Have you ever looked at a stone and thought that it looked like something else? Like a mountain, or a face, or maybe a fish?
The way that stones break apart and the way that weather erodes surfaces of stones often leads to stones resembling other things in the world. I have even found stones that I think look like a grilled hamburger, or a hunk of room temperature blue cheese. The shapes that stones take seems limitless. Throughout history as people recognized these fascinating stones they started to develop formalized practices of stone appreciation, suiseki (水石) being one of those formalizations in Japan.
Originally, stone appreciation was brought to Japan by Chinese influence and trade - Chinese collectors described stones and their presentation (often in a dish with water or soil) with yin and yang characteristics:
"The stone represented yang characteristics: hard, solid, unyielding, dry, hot, bright, strong, forceful, rough, penetrating. The water represented yin characteristics: soft, void, yielding, moist, cool, dark, mysterious, weak, passive, delicate, sensitive, and receptive." [15, Covello & Yoshimura: 2009]
Zen Buddhism eventually started to shape Japanese stone appreciation during the Kamakura period (1183-1333), leading practitioners to prefer stones which emphasized meditative connection with the austerity of the natural world, stones which were "subtle, profoundly quiet, serene, austere, and unpretentious." [18, Covello & Yashimura: 2009]
One of the ideas of stone appreciation is that the stone can act as a door into another world - it mentally transports the viewer to a larger landscape. In the same way that bonsai presents landscape scenes at shrunken scale, suiseki presents miniature geologic scenes that mentally transport the viewer to a new place. The stone is almost a proxy for the landform it suggests.
I collected this stone while hiking in the Allegheny Mountains a few years ago. I had to hike several miles carrying the stone in my hands as I went up the mountains and down into valleys, zigzagging on switchbacks and experiencing the contours of the formation of the earth under my feet. Carrying this stone over the terrain that it represents was a way to understand the scenery that I see in this stone as I contemplate and appreciate its structure. This process of my stone appreciation was participatory, an embodied activity, and is now an act of memory and reflection.
Suggestive of a mountain peak, this Yamagataishi (mountain stone), is a single peak (Koho-seki), suggesting a near-view of the mountain, which makes it a Kinzan-seki defined by a "close-up view of a jagged mountain...with rough rugged contours, sheer walls, and towering spires" [34, Covello & Yashimura: 2009].
My stone has this name: Allegheny-ishi Yamagata Koho Kinzan Anchored Mountain.
"It is not a silly thing at all to enjoy a stone in a tray. I see the whole world in a tiny stone. Some objects in this world are huge, and others are small, and they come in all shapes, but they are not that different when you look at their essence." (Marushima as quoted in Rivera 1997, p. 40)
- Covello, Vincent T. & Yuji Yoshimura (2009) The Japanese art of stone appreciation: Suiseki and its use with bonsai. Tuttle Publishing.
- Rivera, Felix G. (1997) Suiseki - the Japanese art of miniature landscape stones. Stone Bridge Press.