Monthly Archives: November 2012

Autumn Displays for Taikan-ten

This year we have about 7 displays in Taikan-ten, the Bonsai exhibition which focuses heavily on the art of display, held annually at the Kyoto Art Museum.  Although I am unable to attend this event, I was able to help put together some nice displays with the team a couple days before the start of the show.  As always, being in the same room as my teacher and the Tokonoma (display alcove) was a fun day full of learning and trying to understand or even shed a little light on the deeper meaning manifested within each display.  So what is the point of Bonsai display?  Yes, to show off how awesome our tree’s have become, of course.  However, when we think about formal displays that exhibit multiple components (scrolls, accents, etc) we need to firstly acknowledge the season.  Since Taikan-ten is held at the end of Fall in Japan, most of the displays you will see deal with Fall scenery and subtleties of life accordingly.

Here is a Shinpaku I was given to wire for the show, what does this display tell you?

To me, this display captures the change of season, Fall becoming Winter.  One good clue to look for is the snow on the mountain, it looks as if snow just fell for the first time.  I considered using a stone for the accent, but the softer yet grand appearance of the tree called for something less dramatic, therefor, a fern accent plant was chosen.

My teacher owns a plethora of scrolls, we often try a few out before deciding the most suitable image. I was told the Kanji on this one means “Eastern light”.  Rising sun?

I wouldn’t say that this scroll is “wrong” for this display, it just feels a little over-powering.

Oyakata left it up to Tyler to compose the display for this “Mube” (pronounced mooh-beh).

There is a very curious and interesting history behind this wild vine, which is native to Japan and other countries in the East.  These vines can pop up anywhere, as their seeds are spread by bird droppings.  I hadn’t realized this before which is why I’m impressed with Tyler’s initial decision of the Suzume (Sparrow) scroll.  Just goes to tell you, when making a display going with your gut and first instinct is usually the best thing to do.

The scientific name for MUBE is stauntonia hexaphylla.

MUBE got its name centuries ago when a family living in a little town on the shores of Lake Biwa in Shiga-prefecture offered MUBE fruit to the Imperial family.  Apparently in the 7th century MUBE was a rare fruit; it was told that the emperor Tenji encountered an elderly couple when hunting around Lake Biwa.  He asked the couple “how do you stay so strong in old age”?  The couple responded to the emperor “here there is a special fruit that has the power to give long life and keep the sickness away”.  Upon trying the fruit himself the emperor exclaimed “MUBE NARU KANA”!  “It is indeed so”!  So there you have it, the magical story of MUBE!  Now I gotta try one of these for myself…

Switched up a little bit.

Here we have a new flowering accent plant and a scroll with falling red maple leaves.  I like the narrowness of the scroll better, it works for the overall balance but just doesn’t seem to have as much of a story behind it.  For that reason I lean toward the first display with the Sparrow and old man figurine.  It draws a full circle of meaning, and tells a story; that I do believe is the essence of a great display.  Also one note about the stand!  You don’t want the stand drawing more attention to your eye than the tree, the simpleness of this stand works best with the MUBE.

I call this the “Darth Helmet Tree”.

This Red Pine has such a broad apex it makes me giggle to myself at times, however, one might feel a little tipsy with all that leaning movement if there was a little dainty apex instead.  This tree has been wired 3 times in the last few years by three different artists in this order: Omachi Isao, myself, and most recently refined by Tyler.  We also call this the “never ending tree” because it seems impossible to get the balance just right.  No scroll was used, just a simple set up using a nice root slab and accent plant.

Tyler getting a few pointers from the master during the photo shoot. The camera don’t lie!

Relaxing and taking in the beautiful colors, Chinese Quince.

When my teacher is explaining what the writing on a scroll such as this one mean, it is very easy to get lost in translation, so to speak.  There is usually a whirlwind going on inside of my head when this happens, so I just try to snag the key words before they get blown away in the torrent.  From what I can remember, the kanji describes the movement of clouds, and how they remind us that life is always moving and changing.  And here we have in this display an elder, sitting beneath the clouds reflecting on a cool Autumn day.

Just chillin

Once again, the famous Shishi that won Kokufu last year, in all its glory.

These wooden deer carvings are not of the best quality, but a safer way in case somebody feels like shop-lifting.

You can’t see it too well, but that is an image of Mt. Fuji in the background.  It is very faint, maybe the artist was trying to suggest that he was up at the crack of dawn painting it… or not.  Anyway, it gives me an early morning feel, especially with the deer already awake.  Hope you enjoyed these displays and learned something along the way, definitely more posts to come on this subject!


