Suiseki, Or Japanese Viewing Stones

By BJ Ledyard

I fell in love with Suiseki at the Huntington Library, Gardens, and Museum.  After Christmas every year the local Viewing Stone Group, Aiseki Kai, had a show in the Entrance Pavilion.  The Huntington is our local venue for family visiting Los Angeles, but I visited even in the years we had no visitors.  Although I wanted to join the group, I had no way of getting to their meetings or the areas where they collected stones.

One year I just joined. I had unjoined from my marriage and was free to do whatever hit my fancy.  For the first collection trip I rented a SUV, and a member I hadn’t met before agreed to join me.  (She would pay for gas.)  We drove to the Yuha Desert where we met the rest of the Club.  The desert was magical.  It was so quiet. I didn’t find many good stones that trip, but I was hooked.

The tradition of viewing stones originated in China around the eighth century. Chinese intellectuals had scholar’s stones, stones they could contemplate. The stones were small enough to hold in their hands, and were left in their natural state – beautifully shaped through time by Nature. The tradition travelled to Japan more than 1000 years ago where the use of Japanese aesthetics and Japanese stones developed. Our club collects American stones.

There are different schools or groups of enthusiasts with different criteria for choosing their viewing stones.  Chinese scholar’s rocks are often white limestone with many holes. In Japan some groups call for stones that are dense, dark in color, have a subtle patina, and suggest either landscapes (mountains, islands, waterfalls, shorelines, or seascapes) or objects (animals, flowers, or natural forms). One recent speaker acknowledged that he finds multiple surfaces on one stone to be the most intriguing, but there are also stones called biseki that are “just” beautiful. The stones are distinguished by whether they were collected from deserts, rivers, or seashores and they are displayed on hand-carved wooden bases called daiza, or in shallow trays of sand called suiban that represent the Earth’s surface, either land or water.

What is amazing to me is how much satisfaction one receives from contemplating a stone.  Some of my early stones are fine specimens, but are no longer so interesting to me.  I have begun to relate to more aesthetically difficult stones.  They have been good companions in this pandemic time of isolation.

To view a show at the Huntington, please go to –

Then scroll down to “View” under California Aiseki Kai Second Annual Viewing Stone Virtual  Show.

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BJ Ledyard loves to be outdoors. She lives in Southern California and is a member of AISEKI KAI.
The image that accompanies this post is of a viewing stone displayed in a suiban and was created by BJ. It is California Jade collected from a mountain stream.

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