2013 Kokufu-ten Submissions

This year’s Kokufu exhibition will be a little tougher for every hopeful as there are about 50 less trees being accepted. Many of you have been curious to why this is. Well it is because the building in which the show is typically held, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, has been renovated over the last few years. I believe they have added an escalator and a few other improvements to update the building. I know for sure that the last two years it was held in a typical business/residential building on something like the 16 floor. You would arrive on that floor and there the trees were. This year it is back at its normal location and it will the first time for me. So, the display area for the Kokufu trees will be smaller and less trees will fit. For that reason they have cut about 50 spaces/entries. Also for some reason I have not been able to figure out why, there will be a larger number of Kichou bonsai, important bonsai masterpieces in this years show. From our garden alone we will have 7 submissions that are Kichou trees. So for these reasons, the judging this year will be harder than in the past.  I expect this years show to have some of the top trees in Japan. So that means that me and my fellow apprentices must bring our A-game to each tree. Well without further ado, here are the trees from our garden!


White Pine in an antique Chinese pot


This next juniper was worked on first by my sempai Yusuke. Prior to it being repotted, the tree was tilting more to the left. So Yusuke basically did an about job, then the tree was repotted. Afterwards Oyakata gave it to the top apprentice, Matt, to get it perfect. I believe he spent an afternoon wiring some of the fine branching and checking the balance. It turned out really well! Great job Matt!


This tree is owned by Doug Paul of  the Kennett Collection. This entry is the 4th consecutive entry for him. It is uncommon for foreigners to enter trees into the show, but I’d love to see it become a more common practice in the future. Sweet tree Doug-san!


Next is a black pine I prepared along with Oyakata. Overall, not a lot of work was done to it. First we pulled most of the long needles that were sticking out of profile and any needles that were browning in color or broken. Then we checked the overall balance. We wired a few branches here and there to make weak areas look stronger and to make the foliage pads full and in line. One area he stressed getting just right was the top right side of the apex. He wanted to make sure that it was compact and not sticking up too much. This whole process only took about an hour, but it was just the right amount of work to get the tree looking crisp and clean, yet still natural looking.


For this next display I was running in and out of the tea room moving one tree out and another in and didn’t get to snap a great picture. The main tree is a trident maple in a Tofukuji pot. The accompanying tree is a choujubi in a Kinyo (blue glazed) pot. The Kinyo pot is a favorite of Oyakata’s and has been used in at least the last two or three Kokufu exhibitions with various trees.


Then a few days later, Oyakata made a slight adjustment to the display. He decided he didn’t want to use the Kinyo pot after all. I not too sure why this is, but we put it in a different pot.

New pot. Japanese, Ittou Gekko.

From a Kinyo to a Japanese, Itou Gekkou.

These next trees are designated Kichou bonsai, Important Bonsai Masterpieces.







Next is a Kichou tree I had a lot of fun preparing. This was the second to last tree I worked on before I went home on my Christmas vacation. Here it is before any work…


My goal for this tree was to get it looking ‘so fresh and so clean’ yet keep it looking natural and untouched. A difficult task! The way I do this is by first checking the balance. By this I mean: Are all the pads in the correct place? Do any pads need to be pulled up/pulled down? Are there any areas of the pads that are sticking out of profile? Do any areas look weak and need to be made stronger looking? Are any areas too strong/overgrown? and so on. For the most part all the pads were in the correct location. Basically I needed to wire some of the finer branching to make the pads appear dome-like, where all the foliage fits in a fluid group.  A little difficult to explain so here are a few pictures that show this process.

Untouched pad pre-wiring.

Untouched pad pre-wiring.

Starting from he bottom, I worked my way up.

Starting from the bottom, I worked my way up.

About half way done, you can see things are starting to take shape.

About half way done, you can see things are starting to take shape.

End result. Overall a much more orderly pad.

End result. Overall a much more orderly pad.

So after doing a similar process over the entire tree, this is what I turned out…what do you think?


