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Just a quick post for today. I was going through some old holiday photos (mainly bonsai pics) and came across a small Japanese White Pine I had worked on in Japan.

I am really getting more and more into shohin sized trees. They are really challenging to grow well yet are easy to handle and take up much less bench space, which is a plus.

The challenge with this tree was to create enough detail in the foliage by means of multiple layers to give the illusion that it was in fact a much larger tree.





Of course half the battle is starting with good stock which this little tree certainly falls into the category of.

Hopefully I can start producing some stock similar to this in the coming years.

Both my bonsai and personal life have been busy of late. I am fortunate that this year I have been invited to demonstrate and run workshops across Australia for local club, groups and the AABC National Convention.  On top of this travel I just begun winter styling of clients trees. It looks like I will have a fairly full book of client trees, workshops and demonstrations that combined with a young child, a house half way through renovations and a full-time job doesn’t leave a lot of time to work my own collections.

Today’s post is actually about a tree I worked on a year ago whilst in japan.

It was a small shimpaku juniper that Oyakata asked me to wire and style prior to taking it to auction the following day to be sold.

Prior to the work

Prior to the work

I initially wanted to tilt the tree to the right so that the first bend would come in contact with the soil giving the appearance of a much larger trunk but Oyakata didn’t want to re-pot as the auction was so close and as a result we utilised the existing angle and front.

It turned out to be a fairly straight forward re-style and Oyakata told me it sold well at the auction.

Post work.

Post work.

Looking back on trees like this it really gives me the incentive to start growing my own material to this standard. I now have a backyard big enough to experiment with a whole lot more stock so I am looking forward to starting this process off this year. Who knows, in ten years time I might have a whole lot of these ready for display………..

During my last trip to Japan I worked on what might be a very special maple. Oyakata brought it to me to cut back and wire in preparation for the following springs growth.

He said it was a very famous tree that had been sold, miss-treated, had gone backwards and was now back at the nursery to be re made under Oyakata’s care.

The tree in question.

The tree in question.

The tree had supposedly featured in the Gafu-ten special tree album “Miyabi” that recognised important shohin bonsai masterpieces and pots.

Of course, I quickly dug out the album and tried to locate the tree. But, it was not so easy.

The best match I could find was the tree below.

The same tree?

The same tree?

I am fairly sure this is the same tree although it has obviously changed a lot since that picture was taken. I am guessing it’s been about 10 years between the two pictures and many aspects are similar although many are also very different.

The base has obviously thickened considerably totally changing the proportions but you can just make out the link to the original form. Some of the original branches have also been lost, have thickened and or have seemed to have moved as the trunk has spread. all this make recognising the tree difficult. I am 90% sure its the same tree but of course there is a good chance I am wrong.

Any forensic bonsai detectives out there? Can you see the similarities? Is this the same tree?

After some work.

After some work.

The work itself was fairly straight forward. I tried to remove thick branch tips, pruned out other unnecessary branching and wired a rough structure. The usual work for a deciduous tree in this stage.

From the back.

From the back.

It’s nice to know that the tree is back on the path to one day being a great little shohin tree again. Looking over the above pics really makes you appreciate how much trees change over time and how you are forced to forever re-imagine them and adapt to mishaps as they develop and change. The nice thing about working with living things is their ability to be reworked and recovered which i think this tree is a good example of.

A year later.

A year later. Thanks for the pic Kelvin!

A friend sent me some photos of this tree during his recent trip that shows another year of ramification and a change in pot. The trunk looks thicker again! It’s amazing what a year can do and only makes you think of how great this tree could have  looked if it hadn’t gone backwards for a period of years after appearing in miyabi.

I often hear the term ‘Cookie cutter’ thrown around from time to time when people are talking about Japanese bonsai. For those not familiar with the term, I believe it relates to people suggesting that certain bonsai seem to come from the same mould and or ‘cookie cutter’ which produces similar or same bonsai. Personally i think that the term often is applied by those who havent really got a good understanding of what is actually out there in Japanese gardens and nurseries.

Now there are a lot of mass-produced bonsai in Japan that are grown to a rough formula but these trees are not a good representation of bonsai in Japan as a whole. On the other hand there are a lot of trees that can seem similar at first glance on benches in nurseries throughout Japan but closer inspection reveals quite dramatic differences.

Cookie Cutter?

What was one of the biggest surprises to me when I first visited japan was the huge amount of irregular styles and forms of trees that by no means could be classified as what some people dismiss as ‘cookie cutter’. In fact most of the nurseries I have visited were full of unusual and or ‘different’ bonsai. I know that when you look through various exhibition books you see some unusual trees, but its only when visiting the nurseries that you actually get a clear idea of just how many irregular bonsai are being grown.

During my last trip i met with Peter Tea at Aichi-en and he explained what his Oyakata Mr. Tanaka had explained to him about unusual trees.

