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

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Name in print...

A courier just brought me a pre-printing copy of the forthcoming book. A few final changes are possible but this is pretty much it.

I fought to get the cheesy scissors motif removed but apparently my diva like hissy fit didnt carry any weight..."But I am the author I tell you...the author! Does that mean nothing?"

There is still some Americanising to be done, which means messing up the spelling...seriously, you need more vowels and obscure spelling people. I asked if the American version will also have laminated, cheeseburger proof pages but the budget wouldn't stretch that far.*

I will be reading it on the Eurostar over to Paris this afternoon. Hope there aren't too many hideous errors.

* My American friends and readers should realise that this is probably a joke **

There are some good trees in there. None of them mine obviously. Many thanks to the Mirai master.

Onwards and upwards people....



** Seriously, if there is any confusion or misunderstanding of irony/my sense of humour/humor. It was a joke. I did not ask for cheeseburger proof pages...if anything, they would need to withstand a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich wit extra cheese from Tony Lukes at 39 Oregon St. Philadelphia. Those were the days...


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Repotting season is upon us...

Buds are moving, trees are waking up and the clocking ticking on some species. Today I finally got to repot some of my own trees. It has been a while...but this year I have booked more time at home and now with the book all but finished, I managed to work on a few trees that were in need of it.

One tree in particularly I had been looking forward to repotting was a maple I had picked up a year or two ago from David Prescott. Grown from seed and most importantly, it had been given a start by someone who knows bonsai very well. I thought I may have to do a bit of root work because it had been in the plastic tray for at least three years...which is about the limit for young deciduous trees. Needless to say i didnt take any before pics, but what really impressed me with this tree was the sheer quality of the root system and the near flawless nebari that had been home grown. Who says you need to import trees to get quality. If you are prepared to wait for twenty years, you can get an incredible nebari from home made trees. Just look at the deciduous trees over in Northern Ireland.

Trying it out in a few pots...should I. Give it space to grow and thicken up? Naaah...

The only flaw in the nebari was round the back. Two strong roots had started to dominate and squeezed out the central section. Both strong bits have been pruned back hard, the weaker section has been teased out and I will remember this ever time I fertilise (honest I will) and place a piece where those weaker roots are.

The bottom, a bit of chopping done, hence the grey streak of wound sealant, otherwise as flat as a pancake, which is less flat than Kansas. (A fact we confirmed when on our now mythical truck jouney)

Potted up in a pot I got up at Willowbog. It had a zelkova in it, but it is a lovely narrow semi glazed pot. The lower most branch is a sacrificial branch and the apex needs a little work, otherwise, the natural movement and branch placements are pretty good. It is not the most impressive tree yet, but it is definitely one that wont be leaving my garden unless I get a ridiculous offer. Trees like this don't come along everyday.

I thought for the first time the other day that maybe having an apprentice would be a good idea. During my time at the Chief's when we bought soil, we bought a van load. One time I went with one of the young lads and we bought what we calculated to be roughly 2 metric tonnes of soil which we put in a van that should only legal carry 1. The soil merchants even told us that we shouldnt but hell, we were foolish. The Hiace van, which has just the other week given up the ghost and died (R.I.P), groaned and struggled its way home and I dared not drive quickly. Unloading the van took very little time because there were four apprentices at the time and so heavy work was quickly finished.

Kind of in the same vein, but much less damaging to my own van, I went to stock up on soil the other day and got a little bit enthusiastic. I have enough Pumice to repot all of my trees and Mike Hagedorns... Add to that Akadama, Ezo Grit, Lava rock and a bit of Molaar and I had what is commonly know in the trade as a kangoofull of soil. Shifting it from van to garden, huffing and puffing I thought to myself, "I wish I had a bitch to do this for me....I mean apprentice..."

Needless to say that thought didnt last long.

More dirty fun tomorrow and then Paris this weekend...


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Suiseki show...

Since the Chief became the unofficial and then the official Chairman of the Nippon Suiseki Association, plans were put in place to put together a massive exhibition at the same time and place as the Kokufu, to get more interest in it. Morimae was a driving force behind it along with the Chief and I heard both of them beating the drum in november saying how good it would be. They are both renowned for "big talk" and so I was a little sceptical, I was however, very pleasantly surprised when after a day in the snow, I helped put the finishing touches to the show. In the words of Alan Partridge, I got a plate with my words and a knife and fork...what I'm trying to say is I ate my words.

Before the judging there was some concern as to if enough people would be part of it, however the response was incredible with over 50 stones rejected at the judging process. A number of masterpiece stones were requested from temples, aristocratic families and museums. How they managed this is testament to the powers of persuasion from two very enthusiastic and exuberant professionals.

Unfortunately I only got to the show for about an hour during set up and then turing the rapid and accident free break down, so I only got a chance to snap a few pics, but they were mostly of the foreign entrants, all of whom are good friends of mine and fellow pebble gazers.

One of my favourites. The texture made a welcome change from the smooth textures I usually purr over


A seigaku ishi from the American Suiseki King and master daiza carver, craftsman and father to one of my besties, Sean Smith

I think this belonged to Martin Pauli...the swiss watchmaker, suiseki enthusiast from an era ago and all round nice guy. My apologies if I'm wrong...

