Welcome to the Saruyama Blog, intermittent and generally off topic. Occasionally you might see some trees...and weird ones at that.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The future of Bonsai

Over the last few weeks being back in Japan, I often think about the path I have taken, sometimes coming back here feels like a backwards step. Once you have become your own boss and can wake up at 10 am and watch some TV before pottering around the garden, it is difficult to then get up again at 6 and get shouted at for something that you didn't do. Still, it isn't a backwards step, I am still learning many things, some of which not directly related to Bonsai at all.

One thing that has been apparent to me is the lack of cooperation between professionals in the west which is something that came as a bit of a shock to me. In Japan although there are rivalries and affiliations to bear in mind, there is a sense of togetherness and helping each other in the pursuit of making a living from Bonsai. If I have a customer that wants a tree from another professional and I push him towards buying it, then the seller will be grateful and give something back and not necessarily in monetary form, it maybe that he then intorduces a customer to me or lets me have a tree at a discounted price. I myself try to continue in this spirit and I hope that comes across to those I deal with. It seems counter productive to consider everybody as a rival when everybody has a different set of skills or aesthetic eye to bring to the table.

One fellow professional who I would very much like to help out (although he doesn't need it) is the man of the moment, Ryan Neil.

We spent a lot of our apprenticeship years in Japan at the same time, although I was a couple of years ahead and had been through the difficult patches of dealing with the Japanese system and mindset of a traditional Bonsai garden, so when we could meet secretly I was able to advise him on how to ignore the bad bits and focus on the good bits. In return, he would get me drunk and thenmake sure I got on the train home.

Now he is back in the US and starting to build his empire on a hill top in Oregon, just outside Portland in a town rather amusingly named Warren. I was lucky enough to visit him before we both went to the GSBF conference in October last year adn was amazed at what he had built so quickly. It puts me to shame...but then our objectives in life are different so it doesn't pay to compare yourself against others. His vision for Bonsai is pure and totally ego-free and he approaches it wtith a pure heart which is thoroughly refreshing. Obviously his skills are phenomenal having spent six years at the feet of Kimura, the only westerner to have done such a feat. There are not that many Japanese that have made it either.

Next weekend he will be headlining at Noelanders, so any of you lucky enough to be going, watch and learn all you can. Buy him a beer afterwards as well.

What is the reason for this outpouring of bromance? His new website has opened and go take a look.

The Chief is in China now for a few days so I can get down to some Bonsai work, I have a few trees of my own to work on, bought for a Kinbon photoshoot, but then the Chief trumped my paltry purchases and got me a humongous Juniper to work on (he wanted the pot). I will clean them up and put them up here.

The future of Bonsai is, like our trees, what we make of it. With the right heart, the right instruction and the right trees, there is no reason why our Bonsai future cannot be bright.


  1. Very interesting. I was listenning to a video docummentary, already some weeks back and this guy that was doing an analyses over the development of society made a remark on the loosing of values that are happening more and more nowadays. He actually said something like this: "On a society that is money based, You can't afford being ethical, otherwise You'll lose money". Which makes me think, that by indirect, or even direct order, very easily it can make you to develop the biggest egos you could find, just as a matter of survival in a permanent competion world. The problem i'm witnissing sometimes, is that most of us start with a very good mindset, feelling and approach in relation to Bonsai as an art. But somewhere in the middle, all that, gets pretty confusing, even for people who don't have any intention to become professional.
    It is somehow comforting me that You think like You do and that maybe Ryan does the same and also, there may exist, some more people sensitive to this though not that many as i would like.
    Anyway i'll be attentfull at the noelanders this Week.

    Best Greetings,

  2. I understand Gustavo's comment and try not to fear for human society. With a longer view I think it shows we're getting better as a civilization. I just hope we advance faster than our ability to mess things up.

    I'm just back from a weekend at Ryan's. I've never been prouder to be an American in bonsai. I intend to learn as much as I can from Ryan and Randy Knight, one of the premier collectors of yamadori in the world. Look out Europe, we're coming to compete for excellence with you guys (boasted in the nicest, most "cocky yet humble" way I can). :)