Aichi-En visiting apprentice trip report: part 2

So, being there in early March, I felt really lucky that this spectacular Ume decided to bloom during my trip. This tree was one of the original plants which was grown from seed in 1896!  I think it's much larger in person than the picture portrays.   From what I've seen, currently white or dark pink flowers seem to be the most popular colors in Japan, its what you see most frequently in the show books. However, I think the light pink flowers are a nice change of pace.  In this pic the tree is not styled for show, but I think it's absolutely beautiful as is.


The bark on this tree really blew me away and the tree has an old feeling you just couldn't re-create without the insane amount of time it took to grow from seed.


Pines are what definitely make up the majority of the garden at Aichi-En and there are hundreds of really great ones.


Usually, the way that I look at these pines, is by first looking at the overall appearance of the tree...


Then, I would crouch down lower to take a closer look at the trunk line, nebari and bark.  I like this guy with nice movement and thick plated bark on a relatively skinny trunk.


Sometime around two years ago, when Peter Tea came back to the US, Aichi-En became a three apprentice nursery and the number of trees increased a bit because there was more Deshi power to handle the workload.


While Pines make up the majority of the nursery, they work on many other types of trees as well like this small Tosho or Needle Juniper in a high fired growing pot.  These high fired grow pots last much longer than the terracotta ones you find in the U.S.  Why don't we have these pots?    


Speaking of Tosho and Peter Tea, did anyone catch Peter styling a Tosho in Kinbon back in 2012?  I heard about this photo shoot, but did not see it until just recently.  Congrats to Peter and Mr. Tanaka!


Another of the current full time Apprentice's at Aichi-En is John Milton showing me this impressive Sekka-Hinoki.  I found out this is currently one of the most popular varieties of Hinoki in Japan.  John is a really talented and nice guy originally from England where he worked at his families dairy farm before starting his apprenticeship.  It was astonishing how knowledgable all the apprentices were and tried to learn as much as possible from them.  If for some reason you haven't checked out John's blog yet, I highly recommend giving it a look.  I've read every post, top to bottom.


One thing I thank John for really helping me to understand is the importance of leaf and twig quality in Bonsai.  Generally speaking trees with smaller leaves, have smaller twigs and can become more ramified than trees with larger leaves and twigs.  In Japan good leaf quality can increase a trees price exponentially. You know what they say, size doesn't matter 😉 I believe it's something we should pay more attention to with species where dense ramification is desirable.  Not getting too deep into this subject right now, this doesn't mean you should throw away your trees with larger sized leaves.  However, I think it's very relevant for us outside of Japan where we should be focusing on growing from seed, cutting and air layer with goals between 15-50+ years down the road where this will absolutely come into play.  Using quality leaf size is at least one piece of the puzzle.  We need to be growing those multi generational trees in order to push things to our full potential.

Here's a couple pictures from John's blog, along side Mr. and Mrs. Cooper at Taikan Ten.


John prepped there Japanese maple for the show and it ended up receiving a prize.  John told me that the leaf quality of this tree was one of the best he's ever seen.


Besides from having all kinds of Bonsai related things back home, I also wish we could have vending machines like they do in Japan.  There's always one close by because they are literally everywhere! They usually have both hot and cold drinks, coffees, teas, juice, soda and you can get food from most of them too. Really good coffee is like a buck fifty and you don't have to wait in line at Starbucks to get it.   This one is right around the corner from the nursery where we could run off to grab a quick drink.


The only trouble I had was that you don't know exactly what you are getting.  Like when I bought one and thought "Oh maybe it's Peach soda or Apricot juice or something let's try it...  Oh... it says Ume on the side, that's cool, probably tastes Awesome".

In actuality, it just tasted kinda but I finished it because I didnt want to waste it.  To my surprise I started feeling slightly buzzed after 😉

Basically Japanese Ume Smirnoff Ice


One day on a break, after grabbing a quick drink, we went for a walk with Juan and John, they showed me a cool park with a zip line you could go down which we all had fun trying.  We also checked out this local shrine.


