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6 min read

 For the second time this year I was fortunate enough to visit Japan for bonsai. I love Japan at this time of the year as it is Autumn and the leaves on the trees are changing colour, creating a visual feast for the eyes, especially in Kyoto.

My trip started in the greater Tokyo area where I needed to purchase some trees for importation but after that the plan was to attend Taikan-ten in Kyoto. Taikan-ten is the second largest bonsai exhibition in Japan and takes place every year around the same time. It is an interesting exhibition because both professionals and amateurs are able to display in the same hall. This means that you have Japanese Important Masterpiece trees displayed next to a tree which has perhaps never before been seen by the public. All entrants must pay to enter their display and the prices range from R7,000.00 to R14,000.00 depending on the size.

Another interesting fact about the judging panel for the Taikan-ten is that it is made up of patrons of the art, bonsai professionals and art critics. The top award is the Prime Minister's award and is not necessarily given to a tree every year. The judging process works as follows:

  • Toro Suzuki, a very famous bonsai professional in Japan is the head of the exhibition committee. He and his team pre-select the top three or four trees from the various categories.
  • These selected trees are then placed in long rows, grouped together by their categories to be judged by the panel.
  • The best trees are awarded essentially best in class awards such as "best evergreen, best shohin" and such. However special awards are also given and these could be awarded to any trees.

Anyway, on to the pictures. Here are some of my favourites from the exhibition and in the coming weeks I would like to take one or two of these and appreciate them in greater detail as I have many close-up photos of details which add to the interest of these trees and are a testament to the artists creativity and mastery of technique.

Chinese quince bonsai tree

Image caption. Chinese quince in autumn colour 

Crabapple bonsai tree

Image caption. A kind of crabapple with miniature fruit. Apparently it is extremely difficult to have it in fruit at this time of the year. What a beautiful combination the pot colour and foliage makes.

Korean hornbeam bonsai tree

Image caption. An Important Japanese Masterpiece (evident from the small metal tag hanging from the lower right branch). A very expressive Chinese quince.

Juniper bonsai tree

Image caption. A very pleasing Itoigawa juniper by my friend Koji Hiramatsu. I love the way in which the shape of the pot perfectly compliments the vertical movement of tree and then also due to the narrow base of the pot creates an electrifying feeling of a balancing act going on.

Juniper bonsai tree

Image caption. Junipers styled in this manner, which very powerful shari and jin details are internationally extremely popular today. It evokes imagery of trees surviving harsh environments for many years. Parts of the tree dying off and in an effort to survive other parts becoming dominant. The sensitivity of the artist is clearly demonstrated by the carefully sculpted foliage and the very natural shari. 

Needle juniper bonsai tree

Image caption. I really enjoyed this display. The tree is a Needle Juniper. The scroll is a mountain scene complete with antelope or deer. The extreme vertical movement of the tree suggests height, combined with the scroll a mountain scene is conjured up. The large lip of the pot suggests a landscape, perhaps an open plain where this tree is growing. Perhaps a lonely tree on the plain, where slightly wind has caused it to grow to the right, towards the craggy part of the mountain as the wind rushes along, up and over the mountain.

Juniper bonsai tree

Image caption. This Itoigawa juniper has so many opposing forces, the energy, combined with the small container is wonderful. I really like the balance of dead and live wood in this tree also.

Hornbeam bonsai tree

Image caption. Seeing a Hornbeam in full autumn colour like this is a special treat. 

Spruce bonsai tree

Image caption. This is a very famous tree, an Ezo Spruce. It has appeared in many bonsai magazines and books. Photos fail to convey the "presence"of a tree and this is most definitely true of this tree. It is big, the trunk massive and extremely fissured, the very jins sharp and spiky, just like the foliage. As a whole a tree expressing hard surroundings, one can understand why it is so famous.

Japanese white pine bonsai tree

Image caption. One of my favourites of the show, an amazing White Pine (Goyomatsu). I love everything about it, the combination of the pot and very contorted base, the needle size and beautiful arrangement of the branches. What's not to like!

Juniper bonsai tree

Image caption. Another amazing juniper which plenty of movement and clearly very old, evident from the width of the shari blades. A single live vein carries nourishment all the way to the canopy. 

Shishigashira japanese maple bonsai tree

Image caption. This tree is a Shishigashira maple and was part of a display of five such trees, all belonging to the same collector. Each one is a masterpiece and each one is at least a 2 man tree (meaning two people would be needed to carry it). Apparently this collector has 5 top trees of all or most species in his collection. Previous year displays included Chinese maples, Hinoki Cypress and Korean Hornbeams. This collector must have been extremely successful in business and it is wonderful that he now supports the bonsai art form. 

Chinese maple bonsai tree

Image caption. A stunning Trident maple in winter silhouette. I have always said you can hide a multitude of sins when you show this species with leaves on. Remove the leaves and you lay yourself, as the artist, completely naked for scrutiny.  

Chinese maple bonsai tree

Image caption. This Trident maple probably comes from a different part of Japan where it had not become cold yet as the leaves are still green. However it looks as though they have been thinned, besides the fact that they are very well balanced in size with the size of the tree. The small leaves, allowing us to peer into the canopy evokes a feeling of light, airiness which is very pleasing. 

Juniper bonsai tree

Image caption. A masterpiece Juniper, notice how the foliage density (and definition) changes from the lower regions of the tree where it is more defined and open, to less defined and more of a mass in the canopy. This mimics the natural way in which trees grow, the lower branches more sparsely developed as a result of lack of light.

shohin bonsai tree display

Image caption. Shohin displays interrupt those of larger trees and are packed with details which perhaps you might miss at first glance. You can be sure that everything in this display has been planned down to the last detail. The beautiful accent plant, or kusamono, comprised of various species of plants is looked down upon by the imposing, powerful little juniper perched on top its equally impressive root display stand.

accent plant kusamono bonsai display

Image caption. One of my favourite accent plants of the show. This was not planted days before the show, as most of us probably do it. Rather you can see that each individual plant has been selected for its height and unique characteristics and together evoke imagery of a forest or marsh floor. 

Chinese maple bonsai tree

Image caption. So I saved the best for last. My favourite tree of the exhibition was this Trident Maple, and in a future blog we will explore this stunning tree in greater details with lots of close-ups. For now, just enjoy it.

wooden bonsai table display

Image caption. The exhibition has probably and equally impressive vendor area where everything from tools, pots, stands to trees can be purchased. I receive many enquiries after stands. To give you an idea of pricing, the stand on the second shelf from top, against the right is JPY45,000.00 or just less than ZAR6,000.00. How many would you like?

bigei bonsai pots tokoname

Image caption. I liked this dragon motif on a shohin pot by the very popular potter Bigei.

Hope you enjoyed the photos and you are welcome to leave your comments in the space below.

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4 Responses

Louis Legat
Louis Legat

April 19, 2017

Totally blown away! Humbled and very inspired.
Thank you very much.

Shaun Murphy
Shaun Murphy

December 12, 2016

Awesome is the only way to describe these pic’s and the tree’s. Wish I could have joined you but was once again digging olives. Nick Beyers sent this to me.


December 12, 2016

One can only be amazed by their beauty!
Thank you for sharing ?

Abdellatif beydoun
Abdellatif beydoun

December 11, 2016

Always narrated in the best way… pictures are nicely taken also… thank you Terry for this wonderfull tour…

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