Climate has a big influence on the growth. The warmer Japanese climate, high air humidity and long growing seasons make the Japanese bonsai grow with great speed and far quicker than us using the northern hemisphere as base.
The shorter growing season here do develop trees in a lower tempo than in Japan. At a talk with Tomohiro Masumi from the Koju-en shohin nursery in Kyoto, we discussed the advantage and disadvantages of this is, and like Tomohiro pointed out, northern Europe countries (like Denmark and the UK e.g.) will be able to keep shohin trees in size and form longer than the Japanese. In Japan the problem of the expanding trunks and heavy growth shows the difficulty of keeping the trees in shohin size for a long time.
After 40 years with shohin in Japan, many of the trees are not possible to keep in the size under 20 cm anymore, and therefore the Chohin category is developed for the purpose of finding a room for the now former shohin outgrown. I will therefore like to point out that it is a small misunderstanding in the west to name medium sized trees Chuhin at exhibitions, because these trees have not been shohin at an earlier stage. The Chuhin category is for shohin outgrown their size, and now exhibited as this.
Despite slow growth and longer time before a tree is developed, we can enjoy having our trees the right size for a longer time. Some advantages to live in a colder area luckily
Tomohiro Masumi working on a Gardenia. Johnny Eslykke watching.
Trident maple - Acer buergerianum
Mame-bonsai is growing in popularity like shohin at this time. The prize of the larger trees are going lower and lower, because shohin is growing so much still. A few places are keen to develop mame-bonsai (Mame Bonsai or bean-size bonsai is less than 10 centimetres / 4 inches in height. Also the with must not extend 10 cm / 4 inches but there are no official measures).
At a nursery in Angyo, Japan, they specialised in growing mame-bonsai. Many small seedlings and cuttings was produced here. It is quite easy to do this your self. Buy a small raw stock at a nursery and gently cut it back, and let new growth take over, if you do not start with seedlings or cuttings. Specimens with small leaves are required, and then a simple styling and good care to keep the trees healthy. Placing these small trees slightly raises above a tray with water will help keeping humidity higher in the warm season, and the trees healthier.
Koju-en shohin nursery in Kyoto.
My travel mate and I had the privilege to re-visit Tomohiro Masumi at the Koju-en shohin-bonsai nursery in Kyoto. We had a very pleasant time as always with Tomohiro. One of the important lessons at this visit was always to keep your shohin in as much light as possible. I think we from time to time hear about keeping some trees in semi-shade to protect them from the sun, but this is wrong according to Tomohiro.
Keeping shohin from getting all the light they can get, will make them grow longer branches with greater distance between the internodes (leaf pairs), and make it difficult to achieve a compact tree wanted when growing shohin especially. All kind of trees needs full sun to be able to make a compact image.
This of course demands that we are careful watering thoroughly when the heat dries out the small volume of soil available. The net seen at some nurseries placed above the trees have two purposes, depending on the aim of it. At Koju-en a large net is covering the whole nursery to keep birds away from the trees, often seeking food by taking of the fertilizer pellets and risking to tip the trees off the tables.
At Mansei-en nursery in Omiya we observed a big open building constructed with a net over it, and also at a nursery in Angyo. There the purpose of the net was to provide shade for weaker trees, that needed less sun for a period to recover. Often these trees are brought in from customers who have made mistakes or because of deceases. Therefore the bonsai needs slight protection when they are taken into care and recovering from the stress applied to them.
Mansei-en. Building with shade for trees needing to recover for a limited period. Often trees brought into the nursery by clients that needs help.
Weak trees recovering in a shaded area.
The way shohin-bonsai is grown in Japan may differ some from the western way. There are two ways of starting material in Japan. Some amateurs like to grow cuttings and make material from seeds. This lower level material is then after some development sold to bonsai nurseries who brings it up to the next levels. Th high quality nurseries who makes the final bonsai ready for exhibition e.g. buys from these amateurs or nurseries who specializes to be at a level between the low end material and the final high quality bonsai.
In Angyo in the Kawaguchi area (between Omiya and Tokyo), there are a variety of nurseries. Some with low end material needing developing, and some with very high quality bonsai. The high quality nurseries buys much of their material from these nurseries, and bring it to the final stages.
Akimoto-san is a friendly man who runs his nursery in Angyo area, where totally 19 nurseries are located. Here both medium-developed good quality stocks are available, as well as many seedlings and cuttings are grown. Prizes are much lower here, compared to the more well known nurseries in Omiya e.g.
Akimoto grows all kinds of material at the packed space. The heat demands watering several times a day in midd summer at the time we visited. Sitting in the meeting room we even experienced an earthquake, but when it stopped the conversation took over as nothing has happened. A great experince to see how shohin-bonsai is raised from scratch.
- Johnny Eslykke
Recently I went home after a two weeks travel to Japan. Humidity and temperatures went to the sky, but the experiences did too. Seeing Japanese bonsai in the flesh is an experience to learn from when possible. Probably it will be a while before going again, so I was keen to take a good load of photographs to record the visit and keep a stack of files to help the memory.
I was able to shoot at places were normally no one get permission to photograph. This is due to a long and respectfully knowledge and friendship with owners. I will share all these special photographs at www.shohin-europe.com and use the blog here to print smaller histories the next days.
The entrance at Seikou-en in Omiya bonsai village. Tomio Yamada is the owner of Seikou-en, and in another post I will show more of this nursery normally not published.