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

Thursday 29 August 2013

One of the projects...

The last couple of days have been spent up to my eyes in Lemsip and tissues after a particularly annoying throat infection. That will teach me to work hard...

It has however given me the opportunity to finish off a little bit of work on an upcoming project which is now going to be unveiled. I had mentioned that I had a few things on the go and here is one of them. Full details can be found at the website... www.naturalflux.co.uk  but basically I am doing a kind of solo, kind of collaborative exhibition to be held in a contemporary art gallery just off of Brick Lane in East London. It will be a combination of trees, ceramics, blacksmithery, sculpture and photography. Should be quite interesting.

 I won't go on about it too much here, but please take a look at the website and please  follow on facebook


(as I don't really do or get facebook at all, please can you do what ever it is facebook does)  I will be putting some more information up as things get a little closer to the date, but as things stand, everything is still in the works.  Hopefully it will all come together, some of the pieces made are already incredible and my trees are well...still alive, so that is a bonus.

The exhibition will be on the 6th to 11th November, possibly the first of many, depends on how it all goes.

This was all my idea, I approached the gallery and all the other artists who have been super enthusiastic about it, but it is basically my folly, an experiment to see where we can take bonsai and who will like it.  It will help to answer a few questions I have about bonsai and modern life anyway.

Sink or swim...

Now I need to finish my accounts...

ps. if anyone finds anything funny or weird looking on the website, let me know. I haven't totally tested it out on different browers and stuff. It works on my computer and ipad.

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!


Saturday 24 August 2013

Boycott of inspiration

Regular readers may remember that I work at Ibuki bonsai in Poland three times a year and generally it is a few days of sausage fest (pfnar pfnar) and the chance to continue helping the owner, Mariusz Folda improve his rapidly expanding collection and give some advice on business, his pot making and how to expand. I know that I am probably the last person to ask for business advice but it is very much a case of do as I say, not as I do. Many of the trees we have been working on have continued to improve year after year and hopefully soon some will be gracing the benches of top exhibitions across Europe as Mariusz dives headlong into the financial black hole that is the bonsai business.

Regular readers will also remember that associated with my trips to Poland is the unfortunate requirement of a trip to a fancy shed in Essex (a.k.a Stansted Airpot) and boarding a Ryanair flight. Generally it is a nightmare which I am loathe to repeat but this time it was actually quite pleasant, despite the fact that the airport was packed with budget holiday makers even at 5 a.m. It was quite stressful with all the security hassles you get with infrequent travellers trying to squeeze half a hundred weight of make up into one of those tiny zip lock plastic bags and leaving belts on, mobile phones in pockets and generally holding up the queue. I try to remain above the stress and go to my happy "zen" place but it fails miserably every time.

This time however, the stress was worth it because the flight was not packed and as I sat down, I noticed that there was a very attractive girl sat across the aisle from me who looked like the Polish version of Katy Perry. I was stressed about squeezing my bag in somewhere but after I sat down, she smiled at me and it was like a teenage dream. So much so that I reverted to my clumsy, awkward sixth form self and accidentally dropped some stuff in the aisle which she picked up, handed to me and I just kind of felt uncomfortable. This happened three times over the course of the flight, all completely non intentionally but all I could do was smile like an idiot and think of Geoffrey Boycott. I am not the type of bloke to start chatting up ladies as I am somewhat of an introvert (and Lady Saruyama would not be best pleased, especially as I woke her at 3 am) but the appreciation of beautiful woman is undeniable...especially one that looks like Katy Perry. I know that Geoffrey would agree with me on that point.

After that rather embarrassing incident, I focused on the job in hand, how could I keep up with events at the Oval whilst working on trees? As many of my readers are based in non cricketing nations such as anywhere but England and Australia this may be complete nonsense and of very little interest to you but it is as important as important can be to those unfortunate few. Thankfully the wifi in the workshop was working well and we were able to spend the days listening to Australia put England to the sword a little and for us to reply with a day of terribly dull batting...all of this via the joy of live streaming Test Match Special. For a cricket lover there is nothing better than listening to TMS all day and during my time in Japan, especially during the 2005 Ashes series, I stayed up pretty much all night listening to it. It was interesting to see that a certain American apprentice at Reg Kimura's also got very much into the Ashes that year although he watched it online rather than immerse himself into the radio. Imagine my surprise one evening when we met up and he told me out of the blue how impressed he was with KP and Freddie Flintoff.

