Do You Like Satsuki Azaleas? Then You’ll Love Our New Satsuki Bonsai Tour!

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Satsuki azaleas are the jewels of the late spring/early summer bonsai season. The colorful blossoms in many shapes, colors and sizes as well as the interesting trunk shapes are eye candy for the discriminating bonsai enthusiast.

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Because of their popularity, Satsuki azaleas are a big time bonsai industry in Japan, mostly centered around the Kanuma area, north of Tokyo near Nikko. The natural availability of Kanuma soil is the secret to producing dynamic bonsai at reasonable pricing. Satsuki azaleas thrive in Kanuma soil, which is minded in the Kanuma City area. You can see fields upon fields and greenhouses all full of Satsuki azaleas being propagated, field grown, then finished in containers ready for the Japanese as well as foreign markets.

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Since Satsuki azaleas blossom in late May and early June the City of Kanuma holds an annual Kanuma. This year the Kanuma Satsuki Festival will be held from May 31 to June 9, 2014 at the Kanuma City Kaboku Center. The two acre complex includes: a permanent exhibition and sales area over a half acre alone, one and a half area auction area, and greenhouses. Additionally the complex has a garden tree sales field of seven acres, additional greenhouses, restaurant and a 66 acre wild bird forest, plus more. This is a truly unique center for Satsuki azalea bonsai production, exhibitions and sales.

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This year for the first time Kora Dalager and I will be leading a special tour to Japan highlighting the Kanuma Satsuki Festival in addition to visiting Omiya Bonsai Village, the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, the private collections of Kunio Kobayashi and Masahiko Kimura and Seiji Morimae’s S-Cube, the largest bonsai garden in Japan. Additionally we will begin our exploration to Japan by visiting the Nippon Satsuki Exhibition in Ueno Park and also the colorful Toshogu Shrine famous for its colorful buildings and ancient giant Cryptomeria trees. This was the home of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

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Cedar Avenue of Nikko

We will attend the opening of the Kanuma Satsuki Festival and have a full day to study the thousands of Satsuki bonsai, visit the sales area as well as the lovely garden areas. Photos from the 2013 Kanuma Satsuki Festival are included here.

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 A Private Visit To The Garden Of Shinji Suzuki

Additionally, also for the first time, we are having an optional tour to the bonsai garden of award winning bonsai artist Shinji Suzuki. The optional tour will take place the day before the Satsuki Bonsai Tour begins. Mr. Suzuki lives in Obuse, north of Nagano Japan which will a ride on the bullet train, regular trains, taxi ride as well as an additional night in our Tokyo hotel. Additional photos may be seen in this blog from my recent visit in the February archives.

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Please contact Kora Dalager or me for availability of this small limited optional tour and pricing:

kora@astound.net

wnv@internationalbonsai.com

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Join us on an exciting new tour to see, study and explore the Satsuki Azalea world in Japan as well as experience the Japanese bonsai world and culture of Nikko.

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Ueno Green Club Sales Area

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The sales area is a major part of most bonsai gatherings. The sale of bonsai, suiseki and other accessories for the training and appreciation of the arts is necessary for the professional bonsai artists.

The Nippon Bonsai Cooperative is the professional organization for bonsai artists and growers. A small corner lot, near the Ueno Park Zoo has been leased to the Nippon Bonsai Cooperative for many decades at a low rental price. Across the street is the headquarters for the Nippon Bonsai Association, which is a different organization from the professionals.

Approximately 20 years ago the Nippon Bonsai Cooperative organization removed the old low buildings and constructed a new, state of the art multi purpose, three story building for sales, exhibitions, meetings and judging for the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions. Each of the professional bonsai artists/growers was accessed a certain percentage of the building costs and they are all stockholder owners of the building, not the rented land.

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During the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition they provide complimentary continuous shuttle bus service from the Ueno Green Club to the exhibition which is held in the Metropolitan Art Museum, about 10 minutes away. They want, and need, the customers to visit and shop in their sales area. Although sales are drastically down from the “bubble years” in Japan, bonsai business is still big.

