2016 90th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition–Report 1

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The 90th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is being held in two parts again this year in order to display more traditional Japanese bonsai to the world. Part 1 was held on February 5-8, 2016 and Part 2 on February 10-13, 2016, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo. On Tuesday, February 9th, all the bonsai are removed replaced with new trees. This exhibition was started in 1934 and was held twice a year in March and November for years. Count Matsudaira, who popularized shohin bonsai, was President of the Kokufu Bonsai Association who organized and sponsored the exhibition until 1964 when the organization dissolved and reorganized as the Nippon Bonsai Association. Today the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is organized and run by the Nippon Bonsai Association, but sponsored by the City of Tokyo, Ministry of Education and NHK TV.

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To many, including me, this is the highest level quality bonsai in the world, while many others enjoy the more naturalistic forms often seen outside Japan where they are more popular. Both Parts 1 and 2 each had 181 display areas, however there are a great number medium size bonsai which usually include two or more trees. In Part 2 there were only four shohin bonsai compositions which each had more than five specimens. So there are actually approximately 250 individual bonsai on display.

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Seika Dwarf Hinoki Cypress

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Because of teaching obligations at the California Shohin Seminar I was unable to attend Part 1 and it really bothered me to miss and not have the opportunity to study a couple of hundred beautiful bonsai. But one of my friends photographed many of those trees and I will have a complete report soon. This year, for the first time in modern history, photographs are allowed, but without flash. You should have seen all the cell phones snapping away as well as with larger cameras. While teaching in California I saw most of the exhibition on FaceBook where one individual posted over 200 photos alone. It was only a couple of years ago when I was limited to taking about a dozen photos for International BONSAI. I did not find the numerous photographers distracting, but remember a few years ago when visitors complained to the Nippon Bonsai Association that the click of cameras bothered their appreciation of the bonsai.

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Dwarf Stewart

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Hinoki Cypress from the Imperial Bonsai Collection

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Koto Hime Japanese Maple

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Dwarf Stewart

 

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Honeysuckle

 

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Many bonsai professionals have told me that the quality of bonsai in Part 2 were better than in Part 1. Enjoy the photos here and remember finer quality photos will be in future issues of International BONSAI after they are professionally corrected and adjusted. The prize winning bonsai will also be shown here in a day or two, as I was not able to photograph all the trees because of the great number of visitors.

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2016 3rd Japan Suiseki Exhibition

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The 3rd Japan Suiseki Exhibition is being held on February 9-13, 2016 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan. It is in the same building as the Kikuyu Bonsai Exhibition on the 4th floor. The opening ceremony was held on Tuesday, the day between Part 1 and Part 2 of the bonsai exhibition when they remove over 200 trees and reset the show with another 200 plus trees.

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The Nippon Suiseki Association, sponsor of the event is guided by Kunio Kobayashi and Seiji Morimae. They are primarily responsible for the exhibition and their families and staff set it up, host and clean as well. A large job, but the passion these two fine gentlemen have for the promotion of suiseki, and bonsai too, is unequaled in Japan.

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This year there were approximately 133 suiseki on display from Japanese exhibitors and 24 from foreign exhibitors, plus 10 historic and beautiful water basins and display tables. Included were also 25 large size alcove displays, featuring stones combined with scrolls. Unfortunately, the museum does not permit companion plants in this gallery.

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I was amazed at the quality of the stones, of course, but also at the “perfect” display table for each display. Although I’m always surprised at the vast amount of new bonsai on display at the yearly Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions, it seems like there are even more suiseki. Both bonsai and suiseki grow wild in Japan, you know. But what is even more remarkable is that all the stones are not newly collected. They all have patina and age, which is difficult to fake. Several of the historic special display stones were collected and have been appreciated for well over 100 years. They were not just picked up from a mountain, water stream or behind a Wal-Mart.

