JBP in a blink of an eye!

Since it is now the Fall, we’ve all been busily wire and styling trees.  The main trees Mr. Tanaka and I have been styling are Black and White Pines. The work varies from complete refinement styling to rough work styling to get the tree started.  In this post, I’m going to share the rough styling that Mr. Tanaka did on a Japanese Black Pine and talk about some of the things he did.  He amazingly did a lot of work on the tree in such a short period of time.  Let’s get started and see what we can learn from him.

Here is a picture of the Black Pine before the work.  The trunk is about 12 in (30.5cm) wide. The height of the tree 24 in (61cm) tall.

Mr. Tanaka bought this tree around March of this year and the first thing he did was repot it.  It was in a much larger pot and he reduced it down dramatically.  That was one things that surprised me about the trees that we’ve repotted here.  They were all put in pots that I originally thought were way too small, but they ended up working well and fitting just fine.  It’s also incredible to see how Mr. Tanaka will take a tree out of a large pot, do the root work, look at the tree and walk outside only to return with a pot that fits perfectly.  I’d say out of all the tree’s he’s repotted this Spring, about 90 percent of the time, he’s come back with the correct size. That goes to show the experience that he has working with Bonsai.

When Mr. Tanaka repotted this tree, he bare rooted it.  I ask him is that was a bit much and he said it was perfectly fine if you don’t cut the roots too much.  So on this tree, he cleaned out all of the soil and kept the roots long and put them back in the new pot.  I never thought about doing it that way, but as you can see from the bushy tree in the photo, the tree didn’t skip a beat and grew very well during the Spring and Summer season.  Mr. Tanaka did note thought that because of the bare rooting, the candles should not be cut this year, hence why the needles are long on this tree.

The goal at time is to bend the main branches to where he wanted it, cut off unnecessary branches and get the tree started in the right direction.

Here is the tree after Mr. Tanaka finished.  It took him 4 hours!  The tree is now only 18 in (45.7cm) tall.  Once the tree’s needles are shortened the tree is expected to be somewhere in the 16-17 in (40.6 – 43 cm) range.

I was wiring at Black Pine of my own and before I knew it, he was finished!  Truly done in a blink of the eye.  Can you see the changes that he’s done?


Here is a the before and after together so you can get a better look.  The tree has dropped from the large category to the medium category.

Trunk size

Notice how by making the tree shorter, the trunk automatically looks bigger!  I had to put a ruler to the trunk just to make sure that the trunk was still 12 in (30.5cm) wide!  This is a great example of how we perceive things relatively.

A view of the underside

In this photo you can see that Mr. Tanaka removed a large lower branch and bent the top of the tree down with a guy wire.  He used stainless steel for this because the pressure of the bend was too great for regular copper.  I actually had to help tighten the wire while he bent the branch.  Mr. Tanaka also lopped off a large part of the top and made a new apex with a lower branch. Note that not all of the branches are wired.  He basically wired only the main branches that he needed to move.  Once they are set, the next wiring job will be focused on arranging the smaller branches.  That will be done a year or two from now.

I thought this was a cool technique that Mr. Tanaka used to attach the guide wire.  We’ve all seen pros attach screws to the roots or some dead wood for the guide wire but the branch itself?  It turns out putting the screw into the underside of the branch and attaching the wire to it worked very well. Mr. Tanaka said that this works better because if you wrapped the wire around the branch, even with a rubber tube as protection, the branch will still get choked out.  In this method, the hardwood of the tree is taking all of the stress. Just make sure that the screw is a strong thick screw. (Is it me or does the deadwood with the screw in it look like a shark head?)

Well there you have it!  I wish I was able to get more photos while he was working on the tree but everything happend so fast that I didn’t get the chance too. If you really want to see all the little things he did to the tree, your just going to have become an apprentice here and see for yourself.  Anybody interested?

Working on Black Pine now?

Some of you readers that have worked with me before might be wondering why the tree is worked in October as opposed to November or December like I’ve said many times in the past.  The reason why is that the tree was not de-candled in June.  Since the new candles are Spring candles and not newer Summer candles, the needles have had a longer time to harden off.  If this tree had been de-candle in June, the new needles would break very easily now, pushing the work into November or December.

Please comment in the box below if you have questions or noticed something else that he did that I didn’t talk about.  That why, we call all learn more together.

I threw this picture in just to show you how real bonsai work gets done here at Aichi-en.  Haha!  This is Mr. Ken Fujiwara wiring a customer’s small White Pine.

Thanks for reading

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21 thoughts on “JBP in a blink of an eye!