There are two main sales area of the Ueno Green Club, indoor sales for high end items and outdoor sales for others. Don’t get me wrong, you can still spend tens of thousands of US dollars (not Japanese yen) for individual bonsai, containers and suiseki outdoors.

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The first floor of the building contains the major bonsai artists’ sales areas, as does the second floor. The top third floor is dedicated to the sale of shohin bonsai, containers and other items.

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Outdoors you can find almost anything you want and are not even looking for to enhance your growing and appreciation of bonsai and suiseki. Old containers, antiques and scrolls are offered for sale, in addition to tools and suiseki. Sometimes old Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions are available, but I was fortunate to find them first this year.

The outdoor sales areas are considerably less expensive to rent than the warm and comfortable indoor areas. This was evident during the worse snowstorm Tokyo experienced in 45 years a couple of days ago. No, I did not bring the snow from Rochester. You could not even see the bonsai for sale outdoors and vendors were quickly carefully brushing the cold wet snow off the delicate branches to avoid damage. It’s also not nice out there when its windy and quite cold.

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Major Japanese bonsai collectors, and occasionally foreign visitors too, make pilgrimages to the exhibition and sales area yearly which the vendors are quite thankful for. They bring their finest items for sale. Oh, photographs are allowed both inside and out. It’s cheaper to take photos than buy a container for over $5,000.

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Like in the United States, bonsai is still a “cottage industry” in Japan and vendors are friendly and help each other. Anyone who travels to Japan to see the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition should make the Uneo Green Club a destination to see what is currently popular and experience the hustle and bustle of the bonsai industry of Japan. Who knows, you may even purchase something to the surprise and appeciation of a Japanese vendor.

2014 88th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition– Part 2

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On Sunday, February 9, 2014 Part 2 of the 88th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition opened in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park. On Saturday all of the nearly 300 bonsai were removed and replaced with new masterpieces. Now, I’ve been at more Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions than I remember and I’m still amazed at the number of new bonsai which are displayed each year. There are a few repeats, but most of the trees are new. I wonder how many masterpieces are out there in Japan, but remember, new specimens are always being created while old masterpieces pass on.

Part 2 also had 170 displays, 26 important bonsai masterpieces and 55 medium size bonsai. There were again only 5 shohin bonsai compositions. The judges selected 6 Kokufu prize bonsai for Part 2.

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Kokufu Sho Award, Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora

 

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Kokufu Sho Award, Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii

 

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Kokufu Sho Award, Japanese flowering apricot, Prunus mume

 

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Kokufu Sho Award, Sargent juniper, Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii ‘Shimpaku’

 

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Kokufu Sho Award, Dwarf star jasmine, Tracelospermum asiaticum ‘Nana’

 

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Kokufu Sho Award, Kiyo Hime Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Kiyo Hime’

 

Both parts of the exhibition were superb this year, however, personally speaking, I liked Part 2 best. Perhaps because one of the finest masterpiece Kiyo Hime Japanese maple bonsai was on display. It’s the first time I’ve seen this tree. No, actually I saw it at Mansei-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya Bonsai Village on Friday as it was being prepared for the switch out on Saturday. This cultivar is one of my favorites.

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Ezo spruce, Picea glehnii

 

Again there were pink lights against the bright blue table coverings with the addition of dramatic spot lighting which did not make it easy to photograph. But below are a few of the bonsai which made an impression on me. Enjoy their beauty!

