association was able to obtain on loan one of the rarest and seldom seen historically important stones in Japan. The Sue no Matsuyama is one of the best documented stones; it can be traced back to its use in 16th century tea ceremonies. This stone belongs to the Buddhist temple Nishi Honganji in Kyoto. Six other rare and historically important stones were also on loan for this exhibit.


“Sue no Matsuyama”                                         Bronze tray by Harada Houn


Exceptional accessories—display tables, ceramic and bronze trays—were displayed in the first gallery along with the special entries. These accessories show visitors the finest examples of superior workmanship of their kind in Japan. The single invited guest entry, a beautiful arranged bonseki display “Mountain Stream”, complemented the special entries. The first gallery presented treasures that most stone collectors will never see in their lifetimes outside an exhibit such as this one.

 Ibi River stone  Invited Bonseki displayJapanese Seigaku stone   Seta River stone 

The majority of the exhibit space is devoted to general displays of members’ stones either in a tokonoma-like display space with a scroll or in smaller individual spaces without scrolls. Thirty-two tokonoma displays were included in the exhibition this year. In addition, there were 82 stones displayed by Japanese members of the association and 17 stones displayed for foreign members of the organization. In the 2014 exhibition, there were 28 tokonoma displays, 124 stones in the general display by Japanese collectors and 10 stones by foreign collectors. These numbers reflect the growing interest among foreign collectors to display their stones at this event, but show a continuing decline in the number of Japanese stone collectors participating.

The final element in this successful exhibition is the publication of a catalog of the stones and other items displayed in this event. The association photographs the stones several months in advance, prepares commentary on each stone, and publishes an attractive catalog in time for the opening of the exhibition in early February. This documentation is an important record of this event and, also, serves as a verification that the stones entered by foreign participants are on par with those held by Japanese members.

The efforts of the Japan Suiseki Association to bring viewing stones from a hobbyist’s activity and into the realm of art world is highly commendable. The global viewing stone communities should actively support this effort and participate in this annual event whenever possible. The long-term success of these exhibits raises the status of viewing stone appreciation for everyone.


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