He said that unusual bonsai would always be worth less than ‘standard or correct’ trees during the developement stages. Once the trees reached exhibition standard however, the unusual tree would suddenly become much more valuable. There are many correct bonsai in Japan and most nurseries could sell you one. Unusual trees on the other hand are one offs and if a customer wants to buy one they must pay accordingly as they cannot simply go next door to get something similar.

Strangely we don’t get to see many of these types of trees in western magazines or literature instead these forms are associated with European and American yamadori. I was certainly surprised to see so many when I first travelled to Japan. Now I find that they are the trees that I gravitate towards when I arrive at a nursery.

Below are a few interesting trees that i saw during my travels that didn’t fit the mould (some of them look like they totally broke the mould!) I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Dramatic movement.

A close-up of the twisted movement.

A very angular exposed root style.

I wonder if this tree was grown or collected?

Black pines shouldn’t have shari? Well this one does.

I think you will agree that it works very well in this case.


A very non-conforming Nebari for a non-conforming tree.

Read more about this strange trident HERE.

Bunjin, Semi-cascade or a combination?


I like to look at trees such as the above and think about what they must have looked like pre-styling. Material such as this requires a high level of creativity to style into a well-balanced image and often results in trees that really stick in your head. I know that it is these types of trees that I always spend the most time in front of.

So next time you are out and about evaluating future material keep an eye out for the unusual, you never know, you might get yourself a bargain!

Before I left for Japan a friend (who runs an interesting blog) asked me to take some pictures of bonsai from the side so he could get a good idea of how the trunk lines and apex were constructed.

He has begun growing some stock in the ground and was keen to see how the japanese constructed their trunks. So as I was snapping pics I sometimes remembered to take a few shots from different angles to show a more 3d view of the trunks.

He asked I photograph a wide range of trunks but I realised that the deciduous trees were the only ones that you could easily see the trunk movement and structure so those were what I focused on.

(Left image: front, Right image: Side view)

A medium-sized root over rock Trident maple.

Shohin Trident Maple

Another shohin Trident Maple

A shohin Japanese Maple

Looking back at the photos it is interesting to see just how far forward some of the apexes are. I guess this allows you to get a much more compact apex with many branches. If you imagine standing these apexes up you can picture that it would raise the height of the tree and also spread out the ramification in the top section creating a taller less dense image.

Looking over my own trees at home over the weekend I think that some of them could become more compact and dense from a simple tilting forward of their upper structure. It was a good exercise taking these pictures as I had seen hundreds if not thousands of trees over the years but have never really focused on this one detail. I think I will have to look over all my other photos and pick out individual styling details and see what they reveal.

On the last day of our recent Japan trip we managed to make a last-minute stop in at Gafu-ten while on the way to the airport at Kansai.

Gafu-ten is held in early January at the Miyako-messe building in Kyoto, Japan. The exhibit showcases some of the best shohin bonsai in Japan and the sales area attached to the exhibition has equally impressive shohin related trees, pots and goods.

This is my second time visiting Gafu-ten. I was at the exhibition last year (See HERE) and after seeing the trees on display and those for sale i was keen to get back.

This years show lived up to expectations with many high quality displays (unfortunately photos were prohibited).

A bonsai for sale at Gafu-ten.

In Japanese exhibition you can only exhibit individual trees once every 4 years. That means that every year you are guaranteed to see different trees. This years mix of bonsai had quite a different feel to those of last year with some quite unusual stylings exhibited. As we couldn’t take photos of the exhibition those wishing to see the trees might like to purchase a copy of the exhibition album.

We had a great time filtering our way through the displays and then moved into the sales area.

Some of the offerings.

For those of you that havent been to a sales area in a japanese show let me try to explain it. It is like walking into bonsai heaven. Trees, pots, stands, suiseki, tools, books, and almost anything else bonsai related you can think of can be found in the sales areas. Gafu-ten’s sales area is almost the same size as the exhibition and from the look of the people shopping there it gets the same if not more attention than the show itself.

Shoseki pots for sale.

We spent a good amount of time catching up with some vendors we knew, shopping and dreaming of trees we’d like to take home before we finally had to head off to catch our flight at Kansai.

For those interested, the full collection of photos can be found HERE.

I’m Back. We had a very busy 4.5 weeks away. Apart from the family and friend catch-ups, weddings and birthdays I did manage to see my share of bonsai. As I sort my photos I will share some of the sights and interesting bonsai that I came across in the coming weeks.

In the mean time I thought i would share a picture of a fairly amazing shimpaku I found by accident. Some friends took me to a local bonsai nursery where we stumbled across the below tree.

I am not sure if the pot will fit it or not but even though it is cracked it’s the best we could find.

Shimpaku and pot

It is a little hard to gauge the scale of this tree so below is another pic with someone along side it for scale comparison.

Size comparison.