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Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora 

 

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Companion planting

 

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Chojubai flowering quince, Chaenomeles japoinica ‘Chojubai’

 

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Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora

 

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Korean hornbeam, Carpinus turczaninovii

 

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Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora

 

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Companion planting

 

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Trident maple, Acer buergerianum, yes, that’s an orange container

 

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Trident maple, Acer buergerianum, yup, another orange container

 

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Shohin bonsai composition

 

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Sargent juniper, Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii ‘Shimpaku’

 

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Companion planting

 

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Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii

 

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Dwarf stewartia, Stewartia monadelpha

 

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Needle juniper, Juniperus rigida

 

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Trident maple,  Acer buergerianum

 

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Japanese grey-bark elm, Zelkova serrata

 

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Japanese garden juniper, Juniperus procumbens

 

Japan Suiseki Exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

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History was made on February 9-13, 2014 when the newly reorganized Nippon Suiseki Exhibition held the first ever suiseki exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Under the leadership of Kunio Kobayashi (Chairman) and Seiji Morimae (Secretary General), the event was held concurrently during Part 2 of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition so people could enjoy both arts in one venue (separate floor galleries). This brings a new era to the combination, appreciation and promotion of bonsai and suiseki.

 

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As often the case, the opening ceremony was a colorful event with a few speeches from prominent figure heads and officers. Seiji Morimae was the MC and did an excellent job keeping the event moving along. After the formal ribbon cutting ceremony they lead visitors into the four gallery exhibition containing some of the most famous suiseki in Japan including a rare treasured suiseki which has not been seen outside a Ueno temple for over 45 years.

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Included in the Japan Suiseki Exhibition were 5 special exhibits, 28 tokonoma alcove displays featuring long elegant scrolls, 135 general exhibits and a display of 15 suiseki accessories of historic display tables and water basins. Soil and water were not permitted in this second floor museum gallery so companion plants were not displayed with the stones and the water basins were shown with dry sand, which is unusual for Japanese suiseki exhibitions. Actually, the lack of companion plants put more focus on the stones.

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Among the general exhibits were 10 prominent foreign suiseki lover’s displays of some of their finest Japanese suiseki: Dato K. H. Chua (Malaysia), David J. Sampson (England) and Martin Pauli (Switzerland).

 The foreign suiseki exhibitors from the United States were:

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Hideko Metaxas, California

Kamuikotan Ishi

 

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Larry & Nina Ragle, California

Sajigawa Ishi

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Ronald C. Maggio, New York

Fujieda Ishi

 

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Sean L. Smith, Pennsylvania

Seijaku Ishi

 

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Tom Elias, California

Setagawa Ishi

 

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Wil Lautenschlager, New York, now living in Tokyo

Chikuzen Maguro Ishi

 

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William N. Valavanis, New York

Tamagawa Ishi

 

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The exhibition was beautifully staged and laid out. Small size historic suiseki, boxes and bronze ornaments were displayed in long museum glass cases. The ample room surrounding the displays, tokonoma alcoves and pedestals allowed visitors to fully appreciate their beauty. I have personally studied many suiseki exhibitions in Japan, the United States, China, Indonesia and around the globe and have never seen such high quality stones displayed better and more beautifully. I’ve already made two visits to this exhibition and will return several times on Monday and Tuesday before I leave Japan.

In the evening of the opening day, the Nippon Suiseki Association hosted a party for the exhibitors. Our entire tour group was honored to have been invited to this special event. The Suiseki Study Group of Upstate New York 20 presented a congratulatory certificate to Kunio Kobayashi commemorating this important exhibition. At the presentation, our study group members Ron Maggio, Marc Arpag and I expressed our appreciation to the Nippon Suiseki Association and for leading the way to promote suiseki. We have learned quite a bit by studying the exhibition.

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A 232 page full color exhibit catalog was published of all the exhibits and is available on my web site at:

http://www.internationalbonsai.com/page/1442819

A Visit To Shinji Suzuki’s Bonsai Garden

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Heavy snow continues to fall in Tokyo on Saturday, it’s one of the biggest storms I’ve experienced in Japan. This would be just an ordinary snowfall for Rochester, NY, where nothing would be closed and school would go on as normal.