Mariusz himself spent a long time in Australia and so he understands the game and was happy to listen along. It was very interesting to see his reactions to both the ramblings of Blowers and the afore mentioned Geoffrey Boycott. My favourites were..."He is very difficult to have a conversation with" and "Was he a good player? Because if not, people must hate him for how critical he is". It is amazing how even across cultures and with a lack of knowledge, somethings still shine through.

So why have I gone on so long about all this TMS nonsense? Well, because it did in fact take me to a happy place and I was able to work in a very unthinking way. Normally when sat in front of a tree I am concerned about all sorts of non bonsai related rubbish, doing this or getting that done by a deadline, got to book a flight or email that person, but with the radio on and Boycott and co. babbling away in the background, I was able to drift away and let my mind go free. I actually really enjoyed doing bonsai for once, and felt like I did way back in the day. It seemed like the perfect time to work on a tree which I had been thinking about for some time.

A collected Mugo from somewhere Alps-y. The first time I saw this, it was like a missing puzzle piece...a proper Saruyama tree, I fell in love and that was it. The natural movement in the trunk combined with the aged bark and dead wood are just exquisite. It may not have all the impact, power and aggression of some of the big mountain Mugo that are around, but in case you didn't already know, I like elegant and unusual trees and this fits perfectly in that category, also known as "trees that will never win awards or sell for large amounts of money".

There was still a lot of work to be done, especially as it was upright at the time of collection . Looking at the mass of soil and sphagnum moss on the roots, you can see this. The planting angle was decided upon and Mariusz planted it when I wasn't around. It was left for over a year for the recovery to take place and due to correct cultivation it has grown well, with plenty of adventitious budding. After looking at the tree for two days, it was time. Inspiration, which has at times been lacking, was flowing and all the stars aligned.

Sat in front of the tree there was not much that needed thinking about and with TMS in the background I set to work. After just an hour and a half, the first stage was finished. It was good to get into that empty state of mind and just rely on instinct and muscle memory. Wiring just came naturally, branches pruned off without hesitation and in the correct places. This comes not only from practice but also those two days before hand. Every time I walked past it in the garden, I had a little look, made a plan, gave it some thought. By doing this, a clear process can be developed and there is no need to wire everything and then chop half the tree off or spend hours trying to figure out how to make the apex, twisting it round and round hoping that eventually it will look good. Too many demonstrators at the highest level are guilty of this. Making it up as you go along does not cut it. Same as going out to the crease to face a bowling attack...have a plan of attack (or defence) built on studying the opposition's strength and weakness and also your own.

The result is a tree I am pretty pleased with and will look forward to it's further development. Not every tree you work on as a professional touches you in the same way, some are instantly forgettable, others are not in a particular style you like, but you work on them the same, to a high standard, trying to make them the best the can possibly be. Then you find a tree which resonates with your aesthetic ideals and it's just perfect. One that you would work on for free, go all the way with, no regrets...

A slightly smaller pot, work on the root base and built up adventitious budding and ramification leading to smaller needles and a slightly more compact feel. The floating foliage pad to the right needs a little work on, it doesn't feel quite right but this was created by heavy pruning on some very elongated branches back to some weak shoots and buds. Once they develop it will be a chance to look again at it. The little stump at the base of the trunk need to go as well, but there is a high probability this may be used for securing the tree at next repotting.

It's a cracking tree, one which I am happy to count as one of mine...even though it isn't. Rock and roll.


Sunday 11 August 2013

And so it continued...

After a massively long drive/weave across the expressway, we finally pulled into the hotel where we managed six hours of sleep before setting off again up to Obuse, home of Shinji Suzuki. The morning got off to another good start, this was the car parked next to us.

"Pray for Japan"? Pray for the turtle more like...at least he has a seat belt.

A short drive later and we arrived at Obuse, home to Shinji Suzuki. I visited many many moons ago when the museum was still open, but not since that closed and he renewed his garden. I must say I was very impressed. Although still quite new, it was very classy.

Empty space...i remember what that was like...

A Nemu no ki or Persian Silk Tree/Mimosa. Awesome summer tree and the kind of stuff that I love. simple, elegant and so beautifully displayed.

There were a lot of spots where the modern and traditional combined together. The thought that has gone into the garden was evident.

In the customers area, a Sumac is displayed behind a very familiar bronze kingfisher...

Oh yeah...just excuse me a minute...

A Henk Fresnen original. You may not know it, but his work is very highly appreciated by the Japanese market in both Bonsai and the art world. So for all you people who complain it's too expensive...it's cheapest in Europe.