The main special displays were labeled “Bonseki” because they are antiques and that is the old and original term used to designate scenic stones. Additionally, there were two guest displays from the Hosokawa School of Bonseki, one of the oldest schools still teaching the art of arranging stones with sand on flat black trays.

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Two display tables made of bamboo interested me so I photographed a few details. Its unbelievable how much work goes into the design and construction of display tables. Of course, many of these display tables can cost more than a car in the United States.

Exhibitors from the following countries shared their suiseki: Italy, Malaysia, England, Germany, Switzerland, China, Denmark, Philippines and the United States.

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There was one unique small stone, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. It was, of course, displayed in a glass case for security, but my photo came out well. It was displayed by Yvonne Graubaek from Denmark and was labeled as a bonseki because of its old age, probably from the Edo Period. This stone has a most interesting story. Yvonne purchased (actually stole) her stone on E-bay, a couple of years ago for only $200! She was just looking at the stone offerings and spotted this gem. Twelve people were lurking watching the price for a long time. She recognized the value and “bought it now.” And, I’m glad she did because she will appreciate its beauty, plus I have the opportunity to see it too. The bonsai is in two pieces, the stone that looks like Mt. Fuji and the base, or daiza which is carved from wood and colored. The blue waves were added. The flat display table is also part of the carved daiza. When I get home I’ll start looking at E-bay…..

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Mr. Morimae insisted that I have my photo taken with the President of the Nippon Suiseki Association and Mr. Babba, a noted collector of Kamogawa stones from Kyoto. He has hundreds of high quality suiseki in his collection and always has a large special display at the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition held in Kyoto.

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This year I displayed one of my suiseki, which was collected in Ontario, Canada. At home it is normally displayed in a water basin. My friend Bob Blankfield hand carved a wooden daiza for the suiseki last month, specifically for this exhibition. I was kind of afraid to send my bronze basin because it might get lost. I was completely surprised to see it displayed in a bronze basin supplied by Mr. Morimae or Kobayashi, along with the elegant display table. The length of the bronze water basin, with the sand suggests a much wider view than displaying it in the daiza.

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Bonsai porn photos begin tomorrow when Part 2 of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition opens.

Its Seedling Time!

New Plants & Seedling Growing Tips

COVER 2

Now is the time to order bare root seedlings for future bonsai. Several thousands of healthy seedlings have arrived. Today ten members of my Monday Senior Crew inspected, graded, bundled and packaged them for mail orders for shipping throughout the United States starting soon.

1Harvey Carapella grading European beech

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Monday Senior Crew members: Rick Marriott, Bob Phromm, Paul Eschmann, Alan Adair

 

While we were working our cat Zeus was in a “bonding mode” and wanted attention. He often does this in the mornings, not in the evenings when you are watching TV looking for a fluffy pet to join you. That’s typical of most cats. The Trident maples and European beech are exceptional this season as well as a few exciting plants described below.

 

ZEUS TREE

Zeus is usually a mild cat

 

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Zeus wanted to play today

 

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He is a real hunter

 

 

European Beech

The European beech, which I personally prefer to Japanese beech, arrived in different sizes which are perfect for forest style bonsai. Although many do have initial foliage a bit larger than the Japanese beech, when container grown the European beech leaves quickly reduce in size. Also the foliage of European beech is thicker than Japanese beech which usually have larger thinner foliage. European beech is quite winter hardy and easy to grow. The Japanese beech has a more exotic name and attracts bonsai hobbyists quickly. Growing European beech for a season to establish fibrous roots, is a good idea before creating a forest bonsai. However this year’s seedling selection of European beech can easily be created into a forest this spring because of the excellent trunk sizes.

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Alan Adair grading European beech seedlings

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Great root systems!

