Bonsai Today

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The whirlpool stone

Suiseki is the second wheel of a bicycle, the first being bonsai

Suiseki has more than 500 years of well documented history, when it was known as bonseki. There are a number of masterpiece stones that are still appreciated today, their history based on a chance meeting between people of high aesthetic sensitivity and understanding of the spiritual aspect of stone appreciation.

Bonseki 'Auspicious Southern Hills': Once part of the Kenichi Oguchi, Kakuryuan Collection and owned by Tomioka Tessai. Length: 27.5 cm / 10¾". The crumpled folds of the mountain, one on top of the other, are the embodiment of a Nanga style painting of a sacred mountain. One can imagine all things in nature when gazing upon the mountain form and the name provides an insight into the depths of beauty that can be found in suiseki.

'Auspicious Southern Hills'

This stone has several hundred years of appreciation and this was once owned by Tomioka Tessai (1837-1924), last of the literati and Nanga style painters (see our issue 3/2015). The stone appears almost as if it were the embodiment of a painting by a literati scholar and one can see all of nature represented in the movement within the still object, leading Tessai to give it the name of ‘Auspicious Southern Hills’. It was long considered one of the greatest of the stones once cherished by Tessai despite the lack of information on it, handed down to only a few select suiseki enthusiasts. It is almost as it were a famous mythical stone.

True beauty is something far deeper than that we see on the surface

Deep passion

This bonseki with an overwhelming presence has until recently resided in the collection of a ‘peaceful yet great man’ in the Shinshuu area of Japan. A venerable man who was well versed in bonsai and suiseki culture, Kenichi Oguchi. He lived close to Lake Suwa in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, a leading businessman with a profound passion for bonsai, suiseki and calligraphy and was involved in protecting the culture in his local area. He created a garden next to his home, ‘Kakuryuan’, where he enjoyed sharing his collection of more than 500 trees, stones and related items with visitors.
Mr Oguchi left not only a domestic legacy, but also one that is international. For the United States Bicentennial celebrations, some two hundred trees were sent as part of a special shipment to the National Arboretum in Washington DC where they are still on display today, given loving care. At the time, Mr Oguchi donated a masterpiece juniper and insisted that it was sent along with the expensive antique Chinese container it was planted in, despite many professionals being against ‘wasting’ such a container. Mr Oguchi brusquely replied: ‘The tree and pot match perfectly and are beautiful together. If you separate them to send them abroad, what does that say about Japanese bonsai?’ This episode alone is representative of Mr Oguchi’s personality and love of bonsai.

The base of this stone is completely natural and untouched, making it of the highest quality.
The back view gives a sense of solidity.

The search for beauty in suiseki

As well as his love for suiseki and bonsai, Mr Oguchi was also an accomplished calligrapher; he was devoted to his literati style pursuits. This stone is evidence of that, as he appreciated it in a similar way as the great Tomioka Tessai would have done. It was said that Mr Oguchi spent many hours sat in a darkened tatami room at his home, ‘Kakuryuan’, without speaking or moving, in contemplation while looking at his stones — the same way that a monk undergoing training would approach meditation.
This superlative stone must be viewed on a level much higher than just discussing it as a depiction of a landscape scene. It certainly has a very elegant shape and the form of a great mountain and has an exceedingly hard quality to it, yet there is more to it than just form and shape.
Oguchi: ‘true beauty is something far deeper than that we see on the surface, it comprises a mixture of all the feelings we push far away, frightening glimpses of ugliness, fear and darkness.’ This insight into the beauty of the natural world is right at the heart of suiseki. Tomioka Tessai showed the same reverence for all forms of natural beauty in his work. Veneration and awe, appreciation of the beauty and the darkness. Modern society has come to place too much importance on superficial beauty without stopping to consider deeply the true nature of beauty.

Despite all the years of appreciation from Tomioka Tessai onwards, it is uncertain from where the stone had actually been collected. It may be an old Kamogawa stone or an old Chinese stone, the patina is so great it is hard to say. It will be a great day when such a suiseki treasure can be placed on display for the general public to appreciate.

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Publication dates

English language edition 2024Publication Dates
IssueE-MagazineEuropeRest o/t World
2024-1 #186 | #209- January /FebruaryJan. 1, 2024Jan. 15Jan. 22
2024-2 #187 | #210- March / AprilMar. 4Mar. 18Mar. 25
2024-3 #188 | #211- May / JuneMay 6May 20May 27
2024-4 #189 | #212 -July / AugustJuly 1July 15July 22
2024-5 #190 | #213- September / OctoberSep. 2Sep.16Sep. 23
2024-6 #191 | #214- November / DecemberNov. 4Nov. 18Nov. 25

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