40th GSBF Convention, Riverside

Today I was able to attend the 40th annual Golden State Bonsai Federation convention conveniently held here in Riverside. A short 10 minute drive brought me to the convention center where I spent my day. Despite only being able to attend one of the 4 days in the show I was able to find many old faces, as well as meeting a few new ones.

After checking in I went swung by the vendors. The usual suspects were there including June Nguy with a wide arrangement of tools and Nathan Simmons with about as many pots as you’ll see in any show. Right out of the door I met with Barry Altshule, better known as Legacy Cork Oaks. Barry sells excellent pre-bonsai material and is who I purchased my large coast live oak from.


Another familiar face was Frank Yee. Known in the local bonsai scene for his corking variety of portulacaria afra or dwarf jade. Generally speaking succulents are not used for or considered as bonsai. But the dwarf jade is an exception. The small leaves and easily built ramification can lend to a good image. Here is an excellent example from the Pacific Northwest Bonsai museum I visited 2 springs ago.


Now imagine looking at the tree above (which mind you still has pretty bark as far as succulents are concerned) with thick corking akin to what you’d see on a cork Chinese elm. It’d make for a pretty cool tree, right? I tried to get a shot of Frank but he’s a little camera shy. It was great talking to him though and I’m glad I was able to stop by.

Although not pictured, my friend Nelson bought a monstrous old cork jade from Frank. Hell even I was considering buying it given the amount of cuttings you could take from it.


I did end up buying one corking jade from Frank. Corking just started to show on it and it’ll only get better from there. This one will be making it’s way to Chicago in the near future.


Do you see the cork? Of course you see it. It smack dab in the middle of the shot.


After spending some time with the vendors I made my way to the exhibit room. There were 2 rooms of bonsai and one with suiseki. There were many excellent trees on display. Here are some of my favorites.



Excellent black pine by Tom Vuong.



Tanuki by Michael Jonas. An easy eye grabber in the exhibition. Union between deadwood and live vein is done well. While this is an excellent tree I’m not a big fan of tanukis. Personally speaking, deadwood although attractive can easily become overbearing and dominate the composition.

I like seeing strong brown or red live veins reaching down and touching the soil line. This makes the tree feel more grounded and in my opinion builds a better image. In this tree that’s lacking. At the same time I don’t think bringing where the live vein meets the soil line to the front will improve this tree for several reasons.

Obviously you can’t just pry off the live portion and reposition it, least not on a tanuki. So to meet the criteria I previously mentioned you’d have to rotate the tree clockwise and recompose the entire composition. I am sure the front it’s currently at accentuates the movement of the deadwood and tree the best.

The other problem disguising it’s identity as a tanuki and convincing the viewer that it’s a natural, single tree. Because the deadwood is so heavy a single sliver of brown coming right off it into the soil line would look very contrived. By having the live vein escape diagonally off the right it appears as if there could be more live vein wrapped around the deadwood. By doing this the possibility of the tree not being a tanuki is preserved although you are not immediately convinced. Anyhow this is just my opinion. All in all still a great tree with beautiful healthy foliage to boot.

Look at the pictures and tell me what you think.



Boon Manakitivipart’s entry. I like the more “natural” softer feel. Not to be confused with unrefined. Although there aren’t clearly defined foliage pads there is a high degree of ramification and branching. (unfortunately I don’t have a shot under the skirt) Actually I would say having this ramification is more important than having defined foliage pads. You can always take an unruly mass of foliage and wire it together but building ramification takes many years but in turn produces a better tree. From that ramification, having sharper or softer foliage pads seem to be a thing of personal preference.




My favorite and in my opinion the best tree in the exhibit. In contrast to many California junipers seen in the exhibit this one has much “lighter” deadwood and very graceful movement. Per my preference the live veins are strongly seated in the soil line grounding the tree. The foliage is very fine for a California juniper and collectively with all its other attributes make for a great tree.


Big quercus suber or cork oak. If you read my blog you know oaks are probably my favorite tree to grow.


I wonder how many wine corks are in there…


What is this trickery!?! There’s no such thing as fall in the chaparral desert climate of the Inland Empire!! Some sneaky bastard thought he could bring his tree from Northern California and fool us southern neighbors.

In all seriousness it’s a nice older trident and the fall color was a treat. It’s not easy traveling with trees and it’s stressful for it’s health.


Onto the suiseki! Some excellent stones on display from the US, Europe, Japan, and even Africa.






After talking to a few friends and going through the entire exhibit it was time to watch the highly anticipated demonstration by Kunio Kobayashi! I was on my way to Raincross ballroom when I ran into someone asking if he we’d met. I said no. He followed up asking if I had a blog. It went something like bon…..  “TSAI!” Yes friends. There it is. I’ve made it. I’m rolling in the fame. Basking in the wealth and glory built from the thousands of my readers.

