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

Monday, 26 August 2013

Are you bored yet?

It feels as though it is taking as long to write about the trip as it took to actually do it. It's at the halfway point now where you have started and just have to finish, but you still are nowhere near the summit and you wondered what the hell were you smoking before you started....a bit like I felt in the third year of my degree and the third year of my apprenticeship...and come to think of it the third year of my solo career.

So thankfully, the guiding influence who got me through the third year rocky patch for the last two is coming up now. A trip to the garden of Akiyama-en, home to Minoru Akiyama, my senpai, elder brother and friend; and his father, Mr. Akiyama who is a pretty cool dude himself.

Akiyama-en shares some similarities with the Iura garden, the father was/is a massive enthusiast who got into the professional side of things on a yamadori front, and the son got sent off to apprentice under masters so that they can refine the work they started. Akiyama studied at Shunkaen under the Chief after leaving high school, and Iura studied under Kawabe, well known for his craftsmanlike skills and obsessive nature. Both sons are now established artists in their own right and have their ideas of how to run things, but whilst their fathers are still active, this can often be a source of disagreement.

Here he is stood next to a giant white pine. His father likes big trees...

Here is Akiyama's first Sakkafu-ten Prime Minister's award winning tree. Originally a piece of material prepared and grafted by his father, Akiyama refined and finished it during the first years of his solo career, becoming the youngest winner of the award at the age of 29.

And here is the second award winning tree. I can claim a tiny influence on this tree, I wired half of it and helped with the discussion of it's styling...and when I say helped, it was one of those reinforcing the reasons for a decision already made. Still we wired it and styled it, finishing on New Years Eve a few years back. I had a few shandies that night...

Anyway, back on track. For the eagle eyed amongst you will be slightly perplexed as to the difference in foliage compactness between the Akiyama junipers above and the Iura junipers we saw early. Surely somebody is noticing that...or is it just me?

There is a reminder of Iura's lovely juniper. Can you see the difference? Both are Itoigawa Junipers, but both are as different as chalk and cheese. Itoigawa is used as a catch-all name for compact foliage types which were found in the Niigata area, particularly around the Itoigawa river, but they were sold in a specific place on the river and hence the name stuck. The genetic difference between the original trees was subtle but vast and the modern idea of Itoigawa comes from just one or two heavily used variants. Many "Itoigawa" junipers were grafted originally and as there are only a small number of places that do so, the foliage has become quite specific. In a previous post I mentioned this with regards to Reg Kimura and the type he uses which grows rapidly, as does the Iura foliage. A number of years ago the Iura garden changed the type of foliage it used for grafting, although you wouldn't recognise it as it looks identical but has different genetic traits. Te type used by Akiyama-en is slow growing but tends to bunch up and grow in balls.

(I will say that the Iura juniper has recently been grafted and so it being grown out, hence the shaggy appearance, but my point is still valid)

This very specific concept of the ideal foliage and being able to change bad foliage is something which took the Japanese Bonsai community around 100 years to perfect. In the West we are just on the starting point for working with our native junipers. To think that we won't have to go through a similar process is folly and those haters of Rocky Mountain Junipers in the US or Sabinas in Europe simply lack the understanding of the difficulty of working with collected material. Here we see two nurseries that have taken a generation to see a piece of collected material through to fruition. We in the west must take things a little more slowly and understand the difficulty in finding good foliage.

Personally I think that there are Sabina and RMJ out there with perfect Itoigawa-esque characteristics...strong, compact and do not flower. I think I may have one but it will be three seasons before I can be sure. Some people like the Japanese Itoigawa and graft it on to Sabina and RMJ or ther native trees. I have seen some great examples of this being successful but think it a question of personal aesthetics and at the moment I am searching for the ideal native foliage to graft on native trees (hey..we live in Europe, sabinas are native to Europe) rather than make everything look the same...but I guess thats because I studied in Japan where everything is cookie cutter...

Anyway, back to the trees...

Another lovely collected juniper. A few years from grafting it is ready for refinement and will be show ready in a few years.

Natural deadwood and shed loads of fertiliser...

Remember this bad boy from Kokufu? The grafts were unsucessful...the reason being that the tree was not strong enough. The underlying natural foliage must be vibrant and healthy for grafting to work.

Fallen soldiers...

Goodbye to his two daughters and wife...they are lovely girls and know how to work their Uncle Peter.

Akiyama also likes Chojubai but they seem to not be selling too well recently. With a little work this will be Kokufu class and is a very reasonable price. The terracotta pot makes a massive mental difference for buyers.

Now this is a funky one...the pot that is.

Ok...I have to run to an appointment now, so I will finish up here. It's dragging out over time but there are ny two more days left...Tokyo and Saitama!



  1. Another absolute delight to read! I'm not exagurating when I say I really look forward to reading your posts, & when I see that there's a new one, it becomes a priority as far as the 'net's concerned.

    Thank you Sincerely Peter - always a pleasure.

    Chris R

  2. great post - at last the indication to marry great native trunks with decent foliage - you may be preaching to a small audience for the next few decades though as the purists tend to struggle with such alien horticultural techinques - in japan it seems a great bonsai producer is an accomplished and confident plant grower first and foremost - over here how many people would take their newly bought pride and joy yamadori and say i'll graft it next year, style it in 7 years time and show it if i'm lucky 5 years later........come to think about it how many western bonsai growers can even graft successfully, way less than 0.1% at a guess? a pleasure to read, tree pictures too ;-) , life is good