Juniper Jin and Pine Jin-

A month ago we started talking about pine jin. Here are some photos and thoughts about pine and juniper jin and how they differ.

This is a pine jin. It looks cut off, doesn’t it? But it’s never been touched. This is what a dead pine branch will do if left to its own devices, checks develop in it, and when old enough the end will fall off and it looks severed. Dead juniper branches don’t do this.

Juniper jin. Notice the cracking is lengthwise. And because on juniper it’s striated like this, it affects the tip of the jin and what that looks like.

Juniper jin, getting nobbly in its old age, but not broken-looking, like a pine.

Another natural pine jin. The broken appearance.

Juniper jin, not checkered, and still striated.

Naturally, as these photos show, pine jin is broken and not sharp, and juniper jin is eroded and comparatively sharper (but often not as sharp as some of us make our jin). One could certainly make the argument that a sharp jin is more in line with what bonsai scale would dictate. And yet when we see the craggy erosion of jin on our collected trees, which may have been exposed for many decades, a dichotomy emerges.

Here is the choice: Either we carve our jins to be sharp and in scale, or we leave them less pointed and more in tune with the close-up virtues of old wood, which is checked and eroded blunt from exposure to sun and microbial breakdown. It seems to me the most natural course is to not to whittle our jins to the vanishing point, very sharp, as if that is assumed. We have two distinct parts, a small tree, and a piece of dead wood. One is viewed as if from afar. The other, from up close. Bonsai is famous for duality and how the minuscule can represent the macroscopic and vice versa, and how we handle our deadwood gives this scale shift one more possible expression.

These comments were inspired by seeing old deadwood that weathered naturally, and not having the heart to damage the natural textures and erosion of particularly their ends, by nibbling at them with a tool to make them sharper, or have more taper. As I’ve looked at these trees, I’ve enjoyed the tension which plays between the small tree and the stubbier nubs of jin. But, it is not in scale, which not everyone will like.

The other reason this makes sense to me is that many of the trees that have jin, junipers and such, are often not really designed to look like trees. They are abstract living objects. And on those bonsai, leaving alone old jin that was created by nature can be a more arguable position.

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  1. Bobby says:

    Wouldn’t a Jin appear more pointed from a distance, so if the tree is to be made to look as a large ancient tree the jins in scale would have a good taper, but not necessarily a pointed tip. Then lines and checking would be added back to the jin once the desired thickness is reached. To me it seems even a close view tree should have jin in scale.

    • crataegus says:

      It’s a good point, that a close view tree should have jin in scale, and it’s certainly an easily defendable position that bonsai should have such jin. I’ve written a bit more on this post since posting it, about my preference for leaving old jin alone and why, and also that some of the trees that have the most jin, such as junipers, often don’t look like trees at all but are abstract living objects—where jin out of scale isn’t such a problem.

      • Bobby says:

        That’s true and I suppose I didn’t consider that style of bonsai with my comment, as it does not really appeal to me personally. To each their own though.

  2. Great and Interesting obstvations.

  3. Harold Mitchell says:

    Left to is own devices, nature will always take the right course. We as bonsai enthusiasts always want that complete bonsai right now. I don’t see many Jin’s that are carved by man, that looks natural or in proportion.

    • Bobby says:

      I agree, it is usually not done well, but that does not mean it cannot be done well. It is odd to claim that nature will take care of our bonsai with all the unnatural things we must do in order to create and maintain a bonsai though. We wire, cut, feed, protect, etc. Why would deadwood be the one thing that is untouchable? I think a balanced approach of leaving all that you can mixed with doing a proper job of carving what you need to is the way to go.

      • crataegus says:

        I have seen carving done well and done poorly. Nature is a good guide, and it may be one of the few things that we can sometimes leave up to nature to do well, but I agree we must be the deciders about when to leave it alone and when to step in.

  4. John Wiessinger says:

    Thank you so much for this clear explanation. I find it important to make my trees look as “natural” as possible and your clear and direct observations really helps. I trust you and your great Mountain Hemlock forest are well. My best, John Wiessinger

  5. Joyce Tsuji says:

    Interesting observation Michael about the differences in natural jin in pine versus juniper. It makes sese that the properties of the wood of these different species affects its weathering. Dead wood that would tend to break up and get checked would not hold a pointed end, whereas dead wood that is more resistant to such degradation with a stronger linear component would tend to form sharper ends as the ends are weathered and erode.

    Nature can certainly teach us a lot! Thank you for your insight, Joyce

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