  1. Bonsai Pots says:

    Awsome site…

    There is evidently a lot to identify regarding this. I suppose you created some nice points in features conjointly….

  2. Hi Peter,

    Thanks again for a great post. I feel like I am starting to learn good solid design tips. I am starting to appreciate pines and junipers more than I ever have before. There is a real beauty in pines that is sometimes very subtle and I am starting recognize where I did not see before.

    It would be fun to come and study in Japan. I often think about it. Maybe someday I will have an opportunity even if only for a short time, too many obligations keep me here now.

    But I hope to at least visit the country before I kick the bucket.
    Keep up the good work; your observations are helping me learn a little more.


    • Peter Tea says:

      Thanks for reading Stephen! I’m glad that you’re seeing pines and junipers in a different way. Japan is a very nice place so I don’t think you will be disappointed when you visit. Take care

  3. jeremiah lee says:

    Hey Peter

    Great Job by Mr. Tanaka on this tree and you for writing up the post! So i’m curious, the bark looks pretty good on this tree for being field grown. Are field grown trees generally considered sub par compared with collected Black Pine? I think all the Black Pines I have seen that win shows in Japan are collected. Have the best field grown trees ever win shows in Japan?


    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Jeremiah,

      That is a great question! The answer to your question is only for Black Pines. Mr. Tanaka says that either a collected or field grown tree can win at a show. It’s really all about how nice the bark is and the trunk size (meaning old). About 50 percent of the collected trees are small and put in the ground to grow some more. the other 50 percent are large trunks that just need new branches. He says that you can grow a great tree from seed too but to win, you would have to grow and develop it for over 100 years! If you can collect one that is medium in size, that can save you about 20-30 years. In Japan, people have been doing bonsai for so long and trees have been passed down from generation to generation the black pine level is extremely high and difficult to compete with.

      Mr. Tanaka showed me a picture of a collect small tree that was field grown that won kokufu and a large tree that was collected that won kokufu. So, field grown or collected doesn’t seem to matter. It’s all about how old you can make the tree look.

      I hope this answers your question. Take care Jeremiah

  4. […] Nothing new under the sun? How about this brand new wiring technique by Mr. Ken Fujiwara? It’s from the latest post on Peter Tea’s blog, Journey of a Bonsai Apprentice at Aichi-en, Japan. […]

  5. […] Nothing new under the sun? How about this brand new wiring technique by Mr. Ken Fujiwara? It’s from the latest post on Peter Tea’s blog, Journey of a Bonsai Apprentice at Aichi-en, Japan. […]

  6. Daniel Dolan says:


    Terrific commentary on the work of Mr. Tanaka. Especially valuable are the remarks on timing of the work, for example the October vs. November / December discussion.

    Just great for all of us with you there on the front lines.

    Now if only I had a JBP with a 12″ trunk that I could apply this knowledge to.

    The photos from Nagoya were excellent as well.

    Lastly, I would like to ask a question about Juniper Trees. I attended a Bonsai Estate ale from a club member who sadly passed away recently in the Chicago area.

    There was a a tall, not perfectly formal but nevertheless mainly vertical 25′ Juniper tree with very beautiful not quite shimpaku type scale foliage.

    My question is: Why in your or Mr. Tanaka’s opinion, in the hundreds of year history of Bonsai in Japan do we not see formal upright Juniper tree styling in Bonsai? I understand that a 400 year all twisting turning tree is beautiful, but none styled in any other manner. And it occurs to me with al of the gyrating trunks and branching of the junipers one sees….what style is this called…if any?




    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Excellent question and here is the answer.

      Shimpaku Junipers tend to be more sought after when it is twisty because they do naturally grow that way in the mountains. There’s always exceptions to that of course and one can sometimes find straight ones. For the most part though, they tend to naturally grow with curves on them. Shimpaku are normally styled in informal upright, cascade, semi cascade slant. It’s basically styling the tree so that it feels natural and old.

      Having said that, Needle juniper on the other hand tend to be more straight and can be styled in a formal upright shape. They naturally tend to grow straighter then Shimpaku. They also tend to have very straight and jagged jins. Needle junipers can be styled almost any style except broom. Booms always tend to be more of a deciduous tree shape, thought I have seen on California Juniper grow just like a broom shape (it was interesting to look at, but not interesting to look at).

      So my suggestion would to get these trees and perhaps do some grafting and get some needle like foliage on them. It’s not too fun to work with the needles but I believe you will develop a more naturally looking tree.


      Try this link to see a group planting to straight needle junipers created by John Naka in California years ago.

