New work and challenges in Japan

It’s been quite awhile since my last update. My typical day runs down as follows:

5:00-6:00 AM Wake up
                         Study Japanese or LINE (skype equivalent more popular in parts of                                          Asia) call to the states
8:00 AM           Begin work at Kouka-en
5-6:30 PM        Finish work and bike back
7-8:00 PM        By this time I try to finish grocery shopping, cooking, and household tasks
9:00 PM           Self study Japanese or oversea internet calls at this time
10:00 PM         Ideal sleep time

In reality my schedule varies quite a lot and recently I have not been consistent in my language studies as well as cooking. The latter I blame because of cheap half price grocery store bentos. They are a godsend. Cheap, delicious, and much healthier than the equivalent dollar menu hamburger from the states.

All in all I have been doing well though. My Japanese listening skills rapidly improved and my speaking (although still quite grammatically poor at times) has become passable for basic communication. I was quite terrified of getting haircuts here for awhile but I’m able to get the approximate cut I want only using Japanese now. It’s still quite a long road to fluency but it’s a start.

I’ve also been told many times that appearance wise I am passable for Japanese. At times I benefit from this allowing myself to blend in, living a normal life and at others I find myself in situations far beyond my language ability. I’ve gotten used to explaining that I recently came from America and I’m not of Japanese heritage to escape otherwise difficult and awkward exchanges.

My skills have been gradually improving as well. I’m used to learning by example and teaching myself. There are many excellent trees in Kouka-en and when I find myself in a rut on how to wire or style a particular branch I often walk outside and look for examples from the trees on display. Typically watering, routine, or seasonal work will take priority over styling trees. Recently I’ve been occupied with just that so I haven’t been able to share new projects. However my current project is looking promising so when it’s done I hope it can showcase my improvement.

Since my last update quite a lot has happened. 3 tyhoons, several practice trees finished, an auction, lots of maintenance/seasonal work, and recently my family paid a visit.

Typhoons are entirely new to me having lived in Southern California for most of my life. 100+ km winds seemed pretty exciting at first until I realized it meant hand carrying more than a few heavy trees inside. The shuffle was done 3 times over September and October and I’m quite happy to see typhoon season end. Autumn is here with warm days and cool nights. Expansive partly cloudy skies, whose cool tones will soon contrast with the warm colors of the leaves below. Autumn is by far my favorite season and the weather has been very enjoyable.

Anyhow enough words. Please see everything for yourself:

Before & afters, click for larger image.

 

 

Here are some photos from Mino Park and Arashiyama as well:

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Recently I was also awarded the Harry Hirao Scholarship from the Golden State Bonsai Federation. I am very honored and have Doyle Saito to thank for encouraging me to apply.

Anyhow, it’s a rather short update but that’s about it for now. I’ll look to crack out longer and better quality articles in the months ahead. I’ve been inconsistent and rather lazy about writing recently. However please do follow me on my Facebook and instagram. I share many photos and small updates that aren’t posted on the blog!

https://www.facebook.com/bontsaitree

https://www.instagram.com/bontsai_/

 

 

 

Into the Mountains

Apprenticeship life has been difficult in some aspects and a big change from what I’ve been doing, but all in all manageable. From what I understand I have it easy compared to past generations  but regardless of the past, I will develop this experience as my own and make the most out of it. Anyhow I’ll let this act as a segway to my day’s activities for friends and family who’ve asked how I’ve been doing in Japan.

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Both from the limited days I get off as well as the unpredictability as to when I get them off, I felt almost obligated to do something and explore the city that has temporarily become my home.

Setting into the metropolis seemed like a daunting adventure and I was not too keen hustling with the large crowds. So I grabbed my trusty bike that I painstakingly brought from California and set forth into the mountains.

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Cycling for me has only brought good things in my life. Better physical health and fitness, good friends, and a clarity in the mind when I feel stressed and bogged down. Or so I thought.

I quickly realized I overestimated my physical abilities as I keeled over to the side of the road, the contents of my breakfast ready for some esophageal action. I reassessed, determined that I could not complete the entire route and would instead explore the area I was already in.

Roadside overlooks laid the city before me, encompassing both my apartment and my workplace.The sounds of cicadas roared through the humid overcast air, something I’d never experience in California. Coming to Japan, which has been a very surreal experience for me, has started to feel more normal. I am here.

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I progressed further along the route I found a few shrines where I paid my respects, praying for a safe ride and energy to bike further. The roads became empty. Silent. And as the grade leveled out I was able to focus less on my tired body and more on the surrounding scenery and the cool air blowing across my damp skin. This is the feeling I wanted. Calm, relaxed, and focused.

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Soon after I turned around and began a quick descent down the mountain. The steep grade and tight turns proved to be a bit beyond my handling skills. My rims got hot from the incessant use of brakes and my rear tire slid from poor cornering and loose gravel. I made it back in one piece, heart rate slightly elevated. But filled with a sense of accomplishment having made it up the mountain and back.

 


 

For those not on Facebook or instagram here is recent work I styled. I’ve been learning a lot and have been improving with each tree:

Wiring was rough and this tree took me a really long time to complete. The apex was especially challenging. It was my very first tree styled here at Kouka-en. Oyakata’s verdict was not good, but not bad for a first time.

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Here is the second white pine I styled, I don’t have the first on my computer at the moment. I did branch selection myself, but made some mistakes. The two lowest branches were originally bar branches at the same level which is a big no no. Oyakata had me remove that branch which I then jinned.

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The last tree I worked on is a shohin white pine. This one was particularly challenging to do since I needed to think more about branch placement and design. I was allowed to do branch selection but ended up removing an important branch. The branch that I jinned in the front should not have been cut off and incorporated in the design instead. With this tree there is also another big correction Oyakata made that I can’t attribute to my work. Initially to fill in the right side of the apex I bent a long branch counter clockwise. This enabled me to get the foliage nice and tight by the crown but exposed a big outside curve in the front of the tree, another big no no. The branch had to be rebent in the reverse direction to hide the curve, which is the tree pictured here:

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I still have a lot to improve on and my wiring needs a lot of work. My pace of work is still pretty slow as well since to make up for my lack of skill and experience, I have to spend more time thinking about each tree. I will constantly aim to improve my understand of bonsai design as well as my technique. But it’s a start.