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At breakfast I saw Michael Hagedorn with some of his students who were on their way to Obuse, near Nagano to visit Shinji Suzuki’s garden. Michael studied there about seven years ago and is returning for a few days. Mr. Suzuki is in Tokyo setting up the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition Part 2 and the new Japan Suiseki Exhibition. Since I’ve never visited Mr. Suzuki’s garden, Marc Arpag and I immediately changed our plans and joined Michael’s group. Everyone stayed in Obuse for a few days, but Marc and I returned to Tokyo a couple of hours later.

Obuse is a few hours from Tokyo in normal weather. But this snowstorm made the trip up a bit longer, and the return to Tokyo took an extra three hours. When we got back to Ueno Station we needed to wait 30 minutes before we could catch a taxi.

Mr. Suzuki’s garden is beautiful (even in the snow) and immaculate. You could eat off the floors. Everything was pristine and orderly. All the containers were straight on the benches parallel with the edge of the board. Even the carpets and tarps on the floor in the repotting greenhouse were precise. Well, not many people are aware of these small things, but small details are what distinguishes a true master. I believe surroundings are a direct reflection of an artist’s work and personality. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and Mr. Suzuki’s garden did a superb job impressing Marc and me.

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In the entrance way to Mr. Suzuki’s garden were two large historic Japanese red pine bonsai under shelter. These bonsai are from the Tokugawa era and have been container grown for over 250 years, perhaps even 300. They are some of the oldest bonsai in Japan.

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The reception room had a large tokonoma alcove with a beautiful multiple trunk Japanese maple bonsai. Also displayed in the room were a Sargent juniper and Japanese flowering apricot bonsai. Thus, an evergreen, deciduous and flowering bonsai were on display, and each of a different style. A truly distinctive display to welcome visitors. The room had a small heater which was appreciated because it was freezing outside. Remember, I don’t like snow and cold weather and personally go dormant at 70F.

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Tyler Sherrod, one of Mr. Suzuki’s apprentices from North Carolina gave us a private tour of all areas including several greenhouses, repotting greenhouse, container room and an entire building storing display tables.

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The finest containers and display tables were tied for protection in case an earthquake strikes. I even noticed several of the growing benches had cables anchoring them to the ground.

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Mr. Suzuki was in Tokyo setting up the exhibits and had his other American apprentice Matt Reel, from Oregon, with him to help so they were not in Obuse during our visit. Matt Real recently completed a Sargent juniper bonsai restyle which was photographed for Kinbon magazine.

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Tyler Sherrod showed us an unusual clinging-to-a-rock style Japanese five-needle pine bonsai which was entered in the Japan Bonsai Creator’s Exhibition and won an award.

Most of the bonsai were large evergreens, however deciduous species were also present. I even noticed an Enkianthus (Pearl bush) and deciduous azalea bonsai, as well as numerous Chojubai Japanese flowering quince bonsai.

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It was interesting to see one building full of display tables all behind curtains to protect the wood from strong light. They were grouped by size and style. All the tall cascade tables were in one area, next to the root stand section.

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After our visit Marc and I took a taxi back to Obuse Station where we took a local train to Nagano where we immediately boarded the bullet train bound to Uneo. But, we sat on the train for about 90 minutes before it even moved and when it did, it was slower than normal because of the heavy snow. Obuse looked to have about 12 inches of snow, while Tokyo only got about 10 inches, but it’s still coming down hard and blowing snow too.

As mentioned before, God seems to be looking out for our tour, and it was a blessing to have switched our visit to Mr. Kimura, Omiya Bonsai Village and Mr. Morimae’s S-Cube garden from Saturday to Friday. The heavy wet blowing snow would have made for a memorable visit, but not the good kind. I have yet to see a snow plow, but did see one snow blower in Nagano. Businesses in Tokyo were closing early and moving snow with dustpans and brooms. The ground was slippery, but I was careful and did not break my foot for the seventh time. I’ve already broken one foot in Japan six years ago, that’s enough.

Other members of our tour returned to the Ueno Green Club sales area where all of the bonsai for sale in the outdoor areas were completely covered with snow. I did not see any customers in the photos I was shown.