It was cool to see something like this located in the middle of a neighborhood. Some throw coins in the metal box with white writing on the side, like a wishing well.


Sometimes we would be working in the workshop when Mr. Tanaka would come in and say, "let's go."  This meant wrap it up quickly because it's time to jump in the van and roll.  Here's some pics at a bonsai nursery we visited during one of those times.


Here's the largest tree at the nursery, which is Black pine that greets customers as they enter.


For the most part the nursery seemed to specialize in smaller trees, and the prices seemed very good.  


I've seen pictures and video of many of the top quality or more famous nurseries in Japan.   However I was glad to see a range of different types of nurseries.


There were trees in all different stages of development and many projects that would be fun to take on. We had a great time looking through everything in search of little treasures.


Juan pointed all these little nails and branches out to me.  Any guesses about what's going on here or what the goal of this might be?


This group of Chojubai Quince and Princess Persimmon all priced at approx. $45 usd.


Each nursery I visited in Japan was attached to the owners home.  This makes things more convenient and something I'd like to do in the future.



Juan is bending this down slightly with his thumb, showing a slightly more compact design and a potential future potting angle for this exposed root Chojubai.


Mr. Tanaka ended up purchasing a field grown yamadori style Itoigawa from this nursery which is shown below.  I was very happy that he had me wire and style it.

One thing I want to mention briefly is that I make no claims to being a professional Bonsai artist.  My work is no where close, so please don't judge it too harshly.  I am however a student of Bonsai and am trying to improve and achieve some long term goals.  I felt very fortunate that Mr. Tanaka allowed me to gain the experience by working on this tree, when any of the apprentices could have done a much better job.

The tree as purchased


The first step for me was to clean out the old needles, downward oriented growth and thin out the areas that were too dense.  Older needles grow on the interior of each shoot, it's the growth that is closer to the trunk.  These older needles provide less energy for the tree.     


I also remove the outer layer of the sun bleached bark, trying to get down to a cinnamon color.  After this I used the water gun to try and remove the cinnamon color layer and get down to the brownish/red color without going too deep in the bark.

















Then I started wiring and adjusting things into place to the best of my abilities.


I used two guy wires on the tree, one to bring the right hand side branch down so it came out of the trunk at a better angle.  Juan pointed out to me that when anchoring to a Jin it's better to anchor closer to the base of the jin so there's less leverage on the Jin making it less likely to break.


So once again here's the before picture.  I gave this one a go, then had Juan adjust everything to make it look much better.


Here's the result after I wired and adjusted.


Here's the result after Juan helped to re-adjust which in my opinion made a much better and cleaner over all appearance.  He spread things out a bit more, created a small pad on the left hand side below the apex, better oriented the shoots and cleaned a bit more from the bottom of the pads.


While I mostly focused on wiring and styling during my trip I also came to Aichi-En at the start of repotting season.  Here's Juan combing out the roots with bent nose tweezers on a Japanese Maple project.


I think it's a pretty good foundation for a really nice Bonsai.


Here's Juan getting crazy for his repotting scissors 🙂  You can buy these pre-bent or bend them yourself like we did while I was there.  If you work on a ton of trees, it's really nicer to have this angle when cutting the bottom of the root ball.


Mr. Tanaka's had 'Tea' and now he has 'Coffee'.  Here's the very talented full time apprentice Danny Coffee in full repotting mode.  Notice the repotting jump suit and safety glasses.


Here's a trident that I repotted.  I started by cutting the wires on the bottom of the pot, then used a sickle along the edge, popped it out, raked the bottom, cut the bottom roots until I hit hard wood.


Then started combing the roots outward with my tweezers while untangling.



I've got a big dust pan type thing which is used to catch falling debris while I work.  It kind of looks like my knee is in it, but it's just the perspective of the pic.


And finally, here's John leaning back, checking the position and angle of the tree in the pot.  So, that's all for now but part three is on it's way soon.  Thank you so much for checking this out! I really appreciate it.



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