This nursery actually had a couple of exceptional garden junipers which may have to make it into future posts as like the above tree, they were too big to make it into my suitcase.

During my recent trip to Japan i managed to visit Fuyo-en. Fuyo-en is a garden that always has a high number of quality bonsai. I was a little pine-ed out by this part of my trip so it was nice to spend some time with their amazing deciduous trees. I took a number of photos which can be found HERE.

What was also nice was to see some of the recent work that was going on around the garden.

The frist bonsai i noticed of interest was what I am guessing was a flowering apricot. It had recently been grafted in a number of places. I have read that these trees often need to have young wood grafted into areas of older wood to maintain vigour and keep the bonsai compact.

The grafted bonsai.

Although the grafts looked to not have completely healed nearly all of them were  producing flowers as can be seen below.

The grafting in detail.

One of the other trees that caught my eye was a maple with an enormous nebari. The bonsai was being worked on by one of the apprentices who was wiring all the branches to the tips.

An impressive nebari

I always enjoy seeing techniques done by Japanese professionals. Even seemingly simple tasks can reveal tip and tricks when performed by someone who works at these high levels.

A freshly wired branch.

One such trick that can be learnt from the above image is the use of the little wire bracket. It has been used to gently spread two sub branches. Had this not been used, the two branches would have had to been wired with quite a large diameter wire to achieve the same spreading effect. Having avoided using a heavy gauge wire, the wire that is on the branch appears far less obtrusive than it could have. A small trick with large results.

I always look out for these little tricks when ever I am around other people’s bonsai, as I find there is always something to learn.

Even though my last trip to Japan’s purpose  was to get married, i still managed to find some to visit some bonsai nurseries.  The nursery below was a little out of the ordinary from your normal Japanese nursery.

For those familiar with the nurseries of Omiya and other well-known growers would be used to the high level of immaculately maintained and presented bonsai. I am sure many of you who have been to japan and experienced this for them selves would be aware of the overwhelming feeling you get when you are exposed to so many high quality trees in one place. These places are obviously the top end of the business. Their trees grace the many shows around Japan that exhibit these high level trees and in my opinion cement the Japanese at the top of the bonsai pile. But surely not all of Japan’s bonsai are show ready and of the best quality. Which brings me to this post.

The Kanuma garden centre (Click the image for a larger view)

My last trip I was taken to a place where there was no doubt, a huge range of bonsai. There were magnificent trees on display but, they were the minority. For the most part the bonsai for sale were project trees. Trees with problems in one way or another. Trees that would benefit from an air layer, a branch or two removed or a restyle. I spent a good amount of time here looking over the many benches, admiring potential. It was nice to be able to see trees that were waiting for the hobby grower with some vision to come along and place their mark upon them. I would love to live near a nursery such as this. On the surface it is not as impressive as the higher end nurseries but it is budding with potential for someone who likes to work on their own trees.

A small selection of photos are below.

Some of the more developed pines.

One side of the benches. There is an equal number of benches to the left.

This seasons Satsuki dug and ready for sale.

A Satsuki on the benches

A pine in need of some refinement.

A maple with a nice base. Great beginnings for someone willing to do the branch work.

A trindent with a whole lot of problems i would love to inherit.

A modest maple that would have plenty of potential.

Kanuma garden centre is not going to be first on the list when it comes to a Japanese bonsai pilgrimage, and may not even make second, third or fourth place, but for someone who has seen all the big sights and wants a bit more insight into what is out there in Japan it is worth a look.

Kojou-en is located in Kyoto about 800m to the west of Toji Temple. The Toji Temple can be easily reached by bus or by a moderate walk from the Kyoto JR station.

Kojou-en is one of the nurseries I had been meaning to visit for a long time. I first visited here in 2007 but the nursery was closed. Since then i have been wanting to come back and see the bonsai that I glimpsed through the fence.

The day i chose to visit this trip was also not ideal. Kyoto received a huge dump of snow during the corse of the day and as a result most of the bonsai were shut up in enclosures protecting them from the cold. I did get to see a few of the bonsai but I think a 3rd trip will have to be in order to see the nursery in the full.


Snow fell heavily all day and by the evening around 20cm had fallen. According to the owner of the nursery this was quite unusual for Kyoto.

The fromt gate. Kojou-en is located in amoungst many residential buildings. It can be a little hard to locate the first time.


Kojou-en is known for its shohin bonsai, in fact there were no bonsai other than shohin in the nursery. They also had a nice range of shohin pots that were also for sale.


Some of the nice shohin that I was able to photograph.

Huge bases in tiny pots.

More bonsai sheltering inside their winter enclosures.


Kojou-en is well worth the visit and it is easily included in a Kyoto sight-seeing day. I will definitely be back to take it all in next time and hopefully my luck will be a little better than my last two visits.


If you would like to see more photos from this visit have a look HERE at my other blog.



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