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The below picture is of a branch I wired in Japan. It was actually the first piece of material i was allowed to place wire on.

When I first arrived at Taisho-en my duties were watering, sweeping/ cleaning and preparing hot water for the days tea. I did this for a few days as well as helping move the odd tree or other general task around the nursery. I also watched a lot. I watched people styling, pruning and working on a range of different tasks. I was actually enjoying the whole process even though i hadn’t really touched a bonsai yet.

One day Oyakata (Mr. Urushibata) brought me a branch that had just been cut off a white pine that was undergoing a re-styling and instructed me to ‘do wiring’. I was given a small space in the studio and was given some aluminium wire. I proceeded to wire that branch as well as i could. At the time it was the most advanced branch i had ever wired. Previously i had only seen pine ramification like that in books. Looking back at it now all i can see is errors in my wiring but at the time i was pretty happy with the result.

Oyakata was a little surprised.  He seemed pleased with what I had achieved, although he said i had wired the branch too flatly. He then proceeded to adjust my work and explained how important volume within a branch was. I learnt a lot from that one cut off branch.

The first branch i was allowed to wire.

I passed my first test and that afternoon i was given my first tree to wire. A small Ezo spruce. It was a tree that was hidden up the back of the nursery. It didn’t look like much to start with but i was excited.

The Ezo Spruce before the work.

The apex was pruned out and a lower branch was wrapped in cloth (we couldn’t find rafia) with the intention of bringing it up to form a new crown.

The Ezo Spruce after the work

The tree was wired to the tips and I positioned all the branches and foliage. I then showed the results to Oyakata.

He again adjusted my work and explained why he was doing so. This was how my learning was to progress through out my stay. I would work on a tree without much help and then Oyakata would adjust my work and explain why. I learnt a lot over the course of my stay and every new tree I worked on had less and less adjustments made by Mr. Urushibata. Sometimes he would lower a branch a little or adjust some foliage, sometimes he would cut off some branches and sometimes he would make me cut off wire and re-apply it. Some trees had a lot of adjustments made others had none.

This process of working taught me a huge amount and I am very grateful that I was able to do it.

The Spruce and branch above were the beginnings of a very steep learning curve. I look back at them now and see a few things that I would do differently now as I am sure i will do when looking back at my current collecting sometime in the future. Although i may not be on as steep a learning curve as i was on my first visit, i am constantly learning from those around me and from my observations of my own bonsai. Hopefully i can spend some more time at taisho-en in the future and continue to improve.

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