Collector of Stones with Beautiful Patterns.
Conversation with Hideharu Yamada
about stones and cave paintings.

In part 2 of our interview we sat down with Postalco designer Mike Abelson to ask about Yamada's favorite stones and cave paintings. (Junya Hirokawa / Editor)

Click here for Part I >>

 1. Mayan civilization, megaliths, beautiful stones and cave paintings.  

Hirokawa: Mr. Yamada, I heard that you are fascinated with cave paintings as well as stones with beautiful patterns. Could you tell us about your visit to the Sahara Desert in Algeria this year and the cave paintings there?

Yamada: I have always been interested in archaeology and prehistoric cultures, and there was a period of about 10 years from the mid-1990s when I traveled around England and Ireland taking photographs of megalithic culture sites dating from 3500 to 2000 BC. I published a book on megaliths in 2006. Then I started photographing prehistoric cave paintings. So for the past 10 years or so, I have been going abroad to take pictures of cave murals.

Hirokawa: How did you become interested in megaliths?

Yamada: Before that, I was interested in ancient cultures of Central and South America, such as the Mayan civilization, and visited many ruins in Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru. The Mayan civilization and others were once shrouded in mystery, but gradually many things have been revealed. I also came to realize that it was a class society where it seems that war was a big part of their activity, which became a little bit too much for me. I got fascinated by the megalithic civilization that emerged in the British Isles and Great Britain around 3000 BC. The British Isles still have thousands of megalithic sites, including stone circles, which is an excessive number considering the number of people who lived there in the past, and moreover, many of them are not well understood what they were used for.

Mike: If it were something like a temple, they probably wouldn't have needed so many?

Yamada: If it is a temple, half of it is a business. So it is understandable that there are so many of them. However, the megalithic structures in England don't seem to have been systematized by some religion. Near the famous Stonehenge, there is a large man-made mountain called Silbury Hill, and it was always thought that someone powerful was buried there. However, when archaeologists organized a project to examine it, they did not find anything like that inside. It is really strange that the structures don't seem to contribute to daily life yet we don't know for what purpose they served. I do know that it was not a time when there was a single authority that had the power to force people to do things. It seems that people participated voluntarily in their creation.

Mike: Is your interest in giant stones also a visual interest, along with the patterned stones?

Yamada: I like landscapes with megaliths. There are not many mountains in England, and although forests were originally there, they were deforested to make way for farmland and pastureland. There is a beauty in landscapes where huge stones are placed in such open places. I was drawn to them because it felt like they suddenly descended from the sky, like the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey.”

 2. I went by camel to see the desert paintings. 

Hirokawa: Tell us about the cave paintings please.

Yamada: When I went to Australia in 2013 with my family I first saw the paintings in Kakadu National Park, which is located in the outskirts of a place called Northern Territory. Later, when I researched Australian murals, I learned that the oldest ones may have existed for as long as 40,000 years ago. There are many different patterns in the style of the paintings, and some are thickly overlaid on one wall. The oldest painting at the bottom could be thousands or tens of thousands of years old. I found it profound and very interesting.

Hirokawa: I saw on your blog that you went to a place called Tassili Najer in Algeria in October 2023. Was that on a tour?

Yamada: I was going on a kind of guided tour for those who have a special interest in the murals, and it was organized by a Hungarian expert on murals. He funds his own exploration by organizing these tours. So far, I have been on three of his tours. It was a tough tour with plans to see many murals. The plan is to cover as much as possible. If we have time to eat then we should travel more. It means minimizing the amount of food and water we have to prepare. We woke up in the dark, prepared, and set out as soon as the sun rose and the ground was light. Since we were traveling for about two weeks on a plateau that was inaccessible by car, there was a limit to the amount of water we could bring with us, so this time we started drinking disinfectant in puddle water on the way to the site. We took baguettes with us, but they got dry and tasteless along the way. When we ran out of baguettes, we ate bran biscuits. I heard that another tour organized by French people has more substantial meals.

Hirokawa: Why did you go on the tour three times?

Yamada: The Sahara Desert, which makes up one-third of the African continent, is large, and there are many things that I have yet to see there. It has a certain charm that makes me want to go back. On a previous tour that took us up to the plateau, we loaded our luggage onto donkeys, but this time, since the route was relatively gentle, we loaded our luggage onto camels. I prefer a camel’s nature. Camels don't need to drink much water, and donkeys sometimes get angry, but camels are calm. I guess that's why camels are so cared for by the people there.