Considering the cold weather and blowing heavy snow with travel delays, our 10 hour trip to Mr. Suzuki’s bonsai garden was well worth the extra time and difficult traveling conditions. I look forward to sharing the beauty of Mr. Suzuki’s garden and artistry with friends in our future bonsai tours.

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Our Visit to Mr. Kimura, Omiya Bonsai Village and Mr. Morimae

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Our tour group was scheduled (with confirmed appointments) to visit Mr. Kimura, Omiya Bonsai Village and Mr. Morimae on Saturday. However on Thursday we  were informed that the gardens would be not be open because that’s the “switch out day” for the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition and the people would be in Ueno with their bonsai. Actually, that’s why we scheduled our visit during the closed day, but the artists forgot about the switch out day. No problem, Mr. Kobyashi made a few phone calls to the gardens and we immediately changed our schedule to Friday rather than Saturday one day early when the gardens were open.

BUT, God must have been smiling on our group. He knows I hate snow and 3-5 inches of heavy wet snow was forecast for Saturday. Although a bit of snow looks pretty on some bonsai, we did not need to get stuck in heavy traffic on the Japanese roads. It’s now Saturday morning and the snow began at 3:11am. How do I know it was 3:11am? Simple, jet lag…. It’s still snowing hard too and might continue tomorrow too.

On Friday morning we visited the garden of Award winning artist Masahiko Kimura. When we arrived a large truck was being loaded by three apprentices. Approximately 14 bonsai were groomed, labeled and tied to wooden boards for the trip to Tokyo and switch out on Saturday.

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Next we visited the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum. Several of the sweet aromatic Japanese flowering apricot bonsai were in peak blossom. Photographs are not allowed in the museum nor the outdoor display area. However there is a section where photos are allowed in the garden, lobby and upper terrace. Of particular interest to me was a special display of old photographs, tools, maps and publications about the Omiya Bonsai Village. Of course I looked carefully and found an old photograph of a young Yuji Yoshimura leading a bonsai tour at Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden in the 1950s.

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This is the 90th Anniversary of the founding of Omiya Bonsai Village and each of the few remaining gardens displayed a several representative bonsai of their artistry. This week’s display was from Seiko-en Bonsai Garden of Tomio and Kaori Yamada. She displayed a beautiful pink Japanese flowering apricot composition in her “Saika Bonsai” style which she innovated to combine unusual containers, ikebana and flowering species to increase the popularity of bonsai to the public, especially women.

 

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Yoshi Nakamizu (Bonsai Network Japan) opened his new Bonsai Omiya Restaurant a couple of days ago we were one of his first groups to dine with him. The new restaurant is right across the street from the entrance of the Omiya Bonsai Museum. The food was colorful, well presented and delicious too. A few bonsai were used for decor as well as a beautiful rock planting in the welcoming tokonoma alcove.

 

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We then walked through the Omiya Bonsai Village and the first stop was Mansei-en Bonsai Garden of Hatsuji and Haruhiko Kato, fourth and fifth generation bonsai artists. They also were loading a truck with bonsai for the exhibition. Continuing our visits we stopped by the Seiko-en Bonsai Garden of Tomio and Kaori Yamada. She wanted to have a group photograph with her in the garden entrance.

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Down the road a bit we stopped by the Kuku-en Bonsai Garden of Isamu and Yukio Murata. The old famous Zelkova bonsai which once belonged to Prime Minister Yoshida was on display. Mr. Murata is the caretaker of the Imperial Bonsai Collection in Tokyo and I was surprised to be informed that several “imperial” bonsai are maintained at Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden.

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Imperial bonsai Japanese five-needle pine

 

Around the corner, our final stop in Omiya Bonsai Village was to Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden of Hiroshi Takeyama. He specializes in deciduous and unusual bonsai and also forest plantings. It was interesting to see his winter protection for many delicate deciduous bonsai and tropical bonsai under blue tarps and cardboard boxes.

