The National Bonsai Foundation’s latest bulletin is out and features my article further outlining my impressions of the bonsai industry in Japan and what lessons I think we can incoroprate here in the U.S. You can find it here.
In this post I wanted to share my experience with taking bonsai to the Green Club in Tokyo, how things are setup there, and a few first impressions .There are many blog posts explaining what the Green Club is so I will not go in depth here. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of bonsai pictures too.
Several days after the Kinbon photoshoot at Daijuen, activities shifted to preparing trees to take to the Green Club,which among other things serves as the bonsai sales area during Kokufu-ten.
The afternoon before we left was spent getting everything thing organized and loaded in the van. I was amazed at how efficiently the van was loaded.Each square inch of space was maximized to ensure everything fit and it would make the 3 hour trip undamaged.
The van also had a custom self installed, doubling the number of trees we could take. We finished just after sunset and hit the sack in preparation for an early start the next day.
Before leaving Daijuen we were joined by Mr. Suzuki’s son-in-law, Mr. Tanaka of Aichien and two of his apprentices, Juan Andrade and John Milton. They too had a van loaded with bonsai and together we would roll convoy to Tokyo.
The Green Club was a buzz with activity upon our arrival. Vans jockeying for position to unload, display tables being set up, and apprentices trying to anticipate what needed to be done.
Once the tables were setup we had some “free time” to look around but did not stray to far in case something needed to be lifted.
Here are a few observations from my time spent at the Club.
We often don’t think of bonsai as a business. For most of the world bonsai is a hobby, something we do for fun. As someone who makes his living caring for bonsai I had some idea of the professional bonsai world, but coming to Japan made me very aware of the business of bonsai.
For the top bonsai professionals in Japan the Green Club during Kokufu is very important to their livelihood. Selling trees and attracting clients is how these men feed their families. First and foremost its about sales. The Kokufu-ten draws people from all over world, many of whom are coming to shop for bonsai at the Green Club. This influences which trees are brought to sale.
You can think of each professional as a fisherman using his best lure to catch the biggest fish. Currently the biggest fish come from China, the recent growth of the Chinese economy has brought an appetite for high-end trees and pots. Therefore the lures used appeal to these fish the most, and the most appealing lures are big. As I walked around on the first floor I noticed that each pro had at least one massive tree for sale.
Another major component is the Green Club provides an opportunity for each nursery to show off their stuff. I heard on several occasions that the trees in the Green Club would be better that those in the exhibit. In many instances this was true.Sale trees consisted of historic bonsai, previous Kokufu winners, famous trees recently restyled, and bonsai previously unknown in the community. The point is to let everyone else know that you still have the skills to pay the bills. After all, the green in Green Club doesn’t just refer to the color of the trees.
The quantity and quality of the trees at the Green Club was unlike like anything thing I have ever seen in one location. As you can see there were not only big expensive trees but material at every stage of development. The more I walked around the more I was struck by the size of the bonsai industry in Japan and the number of businesses it supported. This left me with a question that I will try to answer in an upcoming post, What is fueling Japan’s bonsai industry and what can we learn from it?
Thanks for reading.
I are pleased to announce that our former summer intern and volunteer Chris Baker, has been selected as the next Curator of the bonsai collection at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Chris is assuming the position after the retirement of longtime curator, Ivan Waters.
In addition to his time working at the National Collection, Chris spent 1 year apprenticing with Mr. Tohru Suzuki at Daijuen in Okazaki, Japan.
Chris has been a huge asset to us, both he and his contributions to the Museum will be missed. Chris assumes the position April 21st and will be returning to DC in May to take part in our annual PBA Bonsai Festival in his new role.
The nicest weather I experienced during the trip was on my third day in Japan, the rest of the trip was either cold and windy, cold and rainy, or cold and snowy. This day however was sunny and pleasant, which was great since the bonsai magazine Kinbon, was coming to do a photo shoot of the trees that were headed for Kokufu-ten.
