Monday 25 Jan 2010
Today is arguably the most important day for Bonsai professionals in Japan. More important than the exhibition itself, today is the judgment day for Kokufu. For many, the weeks of preparation and cajoling customers to display their trees is now coming to the final point of...was it all worth it?
For those younger and less well known professionals who struggle to get good customers who can appreciate and afford trees at the level required to get into the exhibition, it can be make or break time. If they have sold the promise that the tree can get in to the show and it doesn't then there is a lot of explaining to be done at around 4 pm today. If it does get into the show then there is the chance of a much longer association with the customer and possibility of selling a new tree for next year.
Displaying trees at such a prestiguous exhibition is not cheap...just the fees to Bonsai association run to around $1000, not to mention the cost of table, pot, accent rental, preparing and transporting the tree. For some people it will cost over $2000 to send the tree to the show. If that kind of money has been invested in vain, then there is a lot of apologising to be done.
Entering trees is a difficult balance of realism and expectation. Some of the trees we have to force the customer to enter, even if they are clearly top class, whereas some of the trees entered are done so because the customer desperately wants to despite our best advice against it. One of our trees falls into this category. Although knowing that the tree had a very low chance of getting in, I prepared it as best as I could, the pot was changed to a very old Chinese antique pot, the foliage perfectly arranged and the moss was painstakingly put together piece by piece. That alone took six hours.. It looks good but still in my heart I know that it will be lucky to get in. After finishing the preparations, I phoned the owner, who likes me and we get on well, and invited him to come and inspect it. He was very happy , declaring it to be a new tree but then asked the difficult question which I was dreading and had prepared several well scripted answers for..."Will it get in?". The stock answer is..."a lot depends on what else has been entered, but if I were the judge, it would get in", followed by a reassuringly cheeky smile. Today we shall see if I too have to apologise and blame the luck of the gods.
Yesterday the trees were taken to the judging, which is held under strict security at the Green Club in Ueno. I am not allowed to go this part of the process because I stick out like a sore thumb and I am considered persona non grata by many of the judges and people in the association. If they see me carrying a tree then the chances of it getting in are reduced. My senpai Akiyama took his and our trees yesterday and managed to get them on to the benches undetected. On his return we began the long, dark wait...and then lightened it up with drink. Lots of drink.
Drinking is a part of life here and one which is generally most enjoyable as I am partial to the odd shandy after a days work. Last night was a weird mixture of tension, resignation and expectation. We talked about who had entered what, which famous tree was there and what pot it was in, how many similar trees to ours were there and the chances ours would be selected. Inevitably the conversation turned to women and normal service was resumed. One of the current apprentices, Naganuma is a great bloke to have when drinking, his stories and way of thinking is frankly not suitable for print.
Anyway, today, there will be 8 torturous hours of tension followed by a phone call telling me to come down to the Green Club, possibly to help pack the van up with all our trees which failed to get in, or possibly to double check that the actually did get in!
The gnawing feeling in my stomach and restlessness is why I came back and why I will be coming back again next year...well that and the beer that will be drunk tonight...hopefully in celebration.