Mikawa Black Pines?

One of my blog readers emailed me a question:  “I’d like to learn the difference between regular JBP and Mikawa JBP?”

I thought it was a really good question because I didn’t  really know the answer to it.  After talking to Mr. Tanaka about it, I got some good information and now I’m passing it on to the readers.  Here is the answer to the question.

Some of you may have heard the term Mikawa Black Pine, but what does that mean?  Is that a type of Black Pine?  Do they have a specific type of characteristic that is desirable to the Bonsai enthusiast?  I have found that Mikawa is actually a location in Japan where Japanese Black Pines are or at least, use to be collected.  There is no, “regular Black Pine.” because they all come from somewhere.  With a little more research, it turns out that there are many other places where Black Pines are or were collected in Japan.  There’s are about 7 major areas that were collecting spots of Japanese Black Pine but I’m mainly going to talk about a the Mikawa, Awaji and Shodai Black Pines.

Mikawa Black Pine

Here is a picture of an old Mikawa Black Pine.  Mikawa tends to have very good bark characteristics and can grow very thick.  The bark also tends to be a lot harder so they don’t flake off as easy.

Here is a picture of the foliage of Mikawa.

Here is another example of good Mikawa Black Pine Bark.

Awaji Black Pine

Here is a picture of a Awaji Black Pine.  The characteristics of Awaji is thick bark, but at one point will start to flake off and not get any thicker.  The aluminum wire is there to help hold the bark together and prevent it from being knocked off by animals or foolish apprentices :o)

Here is a picture of the Awaji Black Pine photo.

Though this Black Pine looks like a Nishiki Black Pine (Cork Bark Black Pine) I was told that its actually a Mikawa Black Pine that is extremely old.  In the Mikawa area, it turns out that there are small areas that grew these strange offshoots of Black Pines.  Nishiki is one of them and Kotobuki (short needles) are such offshoots.

Here is a picture of the foliage of the Mikawa Black Pine with the strange bark.

Shodai Black Pines

We don’t have any Shodai Black Pines here at Aichien (no picture) because they tend to have very bad bark characteristics.  They flake off quickly and never really develop any real thickness to them.


After talking to Mr. Tanaka about this topic, he said that identify where a Black Pine came from is extremely difficult.  Most people can’t look at a tree and know if it’s a Mikawa or Awaji or any other.  There’s somewhat of a educated guess factor involve.

I then asked Mr. Tanaka if the price was different depending on where the tree came from and his answer was no.  He said that the only important thing is what the tree looks like now.  Every tree has slightly different characteristics. Some Mikawas will have great bark and short needles, others will have average bark and long needles.  Note that on all of the foliage pictures, the needles all looked similar.  Needle length doesn’t also tell you what kind of Black Pine the tree is.   Just because you buy a Mikawa or a Awaji Black Pine doesn’t give you an guarantees to good characteristics.  You have to look at the characteristics that the tree possesses now and the value is determined that way.  If you’re buying seeds or cuttings, then you’re not really sure what your tree characteristics will be like until the tree actually develops them.  There are some guarantees that you will at least have average to great bark on a Mikawa though.

I have never heard a Bonsai professionals here in Japan talk about the area the tree came from.  They mainly talk about the offshots such as Nishiki or Kotobuki.  Those differences do then effect the cost of the tree.

Did you know that the majority of Pines that grow in the coast of Japan are Red Pines and not Black Pines?  I was surprised myself by this fact.  Maybe that’s why they started naming the areas where the Black Pines were collected because they are rarer to find?

As I learn more about these different types of Black Pines, I will create future post and pass the info on to you readers.

Thanks for reading

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12 thoughts on “Mikawa Black Pines?

  1. Tung says:

    Thanks, Peter.

  2. Tung Tran says:

    Great information, Peter. Thank you for clearing that up. One of other thing I heard about Mikawa JBP is it can bud back everywhere even on the old wood, which makes it special.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Tung,

      I asked Mr. Tanaka that questions and this is what he said, “good character is good character, bad character is bad character,” meaning that every tree is different and some Mikawa’s will do that and other will not. Black Pines from other areas will sometimes back bud easily and sometimes not. It all depends on the individual tree and the experiences you have with that tree.

      It seems like there are lots of misinformation out there about Mikawa Black Pines. I wouldn’t base my purchase or collecting of a type of tree solely on the area it came from. I have a Mikawa black pine and it grows well but I’ve never seen it back bud on old wood. When I bought it, I didn’t even know it was a Mikawa. I just liked the bark characteristics and the shape of the tree.

      Thanks for suggesting the topic of this post!

  3. Kathleen (Kathie) Ybarra says:

    Great idea Peter! I have often thought of you (earth quake) and wondering how you are doing. I so enjoyed your demo, when you were in Sacramento.
    I have enjoyed this blog. Wish you well and hope to see more. GO Peter!
    I have 1 Black Pine and very young and I can hardly wait to see the bark
    ABA of Sacramento

    • Peter Tea says:

      Thanks for the comment Kathie! I’m doing well here and learning lots of stuff. It’s already been 5 months. Just another 4 and a half years to go. LOL Take care and hope to see you when I am back in the states from time to time.

  4. Donald Rodriguez says:

    Great info on the black pines, keep them coming. Great for reference. Will you have a session during your apprenticeship where you will be studing material coming out of the field and developing them for bonsai? I would like to know if field growing in Japan is any different from here in the states.


    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Donald,

      Thanks for reading the blog. I will keep it rolling and get some good info out to everybody. Here at Aichien, they use to do a lot of field growing. They stopped about five years ago. There was a couple of occasions where I worked on field grown Black Pines. The work is fast and different then the US. I would say that there is more work done on them here while they are in the ground. You have be skilled and fast when growing trees because there are so many to work on and the profit margin starts to shrink if the speed isn’t there. The next time I get a chance to work on one of these trees, I’ll talk pictures and write a post about it. Thanks for the comment and take care.

  5. japanesepots says:

    Interesting post Peter, full of good info! What is your take on the current opinions about Nishiki Matsu? I know they were popular around a decade ago, but they seem to be a dime a dozen in Japan these days.

  6. Good info Peter. There are folks here that don’t admire Mikawa. I have been told not to use them by several people. I have two of them, one not-quite-Shohin and one in development. I think I will put the in development in the ground for a while. I found that the needles on Mikawa get shorter quicker.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Sandy,

      It’s strange that people told you not to use them because normally I hear the opposite. Before I thought they had a shorter needle characteristic and that’s why I thought people liked them. Turns out that their needle lengths all vary from tree to tree so you really can’t count on the short needles. As I learn more about them, I’ll update the post. Take care

  7. Joe says:

    Hi Peter,

    I often hear people talking about mikawa black pines as if they are superior to all other black pines. It is nice to have some reliable information that clears that up. It just goes to show that a good tree is a good tree not matter where it came from.


    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for reading the blog! When I attend the auctions here, I almost never hear them say anything about the area where a tree was collected. It’s just a non issue really. They only care if the tree looks good and has good characteristics. As you said, “A good tree is a good tree, no matter where it came from.” Thanks for the comment.

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