These trees had already been photographed once before when they were judged a few weeks prior to my arrival. It was interesting to find out that all the bonsai in the Kokufu exhibit are judged and photographed almost a month before the actual show.
Since then they were being kept in the workshop, protected from the elements. This meant that my sempai Takuya and myself would be lifting trees for most of the day.
This needle juniper had some of the tightest foliage pads I’ve ever seen. This tree was from Gashoen, another bonsai nursery nearby, and Mr. Suzuki was taking it to the show for them.
Not the best picture of a very nice japanese black pine. For whatever reason the photos I take with my iphone don’t capture the whole image as it appears on the view finder.
Even from the back this semi cascade white pine looks awesome.
More trees were also being kept in the reception area which is where the photographer set up his backdrop. Since this beech was the closest tree it was the first one to be photographed.
Once things were set up the photo shoot did not take as long as I thought. The displays had been thought out by Mr. Suzuki long in advacnce and it was simply a matter of us removing the tree, Mr. Suzuki changing the stand and then we were there with the next bonsai to photographed. Very effecient.
The next one up was one of my favorite trees. A bunjin white pine which had beautifully old shari.
Since this years Kokufu was a double show, meaning there were two sets of bonsai exhibited, each set was judged and awarded. This already famous Kichou, (Important Bonsai Masterpiece), root-over-rock JBP won “Best Conifer” of the second group.
In addition to the big trees there were several three-point-displays photographed.
Japanese White Pine with kumquat shohin and small fern. The kumquat was kept warm in a small plastic greenhouse inside the Suzuki home along with a few houseplants.
Another killer japanese white pine smiles for the camera.
The same semicascade white pine from above, but now paired with a shohin root-over-rock japanese maple, and perhaps the most famous accent plant ever.
I really liked the character of this tree, great trunk. It is a procumbens juniper or sonare in Japanese, with foliage as tight as your ever going to see.
Once photographed each tree was set out to catch some much needed rays. After we set this tree down I noticed something white around the nebari. It looked like the tree had some fungal issue.
Concerned, I asked Takuya about it, he smiled and said “Strong tree”. I am no stranger to mycorrhiza but I’ve never see it as abundant as this, it was growing up the nebari! Not only is this a strong tree but its another kichou bonsai.
This quince was one of the shohin used in another three-point-display. Not only is this tree top shelf, but check out the patina on its pot. Kokufu trees are transplanted into antique Chinese and Japanese pots for the exhibit then put back into their “growing” containers after the show.
The very last thing I did was give each tree a much needed watering. If you have the chance pick up a copy of Kinbon to see the actual photos. As always, thanks for reading.
At the end of January I was extremely blessed to have traveled to Japan for a 3 week “apprentice” style learning experience with Mr. Tohru Suzuki at the historic Daiju-en bonsai nursery in Okazaki. This trip was timed to coincide with the 88th Kokufu-ten exhibition where I would have the opportunity to assist Mr. Suzuki and the Daiju-en family with getting their trees to and from Tokyo. Before I share that experience I wanted to highlight the trees of Daiju-en.
When you think of pine bonsai you think of Daijuen. As a 3rd generation bonsai nursery, Daijuen and its founder Saichi Suzuki are credited with developing the now universal technique of de-candling used for Japanese Black Pine bonsai as well as the fast growing Japanese White Pine cultivar ‘Zuisho’.
For those who have never head the story, it goes like this: One day while in the nursery, Saichi noticed something out of the ordinary with several of his pines. Upon closer inspection the new spring growth had been completely eaten by caterpillars, leaving the trees with out any new shoots.
He set them aside to see what would happen, would they live of die? Not only did the trees live but they put out another flush of growth, only the new needles were much shorter. From that point on the practice of removing spring shoots to force a second flush of growth is applied wherever JBP are growth as bonsai.
I asked Mr. Suzuki about those first trees his grandfather set aside. He said that they were in the formal upright style and at that time they belonged to a customer. I asked if they were still around and he replied that they are still alive but were at another customers home. It would have been awesome to have seen the legendary “catepillar “trees, but there were plenty of historic bonsai at the nursery.