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Several European beech forests created from seedlings

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Newly created European beech forest

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European beech 1993

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European beech 2012

 

The trick to developing small foliage on European beech is to remove the center of the opening shoots as soon as they can be seen. Since plants are generally more vigorous in the upper branches, shoots developing in that region are pinched first, as they open. The lower and inner branches open a bit later and must be pinched at a later time. It generally takes more than a week to pinch a developed beech bonsai. Sometimes it is necessary to check the bonsai more than once a day because shoots continue to develop all day long.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Pinch the center of the opening shoot

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

After pinching center of the opening shoot

 

 

Trident Maple

This season the Trident maple seedlings are superb, and PERFECT for root grafting because they are thin and flexible. There are several different sizes and each bundle has several if a forest bonsai is to be trained. Of course they can also be trained for specimen bonsai as well. Since they are flexible gentle as well as extreme curves can be created with these Trident maples. In autumn the foliage generally becomes yellow, orange or red, which depends on the weather and care provided. Seedlings planted in the ground will grow quickly and form thick trunks fast. But, if you want a bonsai with bends, ground growing from the beginning is not recommended. I suggest small seedlings, of most all deciduous species, are first potted in training containers for one or two years. This is the time to create interesting forms in the trunk with wire. Be certain to also create trunk movement from front to back in addition to side by side. By the end of a growing season the young Trident maples will have taken the new shapes and are ready for thickening in the ground. If you wire young seedlings in the ground they will quickly scar because of their fast growth. If you want a developed bonsai with gentle curves, initially exaggerate the curves. As the tree thickens, gentle bends will quickly develop into straight trunks.

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Harvey Caravelle grading Trident maples

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Trident maple seedlings

 

 

Sekka Hinoki Cypress

Quite popular in Japan, the Sekka hinoki cypress are rare in the United States. The dark green small foliage quickly develops into a tight “ball” which needs thinning. After thinning the small foliage the larger branches can be easily wired and shaped into stunning small or shohin bonsai. About a third or a bit more of the foliage can be safely removed when thinning out the plant. Cutting grown to eliminate grafting scars, the Sekka hinoki cypress will quickly become more popular in bonsai collections because of it’s beauty and tight growth habit.

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Developed Sekka hinoki cypress bonsai

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Before shaping and after shaping Sekka hinoki cypress

 

 

Amethyst Falls Wisteria

Both Chinese and Japanese species primarily grown for bonsai in the United States.

They are magnificent in spring with the long hanging fragrant blossoms. They also have the habit of invasive growing and often do not flower regularly. There is a selection of the American native wisteria named Amethyst falls, which is now becoming a prized garden plant because of the compact growth, small flowers without becoming invasive. Young plants grown in the ground or large training pots will quickly grow and can be easily wired into beautiful forms. Unlike the Chinese and Japanese wisterias, the Amethyst falls wisteria often blossoms again during the summer. The flower racemes are not long and Diane likes them before they open and look like clusters of grapes and last a long time. Young plants as well as established specimens blossom profulsely in late spring, and often again during the summer. The growth habit of Amethyst falls wisteria will slow down considerably when container grown and trained for bonsai. Our plants are propagated by cuttings to eliminate ugly graft unions.

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Amethyst Falls wisteria bonsai

 

 

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There are over a dozen excellent plants for bonsai in our new Spring 2016 Seedling & Pre-Bonsai catalog. This season several of the plants are available in larger pre-bonsai size which have been container grown for a season with trunks shaped with wire. Now is the time to place your order for early, mid or late spring delivery. Catalogs can be downloaded from our web site at:

 

http://www.internationalbonsai.com/files/1708315/uploaded/2016%20SEEDLING%20CATALOG%20web.pdf

Or you can easily order on line at:

http://www.internationalbonsai.com/seedling%20list

Many thanks for my friends to help preparing the seedlings today. Next week the Monday Senior Crew will join me to help pack the seedlings and pre-bonsai for shipping.

Good luck to everyone with your bonsai this season!

SEEDLING COVER

 

5th US National Bonsai Exhibition

2016 NATIONAL LOGO 2

Plans have now been completed for our exciting 2016 5th US National Bonsai Exhibition which will be in the same spacious and well lighted venue on September 10-11, 2016. The Exhibition was composed of 175 displays including 48 shohin bonsai compositions of 120 individual trees. The total number of bonsai displayed was 320 representing 107 artists from 27 states and two provinces of Canada.