Onto the trees.

Seen that before...maybe on Matt Reels blog?

Speaking of the Portlandian...he is still in Japan. Long term apprenticeship...he must love it there.

It was still eary doors...

An ezo spruce of high quality.

A funky cascade hinoki cypress. Abstract bonsai

Even kokufu trees go wrong if left alone.

I took a load more pictures, but they are all kind of badly lit or out of focus, so my apologies.

After Suzuki's we made the short trip up to Iura's. For those that may not know Takashi Iura, he is the son of his father (obviously) Mr. Iura. They specialise in collected trees, taking large tohoku junipers and grafting roots and branches to split up into smaller trees with better foliage. The techniques and ideas are pretty unique and there are very few places in the world that do this on a large scale. Benches and tunnels full of collected junipers, taxus and the odd traditional bonsai dotted around.

A twin thin trunked tree....try saying that after a few shandies

A semi cascade with great fin like deadwood

Some of the many collected taxus

Chunky deadwood and carving opportunities a plenty

Projects on the go...

Well established tree...yamadori done properly, taking the time to establish healthy roots and vigorous growth. It may take ten, fifteen years but thats why you have sons.

Grafted junipers, a couple or three years since separation. After this, they are ready for a first styling.

A hulk of Yamadori juniper....oh the possibilities... If you look carefully you can see the original foliage, blue and coarde to the left, and the super extended itoigawa foliage on the right. Even though the grafts have taken and the roots separated from those branches, the original foliage is left to generate energy and at as the fail safe back up for those grafted branches. The desire to cut them off asap is held in check for the benefit of the tree

A more established semi styled piece, ready for refinement...sadly a clients tree otherwise...

Mr. Iura Jr. was a very gracious host, treating us to a lovely sushi lunch and allowing us to bother him for a few hours. It was well worth the trip and was a highlight for a couple of the more creative bonsai enthusiasts in the group. I always love to see people who make trees and their gardens, the thought processes behind them and learn little snippets of info. True creators will always take the time to show off their techniques and work with a smile on their face and Takashi Iura was no different.

We left there in the early afternoon to set out for Tokyo, calling in at Akiyama's on the way back...as this is such a long post already, I will break it up....


Bonsai World Live...

This weekend sees me doing something unusual...selling trees! Of course I have bought a few including this lovely 20 year old pine...bargain stuff.

Rock and Roll. Seed grown and bark beginning to develop. Get this one styled up and it will be lovely. The show has been a good success, I'm sure pictures of the trees in the show are available somewhere, but this is my view

A sea of trees. I have a couple of tables, loosely filled with what I could squeeze into my little van. Mainly a lot of stuff that has been sat around for ages, and a lot of antique chinese and various Japanese pots which have gathered interest, but people have baulked a little at the prices...however once people have seen and felt them in their hands, seen the genuine patina and the clay quality, then in time I hope people will start to want to use them more. I'm charging no more than retail prices in Japan, but still not sold any.

Mmm...soft as a baby's bottom.

The juniper on top, planted on a rock was the demonstration tree by the Shohin King Mr. Armitage. It too has gathered a lot of interest, and rightfully so.

Nice work John. Wonder who will take it home. John probably.

These two were also his demo trees. Good thing about shohin is you can churn them out. If they sell, I may kidnap him and build a sweatshop in my garden.

Here is an unusual tree, a shohin Koto-hime maple. Never really seen any before, especially one with as good a nebari as this.

Two tables was plenty. Sometimes too much choice is a bad thing. I go for the "like it or go elsewhere" approach. Sadly most people take the second option.

£5 a pot for the ones at the front...can't give them away. Couple of shohin on top I have had for a while, the azalea I recently got from Ken. Great potential, cheap price but still no takers...oh well, will have to stay with me.

Am waiting to see the results of John's second demo, he used a Sabina I supplied, lovely little tree

Will post the results soon....

And here they are...

I don't think I got the best front/angle because it looked much better in real life. The problem of a 3D art in 2D *

Tomorrow I take Suthin out on the town for some London based touristy stuff. Maybe a trip to the natural history museum?

*convenient excuse for poor cameramanship.


Wednesday 7 August 2013

Further along the trip

It's either feast or famine with this blog malarkey. Day four of the trip saw the longest day, starting off with three nurseries in the Osaka area. We drove from Kyoto and I saw this in the car park of a service area and knew we were going to have a good day.