      The style of collected Junipers tend to be called Yamadori style (Yamadori is Japanese for collected)

  7. Tim burke says:

    Is mr. Fujiwara the jimi Hendrix of bonsai? Great post Peter, keep the Internet flowing I can’t get enough, quick question, are there typical or standard sizes for tokanoma displays ie width, depth, height or height off ground? I’m building a workshop and it has a potential viewing area I’m planning on capitalising on? Tjb

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for reading the blog, I’m not too familiar with the sizes of “Tokonoma,” and I asked Mr. Tanaka and this is what he told me.

      He said that the sizes are vary because of the different sizes of a Japanese house. He then added that a standard display size for bonsai is 1.8 meters wide(width of tatami mat) and the second box should be 90cm wide (depth of a tatami mat). The depth of both boxes is normally 90cm. The level of the box from the ground can vary so it’s up to you and the wood that you can find.

      It seems like traditional building sizes coincided with a tatami mat size of 1.8meter x 90cm. Mr. Tanaka then said that if you want to make it extra special, you can go with a 2.7 meter width by 1.2 meter deep.

      Anyways, that’s about as much info I can find on it. I would suggest asking a pro in california or doing more research on the web. It seems like it can get fairly technical depending on how fancy you want to make it. There’s a lot of meaning to what kind of wood you use and how it is placed. I believe just looking at some pictures of them will help you in the design. I hope I helped somewhat. Thanks Tim

  8. Jeff Lahr says:

    Peter, thanks for posting another excellent article. Most of your post have focused on pine and maple. Have you worked on other types of trees?

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Jeff,

      You know, I was just thinking about that this week! LOL I haven’t worked much with other trees yet so no post of them yet. The nice thing about learning Pines and Maple care is that you can apply the technique to most other trees with only slight adjustments. I hope to learn more about flowering trees during the winter and next spring and I’ll post about them when I do. Take care Jeff.

  9. Jay Conor says:

    Hi Peter another great post. All these well expressed insights will make all that read them improve their trees visually but most impotently horticulturally. This is not just great for our bonsai but also when you and other bonsai professionals work on clients trees they may be healthier so that proper work can be done. So like I’ve mentioned before and am sure I speak for many of us in the U.S. and around the world thank you for your hard work and kindness. A quick question. After this or other work involving heavy bending of trunk or branches. Does Mr. Tanaka continue fertilizing as normal or does he slow down for a brief time? Also same question with same type work done in spring. J.C.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Jay,

      Thank you for the kind words! I appreciate it.

      As to your questions, after we work on Black Pines at this time of year, we keep the fertilizer on and continue to feed the tree. It’s mild and organic so nothing very strong.

      The Spring is not a good time to do heavy bending because it will weaken the tree and not grow very well during the season. The tree might be weaken to the point where we can’t de-candle the tree. I would stick to the late Fall or early Winter to do all the heavy bends. If you do bend the tree during the winter and you have a freeze, make sure to protect the tree for a week or two so the tiny cracks can heal. If you are in an area where the winters are cold, you don’t really need to feed the tree. In California where the winters are mild, I tend to feed lightly during the winter.

      I hope this answers your question Jay. Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks again.

  10. Richard Green says:

    Major improvement! The trunks in the photos look like they are completly different trees. With the lower right branch moved way over you can now see just how masive the trunk really is.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Richard,

      Good observation! That’s why when most trees are shown, they always show the bottom base to show off the size and the upper trunk will be covered with foliage. Thanks for the comment

  11. Wow! I have a question about time. How long had the tree been worked on before Mr. Tanaka worked on it? How long until it is showable? How long would it take to make it a prize winning tree? Very interesting, as are all of your posts.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Sandy,

      The tree looks like it was field grown for about 25 years or so. Look at the branch structure I would say it’s been worked for about 4-5 years. The tree would be show-able in our standards in about 4-5 years. In the average show in Japan, probably about the same time. If it was to be shown in Kokufu-ten, it wouldn’t be shown for at least 10-15 years later and would not win. The age of the trunk and branches are an important part of what makes a good tree and the judges will be looking for that. 50 year old Black Pines, are just teenagers. LOL Most of the black pines that win Kokufu-ten tends to have trunks that were collected and are over a 100-150 years old. Sometimes even more then that!

      I hope this helps. Take care Sandy

  12. cherylas2009 says:

    I agree with Judy. Your picture illustrations are excellent. I learn a lot from your blog!

  13. Judy Barto says:

    So nice that you put the before and after photos in the same frame at the end of the descriptions in your posts. No scrolling up and down to see changes. Thanks for taking your time to do this.

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