 3. Stones are abstract art painted by nature. 

Hirokawa: Let's go back to stones. Do you have a favorite color among beautiful patterned stones?

Yamada: It would be easier to collect them if I limit my favorite color to red or something. The red part of a red stone is iron, and if you really magnify it, it looks like a part of a living thing, like a red blood cell. Enlarged stone photos are shown in the book "Inside the Stone, The World of Formations Hidden in Stone". It is a completely different world. Those images were made with my own scanner. The micro world is visually interesting in its own way.

Mike: I like the hardness of the stone. Obvious I know. It's a hardness you can rely on. They’re more solid than a human body and will remain much longer than us.

Yamada: There is a sense of dependability. Stones exist on a completely different time axis from living things, don't they?

Mike: I also think mathematicians would like these stones. They have a fractal feel.

Yamada: Caillois said stones are modern abstract art. I thought that abstract painting, which started in Europe, was a unique kind of beauty created by human beings. He says that there is already plenty of abstract painting in stone. It is the same with colors to. I am sure Caillois would question the supremacy of human made art.

 4. I never get tired of Verde D’Arno. 

Hirokawa: How do you use and enjoy the stones you collect?

Yamada: Sometimes I take them out, but basically they are stored away and I rarely look at them.

Hirokawa: That’s unexpected. You don't often look at them?

Mike: I used to carry a stone in my pocket for a while because I thought it was comfortable to touch. I made this mineral key holder thinking that it would be nice if I could always carry a stone with me. I wish smartphones were as comfortable to the touch as stones.

Yamada: I like that this keyholder stone is slightly angular with rounded edges. Mike, do you prefer that the stones are not too polished?

Mike: A perfect octagon it not what I had in mind. I have the stone not overly polished so that it remains stone-like. It's surprisingly hard to achieve a finish that still looks like stone.

Yamada: I tend to make them shiny. How do you decide the finish with the craftsmen?

Mike: We give them a master stone sample to match. But it seems to be quite difficult because different stones have different hardness.

Yamada: So you give them a sample stone and ask them not to make it too pefect. The craftsman might think, "I could make it sharper and shinier.”

Mike: This is a new bag that combines two materials with different tactile qualities: extremely soft deerskin and hard stone.

Yamada: The hand feel differs considerably depending on the type of stone. Some people collect stones based on how comfortable they are to hold.

Mike: The relationship between things and people is complex. I am sure that when you actually go to the desert like Mr. Yamada did, you feel it in your body. Like you are soaking in a hot spring. Unlike what you see through a screen or in a photograph. I think that is important for people.

Yamada: I hate it when all my things get covered in sand. It is true that information is becoming more and more visually oriented. In my case, my work is book design, which is also visually oriented.

Mike: I am glad we could talk about so many stones today.

Hirokawa: Yamada-san, your collection of beautiful patterned stones is impossible to organize. What do you plan to do with them all?

Yamada: I am already in the process of organizing, leaving only the good ones. Nevertheless, I am still fascinated with the Verde D’Arno stones. They are green limestone with amazing geometric patterns. I know it is not exactly true, but they really are like modern art. I think that in the end I had to choose only one type of stone, it would be Verde D’Arno. They are rarely up for sale, but I have been able to purchase them through a certain source piece by piece. I still regularly contact the old man overseas and urge him to hurry up and send me some more of them!

Some of the talk events held during the exhibition event are available for viewing. Please take a look.

Talk Event

「Drawing from Earth」

at Postalco Kyobashi Shop


Hideharu Yamada. Book designer. Born in Kokubunji, Tokyo in 1962. After working for a publishing company and a design office、 he became independent in 1993. His books include Gigantic Stones: Walking through Ancient Times in Britain and Ireland 『巨石──イギリス・アイルランドの古代を歩く』(Hayakawa Shobo, 2006), Mysterious and Beautiful Stone Book『不思議で美しい石の図鑑』(Sogensha, 2012), Stone Eggs 『石の卵』(Fukuinkan Shoten, 2014), and Inside the Stone『インサイド・ザ・ストーン』(Sogensha, 2015).

Designed with Minerals.
Why is it satisfying to hold a small stone? We are fascinated by the variety of minerals found in the crust of the Earth. Maybe we are attracted to stones because their colors are thousands of years old and will stay the same for thousands of years more?
Postalco has a product that was created in search of a way to hold minerals comfortably. Since the stones are extracted from nature, no two stones have the same pattern. You can feel the cool minerals texture.