Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Toko no Ma display titled Toryuumon

I post this picture with written permission of Mr. Hilvers, Curator of the Bonsai Collection at the Clark Center for Japanese Art & Culture. I would also like to thank the Clark Center for hosting me this weekend. This was my display that I was able to do with the help of the Southern Utah Bonsai Club and Mr. Jim Greaves, who graciously provided the beautiful suiseki.

You can also see some display critiques from a Japanese Sensei at the following links.
Before you bonsai artists get too overworked about how many rules I didn't follow in the Keidou school of display (which I have not studied and have no experience with), read the whole article and then make a judgement. The point of my display was to harmonize the three pieces and to have each piece represent something. But before you can read what the symbols mean you need to know the phrase meaning of Touryuumon (登龍門).

The first character 登read as Tou is also the verb noboru which means to climb or reach

The second character 龍 is read as Ryuu and means dragon

The third character 門 is read as Mon or kado and means gate

人生の関門 人生のかんもん(Jinsei no Kanmon) Life Barriers

There is no doubt that the phrase Touryuumon is the name of the difficult barrier that must be broken through or overcome in order to see success. More deeply, this phrase comes from the legend that fish, specifically 鯉 Koi, that can swim upstream past the waterfall called “三段の滝Sandan no Taki or Third Step” which is located on the middle section of the Yellow River in China will become a dragon, and this waterfall area is called the Touryuumon. It is this idea that one must overcome the worst of difficulties, in order to move on to a greater difficulty. Success and growth is only then accomplished.
All human beings are faced with trials in life. However, in order to confront the greatest afflictions one must first have striven to overcome smaller obstacles, much like the fish faces on first swimming up the Yellow River, and then overcoming the waterfall. Only then will the fish become a dragon. Likewise, one will see great growth only after taking on the tasks of the first challenges.

Additionally, no matter how diligently one strives to overcome the trial and become the best, there are times when these barriers just cannot be overcome. However, the effort expended was surely not a waste for the individual. Those mistakes will spring back in the form of success and pride at some time in the future. It can be said that a smooth life will not bring about success. Therefore, this phrase provides all interesting hope for personal struggles.

Excerpt translated by Jonathan Maples from page 640 of the Zengo Kichigo Jiten (禅語吉語字典) published by the Japanese Calligraphy Society (日本書道協会 〒151-0053 東京都渋谷区代々木1-11-1).

The Suiseki, American Viewing Stone Resource Center:

The suiseki chosen symbolizes the carp/Koi. The Koi is in a very neutral vertical position with the head down, and an eye to the left, with the typical wide-open mouth. While some of the form is ambiguous, with the body perhaps curving and hidden by grass, it actually is positive for the overall display design. The image recalls endless similar images found in Japanese paintings. The stone is graywacke, but the image carries well from a distance. The position of the rock presents the Koi in calmer waters, eyeing the falls and circling to gain courage before the ascent.
Dimensions Approx. 10" H x 4" W as displayed

The Bonsai, Southern Utah Bonsai Club:

The cascading shape of the bonsai represents the 三段の滝 Sandan no Taki or Three Step waterfall in the middle section of the Yellow River in China. The fish must climb up the cascade to reach the apex. This tree is a Procumbens nana or Japanese Garden Juniper. The apex is 15” from the base of the pot or 12” from the base of the tree.

The Scroll, Custom Japanese Calligraphy:

Like the Sandan no Taki, the scroll will be made in a three step style called 三段表具Sandan Hyougu. This reinforces both the number of characters in the writing, references back to the name of the waterfall, and completes the three pieces within the three point display. This piece in the display will symbolize the transformation of the 鯉Koi into a 龍Ryuu Dragon. The Blue in the Ichimonji is used to provide a very strong transition between the cloth and 本紙 Honshi. The red cloth is used to stir up the visualization of the koi transforming into a dragon and adding the red color to the scales. The white of the Chi is representative of the mists of foam and water churning in the river’s waterfall. Lastly, the white of the Ten should suggest to the viewer the ascent of the dragon into the clouds. Transformation is now complete. As an interesting side note, Touryuumon was written by my wife who is a 師範 Shihan rank 書家Shoka calligrapher, whose calligraphy name assigned to her by her Sensei is 龍玉 Ryuugyoku. Ryuugyoku means Dragon Egg. Scroll dimensions given in the traditional Japanese 分 Bun unit of measure which is roughly equal to 3.03 mm (Graph not Available on this blog). The total scroll length is 4 feet 5 inches and the width is 15 inches.

If you would like to order a custom scroll there are three ways to get started: 1. Go to my shopping site at 2. Download my scroll design workbook from my website at to read about the concepts behind kakejiku or wallscroll design. 3. E-mail to me directly at 

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