Formal Black Pine and Kihachikai Show
Last week I was tasked to work on this large formal upright (Chokkan) Black Pine. The timing worked out great because I was planning on asking Mr. Tanaka if I could wire one big tree before my vacation back to California (more about that later). Before I got a chance to ask, I was told to pull the needles and wire this tree. Perfect! This tree is the second formal upright I’ve wired at Aichien and I was itching to apply what I learned on the last one.
What is the ideal formal upright?1. Has a straight trunk that gradually tapers from the base to the top. 2. The lowest branch is the thickest branch and every branch above it gets smaller all the way to the top. 3. The spaces between the branches coming off the trunk progressively gets shorter as you move up the tree. 4. The apex of the tree is in perfect alignment with the center line of the trunk.
These are some of the key rules to what a formal upright is, though I’m sure there are many other small rules as well. So why all the rules? First off, the style is formal. Usually things that have the word formal attach to them tends to have many rules, which is why it’s so formal. Note that rule 3 is not set in stone. Slight deviations and the tree can still be considered a formal upright. I would say that if the tree at least tried to follow it, it’s a pass. If rule 3 is completely disregarded, then we have a problem.
Many times I hear people talking about formal upright trees and it’s never good. Phrases such as, “cookie cutter, boring, and straight,” comes to mind. Before we resort to name calling, I will set the record straight right now. There has yet to be a single Bonsai I have ever seen that looks exactly like another one. Silhouettes may looks similar but when you look deep into the tree (the important part) it’s a whole different perspective. When I see a good formal upright tree, they are always different and always amazing. Formal upright trees are the most difficult trees to create in Bonsai. I always take the time to look at the details and formalities of the tree. Not to mention a little respect for the time and effort put into the tree. For me, it’s like meeting a very respectable person. I want to stop and say hello.
Back to the tree and what I did
Haha, real funny Juan! This does give you an idea of the size of the tree though. Here is the tree after I pulled the old needles and cut new candle growth from last year to 1 or 2 buds. It’s a little difficult to see in this picture but the trunk is slightly leaning to the left. Since formal uprights are straight, that’s something I needed to address. Where’s the rebar?
Just kidding! No rebar this time. All I did was put a small wood block under the left side of the pot and straighten the tree out. For some reason, I didn’t get the wood block in this picture, but trust me, it’s there. :o) The trunk does look straighter thought doesn’t it?
(Picture courtesy of Juan) The next thing I did was get to work wiring the tree. How do you like my stylish knit cap? I wear it so that people can find me easily and because someone told me that I wore my grey one too often… Haha. Since it’s no fun watching someone wire a tree, while I’m wiring this tree, you can go visit a local show in Nagoya that occurred last weekend. :oD
Back in the days when Mr. Kihachiro Kamiya was alive, he was the sensei of a local Bonsai club that he created called Kihachi-kai. Many of you may know Mr. Kamiya as Mr. Boon Manikitivipart’s teacher in Japan. Mr. Kamiya won many awards including the Kokufuten prize for his customers. Since Mr. Kamiya passed away, the club with left without a teacher and almost dissolved. One of the members a couple of years ago approached Mr. Tanaka and ask if he could be their new sensei and have been working with the club members once a month ever since. This last week was their annual two day show. The current direction of the club isn’t about strict bonsai rules and super high quality bonsai. It’s more of a fun environment for hobbyist and novices to get together and work on their trees. There is a broad range in the quality of trees and participating in the show is open to all members. Let’s see what a local show in Japan looks like!
The show was held at the Bonsai Museum at Shimpuku temple (remember those Kadomatsus that I made? yeah, same place). Here’s a mixture of visitors and club members roaming around. The table in the middle is a small sales area.
This is the largest chrysanthemum stone I have ever seen! It’s a permanent display item at the museum.
The lighting for the show wasn’t very good for pictures but gave a very nice atmosphere for visitors.
Here’s a cool bunjin Japanese plum.
Close up of the white flowers. Japanese Bonsai people refer to this flower color and structure (only five pedals) as Yabai. If you want to know more about Flowering plum, I’m going to be writing a post about them soon.
Japanese Black Pine in a Chinese Antique pot
I can’t quite remember but I think this was an Elm. What a root ball and shallow pot!
Here is a very unusual Black Pine. What do you think? I like the combination of strange tree in stone. If this tree was in a regular pot, would it have worked?
Nice Black Pine. Do you remember this tree from Meifu-ten?
Here’s a nice semi-cascade Shimpaku
The owner of that last Black pine used this wood statue as an accent for the tree. In his spare time, other then Bonsai, he hand carves these figures. Very detailed! Notice the rings on the staff? That’s actually copper bonsai wire!
Bunjin Black Pine. I like this tree.
Twin trunk Japanese Maple. This tree was at Meifu-ten as well.
Small bushy Jasmine. These trees don’t heal big scars and takes a long time to get thick. It is essentially a vine.
A very nicely develop root over rock Trident Maple.