A Sajigawa ishi from Larry and Nina Ragle..two ridiculously enthusiastic pebblers from California. Always a massive pleasure to see them. They publish and run the Aiseki Kai

A Chikuzen Maguro ishi from Wil. The biggest and worst influence on me since 2002 :) He has forgotten more about stones than most so called self appointed experts claim to know.

The only entrant from Blighty with an ancient Kamogawa stone that once belong to Yoanken...the suiseki dealer, ex bonsai enthusiast and good bloke, Mr. David J. Sampson

My adopted Rochester father, fudge giver and enthusiastic stone lover, Ronald C. Maggio.

And the irrepresible Bill Valavanis with this mizu-tamari ishi from the Tamagawa.

There were a number of other foreign exhibitors whose pictures I didnt take in the three minutes I had to do so. So my apologies to Hideko Metaxas (althought Japan is her motherland), Dato Chu from Malaysia and Tom Elias from the US. I think that was it. Why no foreign stones I hear all you covertly anti-Japanese pebble freaks say? For the first big show it was decided that the focus would be on Japanese stones and show the public that the appreciation of Japanese rocks had a world wide audience (so the locals had better buck up their ideas). For the next show, as with the other major show in the calendar, the Meihinten, foreign stones will be encouraged if they are to a high enough standard.

A few more overall and select stone pictures...

There is Jin trying to look busy without knowing what to do...like most of us. Too many hands and not enough jobs.

Akiyama blurring out of view. The stone in the back ground is "Haku-un", White clouds...possibly the most famous Setagawa Tora ishi. The Chief had it at Shunkaen for a number of years so I know it well. Previously one of Katayama's most prized possessions. The stone to the right is displayed on a piece of kimono fabric in the way that was done in the Edo period.

Some of the tokonoma type displays. The design is to be revamped next year to remove the white poles if possible.

Some of the smaller stones were displayed on pedestals so they don't get lost in the crowd. Valentin too is wondering what more can be done...

Some famous tools where on show as well...

An elegant stand by Kozan...

And from the Chief, this Junzan work of supreme craftsmanship.

What made the show was seeing in flesh stones that you had only heard about or seen in old books...like Dōten. It was shut away in a glass case because...well, you would be tempted to slip in in your pocket.

The case in the foreground held the scroll and the case lid for the centrepiece stone from Kenin-ji temple...Kurokamiyama

Strange that a bunch of men could get so excited about some rocks, but hey, we all have our weaknesses.

Next year will be hard to beat, but I'm sure they will try. A number of foreign visitors have asked if they can exhibit there next year, so there should be even more non japanese exhibitors and also more than likely non japanese stones. For information then email me or the Association directly before September.

Apart from a thousand and one pictures that are not fit for human consumption, that is it for the kokufu now...back to work and trying to get my garden sorted out...assuming it is still there when I get back.

So it is goodbye from him, and goodbye from me...


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

All done and dusted...

This year has been termed the kokufu from hell. It started with bad weather, was affected by bad weather and ended with it. On the day of the changeover, also the set up for the suiseki show, it was the heaviest snow fall for 45 years. A few days later, after the suiseki show had been pulled down, it snowed over night breaking that record. I joked to the huddled masses, frozen and wet through at 3 am after our third round of brushing snow off the trees, that the gods must have something against rock gazers.

Despite this, we managed to do it without breaking anything, which bearing in mind the idiocy of some of the younger apprentices is an impressive feat. I hate to be a bully but I told him I would put it on the internet to make him consider his absolute inability to do anything properly but mess up...here is Jin's attempt at creating a display.

He looks suitably embarrassed which he should do as I had to shout at him for the obligatory minute and a half telling him he is worthless and should think about his future, before then spending three minutes explaining what to do and why. This is the role of the senior apprentices, beat them down and then build them up again. It is a strange culture, but it works and does sort the wheat from the chaff. Only after serving the full time and then coming back do you appreciate the merits of the system. When you are on the recieving end then the only merits seem to be that the agressor looks like he is enjoying it. I have some fond and some not so fond memories of kokufu time with regards to my senpai, especially the late Kawakami-san whose visits I anticipated with fear and the prospect of learning some valuable nugget of information that he drip fed if he thought you were worth it. The best/worse day came in my second year when I spent the whole morning outside carefully cleaning a satsuki trunk with the water pistol and a tooth brush. When I asked him if it was ok (for he was the king of satsukis), he looked over my work with a grunt. Broken hearted I continued with a black cloud over my head for the rest of the day. It wasn't until dinner when he announced (after a fair few shandies) that everyone sat around should be ashamed because I had done the best work that day. He said "I'm not being rude, but a foreigner, is putting more effort in than you lot...a foreigner". He then poured me a shandy and said, "I wouldn't have sat out there all day freezing my ass off. You must be mental". It is difficult to describe the elation you feel when the hand that beats you then strokes you on the head. Anyway, I digress...I have many Kawakami-san stories that I could share, but that is for another time.