Its almost that time of year…

Kokufu.  For apprentices the often dreaded yet more anticipated time of year.  As fall approaches preparations are put into play.  Living and having a Bonsai nursery in a cold place like Nagano has its ups and downs, and downfalls of snow and well below freezing temperatures.  November is a walk in the park, but once December comes around one need be prepared!  I have vivid memories of breathing hot air into the hole of frozen locks before leaving work after a long day of wiring and Kokufu prep, guess it would pay to be a smoker in situations like this one (note to self: smoke one cigarette when closing up in winter.)  With that said, here are some more memories captured leading up to the most prestigious Bonsai exhibition in the world (although I hear those guys from the village have some pretty earth-shattering plans in the making.) 😉

In the old days at the old museum, Kokufu-bound trees were kept and watered inside a temperature controlled room.

Since changing location of the museum and garden from across the street to the grape orchard a few years ago, we have been housing Kokufu Bonsai in a small greenhouse constructed specially to keep the cold away.  You may even think I’m crazy when I tell you this, but we even add an extra layer of bubble wrap on the interior to add a little extra insulation.  Foliage will naturally change color in the hibernating period, especially Juniper, which tend to go bronze.  Therefor, acting before the frost is essential, if you live in a cold environment and want to show a tree in the winter, doing what you can to keep the foliage vibrant and green is a must for conifer species.  Also, take extra care after any repotting and keep those roots from freezing.  Here at the nursery, we often use blankets, laying them gently over and around the container and root system.  This helps too when a tree is root-bound or in an expensive or old container, better safe than sorry, so just wrap it up!

Working on a Shinpaku for Kokufu during my second year.

Oyakata touching up the silhouette on a nice Chinese Quince.

Nothing says “Kokufu” like an old ramified Choujubai!

These little guys work great in a Chuhin or Shohin display.  They produce flowers non-stop throughout the year (less in winter.)  It is important to take off the flower buds in summer to develop finer and stronger branching, flowers or fruit on trees in general sap energy and weaken the tree.

Here’s our little friend in a full 3-point display with a more impressive counterpart, this Black Pine went on to win a Kokufu award that year, I think it was #80 or 81.

Going through these old photos makes me realize (or maybe worry is a better choice of word?) about our lack of Bonsai related elements in the U.S.  I can only speak for myself, but I think we could all use more stands and show-quality pots, this will only up the level of our Bonsai put on display.  Not to say we need to import everything from Japan necessarily, but it would help.  On the upside, I’ve been seeing a rise in quality with our native collected material on the West-side, and I am all too excited to get back to my home in Portland, OR and start taming then letting these magnificent beauties fill into and reveal their natural age and greatness.  We have so much untapped potential, whereas good collected material in Japan is no longer a resource.  We will come into our own with the right knowledge; I think the village will be the center of a thriving Bonsai community someday with people like Mike Hagedorn, (founder) Ryan Neil (cofounder) and hopefully myself when I complete my apprenticeship.

Recognize? My first Kokufu work waiting to be judged at the Greenclub in Ueno.

Well, its getting late, the dog’s at Tommy’s bar are barking and howling at the cold night and passerby.  Repotted a few tree’s for Taikan-ten today, the show is coming up in a few days, think it starts on the 23rd.  If you don’t get a chance to make it I’ll add some pics here shortly!  Don’t know yet which apprentice will get to go and who will be watching house, so be sure to check the blog of Tyler Sherrod (Tyler Sherrod Bonsai) or mine for updates in the coming week or two.

All cherried out and ready to go. 😉

Happy Thanksgiving, be sure to eat some extra helpings for Tyler and I, we could use it!

White Pine Cascade

It can be refreshing getting back into the world of blogging.  Writing was always a passion of mine, finding time for it can be another story though… hoping to produce more insightful posts before the end of my apprenticeship here in Japan, coming soon!   Perhaps not as soon as I imagined… so please bare with me here.  I may become (or already am) the longest staying foreign apprentice to study Bonsai in Japan.  Here is another sample of some of the wiring I’ve been doing here at Mr. Suzuki’s nursery here in Nagano, JP.  Hope you enjoy.

Goyomatsu – before

Goyo – after styling

Cascade style tree’s always look at home on a nice root stand (nejouku.)  The current pot is a little strong and over-powering, even though it is a dominating cascade.  A nice round or Nanban style pot would be more fitting for the overall balance of this tree and display.

That’s all for now, just a simple before and after.  Stick with me I’ll need all the support I can get during my 7th year. I am constantly surprised at the broadness of Bonsai, how it manages to tie everything together in unexpected ways.  Look forward to sharing my work and experiences with all of you in the year to come.  My old English teacher in high school (he taught Eastern philosophy and religion in my first year) always taught me two things: “repetition breeds mastery,” and “work hard, but don’t work your ass off.”  This year I’m sure I will be doing both.