Here is a shot of my current favorite fan, Ian.


Onto the demonstration. The material was a collected California juniper brought out from Fresno. It was an excellent tree with lots of natural deadwood and shari along with some usable branches.


Mr. Kobayashi was assisted by a former apprentice, Hugo Zamora Luna, based in Mexico as well as his current long time apprentice, Jin Yasufumi. They made quick work of prepping the material by clean veins, foliage, and assisting with wiring. His apprentices are impressive guys. Both are trilingual (Spanish, English, Japanese and English, Chinese, Japanese respectively) I think. I’m already struggling a lot with 2.


Mr. Kobayashi is a pretty light humored guy. He’d make many jokes, tell stories, and take cracks at his apprentices.



Mr. Kobayashi explaining the differences between horticulture and bonsai with assistance of Hiromi Nakaoji who did a stellar job in taking questions and translating during the entire demonstration.


Splitting branches and applying raffia.


Setting a bend while Hugo cranked down the guy wire.


Not bad!


Mhmmm copper.


Mr. Kobayashi showing off an article printed about him and his “million dollar tree”.


As you can see it was difficult taking shots without getting tuffs of hair in the border. I was sitting second row to front and couldn’t stand without obstructing the people behind me.


The finished tree.


I have a very rudimentary knowledge in Japanese. Namely some hiragana, rosetta stone, and self study one summer. I was preparing my one liner last night so I could ask him to take a picture together in Japanese. 一緒に写真を撮ってもいいですか? Phonetically this says issho ni shashin o totemo ii desu ka? After doing some research today I realize this is not even correct. I was going to ask him to take a photo of or for me?

In the end I didn’t even get to try it out. The translator Hiromi was inviting people to take pictures and when she saw me approaching she gestured me on stage and I was too shy to say anything. Got the picture at least!


Talked to Hugo for a little bit after the demonstration as well. It’s pretty amazing how culturally diverse the bonsai community is. It really is an international community and it was cool meeting a professional based in Mexico. Unfortunately I did not get a picture with Jin but I enjoyed talking with him as he was able to answer some of my questions about pursuing an apprenticeship.


Towards the end of the show I was also happy to meet Kaya Mooney (not pictured). He’s the recent apprentice of Boon Manakitivipart. Like me, Kaya is a young bonsai enthusiast (same age I think?). I’m so used to being the youngest person at every show, workshop, or meeting I attend that it’s pretty exciting to find other young enthusiasts who share the same level of passion I do.

All in all I had a good time. It was my first time out at a GSBF convention and as always, it’s great looking at cool trees and talking to equally cool people! Hope you enjoyed the read and feel free to leave any comments.


I’d like to add one last note to this post. I am very seriously looking for both domestic and foreign apprenticeship opportunities to pursue after I graduate or within 1 year or so. I graduate from UCR June of 2018. If I can find a domestic opportunity then my plan is to start right away and apply for jobs in the city of nursery/master.

If I go the foreign apprenticeship route first I’d like to spend at least half a year to a year working to save money and taking classes in the language of the host country. I absolutely love bonsai and undoubtedly want to pursue and apprenticeship but I also need to be financially and culturally ready to some degree.

In any case I am looking at ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. I’ve been trying to make a huge effort the past half year to reach out, express my interest, and look for opportunities. But I could use some help. If you know anyone who could help me out in this respect, pass on knowledge, or refer me to someone who can I would greatly appreciate it!

Doing things on your own is tough. It’s really the people you meet who help shape you and give you direction in life.


3 thoughts on “40th GSBF Convention, Riverside”

  1. Hi Julian;
    Would you consider an apprenticeship with Ryan Neil or one of the other Portland masters? I don’t have a connection but have met 3 or 4 of them and all are great guys. Pretty sure they would be glad to have you if you are truly dedicated to stick with it and there’s an opening.


    1. Hey William, thanks for reaching out. The folks in the PNW are all great and knowledgeable guys. I’ve actually spoken to Ryan Neil in person and does accept apprentices but they’d have to show a lot of dedication and commitment to study with him. As far as time commitments he’d want 4-5 years or a full apprenticeship, longer than I’m willing to commit for a domestic apprenticeship. I’ve contacted Michael Hagedorn and he’s been pretty nice answering some questions I have and inviting me to visit. Unfortunately he has a full boat with an arriving new apprentice this year so I couldn’t study with him.

      I will say though that right now I’m working out the details and preparing for a possible apprenticeship in Japan. I can’t elaborate or share any details at this time, but it is an excellent opportunity I am pursuing.


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