(Edit) In response to a comment below, this is how best to make use of the three items used in that tokonoma. Even this display is poor, with an autumnal moon displayed in february and the accent figure too small and relatively unrelated to the scene, still it is better than before.

If you think I was being nasty or bullying then you have to understand that a massive part of the senior apprentices' responsibility is the education of the younger apprentices. If they make mistakes, the responsibility lies with management. The education comes in many forms and at times, being hard on them is one of them, especially as I had told them the day before that the displays they set up were appaling and needed to be fixed. I told them how and why but they didn't do it. These are people who want to become professionals and should be looking to uphold a certain standard of excellence, striving to excel by themslves rather than simply following orders, or in this case not even doing that. When this is not done, the hammer falls. This is how it has been done since time eternal, this is how it was done to me and this is what I must do. If they don't like it, they can quit. If they want to work at the top of their profession, then you suck it up.

So in between exhibitions, parties, snow and all the carry on, we did some business. It is the time of year to do so and we had some big European, American and of course Chinese customers to look after. We had a (what is the collective noun? Herd? Swarm? Phalanx?, I jest of course) of Chinese to look after who were actually not bad at all. The biggest pot dealer (as in ceramic not...) in China and also one of the biggest collectors plus about ten others and a couple of translators were ferried around, fed and entertained by us. A mammoth task and it caused a few problems, but generally it went smoothly until the return trip.

Shin-san is on the bottom left. His eye is so sharp and well trained he can read the label on your underpants from 50 yards and tell when it was made, if they are fake and if there is any repaired damage. He is also a pretty funny guy. Thankfully this year i didnt have to dance for him.

The snow disrupted things the night before they all left and there was some concern as to if they could be taken to the airport. Two vans left, one, the beat up old Shunkaen van (10 years old but looks like a war relic) was carrying half a hundred weight of luggage back for them. It broke down about 15 miles from the airport. A few panic phone calls and The Chief borrowed a large trunk from a local flower nursery. Now, the Chief driving an automatic car is scary enough, but a manual 5 ton truck...that is downright lethal. Thankfully disaster was averted and the luggage was transfered and they made their flight. Afterwards we felt a massive weight lift from our shoulders and I told the Chief, " If something like that didn't happen, I would be surprised".

With the Chinese finally gone, the snow melting and nothing left to do but catch our breath, the last few days have been peaceful except for a mountain of packaging pots up and the discovery of these rather strange things. I'm still not sure how to take them. Is the pictured pig happy that somebody is wearing him?

Either way, Balecchi and I had a good giggle at the possible joyous pork related ways they could be used.

Im on my way home now, left to count the damage physically and financially (I bought some weird pots) and think about what to do next. (Stop wasting timblogging and Get the book finished!).

For those of you that made it through the pig nonsense. Here is some bonsai porn...enjoy.

One for the ladies...

I also have a stash of pot and stone pictures for the fetishist...more when they turn up. I have stopped saying tomorrow because it puts pressure on me to do it. The book is all but finished as far as I am concerned. The final push was today and I'm spent...


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

What a difference a day makes...

After the snowy travails of the other day, the next day brought 12 degrees C and sunshine. Its enough to make you sick. Thankfully my cocktail of multi vitamins, royal jelly, airborne and ahem..healthy living means that so far, apart from being hungover, I have yet to be sick.

Although the snow stopped falling, it is yet to melt and the sales area is an obstacle course of piles of snow. Tomorrow, the clear up day it will be a pain. Various idea have been thought of to get rid of it, covering it in dirty soil, putting it down a manhole and Akiyama's idea of getting some syrup and making snow cones for us to eat. Some of the professionals spend time playing king of the castle with the snow. When i say some I mean one. Taiga.

What can be done with the unwanted?

Sales have been up and down, but as with most years, Akiyama and I have done ok due to the fact we both put an awful lot of effort in and have been tought by the Chief how to do business. I found some bargains to buy around the stalls under neath benches and with a branch or two removed, they turn into desirable trees. It is not massively profitable, but it pays the 50,000 for my one table.

This is a little beauty of a prunus I dug out of a box full of them.

The one thing that is different on our stand this year are stones. With the suiseki show going. On at the same time...more pics later...Akiyama, a suiseki association board member, has a few suiseki for sale, I also bought a couple too.

Here he is trying to convince a client that he should display in next years show. The suiseki show has been a roaring success with over three thousand visitors so far. The displays are of the highest quality and some famous stones are making an appearance. For stone lovers it is a once in a lifetime chance to see them all together in one room. I will put some pictures up tomorrow...but for now. I have to get writing my book.


Saturday, 8 February 2014

Sales area fun...

It has been a busy week so far hence the lack of blog posts...but today we reach a new low.


Snow is falling, all around me. Its not merry and its not christmas and there is no one.

Some brave souls make it out, hunting for a bargain, but there are very few sellers here to deal with...

My best friend is the kerosene stove but it doesnt help

My feet are wet through...

This was not in the brochure...

It gets worse throughout the day...

Still its fun...i have been chatting with all sorts of people.