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All information is now available in our new beautiful web site which was created by Vicki Chamberlain at:   www.usnationalbonsai.com   The web site will be upgraded when necessary and the date of the latest edition is on the bottom of the home page.

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In addition to the web site a large flyer, which folds out to a poster, is now at the printer and will be available in a couple of weeks. Let me know if you would like one. Additional copies are available for your bonsai club members, just let me know how many you need. If your club has a newsletter I can easily send you an ad, as I’m looking for as much complimentary publicity as possible.

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Several changes will take place for this year’s Exhibition. We have a new Hilton Garden Inn Hotel as our official residence. The hotel is near the Exhibition and they will provide some shuttle service as available. They will also pick you up at the Rochester International Airport, if you call ahead.

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Our Award Banquet and Benefit Auction will be held at a highly regarded party house right around the corner from our hotel. The hotel will also provide shuttle service to the event. The Burgundy Basin Inn is large, spacious and I’ve reserved the ballroom which holds 500 people. The food is considered to be delicious and I’m sure we will not be crowded and be well fed.

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This year we will have eight demonstrations as well as organized critiques by eleven of the most respected bonsai/suiseki artists in the United States.

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Now is the time to submit a photo of your best bonsai for the selection process. Some have already been received as people seem to be anxious to share their bonsai. The deadline is June 1st OR until the spaces fill up. I don’t want to squeeze trees into the exhibition. Last year at the last minute we added more tables. Please encourage your friends to display too. An invitation flyer is also attached here.

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7Should you have any ideas, questions or problems, kindly let me know so we can work together to present some of the finest bonsai in the United States to the world. Oh, I’m working on having food available too, but there are nearby restaurants.

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We are always looking for new advertising venues and financial support to help with the production of the Exhibition as well to help subsidize trucks to bring your bonsai from long distances. I look forward to welcoming you and your support and participation for the exciting new 2016 5th US National Bonsai Exhibition.

2016 NATIONAL POSTER

 

Happy New Year!

ST. BASIL

New Year’s day is a special holiday for our family and religion for at least three reasons. Most important is to welcome in the New Year, a fresh new yearly beginning. Everyone gets another opportunity to enjoy and improve their lives for another year. This also applies to our bonsai as well as we have plans to change and improve their design.

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Also January 1st commemorates the feast of the circumcision of Jesus in the Orthodox Church. Jesus was Jewish and according to tradition baby boys were circumcised on the eight day after birth. Our church celebrates this event during the first Divine Liturgy of the New Year celebrated on January 1st for St. Basil.

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More importantly January 1st is also St. Basil’s day in the Orthodox Church. St. Basil was a forefather of the Greek Orthodox Church and is remembered for his kindness and generosity to the poor. He was also the first to establish hospitals, which I’m personally thankful for during these past couple of months.

DISPLAY

Since my baptismal name is Vassilios (Basil), January 1st is my names day, a holiday often celebrated more than birthdays. Sometimes the family of the person named Basil hosts an open house and friends are invited to visit. A couple of years ago Diane had New Year Open House and many of our friends were invited to help celebrate my names day. Of course I had to come up with a special alcove display in the studio featuring bonsai and the special events celebrated this day. There are many reasons to display bonsai and all of them are centered on creating a display atmosphere for enjoyment of the viewers. A Chinese quince bonsai, loaded with fruit (I did not add any) was selected to show the prosperity of the year. A Pomegranate would have been better, also a Pine showing longevity. But, I wanted to show prosperity. An icon of St. Basil was made into an insert for a scroll to celebrate the saint. Finally, Chinese quince fruit, along with a sharp, large root pruning bonsai knife was used for the accessory, with the knife commemorating the circumcision. This was a rather unusual, unorthodox display, but was created for my visitors which they enjoyed and we had many discussions. More information on display will be forthcoming in my new book The Art of Bonsai Display & Appreciation.

