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

Sunday 31 January 2010

Sunday 31 Jan 2010

Kensho shimashita

Yesterday was a long yet very fruitful day. A trip down to Kyoto on the night bus to see what was a very enlightening exhibition of 13 Bonsai and Suiseki displays held in the grounds of a temple.

It was here, sat in the warm sun, listening to the people enjoying themselves without pretence and backstabbing that I realised why I do what I do It's quite simply incredibly good fun.

I didnt have a flash of enlightenment, more a slow realisation throughout the day that this is what I do it for. To listen, discuss and study that which is beyond the normal realms of my experiences, and to make it my own.

Bonsai is more than just trees in pots, Suiseki is more than just rocks on wood. This runs deep.

I have a book planned.

Friday 29 Jan 2010

Wabi-Sabi and the art of Bonsai

Got drunk again last night with the boys, I had given them a really hard time over the last couple of days as pressure built up over various things and The Chief, being chiefly decided to diffuse the situation by going away for a day, taking with him one of the pressure points. A relaxing day was had, listening to the ipod, wiring a humongous Juniper.

It gave me the opportunity to think about an upcoming debate which I have been asked to participate in. Eastern Tradition vs. Western Innovation. Organised by ABBA, I will be up against the vanguard of UK bonsai in the shape of Simon Temblett who I respect a great deal. I haven't givenm it much thought but yesterday I went through a few trains of thought and solidified some ideas, mainly about the Japanese aesthetic vs. the Western interpretation. I am not sure of teh best way of getting my point across to the audience because I'm not sure i have one. Perhaps teh best thing to do is drink half a bottle of sake before I begin..."now lishen ere..."

After work had finished and we were sat around the campfire, a few shandys got things going and I started by asking them what they thought. I got some surprising answers which I should have written down at the time as I have no recollection of what they were, just that they surprised me. I will endeavour to write something solid in the near future when I have the time.

Woke up this morning and discussed with The Chief the translation of the Keido manuals for the only school of traditional display...of which he now has the last remaining copies. We should have a semi-translation in time for Kokufu. It is interesting stuff and requires a wider knowledge than I have so I am pushing myself to read more and further myself.

One thing I do realise is that this incredibly poor resolution picture is, for me, intrisically more beautiful than the tree in full bloom. Sounds a bit poncy and weird but the reason that life can be so beautiful is that eventually we die. Bonsai is the same.

Monday 25 Jan 2010 Hungover Day

The Japanese have a term for what happened last night...yakezake

the word combines the characters for "despair, desperation, abandonment" and "alcohol".

I have a term for how I feel this morning. It combines the words "sick as" and "dog". I expect no sympathy.

The Persian philosopher and astronomer Omar Khayyám said it best...

And much as Wine has played the Infidel
And robbed me of my robe of Honour, well ...
I often wonder what the vintners buy
One half so precious as the stuff they sell

For some we loved, the loveliest and best
That from His rolling vintage Time has pressed,
Have drunk their glass a round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest

But helpless pieces in the game He plays
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days
He hither and thither moves, and checks ... and slays
Then one by one, back in the Closet lays

"The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."

Not bad for the bloke who first moved towards non-euclidean geometry and developed binomial theorem to the power n. I bet he got those ideas when he was on the razz.

Needless to say yesterday was a bit of a tough day. Still today we have a photoshoot and for once it isnt me, I get to watch my kohai Naganuma nervously cutting branches while i laugh in the background.

Monday 25 Jan 2010

Judgement Day

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.

red pine

Update from Japan and a new tree for me...

After a very cold christmas, my first back in the UK for 9 years, me and our lass flew out to Japan for yet more festivities.

New year is a busy time for the bonsai world, exhibitions, sales and preparation for the all important Kokufu exhibition. As is expected of me as the most recent "graduate", I have come back to help the Chief and teach the current apprentices a thing or two. Sadly their heads are so hard and unable to comprehend the simplest things that it makes life hard. I blew a fuse today at them today for poor watering technique. It is really difficult to allow them to make mistakes in order to correct them. I sat watching it for an hour, my blood boiling until they finally finished. After they had gone back to their normal work I quite politely asked them to explain what they had done and just how stupid they were. It is at times like this that I am so grateful to my senpai Akiyama-san for being patient and understanding with me when I was just that stupid.

I am still in debt to Akiyama-san as he pulls me up through the bonsai world, involving me with being a normal professional in Japan. He keeps telling me that I should become a Japanese citizen and work here full time. As much as England disappoints me, there is no way I could give up my passport. We went to a Shohin Auction the other day, some of the items may be for sale on my shop soon, I am going to try and sell them here to existing customers first. I bought specifically to order as I am broke due to the exchange rate. It was my first time at a shohin auction, a very different occasion to the normal one I go to where everybody knows me now and lets me have stuff cheap. Walking around before the auction, looking at what was coming up, one tree took me and I just had to have it. I mentioned it to Akiyama-san and he just laughed and said I was sick, I showed it to Taiga Urushibata and he said I was mental...still it didnt come up until the end of the auction and I was ready and prepared, I had a limit, which was the money in my wallet and there was nothing going to stop me. The auctioneer started the bidding and I immediately jumped in. One other fool decided to bid 500 yen more than me so I topped that by another 1500. There was a second of disbelief when everyone realised it was me shouting. They soon realised that there was no way they would win against me...I was dragged up on the streets of a fighting market town. A shohin auction stand-off doesn't scare me.

Looking at it objectively, I am in fact sick and mental, but by god, this is a superb little tree. I will get a pot for it at the kokufu and it shall be on display at the BSA show up at Willowbog.

Friday 29 January 2010

New site

Have decided due to the limitations of my website, to move my blog here. Same crap. Different place