Cascade Jasmine (normal leaf size)
They have spot lights pointed at each tree. The two accent in front of the maple wasn’t there for the show (just in case you were wondering about that).
Here is the museum collection. I know of four trees here that has won a Kokufu prize. So guest to the show was able to see this Bonsai collection as well.
I thought this moss and fern combo was very nice. Not sure what the flowers are.
Here is another cool succulent accent. Succulents tend to turn red when they get cold. This added some nice color to the display
Here’s a oddly shaped Flowering plum that belongs to the museum.
The last picture of the show is a formal upright red Pine that belongs to the museum. How appropriate for this post. This tree was in the last Kokufu-ten.
Now back to the tree I’m working on
Here is the results of my work. It took me about 3 days from start to finish.
What did I do?
I wired most of the branches an bent almost every branch coming out of the trunk down. Since all the branches had really nice thick bark on them, I didn’t want to put heavy wire and risk breaking them off, so I guy wired them down and wired the smaller branches. This seems to be the going trend now in Japan and the use of heavy heavy wire is going away. Though formal uprights are straight trees, they still have a subtle direction to them. This tree’s flow is to the right or the tree’s left. I achieved this by making the tree’s thickest lower left branch a bit bigger, longer and lower then the second branch on the opposite side. This is the first time this tree has gotten a wire job of the small branches. The main branches were wired years ago and the structure of the branches were achieved by pruning all these years. Since the small branches weren’t wired before, I had to figure how to arrange them into pads and cut out the excess branches that were either too long or too thick to use. I essentially had to clean up the branch structure. I removed about 20 percent of the small branches on this tree.
Here’s a shot of the base of the trunk and the thick bark. Do you see why I didn’t want to put big wire on the main branches?
Words on Bar Branches
The first thing I noticed on this tree before I started work was the bar branching that the first and second braches form. Ideally, bar branches don’t look very good on a tree and should be avoid. Having said that, do you really want to cut one of these branches off? The branches are older then I am! After closer examination, I found that the branches are actually growing at different levels but the bark formation makes them look like a bar branch. So what to do? I guarantee that every single professional in Japan would keep both branches and leave the tree as is. In this case, the branches are just too old to cut so they are both kept. This reminds me of a comment Mr. Tanaka made when I asked him about bar branches. He said, “the truth is that trees sometimes have bar branches. If it looks good, keep it. When it doesn’t look good, fix it.” Sure, this tree would look even better without the bar branch, but it doesn’t mean this tree is bad either.
I wasn’t lying when I said I used guy wires! :oP The anchor wire goes into the soil and out one of the drain holes and looped into another drain hole.
A shot of the underside of the tree.
A undershot of the second branch
Here is Mr. Tanaka’s adjustments
What was changed
Overall, the shape of the tree didn’t change much. Mr. Tanaka pulled the tree’s lowest left branch down a bit more. He said that the directional flow was too subtle and needed a bit more. He also broke up the branch into three closely positioned pads. This kept the main branch as the biggest pad but with some more character. When natural trees form large pads, they are always made up of multiple small pads. This is still a technique I need to practice more.
Mr. Tanaka also cut off a long leggy branch off the middle of the right side of the tree (I have no idea why I kept it) and made it a bit less cluttered. At the top of the tree he cut off a couple of more cluttered branches. Other then that, a few branches tweaks here and there and we were finished.
After the adjustment, Mr. Tanaka turned to me and said, “next time don’t use 18 gauge on Black Pines. 16 gauge should be the smallest wire used.” He says that since Black Pines are strong trees, when it grows, the 18 gauge wire will not hold the branches down. The funny thing is that I know this, but didn’t apply it to this tree. Perhaps I was so excited in wanting to make this tree look good that I started wiring for show instead of for development. I feel that my focus on developing the tree’s structure has increased greatly in the last year here but every now and then I forget and make the tree pretty instead. I’m sure more training in the coming years will help fix that problem of mine.
This tree will either be repotted this year or the following year. We’ll continue to develop the branches and make the tree fuller. The overall shape is about where we want it and it’s all about maintaining that shape but with more branches. For now, the tree is inside the workshop resting until the nights no longer freeze here.
This was a long one but I hope you all enjoyed both the work I did on this tree and the visit to the Kihachi-kai show.
Thanks you all for taking the time to read!
P.S. If you are actively reading this blog, I would appreciate it if you subscribe to it (right column of the blog). This is one of the best ways for me to know how many people are reading. Thanks!
Peter Once again a great post. The hardest part about learning, is learning how to learn.ie How do I look at a tree, what do I need to think about when I look at one? You’re posts are giving me an insight. SOOOO far to go!
I will be in Japan in April for a 15 day holiday. How do I find out about Bonsai shows or displays?
Hi Peter, great to see what you do and how Mr. Tanaka does his finishing touches. Another great post!
