Dedicated to the Deities

Dedicated to the Deities
"The Covid strikes again"

by Wil in Japan

Wil, author of this article, is one of the Directors of the NSA (Nippon Suiseki Association), and is becoming, with his reports from Japan, an important trait d'union between the lovers of the art of suiseki in the world, in a moment historical in which we are denied the joy of meeting and sharing. Japan has just taken on the challenge of the Olympics and has not held back, allowing athletes from all over the world to put their years of preparation to good use. Some events, of lesser importance, were instead canceled, if kept indoors, to keep attention on the spread of the contagion. Therefore, the Meihinten exhibition was canceled, only the part set up outside the Meiji shrine in Tokyo, dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife the Empress Shoken, took place. Wil photographed and commented for us the 14 suiseki exhibited together with the bonsai. We thank him, with all our heart.


For the second year in a row, and for only the second time in its history, the Meihinten was canceled once again this year. While the numbers were relatively low compared to many other countries around the world, the Covid-19 infection rate rose dramatically in cities around Japan in April and May 2021, forcing lockdown restrictions to be implemented around the country. When the Meihinten was scheduled to take place in mid June, Tokyo was still in a state of emergency, and being a national institution, the Meiji Shrine decided against hosting the exhibition. Particularly with the summer Olympics scheduled to open only one month later, the push to suppress the infection rate was stronger than ever.

Normally, the exhibits of the Meihinten are split between two locations: an indoor venue within the shrine complex where the majority of stones are displayed, and an outdoor venue in one of the wings of the main courtyard, where the larger stones are shown alongside bonsai as a way of getting people’s attention and inviting them to explore the main exhibition. It was particularly deemed unsafe to hold a public exhibition indoors, yet the outdoor areas of the shrine were open to visitors, so the shrine decided it was acceptable to hold the annual exhibition of bonsai in the main courtyard, allowing the Nippon Suiseki Association to organize a small show featuring fourteen stones along with the trees.
A message posted by the shrine itself introduced the show to visitors:
Exhibition of Bonsai Dedicated to the Deities

Bonsai trees planted in a small pot can live for several centuries. Bonsai has a history tracing back to the Heian period (794-1185), and the oldest surviving bonsai is said to be the Japanese White Pine cherished by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651), the third shogun of the Edo shogunate (1603-1867).

A single potted bonsai depicts the grandness of nature and the flow of everlasting time. In recent years, bonsai has also gained widespread popularity globally. This exhibition displays treasured bonsai trees dedicated to the deities of Meiji Jingu
from the Nippon Suiseki Association for your viewing.

Meiji Jingu
Meiji Jingu : the water ablution pavillion (chōzuya)    
As the fate of the show was left undecided until the last minute, it was impossible for the NSA to organize and coordinate an intricately planned installation, so the displays may not have been ideal, and certain entries may look familiar to those who have kept up with the Japan Suiseki Exhibition series.
With time not being on our side, ease and convenience may have been given priority in order to pull the show together, but it was a pleasure to attend nonetheless.
In no particular order:
Large Kamuikotan stone from Hokkaido, over 50cm wide, with a fine inlet in the foreground. 
Particularly considering the season, this may have been much more appropriately displayed in a suiban, but finding the perfect match for such a large stone can be a challenge even in Japan.
Kotaro ishi from Hokkaido with a deep red coloration. 
The airy quality of domon seki like this is particularly refreshing on hot summer days…
surely another good candidate for suiban display.

Classic akadama mountain stone from Sado Island. 
It may break the “rule” that a stone must be easily lift-able by one person in order to be considered suiseki
(at 62cm wide, it surely weighs close to 100 lbs),
but there are few people in Japan who stand in the way of such an evocative stone being admired on a daiza in this manner.

Large Seigaku ishi from Shizuoka Prefecture over 50cm wide,
with deep shun wrinkles covering its entire surface that give the viewer endless details to explore.


In contrast, the smooth profile of this Setagawa ishi from Shiga Prefecture
with its signature pear-skin texture
gives the impression of a range far off in the distance, as if outlined in the low light of dusk.

The twisting lines and rugged protrusions of this Iyo seki,
particularly as displayed in this light blue suiban,
make a perfect allusion to a craggy shoreline shaped by the forces of nature.


The sinewy texture and extreme nature of its solitary peak make
this Senbutsu ishi seem as if something taken directly from
a literati landscape painting – a world yet undefiled by the follies of mankind.

Though dry at the time of this picture, this old Ibigawa ishi has a wonderful patina reflecting the long years it has been admired as a suiseki, being sprayed with water countless times to evoke the scene of mountainside streams
converging and flowing peacefully over a calm plateau.
Heavily polished and perhaps more biseki in nature, this stone from Sado Island
has purple, red, yellow, and green inclusions mottled together across its entire surface.

Furuya ishi from Wakayama Prefecture most often tend to be charcoal grey or black in color,
but examples with a rich brown coloration like this massive cave stone, some 60cm wide,
can also be seen every now and then.
This rare Funakogawa itogake ishi has an intricately detailed texture,
and was named Meoto iwa, or “The Wedded Rock”, which is a name shared by the famous rocks tied together with a sacred rope at the Futami okitama shrine in Mie Prefecture.

Like the Ibigawa ishi above, this Iyo seki too has a deep patina that could only have developed after years of being regularly sprayed with water, and admired in suiban displays such as this. 
The red inclusion on the end and the lighter parts that have eroded away in the midsection
add to the visual interest of this quiet stone.

Easily one of the largest Kamuikotan stones ever seen in Tokyo (60+ cm wide),
this was an impressive stone to behold. 
As a mukae ishi, or “greeting stone”, one might expect to encounter such a massive piece at the entrance to a museum or other such public exhibition venue, welcoming visitors to the show.

This upright figure stone from the Tamagawa was skillfully paired with a red-lacquered display stand of a type inspired by offering tables used in the Kasuga Taisha shrine in Nara.  The light inclusion on the right and dark inclusion on the same register to the left balance one another in a thought-provoking manner.

Author's note.

This was an exhibition of bonsai organized by the NSA, which also featured suiseki.  In Japanese the name of the show is Hono bonsai ten, which, just as the shrine's translation indicates, means "Exhibition of Bonsai Dedicated to the Deities" [of the Meiji Shrine].  The NSA has organized this exhibition in conjunction with the Meihinten for many years now (remember, many of the NSA board members are also bonsai professionals), but contrary to certain information found online, this was NOT the Meihinten.

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