Winter Tokonoma 2014

Happy New Year! For the first post of 2014 I wanted to showcase the current display in our tokonoma.

For this display I wanted to try and use some objects that are not my immediate choices for a winter themed arrangement. This would not only show off more of the Museum’s collection but also challenge me to be more creative with them.

From the start I knew I wanted to use a scroll we have of a white hawk on a pine branch.


The scroll makes me think of a remote snowy mountain where this white hawk remains vigilant through the falling snow.

The second object I wanted to use is one of my favorite stones at the Museum because of its name. 30,000 Foot White Beard is the name of this figure stone donated by John Naka. The stone’s name comes from a white strip of minerals running down this otherwise black  figure stone which John envisioned as a very long flowing beard.

The white “beard” reinforces the feeling of winter as its shape also reminds me of an hanging icicle or perhaps a frozen waterfall on a distant peak.


John collected the stone from the Kern River in Northern California and I assume the daiza was made by himself and that he collected it in 1966 as both his name, the year 1966, and the date 10-29-66 appear on the bottom of the daiza.


The biggest challenge I encountered was finding a stand that would work within the display. Like picking a bonsai pot you never have enough options and none are ever perfect. I wanted the stone to be elevated enough to be properly viewed and to further enhance its verticality. I also needed the stand to be limited in it’s width so that stone was not visually lost when placed on it.

The first few stands were more traditional in style but weren’t the right size. I then pulled out a stand that seldom gets used here as it has a very narrow range of objects it would work with. However, once I put the stone on it I knew this was the one. Its size was the closest to what I wanted but more importantly it turned a static display into a story I could imagine.


Now, the display became more than just a stone on a stand but a white bearded man walking over a bridge among snow covered trees being watched by a white hawk.


Takahashi Shotei, “Bridge in the Snow” ca. 1910

The addition of a winter grass in a cream colored pot completed the setting as I could hear the cold wind rustling their dried stalks.


Haiku by Matuso Basho

First snow
On the half-finished bridge


Hope you enjoyed the display. Thanks for reading and for accompanying  me for walk in the snow.


Hamano, “Evening Snow at Edo River”1932

I am also very excited to say that I will be making my first trip to Japan next week. I will be studying at the historic Daiju-en nursery for 3 weeks in conjunction with the upcoming Kokufu-ten exhibition. I look forward to sharing my experience here and will be also be posting pictures to my Instagram feed @capitalbonsai

Tokonoma Display Summer 2013

I’ve been told that a good tokonoma display creates an setting through which the viewer can be transported to a specific place in time. The objects being displayed must work together to create a unified theme centered around a specific season.


“Dragonfly & River Mollusk” by Rabani, Accessed 9/21/13,

Two of my favorite elements of summer, water and dragonflies, encapsulate the mix of activity and rest, stillness and movement experienced during the summer.  From the small pond in my parents backyard that was visited each summer by a fiery red dragonfly, to the matchstick thin damselflies that inhabit the stream I take my own son too; the dragonfly symbolizes summer almost as much as its aquatic habitat.

IMG_9640With that said it should be no surprise that I really liked this display. The main object in a very large (6 x 29.5 x 16.75), and may I add heavy, puddle stone (mitsumari-ishi) collected from the Saji river in Japan and donated by Teichii Katayama.


I have seen puddle stones displayed both with and without water. When they contain water they are almost always placed in a suiban with sand rather than in a wooden daiza. Some also like to not only fill the reservoirs with water but wet the entire stone. As the water dries the color of the stone changes and I think this helps bring some life to an other wise inanimate object.


Side view showing several puddles.


What do you see, a mountain lake or a natural bird bath?

IMG_9633Alternate side view

IMG_9628In contrast to the heavy wet stone is a scroll depicting 3 light and airy dragonflies hovering above the water.


The signature on the scroll reads Shoshen. I was unable to find any information about the artist and would welcome it if you know something about him.

