It has been a little over 1 year since I first started putting photos on Instagram as a way to keep track of my bonsai apprentice experience in Japan. The IG page has been fairly successful and now that some time has passed it has become easy to notice some of my habits and patterns with posting. So now that there are a few obvious common threads I’m going to try patching together a somewhat coherent IG highlights article.
The motivation for this came from the realization that I’ve been collecting all of this content and not putting any of it on my own site. It’s time to change things. So this highlights reel will set the stage for these types of post. I’ve decided that starting next month I will be regularly sharing these photos and captions on the blog as well as continuing to post them on Instagram. I’ll still be writing my regular article once a month as well. Don’t worry, I’ll try my best to consolidate the IG photo posts to just a couple of quick reads each month. Nobody likes some over active blogger jamming up their email box every few days. Who’s got time for that kind of stuff anyhow?
All of the photos in the article are arranged by their similarity, not chronologically. So what you’ll see is the photo followed by the date it was posted on IG and the corresponding original IG caption.
The following 3 photos are a seasonal sequence of a little trident maple.
A little more autumn color from Aichien. Those of you who’ve been following for a while will probably recognize this little maple. One of my favorite shohin trees here at Aichien.
Over the past few months I’ve posted a few photos of this shohin maple. Here is a current view of the tree in its winter form.
This little guy is still here at Aichien. Just waking up from its winter nap. The new leaves are still really soft. This time of year we spend the early morning shoot pruning all of the maples. Nice way to start the day
There is a black back drop set up in the tea room next to the workshop in Aichien. This is one of my favorite spots to take photos. Often times I’ll post photos of trees just after I’ve worked on them and occasionally something will just look really good out in the yard so I’ll bring it in for a photo. The following group is shots I’ve posted from the tea room.
This Ume bonsai was a late bloomer this year. Held out a little longer than the others. Thought I’d bring her in the work shop for a photo shoot. About 25 years old. The pot is new Chinese. Though it’s a new pot, the glaze style is really old. Known as Namako style glaze here in Japan. Namako is also the word used for Sea Cucumber.
Another nice winter tree from Aichien. This is a Beech tree. About 60 years old, the pot is Chinese (Canton) in the 20-year-old range.
This wild black pine was on my work bench yesterday for some clean up. Great tree!
I noticed this little gem glowing on Mr.Tanakas shohin bench. Thought I’d bring it in, clean it up and take a photo.
This root over rock style black pine was on my work bench today for clean up/maintenance work. Nice tree, sure does clean up nicely! Probably in the 50-60 years old range. Here at Aichien Mr.Tanaka has a few trees of this style. Black pine on rock in a really shallow pot. I’ve started to grow quite fond of them.
This amazing white pine is now back at Aichien after spending time in Tokyo. It participated in this years Kokufu bonsai exhibition. The foliage of this tree is Miyajima White Pine. It is grafted on to black pine trunk. The graft was done very well a long time ago. Due to high quality grafting technique and a lot of years in the pot growing slowly this tree has almost no visible transition from black pine bottom to white pine top. The advantage to performing this type of graft is evident in the turbo charged white pine foliage that always looks good. White pine on white pine roots have a difficult time becoming this dense and often times turn brown in the summer.
Just brought this red Chojubai in the work shop to clean it up and take a photo. Cool tree! It’s about 30 years old. The pot is Chinese, Shinto, 40 years old. They look great together, tree and pot.
This shimpaku bonsai is one from my personal collection. It was given to me as a training project/gift from my senpai Ken Fujiwara. When I got this tree it was a little on the weak side and didn’t have much foliage and no style or direction. Nice material for an apprentice. I showed him this photo a few days ago and he gave me the smile of approval. Its been about 8 months since he gave it to me. since then ive been working towards getting it back to health and strong enough to style. Just last week I decided it was ready. So here is the final set up. In the fall I may graft something in at the second bend from the bottom, that area looks like it could use a small counterbalance/back branch. Other than that, my plan is to keep developing it and see how things progress from here. Also ill continue to work the dead wood and extend it through the entire main branch. In another year or so it will be ready to re-pot, putting it in a slightly smaller pot will probably look a little bit nicer, though this pot is not bad. I’ll post updates from time to time assuming it stays alive and keeps growing. :p
Another strange bonsai, here at Aichien. This bonsai is a Potentillia also know commonly as Shrubby Cinquefoil. I have never seen another bonsai of this species, though I’m sure there are plenty out there. It’s about 20 years old, the pot is new Chinese. Nice tree!
Interesting little hawthorn bonsai here at Aichien. This one is in the 20-25 years old range. Not so old, but beginning to show some nice evidence of age. Cracks in the bark and old lower branches. Nice tree. I bonsai like this, small, old, strange shaped deciduous trees. though they are not as popular as old juniper and pine bonsai, they are great for adding variety to a collection. The pot is nice to. Japanese made, sometime in the 1970’s maybe 80’s.
