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

Monday 24 May 2010

The Problem with Yamadori

I recently went over to the Netherlands and Belgium to work with Bonsai Focus and Marc Noelanders respectively. I had a few moments of understanding about the state of the Bonsai market at the moment. One of the reasons you don’t see me in the magazine so much is that I am working on some long term projects. When I graduated/got kicked out of Japan in 2007, Farrand and I discussed doing articles for them, which of course I was very happy to do. One of the problems he faces is that there are too many instant Bonsai articles, just as there are too many demonstrations in which a tree is presented only in the initial styled state. I was not particularly happy to continue this tradition and suggested that we work on some long term projects together where I would come along several times a year and we would work the trees through to finish. This takes the pressure of both me and the tree.

Several of the project trees have worked superbly, several will never see the magazine, but such is the nature of Bonsai. Of the ones which are working well, including one which I styled this trip are some collected trees which are being taken slowly yet steadily to completion. Here lays the trick, allowing the tree chance to grow and put on roots, something which freshly collected trees inevitably lack. They are being gently guided into the shape we want, rather than forced and pushed.

Over dinner we discussed the current depressed state of the Bonsai market and what can be done to stimulate it. Talk turned to what I think is the seriously inflated prices in the Yamadori market and my disbelief that people are prepared to pay vast sums of money for something which has, literally in some cases, just been ripped off a mountain side with barely any roots and no guarantee if it will live or die.

Arriving in Belgium to do a demo at the club in Hasselt, which Marc Noelanders arranged, we again discussed the state of the Bonsai world. He said that he was trying hard to teach the club members and people who he gives workshops to that whilst the best results can be obtained from Yamadori trees, they are not something which will happen overnight, they are long term projects based more upon careful horticultural practice than artistic prowess. In order to fulfil the artistic whims and fantasies of many bonsai enthusiasts, it is better to look at material which is well established. Garden centre material or imported Bonsai material which has been well established in a pot, with plenty of roots and usable branches. This is something I whole heartedly agree with and we both spoke of the problem faced when doing workshops when students turn up with some piece of collected material that wobbles in the pot, has branches with foliage at the end of very long branches and has been planted at the wrong angle by a collector more interested in making a quick profit than a decent piece of usable material.

The ideal process for dealing with most Yamadori is to develop a pot full of roots before working the rest of the tree. This can be done at the same time as gradually chasing back the foliage from the branch tips, creating back budding within the tree. This requires an incredible amount of self control to not rush ahead and create an instant image, however if done correctly, the final result will be much better and a sustainable design, not one which will spring out of shape once the wire is removed.

I do not disagree with the use of Yamadori, I have many myself, but I do disagree with the inflated prices for rootless, freshly dug trees that have very little chance of becoming a decent finished tree. I hope that a modicum of self control and long term planning begins to become apparent in both the buying and selling of material before Bonsai self implodes.

Rant over.

Monday 10 May 2010

Ichiban Inspiration

Ichiban Inspiration

I have been meaning to write about this for a long time, but as per usual, never got round to it. One thing after another and too many distractions. I am now on a train and have just finished my book, the thoroughly recommended ”The Storm of War” by Andrew Roberts and so I have finally gotten around to it.

Many years ago, Marco Invernizzi asked me if I knew anybody who made tools in Japan as he was planning to make his own, I thought little of it at the time and put him in contact with the few people I knew, not, however Masakuni as we did not deal with him, rather his brother Ezuro. The two brothers worked under their father making tools until a falling out and they acrimoniously split up. The Masakuni brand continued and Ezuro went off and made his own tools, specialising in Ikebana scissors as much as Bonsai. The handmade tools he makes are a joy to behold and I am the proud owner of a pair which cost more than I am prepared to admit online. This is merely an aside though.

When the Ichiban was released, I was a little sceptical and thought that it looked a bit funny and the seven tools in one was just a gimmick, however when I looked at Marco’s website and saw the thorough design process which he went through I was very much taken aback. What really struck me was the outside of the box thinking which drew on Marco’s pre-bonsai background, namely his design studies.

