Aichi-En visiting apprentice trip report: part 1

Right now i'm sitting at the Tokyo international airport waiting for my flight drinking a milk tea I bought from one of the million vending machines in Japan. I decided to skip second dinner and pass up Ramen for the second time today 😉


Over the past two weeks I did a visiting apprenticeship at Aichi-En Bonsai Nursery in Nagoya, Japan. Nothing but eat, sleep and Bonsai for two weeks. It was an incredible experience that I'll never forget.  I'm going to be posting about my trip in five parts. I'm going to jump around a bit during each post and cover some different subjects including pictures I took around the Nursery, trees I worked on, day trips, technique and other stuff.   Unfortunately, i'm quite the slow writer so I apologize if it takes me a while to get everything up.  I really appreciate you checking this out and I hope you enjoy it!

Ume Garden Tree at Aichi-En getting close to sun set


When I wasn't at the Nursery this was home sweet home during my time in Japan.  I thought it was pretty cool to stay in such a small room.   The room was comfortable and not too far away from the nursery.  The price was around $45/night and for an extra $5 you could get breakfast.  It was really nice to have a hot shower and some peace and quiet at night which allowed me to help digest some of the thoughts and ideas from the day.


Here's the $5 breakfast which included rice, miso soup and coffee and tea.  I was surprised to find that a lot of the food was pretty reasonably priced in Japan excluding a few things.  I guess the portions are smaller which accounts for some of that.  Fruit, which I usually eat a lot of back home, seemed to be more expensive.  However, the fruit I did have was all very tasty.


Here I am at Aichi En on my first day.  I was blown away by the nursery and trees.  The nursery it self is bigger and more beautiful than I imagined, owned by Mr. Junichiro Tanaka a 4th generation Bonsai professional.   If you're reading this there's a good chance that you have read some of the history of Aichi En, but if for some reason you haven't then you can check it out here-


While I was there I kept thinking about how crazy it is that Mr. Tanka is a 4th generation Bonsai professional.  This nursery was established in 1896. Can you imagine four generations of your family in love with Bonsai, passing down trees and learning techniques from generation to generation?  I think I came to the conclusion that I have no idea of what that's like, but it left me in a sense of total awe and appreciation.  I'm going to add pics from around Aichi-En in each of these posts starting with this shot of a large Black pine next to a frog water basin.


There are currently three full time apprentices at Aich-En and it was an honor getting to hang out with them.  Here's the friendly smile of Juan Andadrade which I finally got to meet in person. Juan is from Costa Rica, speaks English and Spanish extremely fluently and some Japanese as well.   This guy is headed for nothing but international Bonsai fame.  While he's intelligent and has a scientific approach to things, he is also very down to earth and is fantastic at breaking concepts down so they are easy to understand.


Rumor has it, that he may be at least making an appearance in the US after his apprenticeship. Sure hope that is true!   Here are a couple trees that Juan recently worked on.  I got to see him clean up and style this bad ass twisty Shimpaku.


Juan is also on a short list of foreigners outside of Japan to have worked on trees submitted to Kokufu.  Here's a spectacular Black pine he worked on for this years Kokufu exhibit.  If you'd like to get updates on Juan and his work, check out his Facebook page.


I frequently followed Juan around the garden, trying to steal his knowledge whenever possible 😉

Chojubai Red flowering Quince


When we were not working on trees, he would often stop to point things out to help teach me.  Like with this massive Trident he pointed out the back side...


Explaining that last year he used cement after scraping out the soft and pulpy wood from the wound.  He explained that it's important for most deciduous trees to completely heal big wounds, otherwise long term health issues often arise. The cement provides the hard surface which is required in order to get wounds to close.


There are many old deciduous trees with nice ramification and twiggyness (is that a real word?) at the nursery.  Good technique, good leaf quality and lots of time are all important factors in achieving this type of ramification.  I sure hope we see more of this in the US over time.

Trees at Nursery near a water basin and bridge


Besides from looking at all the trees at the nursery, I always enjoyed peeking under the benches in search for pots!  While the most expensive were kept inside the house.  There were still tons of pots under every bench and many were really good quality.


Some of the benches were built like this one below with no nails or screws, all joint work.  I'd really like to do something like this in my garden some day.


In addition to the main section of nursery, there is also a growing field near by. The growing field is full of trees that are still far from being in a state of being shown, but lots of great project trees.


The first tree I worked on was selected from the field above.  There were maybe fifty or so trees similar to the one below in the field.  This red pine was a good pick for practicing wiring, styling, bending and selecting the best front.  I received a ton of help on each project I worked on at Aichi-En.   Generally, Juan would give me pointers throughout and then help me to make adjustments to improve the overall final appearance.


A couple challenges with this tree are that Red Pines are known to snap and break easily.  The other issue is the straight sections in the trunk line.  In general I wanted to avoid vertical and horizontal trunk lines in order to create the best possible movement and flow.  To achieve this I wrapped the areas of the branches and trunk line that we ended up bending.


Here's a couple pictures messing with different planting angles.  Which do you like better?




In order to bend down the tallest branch growing up, we used a jack,  stainless steel wire and a stainless steel screw in the trunk.  The jack helps to compress the branch/trunk at a slow and even speed, while the wire was tightened to hold it into place.  I gave the jack three slow half turns at a time, watching and listening.


Here's the final result for the day with the foliage wired into place.  We decided to keep the branch growing straight up past the apex for the health of the tree and as a plan B in case the main branch we bent ended up dying from breaking it.  I did get a small crack when bending the apex and after that point we did not bend it down any further.  I was told that if the plastic rope is applied very tightly around the bent area keeping everything in place, then when you hear one small crack the chances are very good that the branch/trunk will live.  However, if we went further and broke the branch more the chances of living would be drastically reduced.


At the end of my second night I did some exploring and walked all around the hotel.  While I could be totally off, the streets of Nagoya made me feel very safe and relaxed.  I checked out a few different shops and a Pachinko Center which is basically like a slot machine area in a casino, but on steroids.  I found a small udon shop near by, sat down and pointed at a picture of what I wanted on the wall.  It was a very nice way to end the day.

Thanks for checking this out! I've got a ton more pictures so expect more soon.

8 thoughts on “Aichi-En visiting apprentice trip report: part 1”

  1. Very well written.Thanks for sharing. anything related to Bonsai and Juan I am initiated to read. One day I would like my daughter to do Bonsai too and visit all over the world and write.:-)

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