A trying few days at Shunkaen has once again revealed the nature of life and death to me, giving me an insight into the hearts of those around. We often talk of dead wood, shari and jin but how many of us actually stop to think and contemplate what that actually stands for. No matter what nature throws at a tree, no matter how severe and harsh the conditions become, somehow it finds a way to survive. In difficult times, it pays to take time with your trees and to take strength from them.
However, that is an aside to what has been taking up most of my time recently. The Bon in both the title of this post and BON-sai refers to the pot. One of the two characters used to write the word means pot, so by that logic, 50% of the image and importance of a pot, comes from the container it planted in. This is one part of the more traditional side of Japanese Bonsai that I particularly enjoy, and one sadly that is disappearing at an alarming rate.
Due to the political situation in China way back when, many of their items of cultural heritage were destroyed in the revolution. Thankfully the Japanese had been shipping Bonsai pots and other ceramics, tables and whathaveyou for the previous hundred odd years. This means that the best examples of Chinese Bonsai pottery were in Japan...not any more. With their growing economic might, the Chinese are bulk buying their heritage back at an alarming rate, meaning that Japanese Bonsai heritage is fast disappearing. As much as this may be disappointing for some, it is the nature of the world. As a result The Chief is getting a lot of interest from the Chinese to sell many of his masterpieces.
Over the Kokufu period we are having what amounts to a garage sale...but of a bit higher class. The Chief put an advert in Kinbon saying that we had over 1000 antique Chinese pots. I doubted we had that many but after spending three days pulling them all out of the various hiding places we have for them, it has left in no doubt whatsoever. Naganuma described it as "making him feel queasy when he looked at them".
What was good for me though was meeting many of the pots again for the first time in a few years. Every pot that came out had memories attached to it. I can remember what tree was in which pot, the time it went to Kokufu, the customer who owned it previously....there were a few very special friends, and a few that I wished were still mine!
Along with setting up the pots, I have also been helping some Italian friends and customers to find special pots for their trees. It is reassuring to know that there are people out there willing to spend a little more money to find something that is worthy of the high quality trees that are around in Europe and the US at the moment. Without wishing to sounds as if I am snake-oil salesman, the prices of a decent aged Tokoname pot or a semi-antique Chinese pot are not really that much more than you will pay for a new Chinese pot at some places in Europe. If following the Japanese ideas of Bonsai then surely it is important to pay equal attention to the pot. If following a more European or American idea, such as using a native tree in a native pot, then the same rules apply. Thankfully there are many great potters out there who specialise in bespoke pots, in the UK we have both John Pitt and Andy Stone Monkey Pearson for a start. Either way is fine, the point I am making that as we are rounding the corner into spring and repotting season...maybe it is time for an image change.
Anyway...things cntinue on. I have a few days to get our scant number of trees ready for the Kokufu. One is a Kicho Bonsai (Important Masterpiece) so it should get in anyway, the others....well we shall see.