So cool!! I was out in the yard today doing some maple work and noticed that this particular tree is way behind the spring time growth frenzy of all the other maples. I asked Mr.Tanaka why it’s so weak and not growing. His response surprised me. He told me this tree is on a different cycle than the other trees at Aichien. Often times starting its growth a month later in spring and ending its growing season a month later than the others. So why is this??? Because it’s a Canadian maple! Apparently when his father was owner of the nursery he acquired this tree from a foreign visitor. It’s been here ever since. Of the ten million maple bonsai I’ve seen in Japan this is the first Canadian maple. Mr.Tanaka tells me it’s the only one he’s seen in Japan as well. There may be others, but if so, not many. Rare tree!
Another cool Aichien flowering bonsai. This one is a 30-year-old white flowering quince, known as “Shiro Chojubai” here in Japan. Shiro meaning white and Chojubai meaning flowering quince. The pot is quite unique as well. It is a Japanese antique pot which means it is at least 100 years old. The blue splash is paint that was accidentally splattered on it at some point in its life, pair that with the interesting crack on the left side and the strange glaze line at the bottom and the result is a very useable and one of a kind pot. Due to the pots “flaws” it has almost no value on the bonsai market since collectors like perfect pottery. However, for use as an interesting pot to grow a tree in, its perfect!
Each week I’m tasked with setting up a new tree in a very simple display at a local Nagoya restaurant. Several months ago I thought it might make a fun theme for an ongoing series and started posting the weekly set up on Instagram. The following group of photos are some of my favorites from this series.
Every Tuesday I’m tasked with setting up a tree at a restaurant here in Nagoya. This is a view of today’s set up. Old white pine coupled with a small quince in a nanban pot. The light is always there, some trees it works well and others not so well. This time I think it’s right on.
This weeks set up is a 50-year-old white pine bonsai. Since I’ve been in Japan I’ve really started to love this style of white pine. It’s graceful, elegant, beautiful…all of that type of stuff. Bonsai in this style are typically paired with a pot in the “nanban” style. This particular nanban pot is around 60 years old. Made in Japan. Not only do these types of white pines look great in a nanban pot, it also helps keep them healthy. Due to how shallow the pot is the soil has a tendency to dry out very quickly. White pines kinda like it that way. So it all works out.
Those of you with a sharp eye and a good memory may have already noticed that this is the tree I began the “Tuesday delivery” photo series with. It’s been about 4 or 5 months. Looks like the tree has put on a little weight this spring.
This weeks set up is an awesome bunjin style tosho (needle juniper). This wild/collected tree is in the 90 years old range and has already clocked a few decades in the pot. What’s remarkable about this tree is how perfectly straight the dead wood is and how perfectly coiled the live area is. Due to the very thin dead area it is safe to assume that whatever natural phenomenon caused the tree to grow in such a way probably happened in the first decade or so of its life. My guess is it was choked out by a climbing vine. That would explain the perfect coil of the live area as well. Whatever the cause, it produced a unique tree. Really thin trees that are also really old are surprisingly rare. Lately I’ve been admiring them just as much as more powerful trees. There is a certain grace and elegance here that we just don’t get with thicker, stronger trees. The pot is a great match as well. It’s a Japanese pot in the “nanban” style. About 20 years old.
This weeks set up is a beautiful 30-year-old Japanese maple. The name of this maple variety is Benishidare and is recognizable by its deep red foliage with very thin, serrated leaf segments. Since these trees are not incredibly dense growers they are best if used in very soft/relaxed styles such as this tree. The main focus being the white bark and leaf rather than the overall structure. The pot is Japanese, made in Tokaname city in the mid 1970’s
On display this week is a zuisho white pine in the 50 years old range. Zuisho are known best for their small needle size and incredibly strong growth habits. Though this trees doesn’t have a lot of movement in the trunk, it’s still a very interesting informal upright style bonsai. The main branch is really strong (another common characteristic with zuisho) and the foliage pads are nicely arranged in a very natural style. Additionally it has been allowed to grow somewhat freely for quite a while. Doing this gives the tree a chance to take on its own style, its own identity. Rather that forcing a style by perfectly arranging each and every branch with wire. There is something special about a well-developed tree that doesn’t look as though its been touched by humans for a long time. Everything about this bonsai is in good taste. Nice style, nice age and nice visual balance with the 1970’s Japanese made pot.
This weeks set up is a 30-year-old Sakura bonsai (Cherry Blossom). The Sakura season is in full force right now in Nagoya. Makes me miss home a little bit. Few things in DC are more pleasant than taking a walk around the Title Basin during Cherry Blossom season.
I thought I’d share a second photo of last weeks cherry blossom. When I picked it up today it was in full bloom and really looked nice.
Photo of this weeks set up at a local Restaurant here in Nagoya. This is a white pine through and through, not grafted. The leaf character of this tree is really desirable. White pines of this type are among the finest available due to the leaf quality. It grows incredibly strong and gets very green. The density is a factor as well. Though it is not able to be as dense as the previous tree i showed it’s still great. Especially considering it isn’t grafted on black pine roots. This tree is in the 60-70 year old range.
