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!

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34 Responses to 2013 Kokufu-ten Submissions

  1. tmmason10 says:

    Congrats to you guys for your trees being accepted. They are beautiful.

  2. bonsai eejit says:

    Great post, amazing bonsai! Congrats on your hard work being recognized and thanks for the insight into Kokufu.

    Ian [bonsai eejit]

  3. bonsai eejit says:

    Reblogged this on Bonsai Eejit and commented:
    Some great trees heading to Japans top exhibitions, well worth a look and a blog follow for Tyler.

  4. Steve Moore says:

    Great post, Tyler! After 20-plus years in bonsai, I still find myself saying from time to time, “Hmm … *there’s* an idea worth remembering,” and that was my response to one of the the Kichou pines.

    I like the look you gave the shimpaku (end of your post.) It leaves the impression of a tree growing in sparse circumstances, but still surviving and thriving. Elegant and internally consistent, too.

    • tylersherrod says:

      Thank you very much Steve! One of the things that bonsai should teach us is that we never get to the point where we know it all…everyday something new can be learned if we are just open to it. I’m glad you enjoyed my work and thank you for your comment!

  5. yenling29 says:

    Congrats Tyler, so excited for you!!!

  6. jeannie says:

    it would be interesting to me to know how old the trees are-they are all very beautiful

    • tylersherrod says:

      You know its not polite to ask a tree how old it is!!! Sometimes we do know the about age of a tree when someone has kept a record of its history or it has been seen in old books. But other times these are trees that have been growing in the wild before they were put in pots and its very hard to know how long they’ve been there unless you cut them in half and count the rings…but Oyakata would not be happy with us if we were to do that! Thanks

  7. Connie Hi says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I may never get back to Japan but enjoy seeing your work. Congratulations, Connie

  8. marco says:

    great job! thank you for sharing!!!!

  9. Mat says:

    great photos of amazing trees. thanks for taking the time to share them with us.

  10. Martin Sweeney says:

    Congratulations Taira! Great work on a Great tree!

  11. Houston says:

    Thank you for this excellent post! And congratulation on your trees’ acceptance. But the truck full of trees scares me… you’d better drive VERY carefully 🙂

    • tylersherrod says:

      Thank you very much and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I would be to afraid to drive that big truck with that load of trees, so thats why we hire a professional to transport them for us. That way if he messes up Oyakata can have him killed and not have to lose an apprentice!!! 😉

  12. Houston says:

    Also, what is the multi-trunked deciduous tree? Looks like a rough barked maple, but I’ve never seen one with such ramification.

    • tylersherrod says:

      Its an Arakawa, Cork Bark Maple. I like this type very much with the rough bark. Yes, it has very fine ramification, it has taken many years to get it to this point! Thanks!

  13. Congratulations Tyler! Hope they win a prize. Hope to see you in Portland sometime 😉

    • tylersherrod says:

      Thank you very much! I do plan on spending some time in Portland once i’ve finished my apprenticship. Two of my sempais, Matt Reel and Mike Hagedorn, are from there as well as Ryan Neil and all their gardens will be fun to visit. Portland is making big waves in the American bonsai scene. Thanks for your comment!

  14. japanesepots says:

    Nice post Sharado San.
    Very nice trees entered this year, with the extra Kichou bonsai, really more like 70-80 spots fewer for non masterpiece trees! Perhaps the return to the art museum is the reason for the extra masterpiece bonsai?
    Hopefully, as you indicate, this will happen more often!

    • tylersherrod says:

      Thanks! Yeah you are right, its normally easier for a Kichou tree to get in than any other tree so the competition was real tough. That a great point about the return to the museum and the extra Kichou trees. I’d bet money they wanted to stack this years show full of the best trees for that reason specifically. Thats awesome about Matt Ouwinga having a tree in the show. I didnt realize that, but its great news. I love to see this happen on a regular basis! I plan to attempt it myself when i’m finished with my apprenticeship and back in the states. Anyway, thanks for your comment and thanks for visiting!

  15. reelbonsai says:

    Awesome post man, I’ll have a follow up soon!

  16. Tony Tickle says:

    Reblogged this on Yamadori and Bonsai material from Tony Tickle and commented:
    Up-to-date blog post on THE BIG SHOW in Japan

  17. Tony Tickle says:

    Great Post Tyler, reblogged coz its great!

  18. Mark & Ritta says:

    Congratulations, and good luck. Mark & Ritta

  19. Very funny activity I like your bonsai.

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