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

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Oh forgot to mention this...

For any bonsai enthusiast out there who wants a Christmas present, I recommend this book. It is kind of by the Chief in that 95% of the pictures are of his trees and the majority of the text, which is expertly translated into English (not by me), was ghost written under his guidance. It features trees by month, history and culture and is a good read.

It is a superb book and cheap as chips, in fact this retail price is cheaper by £4.50 that the wholesale price which we can buy it at in Japan. Go figure...

In the UK, you can get it through the Book Suppository for £18.73....For those in the US, buy through the evil Amazon or support a local book store, Bill Valavanis or myself. Both Bill and I can get the book signed by the Chief (but not in time for Christmas)....that is the only thing we can offer that massive monopolistic empires can't...well that and a cheeky grin.

Other good books include this one and this one.

I earn nothing from this promotion other than a sense that we cannot compete against capitalism. I suppose to destroy the machine, you must be part of it...

Once Again, Merry Christmas everyone

Monday 12 December 2011

Its not all doom and gloom

Many thanks for the messages of support and condolence, I just want to point out that I am not, nor ever have been on the verge of insanity/packing it all in, just being my normal cheery self. Some of us were born to always look on the bright side of life, others were born to chew on life's gristle in a steak and ale pie.

Life isn't as bad as it may seem...i did get to work on a tree this weekend, or at least supervise the work...and when I say supervise, I was watching the snooker final whilst grunting approval. It's a tree that I last worked on about a year ago. I am not sure of the future of the tree, it never seems to change much or get any thicker. I think the 11 and a half months of darkness may have something to do with it. Anyway here is a before
and after
I personally prefer a bunjin styled tree but...'tis the season for goodwill and peace to all men, especially Mrs. Saruyama who styled the tree and so I kept my mouth firmly shut. Not sure if it will look best in a round John Pitt pot or an antique square chinese one though...

Merry Christmas and happy styling

Saturday 10 December 2011


Only sometimes...I question everything, I am the first to admit, then when you catch me in a mood like this I can be tiring, even embarrassing..

What a week it has been...the van has clocked up a few miles, I have seen a good number of friends and there was Armageddon at home. A swing from high to deep, all in the course of a single day...my very own black thursday.

As a warning, this week I have mostly been listening to 80's music, particularly dark and depressing stuff so there will be some influence here. My apologies.

I had promised that I would get back to working on trees this week and I did manage some, but more importantly than that I managed to see a few friends and catch up. Some things are more important than little trees in pots, not much admittedly, but health and happiness are.

On Wednesday I managed to get up to Willowbog Bonsai to drop off some trees and to see the resplendent Mr. Snart. A man after my own heart we sat and complained about the state of everything and had jolly good fun doing so. I did a little work up there, but not much as I was interrupting Peter's day off which had been allocated to sitting and thinking. The results can be seen here on the Willowbog blog, which, unlike this organ, is regularly updated. I worked slightly a few trees for sale which is something I enjoy doing. Not pushing them towards what I consider to be the only future but giving options to those who then purchase them. When working from a commercial point of view it is important to think of all the different possibilities that a tree can have, for example what somebody who likes ultra compact modern Japanese style trees would make, or what somebody who likes more free flowing "naturalistic" trees would prefer. In many ways this makes you question your own tastes and preferences and keeps you on your toes, rather than falling into a rut of always making the same style of tree. That doesn't apply to trees made for myself though...my rut is deep there.

After an evening meal of the highest quality (behind every miserable bonsai professional there is a superb woman who sees the potential in inferior material ;-) I fell asleep on the sofa as is my modus operandi. Awaking the next morning, the beginning of Black Thursday, I set out in pitch black over the sullen misty moors along winding roads and snow covered passes. It would have been a beautiful drive if there had been daylight and it wasn't raining and blowing a gale. As it was I survived. On to the M6 in the torrential rain I pulled in at the first service area I could and bought a coffee, it was here that I realised a certain age of my life had come to an end. Unshaven and looking ruggedly bald in my normal way, one of the ladies behind the counter gave me a special smile which would have brightened my morning had it been the attractive twenty year old blonde who completely ignored me. Sadly, I have graduated onto MINLF territory.