I almost forgot to share this weeks Tuesday set up. Better late than never. This 50-year-old deciduous bonsai is called Konashi here in Japan. The English translation is small pear. Though nice for bonsai, the pears don’t taste very good. When I dropped this tree off on Tuesday it was only 1 or 2 days away from flowering. I’ll try to get an in bloom photo when I pick it up next Tuesday.
This Tuesdays set up is a 60-year-old Sakura bonsai (cherry blossom). Being late winter, Sakura season is just around the corner and this tree is about to pop, a few days in the warm restaurant and it will likely be in full bloom. This particular tree is especially nice (and fairly valuable) for Sakura bonsai due to it’s age and tasteful style. The pot is new Chinese and very affordable (I’ve been told not to use the term “cheap” because it’s not professional). So why put an old tree of high quality and value in a new pot of low value? Well…because they look really good together and that’s what matters. This pot is a perfect size, shape and color for this tree. Especially since 99% of its time is just spent here at Aichien growing in the sun shine. So the moral of the story is to trust our eyes and sense of style first. It’s easy to get caught up in fancy Japanese and old Chinese pots, but when it comes to good bonsai a good-looking pot that matches the tree is what is most important regardless of where or when the pot was made.
This Sakura bonsai was last weeks French restaurant set up. As expected it was in full bloom when I picked it up yesterday. Lookin nice!
Lately I’ve been enjoying being able to look back on some older photos and compare the trees progress. I really look forward to doing more of this as I continue to spend time at Aichien.
Project for this afternoon. Styrax Japonica, common name Snowbell. The task: defoliate, wire and style. So far it’s trimmed up and the leaves are off. Now to wire. More soon.
Last week I shared a few shots of a snowbell project I was working on. Here is the finished job.
If you search through my photos back to about 36 weeks ago you can see a few older photos of this Snowbell bonsai. Last summer I defoliated it, cut off the un necessary branches, then wired and styled it. This shot is from yesterday just after I defoliated it again, removed the wire from last year and cut more branches. It’s really made some progress in a short time. The goal with all of this is to create branches that get increasingly thinner near the tips. Now, the tree will be allowed to grow for the rest of the summer and then in another year or two the entire process will be repeated.
And of course plenty of shots from around the nursery and other miscellaneous photos.
Beautiful Japanese maple here at Aichien. This variety is known as Seigen. The new spring leaves are a really nice shade of red, changing to a deep shade of green with hints of red in the summer. Followed by a red-orange finish in the fall. The leaf character is very fine and the growth habits of this cultivar work really well with a soft and smooth flowing trunk/branch structure. Maple trends shift from decade to decade and currently Seigen are among the most popular in Japan. There is another similar variety known as deshojo which produces a deeper red leaf. Also very popular.
Incredible bonsai. This deciduous shrub is a Japanese quince, referred to as bokeh here in Japan. It’s about 100years old and recently received the Japanese award of “Kichou” bonsai, also know as “Important Bonsai Masterpeice”. It certainly deserves it.
Today at Aichien we hosted our annual re-potting party with the local bonsai club that Mr.Tanaka teaches. It’s always a fun time working with the club members! Here Mr.Tanaka has an audience watching him set up a baby maple for an improved bonsai future. It’s great to see someone at such an incredibly high level of skill and experience taking the time to do little things like this. The young man in the photo is his youngest son.
View from Aichien. The fish flags mean it’s Koinobori time in Japan! This is a really old and interesting tradition in Japan. Long to describe, so I’ll recommend anyone interested in learning more do an Internet search. I found a lot of info in English about this tradition.
My new friend.
Since I’ve been focusing on bonsai so much I’ve had no time to draw or paint or do anything else creative. Thought I’d take some time to paint and still ended up doing bonsai. Watercolor on craft paper, by me.
This morning we re-potted a few bonsai at a customers house. This trident maple was one of them, it has a cool story. The tree was started by Mr.Tanakas father about 60 years ago. It spent 40 of those years growing in the ground at one of Aichiens fields. Then, about 20 years ago Mr.Tanaka collected it from the field and started its new life as a bonsai. Today we put the tree in the blue pot you see in the photo. It’s a pot from Tokoname Japan that Mr.Tanakas father custom ordered 30 years ago for no particular tree. Today it all came together. Perfect pairing of tree and pot and 100% Aichien bonsai creation that took 2 lifetimes to pull off. Yellow chapstick tube in lower left corner for scale.
Decided to take on the bonsai pot reorganization/clean up project. It’s like fitting puzzle pieces together.
Good morning from Aichien. We are experiencing our first snow fall of the year. Beautiful.
Just doin my daily chores here at Aichien. Photo courtesy of Ms.Miyata.
Ok, thats enough. There are plenty more on IG if you care to check them out. Find it by searching for @treethepeople
As always, thanks for reading and sticking with me as I try to figure out better ways to get all of this content organized and presented in an efficient way. For better or worse, it’s moving in some direction.
Until next time…