During my time at Aichien, it is safe to say that informal upright style Japanese black pines have dominated the task load. Of the many black pines I’ve had the opportunity to work on one stands out as a truly rare and magnificent tree. Few black pines in Japan are as old as refined or as powerful as the tree named Zuio.
Zuio was first brought to Aichien by Mr.Tanaka’s grandfather. I’ve been told by Mr.Tanaka that when his grandfather found this tree it was already very old and established as a garden tree. Seeing the trees potential as a bonsai he purchased it, collected it and brought it back to Aichien for further development. Unfortunately, the oldest known photo of Zuio is not very old at all. It’s from about 1995 during a bonsai exhibition held in honor of Mr.Tanaka’s grandfather. I’ll start the photos with this.
Take a close look at the low center of the trunk in this photo and the following photo. There is something very interesting happening here. The front section is actually dead in this photo, however the bark has remained attached and the wood has been slowly rotting away on the inside. I asked Mr. Tanaka why the area died, his answer was that it was part of the collecting process. There was a large root connected to that area that needed to be cut in order to collect the tree. Over the years it continually died back.
After this tree was collected it spent roughly 40 years being developed and refined as a bonsai at Aichien. Eventually it was purchased by a well-known collector, Mr.Moriyama. At the time Mr. Moriyama was working with a bonsai professional by the name of Mr. Kamiya. A very well-respected professional. With in only a few years of being purchased from Aichien, the tree was styled and entered in Kokufu-ten. The most famous of all bonsai exhibitions. The following photo is as it appeared in Kokufu #70.
Eventually Mr.Moriyama sold Zuio. The new owner Mr.Tomomatsu works with a couple of professionals within the Daijuen/Aichien group. So shortly after he purchased the tree it spent a little time at his home, at Daijuen and then eventually made its way back to Aichien where it has been living until just recently.
This year, Mr. Tomomatsu decided to enter Zuio in the Meifu-ten bonsai exhibition in Nagoya Japan. Though the tree is currently at Aichien, Mr.Tomomatsu is currently working closely with my Senpai Mr.Ken Fujiwara. When the time came to prepare Zuio for this years exhibition I was offered the chance to get it ready for show. Exciting! The guidelines I was given was to keep it looking natural. Not too perfect, but not too messy. Harder than you may think. Anyhow, I did my best and Mr. Tanaka was happy with the work. He took this photo of me with Zuio after I finished. Total it was about 3 full days of work. Cleaning, a little wiring, some cutting, etc. Nothing major like a total re-styling, but still a great job to get my hands on. Prepping trees of this level is almost like detailing a Ferrari, even if it’s not perfect it still looks great! All of the hard work and decades of care has already been done.
and from this years Meifu-ten book.
and the exhibition photo from this years Meifu-ten. 1st prize was awarded to Zuio this year. Take a close look at the lower trunk in this photo. You can see there is a huge dead area now, compared to how it appeared in the previous photos from the 90’s. That old dead portion finally rotted away to the limit and had to be removed. In recent years, there was some talk of potentially changing the front and using the back to build a new appearance. Luckily the decision was made to keep the existing front and simply enjoy Zuio for its new interesting features. I think most would agree that this huge dead section adds a ton of character to Zuio. It’s fitting for a tree that is in the 200 years old range.
In addition to Kokufu and Meifu exhibitions, Zuio has also particpated in many local exhibitions as well as Taikan-Ten. It is also a certified Important Bonsai Masterpiece in Japan. This tree has worked the circuit, maybe as well as any tree could ever do it.
Well thats it for this quick history on Zuio, I wish I had more photos of the deep history of this tree. Photos from those first few years of development. It certainly helps me keep in mind the importance of photographs at all phases of development.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time…