Probably the only other hot dog van in Japan the same as the one my kohai Fukudate drives. I wonder if that clutch is just as slippy? Its the only manual I have ever driven that doesn't stall in first if you let go of the clutch.

After a short drive we started off with the now very famous Fujikawa Kouka-en where the ace video maker Bjorn arrived on his mama-chari bicycle. (Sadly no picture). Again in a similar way to Aichi-en, due to the lack of space, Fujikawa's nursery is more practical than aesthetic, but he certainly had a great range of trees there.

A cascade exposed root white pine. Look at the balance between the trunk and the roots, here ot is so much better than the one from a couple of days ago. A very nice tree and styled in a very attractive Fujikawa style.

A large kifu/small chuhin Black Pine. Again the styling is very characteristic...and I mean that in a good way.

A bushy, twisting yamadori itoigawa. I spent a while looking at this thinking I would chop at least half it off and make a lovely tree from it. If only I could afford it...

An elegant twin trunk White Pine. Fujikawa-san has an eye for these kind of trees, one of the reasons I like him...plus he is a riot when he has a shandy or two.

And in the back ground you can see the El Grand P-Diddy mobile. Our home for the week. It got tighter and tighter as more and more pots and stands got packed in there. I told the guys to pack light but with all their stuff, it was a tight fit. I enjoyed the drive however and despite it listing to the left, it was a pleasure. It had one of those electronic dashboard things that gives you the fuel consumption. I saw it as a challenge to take it from 7.4 km/l to 7.8 by the end of the trip...I am the eco-king (i have to do something to off set all those miles I fly...give me a little something)

The second trip was a bonsai supermarket, Yosho-en, not too far away from Mr. Fujikawa's. it was just a sea of tress. Mainly cheap stuff, but some good things. The owner I knew vaguely and we had one of those awkward conversations where neither of us could remember each others name but knew we had met before and should be meeting again in the future. He was pretty cool after a while though.

Too hot to look through them all.

Possibly the thickest shohin Kamatsuka (pourthiea villosa)???? I have ever seen. Sweet.

We carried on stopping for a convenience store lunch (why waste time) and then up a steep winding road to the back of beyond to Baijyu-en. A lovely little nursery in the middle of nowhere. Mr. Miura, the owner is a top guy and he knows me from a few shandies we shared at an auction last year, amongst other things. A lovely picturesque garden but it was hotter than hell when we there.


A trio of black pines...which to pick? Very often there are batches of trees, made by the same guy in the same way and you will see the same pattern in a number of them. This is something very common to shohin bonsai, due in part to it's semi-pro base of enthusiasts.

Lovely bushy itoigawa shohin...great bones underneath.

Spacious, well set out garden and very attractive.

The ipad proves an unwieldy camera.


A white chojubai...well so I was told. I would love a good one of those...

After copious cups of cool tea and a chat we headed towards Nagano, with a stop at a nursery of a guy I like and always buy something from at Kokufu, Mr. Oota in Suzuka, Mie Pref. he is a true bonsai lover and his eyes lit up as he was showing us all around and telling us how he had cut this tree in half, grafted this that and the other and it was a pleasure to share in his works. His garden is set in quite rural, agricultural land and a bamboo edged forest created a lovely background.

Some of his trees...

Look out for this at next years kokufu...

Root graftin to create a chuhin sized tree. Root grafts are generally done with Kishu type foliage as opposed to itoigawa. They are considered to be slightly stronger.

One thing I did find there was a leaflet from a pot exhibition that was organised by the Takagi museum and the Sakka Kyokai when it was strong. They invited contemporary ceramic artists to create bonsai pots and matched them with trees from established artists such as the Chief, Sudo and Yamada. This was a pretty revolutionary idea and I managed to see two in my time before it all finished at the museum. It was a great exhibition and the idea was just completely contrary to the traditional image of Japanese Bonsai. The ceramic artists brought something new and invigorating to the art and forced the bonsai professionals to think outside the box. Personally it is an idea that I wish had continued...if only someone else would do such a thing. Making bonsai contemporary? Crazy talk.

Oh yeah, check out the rosemary...one of the most underrated species for bonsai.

Rain curtailed our visit and we had to be making tracks, a four hour trip to the hotel near to Obuse. I am amazed we made it without crashing. It was only listening to Depeche Mode via youtube that kept me awake.

More later on...might be next week as Crawley looms large on the horizon, like a fly on the windscreen...