Hasu no hana
Apologies for the lack of updates for anybody excited by the Kokufu results, as you can probably guess, they were nothing special. We got a 50% record across the board, which was in retrospect, not that surprising. After the drunken and angry exploits of last year, I was not that bothered afterwards, in fact the night of the judging was spent at a party at the house of pro golfer Jumbo Ozaki, who was a Bonsai enthusiast and is still on good terms with the Chief. We went along to his place and after some food and a few beers the Karaoke started and after a few turns somebody put Queen on. Needless to say I was called up to the floor where I then proceeded to belt out a number complete with dancing in a Freddie Mercury style, grinding against the mike stand and all sorts of tomfoolery. Most people (who had absolutely no idea who I was) were amazed. Bearing in mind I am tone deaf and have no singing ability whatsoever, I am surprised that people didn’t boo me off the stage. I made such a hit that I was then constantly on the dance floor and impressed with my robot dance…from 1984. The Chief was over the moon with me and spent the whole car ride home reliving the experience. Jumbo was so happy he invited me to the next party. Life as a Bonsai apprentice has some surreal moments.
There was much better news for one exhibitor though, for the second year running, there will be one of Doug Pall’s trees in the show. Absolutely nothing to do with me or the Chief, but congratulations are very much in order. The rest of the world is catching up with the Japanese, especially as they ease their foot off the pedal. There will also for the first time be a Rosemary displayed as a main tree. Several years previously one was used as the second tree in a Chuhin display, but this is the first time (to my knowledge) that one is being used as the main tree. Before the judging happens, a list of species and numbers put up for judging is released and I was very excited to see that one was being put in for consideration. On the day of setting up I was eager to see it as the Rosemary is a species close to my heart. I will let the public be the judge of the tree when they see it.
Noelanders was a great show by all accounts, Ryan’s demo and his naturally humble and enthusiastic demeanour excited everybody and I have had many mails from my customers saying that he was the best thing they have ever seen…says a lot about my work then I guess. I am genuinely pleased for him as he deserves it and he is one of the few people who can dispel the myths that surround Bonsai. He can show the Japanese that Bonsai can be done to a high level from scratch outside of Japan, he can show Americans that there is another way to do Bonsai and he can show Europeans that American Bonsai can become something to admire. The smashing of boundaries and long established ways of thinking are essential if Bonsai is to survive and grow. People need to understand that at the end of the day they are just beautiful little trees in pots.
Other things that are consuming my time other than one particularly annoying customer, keeping the lads on the straight and narrow and working on the occasional tree is the various media appearances that have been coming our way of late. Last month we did five hours of filming, which turned into 2 minutes on the Nikkei program which is broadcast on various channels across the globe. The other day I did an interview for some magazine and tomorrow we are filming a program for NHK which will be broadcast tomorrow morning. The main theme of the piece is how the popularity of Bonsai outside of Japan should be making the Japanese take another look at their own culture. They want to show how a foreigner is teaching Japanese kids their own culture. I have thought long and hard about how I feel about this…is it patronising, is it typically Japanese, are they just looking at the funny foreigner who thinks he is a native and having a laugh?
During the interview today and the discussions we had leading up to the filming of tomorrows program I discussed the fact that an apprenticeship is not about learning techniques and skills, it is about learning how to think and behave in the way that is necessary to do Bonsai at the highest level. It is more about human relationships than it is about wiring techniques and styling. The conversations with the lads have revealed a lot, they are not as stupid as they appear, especially Naganuma-kun, who is now into his fourth year. He is not a natural Bonsai stylist, not originally from within the Bonsai world and he has his own ideas about life and how it should be approached. This often leads to suffering and a tongue lashing from the chief but he is fact quite intelligent and incisive in his observations, describing life in Shunkaen as Dostoevskian
One particular conversation led me to the understanding of the importance of the lily flower and its beauty and significance in the Buddhist world. Growing up towards the light from the dark, dirty and stagnant depths of a pond is the slim and slender flower stalk, bending and flexible in the water. Once the bud opens with such force it is audible, the most pure and beautiful white flower floats above the surface of the water. If that isn’t a metaphor for life I do not know what is.