Is rock balancing the new yoga?
Japan’s foremost rock balancing practitioner shares tricks of his trade.
Humans have been balancing rocks for as long as there have been humans and rocks. A carefully-constructed pile of rocks can say, “I was here” or, “The trail goes this way.” It can mark a burial place, like Egypt’s pyramids, or a place of worship, like Central America’s pyramids.
Or it can just be a lot of fun. On a dark winter evening, half a dozen people sit around tables in a community hall in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, trying to create ishihana – literally, “stone flowers.” Once every two months they gather to stack rocks into the most improbable-looking configurations. They’ve already been at it for almost an hour when in walks Chitoku Ishihana, Japan’s foremost practitioner of rock-balancing. He loosens his tie, selects a few rocks from among those available, and gets to work.
“Chitoku Ishihana” is not his real name; like kabuki actors and tea ceremony practitioners, elite rock-balancers choose names to use when they’re balancing. Working in IT by day, for almost a decade Chitoku has been creating stone flowers as a way to unwind. He prefers to do it outdoors: on beaches, on river banks, even in mountain stream beds.
On this evening indoors, he wages a protracted battle against four stubborn rocks, nudging them patiently in different directions. Finally, he slowly pulls his hands away, and the rocks stand there. The other balancers stop what they’re doing to admire his masterpiece. They snap photos with their phones until the rocks get tired of the attention and come cascading down onto the table top.
Time to start over.
Text Peter Weld
Photos Peter Weld and Pixabay