Peter, hi. This post is very useful to show: what is more important? the way (and techniques) you explain, to solve the problems (for instance, positioning the tree), or the routine, the “common and day-by-day work”? (in the case of this post, the wiring). I think you have been very (maybe an instincts matter) skillful to balance both sides. To share with us the wiring is not boring: it maybe an extremely complex activity. I guess you know it, because you also (unconsciously?) share pictures where we can see the results of wiring. In Brazil, one of my professional tasks (what I do for living) is to analyze industrial accidents. The same happens: I got to understand the routine to illuminate the accidents, and got to understand accidents to understand the real work routine, what is the gap between the roles and real work. You see?: my hobby is plenty of insights for my life. Thanks for what you do not write, but give us clues to read. Best regards from Brazil, 38 Celsius degrees… Keep teaching us.
Thanks for a very interesting and informative read Peter. I think tyour improvements to the tree were excellent and Mr Tanaka’s final tweaks show all the hallmarks of an expert’s eye.
Thanks everybody for the kind words! I’ll keep them coming!
Hey Peter, many thanks for sharing this. I love and use these wonderful posts, especially ones where you show your wiring, as study material. I truly grateful and appreciate it when you share them. Safe travels during your vacation.
I learn so much from you comments and photos. I want to thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I read these every time they pop up and get more and more idea of how to apply them to my trees. Please don’t stop…ever.
I love seeing pictures of club shows in Japan. Thanks again Peter!
Another great post Peter! It’s funny in a way, when I learn something, sometimes it takes me several go arounds before I remember/integrate what I learned. I ‘know it’, but just forget. And this is a hobby full of ideas/techniques that is hard to keep track of, made worse by these are different for every species.
Hi Peter… Thanks for such generous & insightful sharing. Will the formal black pine be eased slightly toward the right in re-potting? It appears centered.
In the Kihachikai exhibit, the woodcarver’s Japanese black pine composition is very ambiguous in visual flow. Placement of his wood carving to the right of the bonsai suggests the owner’s final decision– though inconsistent with trunk placement in the pot, placement of the apex, and foliage contour.
I looked at the Black Pine today and it’s slightly to the left of the pot. In the future when we repot the tree, we’re probably going to shift it to the left(the tree’s right) a bit more.
As for the wood carving at the show, not much attention was payed to perfect flow and accent placements. The membership did most of it and the guy was just so proud of his wood sculpture. The overall vibe of the show was people coming together and having a good time. We didn’t feel that we needed to make a lesson or bring it up during that time. I believe that Mr. Tanaka feels that the club doesn’t belong to him and that it belongs more to the members so he normally doesn’t go out of his way to overly correct people, unless they ask.
Thanks for the comment and questions Chris. Take care!
You answered: “I would be nice to use the metric system for that. In the US we use gauge and in Japan they use gauge but it’s different then the US by 2. Example is a US gauge 16 is a Japanese gauge 18.”
In the description of the work done, which gauge system did you write about. Did Mr. Tanaka telling you to use 16 gauge on black pines get translated to US gauge? If you wrote thinking in US then I know what size. If you were thinking in Japanese what US gauge would 16 equal?
I converted the Japanese gauge to US gauge size. When Mr. Tanaka said I should not use 18, I meant 18US. Maximum wire size used on Black Pines should be 16US.
It is interesting to see a show that is just one of the normal club level shows. Very good show! Umes are particularly interesting to me. Mine are done blooming and are now leafing out in Wisconsin. Eagerly awaiting your Ume post!
I really like to read your articles. They are very informative and so well written. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Great article once again Peter, and full of so many tips and techniques. I’m sure many of us would love to have the opportunity to work on such interesting (and old) trees. It was also interesting to see a local ‘club’ show especially after seeing the more formal ones you have features earlier. We have Boon coming to ‘Down Under’ Australia in May for our Australian National Bonsai Convention in Melbourne, Vic – we are looking forward to seeing him demonstrate. Regards as always and keep on wearing that red hat 🙂
really good post, cheers.
Over here (UK) the copper wire is sold by diameter – 0.5mm, 0,8mm, 1mm etc – what gauge is each size? – or how thin is 16 please. Thanks in advance
Thanks for reading Marcus! 16 gauge is about 1.2mm whereas 18 gauge is about 1.0mm.
I would be nice to use the metric system for that. In the US we use gauge and in Japan they use gauge but it’s different then the US by 2. Example is a US gauge 16 is a Japanese gauge 18.
Excelent, thanks for the information – Luckily my supplier keeps virtually every size – or gauge in stock.
Thanks. This is my first time to enjoy your blog.
A beautiful tree and informative review of your work. Thanks
It is nice to see Kihachi Kai is still around. Omura san, the monk who Shimpuku Temple, has support me during my apprentice. I was happy to see the show take place there at Shimpuku Ji. The name of the club come from my teacher’s first name- Kihachiro Kamiya.
Peter, Thank you for posting.
Thanks Peter; another great post!
This post was a real joy to read. Thank you. I was excited to n
Hear that you will be writing about ume. I hope that you will talk about repotting this species. Here in Minnesota, my ume are about to bloom. Their perfume makes the greenhouse the place I want to be. Thanks again for your generous posts.