Sakafu/Kokufu Shimpaku Juniper: This last tree is a special on for me. It is owned by a client and has been in the garden ever since I began my apprenticeship. Last spring Oyakata was already preparing for the next Sakufu-ten which wasn’t for another 8 months or so. This past Sakufu was the first year in which non-professionals displayed trees for the show and we as apprentices here at the garden were going to submit trees. Oyakata had told me early on which tree he wanted me to work on. But as time passed and he got more excited for the show and wanted the best of the best to be entered, he changed his mind…about 5 time. He ended up giving my tree to the newest apprentice and asked we what I wanted to enter. At first I wasn’t sure and told him that it was his call. But the more I thought about it, the more this tree kept coming to mind. So one morning as we were cleaning, I asked him if I could work on this tree for Sakafu. He gave it a long pause, then decided that it was  great choice. This tree is actually owned by a client, so he got on the phone right away to ask if it was ok. The client of course had no problems and was happy that his tree would be used in the show. So a few days later I got the tree in the workshop and prepped it using all the skills I had learned up to this point.

Before any work was done on the tree.

Before any work was done on the tree.

After cleaning the dead wood and life vein. A few unwanted branches may have been cut off.

After cleaning the dead wood and life line.

It was well past dark when I had finished this tree. I may look happy, but inside I know i'm saying, 'snap the picture and lets go home'...though I was very prowd to say the least!

It was well past dark when I had finished this tree. I may look happy, but inside I know I’m saying, ‘snap the picture and let’s go home’…though I was very proud to say the least!

Here it sits on display at the Sakufu Exhibition in early December

Here it sits on display at the Sakufu Exhibition in early December

'Taira Sharado' as they in Japanese.

At the bottom it says ‘Taira Sharado’ as they say in Japanese.

And here is how the tree looked in mid-January vying for a spot in the 87th Kokufu exhibition.


Everyone who participates in the Sakafu show receives a hand written certificate. Here I am with mine. I will have to put it in a nice frame and hang it in my tea room one day! Awesome!

'Taira Sharados' enty for the 2012 Sakafu Exhibition...

‘Taira Sharado’ and his certificate for the 2012 Sakafu Exhibition…

Well, hope you enjoyed the bonsai. I will keep you posted and let you know the results of the judging. Keeping my fingers crossed they will all make it!

***I just found out today that all of our entries were accepted! Congratulations to all our clients, Oyakata, my fellow apprentices and I’ll give myself a big pat on the back!***

Thanks for visiting! Please fell free to tell me what you think in the comment section and if you’d like please become a follower of the blog by clicking on the follow link!

Ganbatte Bonsai! Loaded up and ready for a trip to Tokyo!

Ganbatte Bonsai! Loaded up and ready for a trip to Tokyo!

Posted in Bonsai Exhibition, Uncategorized | 34 Comments

Random Stuff

I was browsing through a few albums and thought I’d post some random stuff you might like.


This is actually from last year when this tree was in bloom. Seeing this picture gets me excited to see it again in its full glory. This is a boke, a type of flowering quince which blooms in the winter months. It has thorny twigs and produces a fruit in the summer months. Be sure to cut the fruit off as soon as you see it. The tree uses so much energy producing them it causes the branch which it was growing on to die back. Boke is in the same family as choujubai but differs in a few ways. Boke has a smoother grey bark where a choujubai has a crackled  bark when old. Boke have a large leaf and the flowers may be a mixture of red and white where choujubai have red flowers. Choujubai typically flower very strong all year-long and boke bloom strongly in the late winter months. Boke do not ramify as finely as choujubai making them less expensive and desirable, but there is no doubt, their beauty is not lacking.

Next is a white pine display we set up specially for this stand. Oyakata got this stand among a large collection a client was parting with. It was in a fancy custom box and I immediately knew it was something good. This stand was used in the very first Kokufu exhibition over 86 years ago. It is made of boxwood, a wood that has a yellow appearance at first but turns darker brown over time. Being that it was made before the Second World War, it is especially rare to be in existence now. Most bonsai, stands, books and scrolls did not survive the war. A lot of Japans valuables were lost during this period, but this stand stood the test of time and man, making it all the more valuable.  Yeah, I wanted to give my right arm for this one! We pulled it out of the box and Oyakata wanted to see it in action right away. So we found this cascading white pine with exposed roots and it was a perfect match. He added the bronze statue of a bird and Yusuke hung a scroll of the full moon with falling snow.

It was a perfect combination!

It was a perfect combination!