Anyway, moving back to more important matters, I made it John Pitt's place and got down to business. I had kept a few trees at John's which I had picked up before going to Japan, some well established European yamadori. I worked on one which I think has an outstanding future. Sadly that future will be at least 20 years away but it is one of the few scots pines that I think will make a genuine bunjin tree...but for that to happen, I will need to starve it for a good number of years and just keep plugging away with the scissors



Now, you may think that I have done nothing to it, that it looks messy and untidy, that it needs wiring and pads need to be created. If I wanted to create an instant image then maybe so. For this tree, I am in for the long haul and have decided to try for something which takes time and patience and not wire. In order to create a true bunjin tree, there must be a lack of artifice, a natural feel which stems from experience of suffering and severity. That can only be created with time and patience. It won't be close to being ready until the branches have started to develop bark and the needle size has reduced after being grown in a tight pot without repotting for at least ten years. Watch this space as they say.

Speaking of experiencing suffering, my already long day took a turn for the worse as I got a phone call from home saying that the gale force winds had lifted my poly tunnel up, flipped it over and it was threatening to take flight. My little brother, bless him, was holding onto it and trying to remove the plastic from the frame. After going to the planned Christmas dinner with the Ashfield Bonsai Massive I made the long drive home fearing the worst. It wasn't until I got close to home that I felt the wind, coming off at the junction, I was blown halfway across the road. Wearily making it home, I assessed the damaged...which was surprisingly little. The electrics were all messed up, the under soil heating cable has pulled out and snapped, the poly tunnel a mangled mess, a pane of glass or two broken but seemingly none of the trees were damaged in anyway. Thankfully there was no frost and the temperature stayed above freezing but the wind was horrendous. Behind the house is about two miles of flat farmland without a wind break in sight. The first wind break was the polytunnel it seemed. Despite the frame being firmly staked and pinned into the ground, weighed down with bricks and everything I though necessary, clearly nature played this trick on me...she is too rough and I am too delicate.

After a few hours sleep the clear up operation began in the dark...as the frame was mangled, it was impossible to unscrew and so I literally pulled it apart with my bare hands whilst thinking of alternatives...I considered burning every tree and then doing a Reggie Perin. Sometimes life has a habit of just kicking you full square in the knackers. No matter how hard you try, somebody or something just comes along and pisses on your bonfire. Here I was, all cock of the walk with my super high-tech polytunnel and mother nature just laughs in my face and says " that serves you right for wiring so many trees and thinking you can make them more beautiful than me...what are you going to do about it now baldy?"

Despite what you may initially think, at times like that, doing bonsai is a god send. The whole point of bonsai is to enjoy nature...even though she is a harsh mistress. Without the severity of the winter we would not enjoy the freshness of the spring, without the eternal struggle against the elements then there would not be beauty such as this...
One must take the rough with the smooth and accept that with one hand, nature giveth, and with the other hand she slaps you in the face and causes chaos in the garden.

A day spent tidying up the glass greenhouse and maximising space in there allowed me to find a home for everything that was small enough and delicate. Other trees which can survive outside were buried in the now non-heated bed and covered with the plastic from the poly tunnel skin. Whatever will be will be. Miraculously, the delicate light bulb from the glow lamp survived and I was able to put it up and the trees didn't even skip a beat...or at least I hope not.

A few problems with the heater and thermostat were sorted out that evening as temperatures plummeted to minus 5. Let us pray to any god that is listening that the glass greenhouse doesn't get blown over in the winds next week. If it does then...I don't know what I will do. Always remember that there is only so much suffering a tree can take before it dies rather than turn into a bonsai. We walk along that knife edge everyday.

After sorting everything out, the drive down back to the warmth of my long lost bed was uneventful, except for the depressing disco in the van...The Smiths, the Cure and Depeche Mode on a constant loop, with me seat dancing to stay awake.

"Let us have a black celebration, to celebrate the fact that we have seen the back of another black day"

Merry Christmas

Saturday 3 December 2011

A long month....