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On the bus again we departed for Hanyu, Japan, home of S-Cube the garden of Seiji Morimae. This is the largest bonsai garden in Japan which is also like a museum of affordable bonsai, suiseki, display tables and other antiques. He is charismatic and his family and staff made us feel warm, especially on this cold day.

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We enjoyed many views of Mt. Fuji on the way to Omiya, but unfortunately it was too dark to see the mountain again on our way home. That’s OK because most members were asleep after a chilly but sunny full day of enjoying and buying.

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A Visit To The Shunka-en Bonsai Museum

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We had a private morning visit to the Shunka-en Bonsai Museum of Kunio Kobayashi in  the Edogawa area of Tokyo, Japan. Mr. Kobayashi has developed his museum to display many of his masterpiece bonsai in a garden setting as well as in formal alcoves. This is a most complete example of how bonsai can be enjoyed and appreciated in formal displays as well as illustrating the necessary outdoor environment for health and training.

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In addition to having each bonsai in pristine condition, each specimen was matched to the perfect display table in size, color, design and quality. The accessories, antique containers, scrolls, as well as the display tables were all first class and of the highest quality, typical of the refinement Mr. Kobayashi enjoys and teaches.Image

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Graduate apprentice Peter Warren from England returns back to his teacher for assistance during the busy exhibition season of Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. Now an established international bonsai artist, Peter is usually found teaching and maintaining collections in Europe as well as the United States. I see more of Peter than many bonsai friends in the United States. Normally Peter is working at the Ueno Green Club sales area of his friend, award winning artist Minoru Akiyama. However he remained at the Shunka-en Bonsai Museum so he could guide us around and explain details which most people would not even think of.

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Minoru Akiyama was one of the senior apprentices of Kunio Kobayashi when Peter was studying there many years ago and a close friendship has developed. They often teach together in Europe and the United States. Mr. Akiyama is a second generation bonsai artist who’s father is well known and married of Mr. Kobayashi’s daughters. It is a common practice for one bonsai artist to send his son to another artist for training in order to add new techniques to an established garden.

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During our visit Isao Fukita, another senior graduate apprentice of Mr. Kobayashi was watering bonsai, in the cold.

It was interesting to see slight changes at the Shunka-en Bonsai Museum because of the Chinese market. Larger Japanese black pines are now commonly seen being trained. Some bonsai are as large as me, which is not saying much. Additionally there is a new area of Japanese maples being trained, some in wooden boxes. Many of these maples have red leaves, I guess the Chinese like red foliage, because most Japanese artists prefer the common Japanese maple with solid green foliage. They are more vigorous too.

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Of course there were loads of finely developed Satsuki azaleas, one of the specialties of Kunio Kobayashi, and here again, large old stumps were being trained in wooden boxes. It was interesting to see the winter color differences of the Satsuki azalea foliage, some green, others bronze while some cultivars were nearly bare of foliage. All the Satsuki azaleas were full of plump flower buds for late spring display. If you want to see this garden ablaze in color, consider joining our new tour in late May/early June when we will bring a small group to see Mr. Kobayashi’s prize winning Satsuki azaleas, as well as two exhibitions, Satsuki festival and private visit to Taisho-en Bonsai Garden in Shizuoka which specializes in shohin bonsai.

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Most of the bonsai at the Shunka-en Bonsai Museum had a whitish coloring because of the recently applied dormant spray of lime sulfur. Remember, the primary purpose of lime super is not for dead wood preservation, but rather to protect plants from pests. Normally a heavy application of lime sulfur is given after the exhibition season, but because of the unusually cold weather it was given earlier. The bonsai still looked good. Of course, masterpieces in preparation for display were not sprayed and many were in locations under the roof eves for a bit more protection to the tender buds.

 

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After a quick lunch several of us returned to the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition for another study period. It’s amazing what new discoveries can be learned each time a bonsai is seen. Details, details and more details are elements in refined classic bonsai and distinctive display. Of course, any trip is not complete without a stop at the Ueno Green Club.