Here is a close up of the stand, click on the picture to see it in detail.

stand close-up

I can’t imagine how long it took and how difficult it was to make this stand. On top of that, knowing a little more about its history and that it was in the first Kokufu, I could only wish this stand would end up in my collection. Oh well, a picture will have to do! It has long since been sold to a client, but it would be cool to see it again in a future Kokufu exhibition.

Sweet little pot!

Sweet little pot!

This is a small Sanshyu Ichiyou pot. I asked my fellow Japanese apprentices if they knew any history about this maker and this is what I was able to gather. Sanshyu Ichiyou was born in 1905 and died in 1985. His father studied pot making in Tokaname. Sanshyu, whose real name was Kamiya Tsunaichi, did as most Japanese children and followed in his father’s footsteps studying ceramics. Ichiyou soon moved to Tokyo where he studied at a placed called Kou-en. Later he opened a shop called Sanshyuya in a town called Ebisu, Tokyo. He sold many things bonsai related, but specialized in making pots. Many clients requested custom pots which he made. Soon he realized that he had a talent for pot making and began to specialize in making bonsai pottery, especially soba yuu pots (originally used for making soba noodles), suibans and ao-kouchi (green glazed) pots. Larger pots up to 40 cm can be found, but most of the pots he made were small in size, such as the picture above, about 5cm.

 ….Here is his chop.


A little shaggy tosho...

A little shaggy tosho…

This is a tosho, needle juniper, that I have been working on ever since I began my apprenticeship, about 4 or 5 times now. I began with cutting a portion of a branch off then used younger growth to reshape the area, and since have been pinching it when the new growth gets long and have wired many other branches. It looks much better now and it will be the subject of a future post.

project tree

project tree

This is a trident maple that Matt and I bought at last years Kokufu sales area. After taking the advise of our sempai Michael Hagedorn, we decided to do an air layer at the base of the tree and made it a project tree. We plan to separate it this year and do our version of the “Ebihara” technique…but this too will be the subject of a future post!


Here is a suiseki  made from obsidian making it an unusual suiseki. Most suiseki come from rivers and streams, but this rock is from a rock quarry/mine. Obsidian is a very brittle volcanic rock which often breaks to sharp edges and flat surfaces. We often display this around the tea room here at the nursery by itself on a stand and occasionally with an accent figure. I have seen a picture of this suiseki in an old book displayed with a tiny bronze pagoda sitting on the top. Very cool!


Here we are getting ready for the last Taikan-ten. We all had our cameras out as we matched trees with stands, scrolls and accents. I like these days about the best, when you get to see your work on display and get a chance to learn how to best display it.

This is one of the two trees I prepared for the show.

A red pine on display which I prepared for the last Taikan-ten

A red pine on display which I prepared for the last Taikan-ten

My pride and joy!

My pride and joy!

This pot has been one of the top joys for me as an apprentice. It is an Eshidei which means a purple clay pot with a painting on it. It is a Kowatari pot meaning that is antique Chinese and is at least 200 years old. This one is most likely over 250 years however. Eshidei pots (along with Aigon Rogins)like this one have been one of my favorite types of pots ever since I began to seriously learn about pots.  Typically each side of an Eshidei pot will have a different painting. Most of the times it is some sort of scenery on the front and back and a leaf, bamboo or similar close-up painting on the sides. I have also seen them with black paint instead of the white paint in a similar style as the one in the picture above, and those are normally much more expensive. I believe the majority of them have made their way back to China, and even now the white-painted ones are becoming much more scarce in Japan. Ocassionally now you will see an Eshidei and on one of the sides there will be Chinese characters instead of a scenery. These are much newer.  Shinto, as they are referred to, are made within the last 50 years. So this pot came into the nursery when a client needed some money and decided he wanted to sell this pot. Oyakata bought it from him and set it in the tea room on display. As soon as the client had left and Oyakata had given us our lunch break, I rushed to the tea room to check it out. WOW!!! I had to have it!!! After sneaking in to see it every chance I got that afternoon, I asked Oyakata how much he paid for it. He told me and told me a little history about it and where it had come from. “Such a rare pot” he told me.  I kept drooling over it till it was time to go home. Oyakata left the next morning headed to Tokyo for a few days and I was left to keep it safe untill his return! 😉 Over the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about this pot. I think I even had a dream that Oyakata gave it to me…. Well I just had to have it, so when Oyakata got back from Tokyo I basically said to him ‘good morning’ and ‘I want that pot!’ He got a good laugh from that, but after I assured him I wasn’t joking we worked out a deal and the pot was mine!!!! I’m happy to say that after one very nervous plane flight, the pot now resides in my house in North Carolina. It is most likely one pot that I will never part with!

