One night in the workshop

One night in the workshop

One night a couple of weeks ago we had a visit from Jun-Sempai (Junchio Tanaka)  and Peter Tea of the Aichien Bonsai Nursery. Jun-Sempai is a former apprentice here at Daijuen, which is why I call him Sempai. Sempai is like a superior, a term of respect. Peter Tea (of Peterteabonsai) is from California, and in his second year of apprenticeship at Aichien. Jun-Sempai is also Mr. Suzuki’s son-in-law so we see them quite frequently. Takuya is also Mr. Suzuki’s son-in-law he lives here and studies bonsai as well. When Jun-Sempai and his family come over the men usually spend our time in the workshop, talking and just hanging out. However tonight Takuya was bringing in trees for Jun-Sempai to look at and their visit turned into a bonsai workshop session, which was great!


These pictures were taken at Aichien Bonsai Nursery. It’s a big nursery with tons of great material in a wide range of developmental stages. I always enjoy going there.


One of the trees Takuya brought in was this unique little Black Pine tree. After looking at it Jun-Sempai told me to work on that tree. He said it reminded him of an “American tree”. Jun-Sempai is a funny guy (at least he thinks so) and he does take a lot of good-natured shots at me, and everyone else for that matter. However in this instance I think he really meant that the tree was reminiscent of a collected piece of material you would see in the U.S. so he thought It would be good for me to work on. On the other hand it was probably a shot as well :).


Possible front                                                                      Possible back


Bottom                                                                                        Top

This tree has been here for a while and I have always thought it would be a cool tree to work on, so I was excited I had the chance. As you can see it’s an interesting tree, with lots of potential. The tree had two guide wires on it pulling down the largest branch on one side and a part if the jin on the other. Aside from that it didn’t look like much work had been done to the tree. It appeared that the tree had been laying down when it was collected. On the side labeled bottom you can see where there were roots growing down into the soil that had been cut. The tree really bends away from that side as well, as if it was growing up. This major bend and the fact that all those root knobs were unattractive made it pretty obvious this needed to be the back side of the tree. The part labeled top will now be the front of the tree.

While Jun-Sempai and Takuya started working on another tree Peter and I started looking over the pine. We both agreed it was a unique Black Pine, and because of that the usual rules for styling could be, and should be bent in this case. It was Peters thought that you couldn’t take a piece of unconventional material like that and just create traditional style black pine foliage pads. “It just wouldn’t look right” he said. So I took his advice and we discussed style options, rotating the tree, changing the angle and trying to find the position that accentuates the trees best qualities.


It seemed like this was the best option for the angle of the tree. It put the jin at the top at a realistic angle, as if the top of the tree had been broken off. The lower part of that jin fills in the open space on the right side nicely as well. The next step was to refine and define the dead wood. Typically on Black Pines there is not a lot of dead wood, especially here. However again Peter reminded me that this was not a typical tree and that some additional dead wood might work in this situation. He suggested that maybe we could consider an exposed root style with the two roots on the right side. After examining the tree it seemed like those two roots were not really feeding the tree and may already be dead. I started removing bark starting at the top where the existing jin was and worked my way down. I didn’t get to far when we realized that the wood was alive. We decided it would still be safe to run the deadwood down but only incorporate one of the roots at this time.  I also felt that the existing jin needed to be thinned out in a few areas which was done at this time as well.



Now that the deadwood was finished we turned our attention to the branching. First up was the large branch that came down off the left side of the tree. I didn’t plan on moving this branch much because I liked the angle in which it came off the tree. Once again Peter was there to push me to think outside the box and make a major bend to the branch. He encouraged me to have the branch mimic the trunk line and then have it flow out away from the tree at the bottom. This would certainly make for some dramatic movement. Using a guide wire I pulled the upper part of that branch in towards the trunk line  Then using wire at the bottom I was able to pull that foliage pad back out away from the trunk.


I continued wiring the primary and secondary branches after that.


Peter and Takuya were making a major bend on a large jin on his tree. Peter is on the left, Takuya on the right.


     Jun-Sempai directing traffic from his chair, keeping the mood light.

Back to my tree……


About 10:30pm Jun-Sempai, and Peter had left and this is as far as I had gotten. The tree is starting to take shape and all the major bends have been made. The refinement will have to wait for another day, 16 hrs was enough today.

It took several days for me to get back to working on the tree, sometimes that happens around here. Once I did I continued with the fine wiring starting at the bottom and working my way up. As I approached the apex of the tree my gut reaction was to pull the apex back towards the top jin, to the right. I felt this would give some balance to the tree because it was leaning so far to the left. Then I heard a little voice in my head saying “think outside the box”, it was Peter. I then realized that the top jin was one of the main features of the tree and carried enough weight and visual interest to balance the tree on its own. I then pulled the apex down to the far left and was able to create two new layers of foliage with it. I think it was the right choice for this particular tree and I’m glad I went that direction, with a little help from the voice in my head. It happens here a lot, not the voices so much…..but that progression. That next step forward, that next level of understanding, that light that goes on. It’s an awesome feeling and what drives me to be here doing what I’m doing.



The main structure is set and now the tree needs some time too develop. At some point in the future the second root can be exposed, and will add additional interest to the tree. Very special thanks to Peter and Jun-Sempai for all your help and for a fun night in the workshop. Hopefully we’ll get to do it again before I leave. I hope you all enjoyed sharing one night (and a day) in the workshop with us. Thanks for reading!

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One Response to One night in the workshop

  1. Jim says:

    Entertaining and informative as usual.

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