Bento Bank

I’ve been thinking a lot recently. What does bonsai mean to me and what am I doing in Japan? Tempted by an elusive apprenticeship and a deep passion driving me forward I took the jump and now I’m here. A relatively spacious, but run down riverside apartment in Osaka prefecture. Of a 30 day month, I get 2 off–typically spent catching up on rest, getting a haircut, and cleaning my apartment. It’s been challenging in some aspects, but so far manageable. Life has become very routine and since every day is spent working and learning something new my mind doesn’t have much time to wander.

Over looking the Ina River

Coming to Japan has been challenging for a few reasons. Of course, the apprenticeship itself which does not need to be overstated. Language, both inside and out of the nursery, is a big one.

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My current means of teaching myself Japanese

Small interactions in Japanese, which should be easy, can become a big mental drain and make getting through the day much harder. My worst interaction to date is when I accidentally dropped a 10 yen coin on my way to the convenience store. I had a habit of saving all my spare change and then using it all to near exact cost to cover the price of a bento. I was paying for a bento (already placed in the microwave) and after handing the clerk money I was promptly alerted that I was a few yen short. I had no other money on me and it was about 35 seconds too late to place it back in the refrigerated aisle. The clerk asked me what I wanted to do and what ensued was a butchered attempt in explaining that I would be back with the yen in 10 minutes. The clerk ended up using some of her own money so the register could pop open. I felt incredibly embarrassed and mashed the pedals on my mamachari back to Kouka-en to look for any forgotten change in my backpack. I ended up finding a 50 yen coin, came back to the combini and gave it to the clerk who was a bit perplexed. She asked me if it was okay in Japanese and was offering me change but I said it was fine and quickly left.

Thankfully situations like that are rather rare and my Japanese has improved significantly since arriving to Japan. Some days are better than others, and its an ongoing process to teach myself and improve.

The last aspect which is rather understated and something that took me time to understand was the transition from hobbyist to aspiring professional. As a hobbyist I’m only bound to my standards as the determining factor of whether something is good or if I enjoy it. As an aspiring professional my work is subject to the scrutiny of my peers, Oyakata, and hopefully would be future customers. Of course this is quite obvious and its why I’m pursuing an apprenticeship, but it didn’t really set in until recently. In light of this I’ve been trying to keep my mind open, study as much as I can, and learn as much as possible. 6 months in and many practice trees later I’m beginning to understand some of my bad habits as well as slight nuances that make a design better. I’ve been very transparent about my work and looking back I know many of my old projects are not good. I have a long ways to go but I am happy to have made some improvement to be able to continue to do so.

Last tree and second shinpaku styled at Kouka-en (January 2019)
First shinpaku and very first tree styled at Kouka-en (right)
Last black pine styled
First black pine styled (right)

As a last bit of self reflection in pursuing bonsai I not only want to improve and grow my work but to mature and grow as a person. Perhaps they go hand in hand. But as much as I mean that, quite contradictorily, I just want to be content with who I am.

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Japanese Black Pine

I found an outstanding deal for a Japanese Black Pine earlier this summer. The base was well developed with barking, a good candidate for a shohin tree. Buds and shoots at the base was abundant and could be selected for future branching. I decandled strong top growth at this time and thinned the shoots at the base to direct more strength to what would become branches.

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Summer 2016

The long sacrifice branch was cut this fall

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Fall 2016

Temperatures have begun warming up and some of my elms have already begun swelling buds. For Southern California spring is almost here meaning a good time to repot my trees. Based off advice from others and what I’ve read I proceeded to repot this black pine. What I did was a half bare-root repot where only one side of the root ball is worked and replaced with new soil. Doing so allows the undisturbed side to maintain the vigor of the tree until roots in the new soil becomes established. In the following year or 2 you can than bare-root the other side of the root ball thus establishing the entire root mass in a more open “bonsai mix.” The foliage at this time is also a bit yellow. Because of the high amount of winter rains as well as the grass/moss that established on the surface this black pine has been receiving too much water. The color should reestablish to a dark green with better watering as well as feeding.

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The tree was then potted in a mix of scoria, pumic, diatomaceous earth, and some zeolite.

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The longest branch will take over as the new sacrifice and will remain for the next 3 years if not more. After the tree establishes itself I can begin successive stages of refinement and branch selection. I will need to read up on decandling practices as well as the decandling timing specific to my area. In time, this should be a pretty nice tree.

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