And so a silent November has drawn to a close and those following me may have wondered why no posts...well one thing my mum always told me was "if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all". That is not to say that life has been terrible or there has been nothing good happening but sometimes life just conspires against you.

To say I was busy was an understatement...arriving in Japan at the start of November I, along with the long suffering younger apprentices spent two weeks, day and night preparing the garden for the arrival of all the international visitors for the 11th Aspac convention which was held in Takamatsu. During those two weeks I managed a day and three hours of working on trees. As per usual no pictures were taken but I did manage to continue working on a Needle Juniper that I had saved from death a while back and had repotted earlier this year. It was good to see it growing well again and the customer made a special point of bringing it in for me to work on which was a high point. The rest of the time was spent building a pond and reworking the garden.

The Takamatsu show was good but very tough. We had a trade stand and had to be down there to set up from 7 am. It was an 11 hour drive through the night of which I drove 9 hours...needless to say I wasn't in the best state of health when we arrived. The car was loaded up with what we estimated to be half a million dollars worth of stuff in there, just pots and stands etc, no trees...although we did come back with a load...so crashing was not an option. The Chief, in true Chiefly fashion flew down and arrived the next afternoon after we had set up the stand...and nervous that the arrangement was not to his liking, I awaited his arrival with dread. He turned up with a smile on his face and just said "Yeah, looks good...we won't sell anything though". For those that don't know him, he can be a great motivational speaker.

Picture of the Aspac crowds, courtesy of S-Cube. You can find more here on the IBC forum

As it turned out though, we did sell stuff. Quite a bit actually. My personal tally was higher than expected and if I had helped to sell the $250,000 pot on the neighbouring stand to a Singaporean gentleman then I would have trumped the Chief...not that anybody keeps score. Sadly/Thankfully the expensive pot stayed unsold, not that I did anything other than translate...the buyer had been studying pots since before I was born...

The show itself was good in the sense that I met up with old friends, made some new ones and I managed to survive the onslaught of the Chinese. They arrived in their hundreds on several tour groups and it was an intense experience. It is difficult when there is no common language and the only words I know in Chinese are "expensive, Ming Dynasty, No problem, brown noser and delicious". You can imagine the quality conversations that went on there.

Hanging out with some of the younger members of the bonsai community was a highlight and I also got to spend some quality drinking time with my senpai Akiyama who is at this moment in time, enjoying his second Prime Ministers award at the Sakkafu-ten, pictured below. Sadly I couldn't stay in Japan for it, but the time we had together, drinking and talking about Bonsai was great. There are some people in life who understand implicitly exactly what you mean when you say something and he is one of them.

Akiyama's prize winning tree...been in the family for 30 years. I had the privilege once to touch it.

Anyways after driving back to Tokyo (six hours drive this time), I also managed to go to Kyoto which was disappointing in many ways, the autumn colours were poor and the Taikanten was a little underwhelming. Once again though I managed to chat with a load of Bonsai people and learnt some stuff. I also managed to pick up a scroll very cheaply that is an original from 1704 which is great. One day it will make an outing...until then.

One of the reasons that I felt unmoved to write was due to the raging egos that have been dominating my life for the last month or so. All problems in life seem to arise from the presence of other people, especially those who are unreasonable and think that they are the most important person in the world. I often wonder if it is a disease specific to Bonsai, like Sphaeropsis Tip Blight or it is something which affects the world at large...I turn on the TV and see X-Factor and realise that there is no escaping it. For Sphaeropsis there is a cure, broad spectrum fungicide (ideally two or three varieties) applied monthly throughout the growing season, ; but for rampant ego related problems?

For the rest of the month I will be getting back to what is important in Bonsai...concentrating on my own trees, my own people and trying to enjoy Christmas. Noelanders is just around the corner and preparations for that are going to be in full swing.

Apologies for the depressive tone of the blog, its not all bad, it's just the black monkey visiting but as a great man once said..."Inside every bag of sh@te there is a speck of gold, it might just be the wrapper off a Caramac, but it's there"