As this is a photo album with a strong streak of randomness, I’ll say little here and more in the captions under the images… Enjoy!
A couple hours before the Kokufu show opened on February 4th, I wandered around the neighborhood of Asakusa and found this odd little shrine. The stuffed dolls in front of it were particularly arresting.
Inside the Green Club sales area of the Kokufu show, intricate stands. One year I was helping set up (must have been 2005 or 6) and just when we finished a tremor hit. We all grabbed stands or whatever our hands closed around. When it stopped we all looked at one another with big eyes. I can't look at stacked stands and trees like this without thinking of that day.
A Chojubai quince being reworked in a big box at Suzuki's. This tree was about a meter wide.
Matt Reel working on an Ezo spruce in the new studio.
Matt and Tyler at Tommy's---the preferred hangout of eclectic locals. They fit in perfectly!
An incredibly good smaller Chojubai, also at Suzuki's. This could get in the Kokufu show. The density of the branching, age, and the compactness of the tree is rare.
Matt in front of the opened truck that brought back the trees from the Kokufu show. Incredible vehicle, the whole side of the thing lifted up on hydraulics. Each tree has its own stand, and is tied to it. All of them were blocked in so nothing could shift around. The Shishigashira maple in the middle won a Kokufu prize. The Stewartia you might recognize from my book, and this was it's first time in the Kokufu. Matt is 6'2", and that Stewartia is behind him. It's huge! This shot of the returning trees does show the variety of trees that Suzuki enjoys working with---a broad spectrum of conifer and deciduous.
Matt using the swift method of flower cleanup... by vacuum. We'd just finished pulling all the flowers off this Ume that was in the show. Leaving them on would have weakened the tree even more---being in the show was stressful enough.
Many kinds of trees had flowers that were in the Kokufu... all were removed following the show.
The goofiness that a long night can bring... I lost those glasses a week later. Still can't find them. My last memory of them...sigh.
Tyler Sherrod concreting a tree... this was an unusual operation of filling in a very large and long cavity in a Camellia. It was very close in color to the bark, and looked great. Like Matt, Tyler is also 6'2". This crop of apprentices is massive. Matt and Tyler claim they've frightened small children just walking down the street shoulder to shoulder, a solid moving wall of bearded guys. Terrifying!
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In early 2004, when my apprenticeship with Shinji Suzuki was only four months gone, a TV crew came to make a documentary on apprenticing in bonsai. They focused on the gaijin, me, and after a couple days of filming came up with this eight minute piece that ran on a local channel. Afterwards, quite a few people I had never met before came up and said ‘Hi Michael!’, which was disorienting to say the least.
The film gives glimpses of what an apprenticeship is like; and yet a few parts are endearingly inaccurate— such as me leaving the studio after work to go to a restaurant, which happened only rarely. I think they wanted to give the feeling that apprenticing is relatively human, which it is not, really.
It is mostly in Japanese, except for some short bits where I speak English. And then there are parts where I speak some Japanese, and, well, I had only just gotten there and wince when I hear myself using the wrong words, if with the right intention… It’s also really weird to see yourself on film.
I hope you enjoy it–
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The first post I made of the Japan trip suggested I would EVENTUALLY post more photos and tie up some loose ends. One of them was of this black pine that took me a long day of wiring with a shifted apex (there is an iron rod up in that foliage that you can’t see very well). The second shot shows it propped up at it’s new inclination in the display greenhouse.
Black pine at the original front, before restyling. Among the problems from this front are lack of good bark, poor movement, and a large wound probably from a removed root. This tree was more than a yard high, something shy of four feet I think.
Black pine after styling, tipped up on it's post, from the new front, about 100 degrees to the left.
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Well, I finally got back there… and I brought quite a few photos back with me. So over the next couple of days I’ll run several posts about the week and a half spent at my teacher’s studio: the people, the nursery, the trees I worked on, even the monkeys.
Suzuki's main display greenhouse, showing the range of styles and species that he works with.
In the first week of my apprenticeship in 2003 there was a record-breaking snowfall. I remember shoveling for over five hours. Two years later it was repeated. Then five years went by---about the time I've been back in the States---and now, on the first day of my visit, they had the biggest snowfall in five years. Suzuki was calling me the 'snowman' by the end of my visit.
I love this photo for the inaccuracies it suggests. Suzuki-san is on the left, and is not quite as big as he appears, but he's closer to the camera. Larger than life indeed! Mika-san, his manager, is to the right of him. Matt Reel is the next inconsistency, as he's actually 6' 3" and usually towers over me. He's crouching, like that famous tiger. I'm on Matt's right. On the far right is Yusuke, the newest apprentice, who is making an impression of being serious, when he's mostly playful. It's a great shot after a group dinner.
This massive black pine (it's almost as high as the wall!) was one of the trees Suzuki gave me to work on. There was a huge change made with it... and I'll include other photos of this tree in a separate post. And I'll post some photos of two trees I worked on that were for the Kokufu show. And some other client's trees. I think I worked on about 12 or 13 trees in 9 days, lost track.
Once again, I went to the snow monkey hot springs, about an hour from Suzuki's studio. There were many more monkeys than the first trip in 2004, maybe because it was so darn cold more of them were at the hot springs. Taking the suggestion, I went to a human hot spring after that, and assumed a similar blissful demeanor.
Stay tuned for more posts! Lots of before and after bonsai photos, and more photos about each of the above topics.
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