The foundation for the creation of the tool lies in the amalgamation of both parts of Marco’s experiences, his formal design studies and his extensive Bonsai activities, including several years of apprenticeship at Kimura. For all that is spoken of Kimura’s artistry as being held up as the premier standard, the majority of people fail to recognise both his craftsmanship and horticultural skills. Craftsmanship should not be mistaken for a lack of artistry, rather a complete understanding and mastery of the tools and materials required to make such things. The economic use of wire, tools, time and movement when making a tree for example are the fundamental principles upon which being a professional bonsai artist is based on. Here within lies the beauty of the Ichiban for the average bonsai hobbyist.

One of the first lessons I was taught, after being able to wire to a sufficient standard, was to make it quick, and then once I had learnt to do it quickly, it had to be done quicker and with less wire. One of the tricks to this is using a wire caddy for lower gauge wire, having it close to hand and most importantly, never putting down tools and then picking them straight back up again. Repeated over the course of a day it becomes very time consuming and attention breaking. Constantly searching for tools can destroy a train of thought. I am terrible for this, putting my scissors in my back pocket one minute, side pocket another, then my jacket pocket and then behind the tree (I am the same with train tickets and my wallet as well). The trick is to have a pair of wire cutters that fits into the palm of your hand or, in the case of the Ichiban, flicks back to rest on the forearm.

Without wishing to go too much into a declaration of love for either Marco or the Ichiban I will just say that an incredible amount of thought and experience has gone into it and that should not be criticised. Some of the features are a little debatable, the hammer for example would be a struggle to use with a larger chisel. I use a 14 oz hammer and that is just about heavy enough, however the ergonomically designed scissors and wire cutter feature alone warrants the price tag. I am going to use the Ichiban more myself and see just how useful it can be.

The main reason for my writing about the Ichiban is not for promoting it in itself, but what it stands for; something new in a world where there is little to be invented or bettered. Variations on a theme are possible, the Ichiban is a very clever and unique one, but what it represents is a bringing together of ideas from outside the Bonsai mentality and breathing a bit of fresh air into our world. Not only the design aspect but also the very professionally done advertising campaign and the whole Ichiban club idea. Very few people have actually attempted to be so professional and blend other worlds together in such a way. For all the bad publicity he may get and criticisms of being arrogant or egotistical, I say Bravo Marco.

What then for me? Where does this leave the Monkey mountain in all of this? I have long thought of the parallels between my pre-bonsai world, Physics, and the current life I ended up in. I am constantly asked about how I went from Physics to Bonsai as they are seemingly worlds apart. I personally think of them as being very closely linked, but perhaps I am clutching at straws. One of the reasons I went back to Japan and became an apprentice was the profound effect reading “The Tao of Physics” had on me. Fresh out of University and the equations of quantum mechanics and Cosmology still fresh in my head, I struggled to make head or tail of what it meant in my head. Concepts such as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and Relativity still puzzle me to this day. The mathematics of them are reasonably easy to comprehend, but the actual meaning is difficult. All of the great physicists had the same problem, they struggled to believe that what was mathematically and theoretically sound and valid, could actually be true. Einstein himself famously said “God does not play dice”.

Reading “The Tao..” which illustrated the remarkable similarities between modern Western scientific theory and ancient Eastern religion/spirituality/belief lead to a moment of enlightenment for me. Many of the concepts I had struggled with were illustrated by Japanese aesthetic ideas which were present in Bonsai, for example the relative relationships between matter and space and the observer/observed or creating foliage pads using crystalline structure patterns. For me, Bonsai represented a way in which I could understand some preconcieved ideas and gave me a wealth of different perspectives on life.

I have often struggled to put my thoughts into words in a way in which I am happy with, I fear that I would need to do more research and dig out my old text books at which point my theory, or my spirit will break in two. Either way I feel that seeing Marco succeed in such a way as to utilise his past and present experience is enough to spur me to combine mine in some way.