VASILPOITA

The celebration continues with the cutting of a Vassilopita, or St. Basil’s cake (or bread). A coin is baked into the cake and the person receiving the coin is to have good luck for the New Year. St. Basil began this tradition by returning jewelry to people by placing one in each cake. There is a specific order of cutting the cake also. First piece is for St. Basil, next one for the house and the following for members of the family by seniority. Following pieces are cut for friends. Diane makes delicious Vassilopitas we all enjoy. However yesterday we went through the cutting and nobody found the coin… yet. I took a peek and saw the outline of the coin, which will be found by the next person who cuts a piece. I want another piece, but will cut it from the opposite side and let another member of our family find the coin

3When I was a youngster my grandmother had a couple of customs for the New Year holiday. It was important that the first visitor who sets foot into the home was ideally a young innocent child with pure heart would bring a good omen and luck for the remaining of the year. We always hoped for a youngster, not an elderly person.

POMEGRANATE 1

The Pomegranate is a fruit with a long history going back to ancient times. It is widely revered as a symbol of fertility, prosperity, regeneration and the inseparable marriage of life and death. One of my tasks for my grandmother was to take a large, plump, ripe Pomegranate and smash it on the doorstep for good luck. The blessed luck was proportional to how far the seeds were spread. I also had to clean up the red mess which stains. We do not follow this tradition for obvious reasons, but I might start next year, with a piece of plastic on the floor.

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Playing cards is also another Greek tradition. There are many other activities during this auspicious time, all believed to bring good luck and prosperity during the coming new year.

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Zorba

Our family got a new St. Bernard-Boxer shelter puppy for Christmas, named Zorba. He now joins Zeena, Zeus, Kitty Kat and Damon.

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Zeus

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DamonZENA

Zeena

KITTY KAT

Kitty Kat

COIN

Well, Diane was the lucky person to finally find the coin in the Vasiliopita, so she will enjoy good luck for 2016. Actually, I hope my entire family and friends all enjoy:

Good Luck, Good Health and Prosperity during 2016.

May all your bonsai stay small and crooked, in the right places.

FAMILY 2016

 

 

2015 Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo

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The 3rd Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo was held on December 5-6, 2015 at the elegant North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Sponsored by bonsai hobbyist Steve Zeisel, this exhibition is unique on the east coast featuring deciduous bonsai without foliage so the true beauty can be appreciated. You can’t fake the beauty of deciduous bonsai, or at least, it is very difficult, because everything is exposed to the viewers once the leaves drop.

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The venue is quite spectacular, even more regal than those I’ve seen in Japan and Asia. White marble walls and columns were tied together with an unusual geometric floor pattern surrounding a round table, truly a piece of art itself. The four story rotunda is the tallest south of Washington, D.C.

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This year there were 62 individual bonsai displayed by individuals, not organizations, thus offering free expression of exhibits. And, there were some unique, stunning non-conventional displays, all in good taste. Creativity ran wild this year, which was not present in the first Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo three years ago. Although most exhibitors and visitors came from the southeast, many traveled from the northeast as well as Florida. The quality of bonsai in Florida is rapidly becoming more refined and three of the top awards went home to Florida.

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The displays showed individual thought in the tree and accent selection as well as the set up and “story” artists conveyed to the viewers, many completely North American.

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There were about a dozen vendors from the east coast offering containers, display tables, tool, supplies as well as bonsai and pre-bonsai. The two rooms were busy throughout the weekend.

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On Saturday Owen Reich, from Nashville, Tennessee, presented a demonstration on Silverberry bonsai talking and making a few changes on an old specimen originally imported from Asia. He showed and demonstrated the necessary respect when working with an aged bonsai.

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Wm. N. Valavanis next did something different; he showed a PowerPoint program designed for the public to introduce them to classical bonsai art. Information was also presented for experienced bonsai hobbyists as well. Following the program he demonstrated the basic techniques for creating a bonsai from common nursery stock.