Here is another example of an Eshidei which happens to reside in my collection. Notice each side is different. It is also a Kowatari, antique Chinese. It has developed a nice patina over the pot.


In my next post I will be showing you this years Kokufu-ten entries we will be submitting for judging. I believe we have about 16 trees and fingers crossed all will make it in. This year there are about 50 less trees allowed in the show so judging will be much more difficult. Till then here is a preview…this is a tree owned by American Doug Paul, owner of The Kennet Collection…

Inspecting every last detail ensures perfection!

Inspecting every last detail ensures perfection!

As always, thanks for visiting!


Posted in Around the Nursery, Display, Pots | 11 Comments


Happy New Year from Tyler Sherrod Bonsai!

Happy New Year from Tyler Sherrod Bonsai!

Well it’s a new year and I have new adventures ahead of me here in Japan. It’s hard to believe that I’m about to begin the third year of my apprenticeship. It only seems like yesterday that I arrived here in Obuse and was given my first lesson on the proper way to sweep the floors… I’ve come a long way!

I know I was lacking on blog post over the last year and I got a lot of heat from family and friends of the blog, for that I am sorry. I promise to be more regular with post in the year to come!

For New Years, Oyakata set up a display in the tea room which included this years Prime Minister’s award in the Sakufu competition.

2012 Prime Minister black pine by Asako Takatoshi

2012 Prime Minister black pine by Asako Takatoshi

new years ship


These bulbs are on the verge of bloom and I’m not exactly sure what they are…many suprises awaits us this year!

Chojubai on display

Chojubai on display

Being that it is a new year, I’d like to show you the last tree I worked on before I left for my Christmas vacation. It’s a white pine that has been around the nursery for a while. I was actually given this tree to work on about a year ago, but some how it slipped by and I never got to it. Time passed and it was forgotten or some more important work came along….and a year passed. Then just before Oyakata was heading out to Tokyo for the Sakufu competition, he remembered this tree and told me to work it while he was gone.  This time I got right to it.

white pineIt was a difficult tree in my mind. It had previously been repotted so that it somewhat cascading, but had a branch shooting out from the base under the main trunk that gave a real cascading design difficulties. So I tipped it up more virtaclly and began to see a windswept like tree in my mind. I began to cut off branches that i knew I didn’t need and saw the tree more clearly. With a pile of branches left on the floor, I put wire on the ones that remained.

white pine afterOriginally I let this tree slip by me because I had troubles seeing any potential in it. But when I got down to it, it really wasn’t that hard. Even though it many never be a masterpiece I think it turned out OK and hopefully the owner will be happy to get it back and looking good.

Next I will show you the first tree that I got to work on in this new year, a much better white pine!

After I had cut off a few large branches I realized i hadn't taken a before picture, so Matt was kind enough to hold them back in place! Thanks Matt!

After I had cut off a few large branches I realized i hadn’t taken a before picture, so Matt was kind enough to hold them back in place! Thanks Matt!

This one was much more straight forward, get the tree back into shape. So I began by cutting off a few larger branches that had grown too long. One large branch was to the back and as you can see from the picture above, one was a branch that grew out from the main right branch. By doing this I could compact the profile of the right side of the tree. I made those branches in to deadwood then began to place wire on the tree beginning with larger wire and moving on to smaller wire.

white pine after

Oyakata was pleased with the results and I was as well. He told me that he may try to put this in a nice antique pot and enter it into the judging for Kichou Bonsai (important bonsai masterpiece) this year. I will let you know what happens.

Well that’s one post for the year and I promise it won’t be the last! Soon to some will be this years Kokufu trees that we just repotted along with the trees I prepared for it, as well as some posts of work that I did over the last year to catch you up on things.

As always, thanks for visiting and please spread the word that Tyler Sherrod Bonsai is back in business!


Posted in Around the Nursery, Before and After, Display, Uncategorized | 2 Comments