Inspiration from Nature, Japanese Maple

Inspiration from Nature, Japanese Maple

Nagoya Castle

Recently I took a visiting apprentice by the name of Lieuwe (from The Netherlands) to Nagoya Castle to look around.  I’ve been there many times and thought that I’ve seen it all.  It wasn’t till after we toured the castle that Lieuwe pointed out a group of Japanese Maples growing in the courtyard that caught his attention.  I must have walked by them more than a dozen times and never even realize they were there.  In a way, I felt embarrassed because it should have been something I spotted the first time I was there.  I guess it’s better late than never and I have Lieuwe to thank.  In this post, I’m going to share some interesting photos of these old Japanese maples and some characteristics they posses that we might normally not see.  We can learn from these trees and perhaps if not already, incorporate them into our Japanese maple Bonsai design.

First Time Around

Lower branches of old Japanese Maples.  From this first picture, what are some of the things you notice?…

My first impression and thought was, “what is this??”  After a closer look, it turned out to be a group of Japanese maples and my next though was, “wow, they have individual pads and they are very flat.”

Here’s a closer look at one of the pads.

Here’s a side view of the pads.  The weight of the pad has bent the main branches downwards.

Here’s a small interior pad.

Here is a look at the underside of the lower branches.  Tapering branches to small branch tips.  Elegant and serene.

A different angle of the underside of the main branches.

After I took these photos, Lieuwe and I walked around other parts of the compound and left for lunch.  It was the end of July during that time and it was hot and raining.

We decided to reward ourselves with some steak!  Lieuwe decided to go with the traditional Japanese pose for the photo.  That was a nice day off for us!  😀  The restaurant was also air-conditioned which was just….  life affirming.

Second Go Around

When we got back home, I quickly showed the photos to Mr. Tanaka to see what his thoughts were.  At first, I thought that the Maples were pruned that way, but Mr. Tanaka quickly said that that’s how old branches grow on Japanese Maples.

For the following weeks, I thought about those Japanese maples and wished I got more photos.  The photos I did get sat in my computer for the time being until I could get more to write a decent post. 😉

So it wasn’t till the middle of August that I was able to get back to Nagoya Castle and get a few more shots of the trees.  Lieuwe at this point has already gone back to The Netherlands.  This time around, we have a new visiting apprentice by the name of Matej from Slovenia.  Mr. Tanaka and I took him to the Castle and it was my chance to get more pictures!

Here’s Matej tackling this multi-trunk White pine!

The second time around, I was able to get much wider shots as well.  Here is a bunch of flat pads that have formed close to each other. Again, these are the lower branches of the tree.  Very pretty solar panels.

Here is a nice photo of the top of the trees.  The middle and up of the trees tends to look more like the Japanese Maples I’ve seen at home.  Branches growing upwards and some slightly coming downwards.  For the most part though, many branches are growing up and out.

Here’s a shot of a tree trunk.

More shots of the underside of the branch.

Here’s the very top of the tree.  Look familiar?  This top portion is what most Japanese Maples (young) I’ve seen at home look like.  Growing upwards and outwards.

Here’s Mr. Tanaka enjoying the shade

Every time I look at these pictures, I learn something more about Japanese Maples.  This large example of an old tree gives me insights and thoughts to how I would like to style Japanese Maples in the future.  Of course, depending on our personal taste, we can take these characteristics we see in nature and reproduce them in varying degrees.  Some will accentuate different characteristics more so than others while some will demand the strictest reproduction of nature herself.  Either way, I hope these photos have given you some ideas, changed or expanded your knowledge of Japanese Maples.

Here’s a tree at the nursery that reminded me a bit of the trees at Nagoya castle.  The tree isn’t as wide but there are characteristics of lower branches hanging down and younger upper branches growing up and out.

Just for fun, here’s the tree last Fall.  Where’s the extinguisher because this tree looks like it’s on fire!

Milwaukee in September

For those that don’t know, I will be back home in September for several weeks.  During one of those weeks, I will be headlining the Milwaukee Bonsai Society 42nd Annual Show!  It is a great honor for me that they would have me be their guest.  So if you’re in the Milwaukee Area, please come on by and check out a great show, great events and great people.  Events include, three workshops on Black Pines, Red Pines, and Shimpaku and two bring your own tree workshops.  There will also be special night events for club members that include, A critique of the show, discussion on bonsai ceramics, and a discussion and demonstration on branch development.  I hope to see you there!

For more information about the show, please click here

Thanks for reading!

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!

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12 thoughts on “Inspiration from Nature, Japanese Maple

  1. chris says:

    RE: ED CURLEE/Hard mineral water
    There is a companythat sells farming and large-scale hydroponics supplies that has large format water filtration units

  2. Paul Stokes says:

    I look forward to meeting you in Milwaukee!

  3. CJ says:

    Peter, thanks for telling us this natural aspect of old Japanese Maple. Recently I was up at Huangshan and I saw the same thing on very old pine trees – their branches naturally form pads. This in a way shows that the criticism that the Japanese tend to over-refine their bonsai by developing pads is due to poor understanding of how old pines and maples really grow. CJ

  4. Zack Clayton says:

    I have a japanese maple that is maybe 30 years old in my back yard, it is not as large as the ones you show, but the lower branches are flattened pads similar to the old ones there. I have an Acer rubrum in the yard that shows pads similar to that also.

  5. Daniel Dolan says:


    Beautiful trees…….makes me wonder whether trees should be in the ground or in pots? When I see a tree this elegant it makes me want to………defoliate it!

    Now that we’re on the subject of defoliation……..I have enjoyed watching all the new pairs of leaves on several trident maples I have defoliated twice this year thus far………….I have 1 more tree, about twenty years old……….but am unsure if the end of August is too late……..or are we tasking the tree to much making leaves instead of storing nutrients in preparation for winter?

    Hope to bring a tree to your workshop in Milwaukee.

    Best regards,


  6. Gary T says:

    First Time Around – You asked; ‘Lower branches of old Japanese Maples. From this first picture, what are some of the things you notice?…’

    I initially noticed the pads that looked flat, yet full of charm. The more I looked the more depth & character showed itself.

    They remind me of mountain ranges, carrying my eye, thoughts & imagination forever forwards, upwards and away to distant places.

    I then read on & learnt so much from this inspiring and thought-provoking blog posting, thank you so much!

    Kindest Regards

  7. ed curlee says:

    Boy, this reminds me of how hard our water is here, of course at the beggining of spring the pads are so green (and red) and delicate and beautiful, then as we get closer to fall the leaves begin to brown from so much salt etc in our water it’s so disapointing. Oh well, another beautiful article, thanks Peter.

  8. Pierre Kaufke says:

    Very nice, Peggy! Now we know how to train our trees a little better. pk

  9. Peter, as always a great post! Those natural pads are fantastic. I’ve seen many maples in nature, but not that are growing like these (at least not the lower branches)! Thanks again for posting!

    PS: Sandy, you are now called ‘Kitsune Miko’ in word press 😉

  10. cherylas2009 says:

    Hi Peter,

    I have always found Japanese maples frustrating as they don’t grow the way I want them to. they grow like what you are showing me here. maybe I should do what the tree wants and quit doing what I want. As always a good post. have fun in MIlwaukee. It is close to me. maybe i will get down there.


  11. willowbogger says:

    really interesting Peter , thanks for posting !

  12. Kitsune Miko says:

    As usual I enjoyed your post and insights.

    I’ve installed a new SW that has eliminated all my usernames and passwords. Who am I when I comment in word press??



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