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Sunday’s two programs began with a critique of the entire exhibit by Wm. N. Valavanis where constructive comments were made on the bonsai, containers, training, display as well as the display tables selected. Lively discussions took place when exhibitors were questioned about their displays.

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In the afternoon Ken Duncan and John Geanangel from Columbia, South Carolina, worked together creating an unusual clinging-to-a-rock style bonsai using old Kingsville dwarf box. Composed of heavy stones the bonsai will be kept on a nursery cart and protected during the winter. John also filmed the exhibit and posted a video on You Tube at: https://youtu.be/3dXmvg60y_0

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During the exhibition and demonstrations Joe Noga was in a back room, his normal dark habitat, professionally photographing all the bonsai. The high quality images will be displayed upon completion of adjusting the color.

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Steve Zeisel should again be congratulated on organizing and hosting a beautiful display of naked bonsai for the community. I was again honored to be able to participate in some way and look forward to the next Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo next December.

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2015 Japan Autumn Bonsai Exploration– Part 7, Final

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Tokoname is the name of a town known for centuries for producing ceramics. Although westerners associate Tokoname with good bonsai containers, it is most famous for producing tea bowls, sewer tiles and toilets, not bonsai pots.

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About 20 years ago there were over 100 potters producing bonsai containers. Today there are only about 10 because of the Chinese imports. It’s important to realize that the inexpensive Chinese pots known in the United States is not what comes to Japan. There is a finer grade exported to Japan, so good, I’ve seen them at the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. There is an extensive color catalog issued every few years. The newest and current catalog is smaller, but still hefty. All the potters use the same catalog and the prices are consistent throughout Japan. You can’t get pots cheaper by coming to the factory, only one price.

One of popular tour extensions Kora and I offer for our members is a visit to Tokoname to purchase containers. We have a pot dealer which offers a substantial discount to our group and moves us around the town visiting different potters.

 

Yesterday we visited several potteries:

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KOYO

Known for his spectacular glazes, mostly in small sizes. Mr. Koyo wanted to trade hats so we exchanged headwear.

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SHUHO

Here again Mr. Shuho has beautiful glazes and small and medium size pots.

 

IKKO

Both glazed and unglazed containers are made by Mr. Ikko

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REIHO

This is one of my favorite potters because of the quality and unusual glazes. I can always find one of his pots for my deciduous bonsai. Now only Mr. Reiho and his wife produce pots. Mrs. Koyo makes small unglazed pots and finishes her husband’s work.

 

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YAMAAKI

Although the Yamaaki Kiln is open for business, they stopped making pots several years ago. When I first came to Japan 45 years ago I had the opportunity to meet the founder of the Yamaaki Kiln, Mr. Sadamitsu Kataoka, and was pleasantly surprised to see an old photo of him hanging on the wall. It must be an old photo and not of the best reproduction. But, the photo you are seeing is better than the one hanging on the wall.

 

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GYOZAN

Mr. Gyozan is considered to be the NO. 1 potter in Japan. He generally makes larger size unglazed pots alone. But, his lovely wife makes beautiful paintings on his smaller sizes.

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He is known for purchasing back pots he made 35 years ago because of the unique coloring. The large container on the second shelf on the right in his showroom had a price of US$ 10,000.

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He wanted to show our small group how he makes containers and proceeded to quickly make one. Then he smashed it and dumped it in the clay recycling container.

His quality and unique coloring are know around the world, even in China where they are producing replicas complete with Mr. Gyozan seal and signature on the bottom. He is now changing his identification marks and I saw one container signed “Gyozan” in cursive English.

It took a considerable time to account, pay and have all our pots packed up for our return trips to the United States, Puerto Rico, England and Australia. My plane departs Nagoya in a couple of hours so this will be the last blog for our annual autumn tour to Japan. I hope you enjoyed my brief reports as much as I did experiencing Japan.

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