Dragonfly & Autumn leaves, Lightsnow photography, ,accessed 9/30/13

Dragonfly & Autumn leaves, Lightsnow photography, accessed 9/30/13

Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to my favorite season and a new Autumn display.

Autumn Tokonoma Display

The first tokonoma display of fall is traditional three point display made up of a stone, a scroll, and an accent plant. A typical three point display contains a primary element  that holds the visual weight of the space. This is typically a bonsai or viewing stone but can also be a scroll. The second element has less visual weight and can also be a bonsai, stone, or scroll.
The third component can be an accent plant, small stone or some decorative art object like an okimono.

The primary element in this display is a Chrysanthemum stone from Sado Island donated by Ralph Johnson.This close-up view of the stone shows the various mineral deposits within the stones matrix.

The second element is a scroll depicting a moon with falling maple leaves, possibly from the tree in the summer display. This scroll was painted by Matsumura Keibun 景文 松村 (1779 – 1843)  “He was a leading figure in the Shijo school established by his half-brother, Matsumura Goshun (1752-1811). Their father, a fourth-generation official of the Kyoto gold mint, died when Keibun was two years old, making it likely that he would follow Goshun, 27 years his senior, into an artistic career. Keibun mastered the techniques of painting taught at Goshun’s studio at Shijo-Sakaimachi in Kyoto. He studied the work of Maruyama Okyo (1733–1795), whose blend of realism and decorative beauty exerted a major influence on him. Keibun’s numerous sketchbooks reveal his lifelong adherence to Okyo’s dictum to draw from nature. Additionally, he was familiar with Chinese literati painting (Bunjinga) and art theories of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) periods. In his later years he associated with Koishi Genzui (1793–1865), a leading figure of Confucian literati circles in Kyoto. In 1797 Keibun’s work was chosen for exhibition by the leading literati scholar and painter, Minagawa Kien (1734–1807) who from 1792 sponsored twice-yearly exhibitions of new works of painting. By 1801 his designs were being included with those of Goshun and other Kyoto artists in woodblock-printed picture-books (ehon). After Goshun’s death in 1811 Keibun shared the leadership of the Shijo school with fellow-pupil Okamoto Toyohiko (1773-1845), and the two became the most popular painters in Kyoto. Keibun was particularly noted for his bird-and-flower (kacho) compositions.(

Signature and chop of Matsumura Keibun.

The third and last component is an accent planting of Sumac, Rhus copallium, in fall color with fern, Selaginella sp.

This display was only installed for a few days as the Sumac quickly dropped its leaves. Fall is a wonderful time to create displays as trees and plants are changing color on a daily basis.

On that note, our annual Fall bonsai exhibit opens tomorrow, Saturday October 20th and continues through November 4th.

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Summer Tokonoma Display

On the last official day of summer I wanted to share some pictures of a formal summer display currently in the Museum’s tokonoma.

This Distant Mountain Stone is one of my favorite suiseki in the collection. It is extremely smooth and flat measuring 4.25 in. high x 25.75 in. long  x 11.25 in. wide. It was collected from the Setagawa River and was donated by Mr. Kenichi Oguchi.

On closer inspection there is a depression on the right resembling a lake at the foot of the mountain.

The bottom of the stone. Whether a stone should be cut or not is something I won’t get into here. =)

I personally have never seen another diaza like this. Since the stone is completely flat on the bottom the diaza only goes around the edge. Has anyone else ever seen something similar?

Close-up of the hand carved daiza.

This scroll depicting a waterfall and Japanese Maple is by Imai Keiju. Born in Mie Prefecture, Imao Keiju (1891-1967) was a Shijo school painter who studied under he father-in-law, Imao Keinen (1845-1924); He was known for his bird and flower motifs making this scroll unique since it deviates from his normal subject matter.

Detail of maple leaves

Signature and chop of Imai Keiju

I am thankful that another summer is coming to an end. Soon the green maples will give way to the reds and oranges of fall marking what I believe to be most beautiful season of all. Stay tuned for more seasonal displays.

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