We were graced with Tak Shimazu at our last club meeting. Tak always brings a down to Earth sense of conversation and telling everything as it is. At this meeting he transformed a rough stock Itoigawa Juniper with little or no bottom branches into a pretty good looking tree by the end of the night. He said, "Anybody can do this if they have the vision to look beyond what is wrong with the tree."
As you can see from above there are no low branches at all. The lowest branch is about on the top 1/3 of the tree. Tak said he has grown this tree from a cutting that has been grafted onto a Prostrate juniper and has been container grown for 7-9 years. When he started out, I thought the tree had little potential and I would have easily passed it up at a nursery.
Here is a progression of styling over a 5-8 year period. From right to left raw stock to show tree. Tak said you can easily get from 1st styling to show tree. It just takes couple rounds of refinement. The hardest part is the initial styling and setting the branches in their future spots. The goal of this view is that you can not go from rough stock to show tree without several years of growth and refinement.
Finally, Tak showed us what a refined tree should look like. Well defined pads with the ability to see the trunk. None of this "dome, helmet, or ball" shaped silhouette or what he calls them "Dongo" or shapeless dumpling. He also continues and says it will take several steps or jumps in the refinement process to get it to the final product and something that all bonsai practitioners need to learn.
Tak starts by clearing and clean out the tree. This is an important first step that many workshop miss. Tak states, "You have to clean the tree up to see what you can use."
Tak takes about 30minutes to clean out all the weak, crossing, crotch needles, dead needles and anything in between. This way he can wire much easier in the next steps.
He starts with heaviest wire on the lowest branch. He also says its ok to let the wire bite into the branch a bit. I will help it set better in the long run. He also says, after about 5-8 years it adds character to the branch and the bite marks kinda disappear. Tak also uses slightly larger wire than you would expect, he rather wire once than again just to it again later. Finally, this as he said is the initial styling of the tree. It is important in this styling to make sure all the main branches are set in the optimal position so the refinement process can begin in about 2 years.
Even with branches near the apex of the tree. Tak is able to pull the branches down into a low branch position with just wire. In Japan, Tak said its common practice to move branches high from 1/3 of the tree to become first and second branches.
From this angle you can see how high the branches are coming from. Tak said in order to speed up the strength and setting time of the branches is to let the tree grow wild and free of trimming for the coming year or until the wire starts to bite in. Even branches that were jinned will be wired down to match the angle of the main branches. On a side note of matching, whatever the style of the trunk of the tree. The branches of the tree must also match. For example, a moyogi trunk will have gentle curves found within the branching. While, a chokkan style trunk will have straight branches. So make sure your trunk style matches the branching.
One of the final stages is needle trimming. We are not to make the tree more compact by trimming the needle in this process. The goal is to make the outline or silhouette more in line with the overall shape of the tree. No pinching just trimming some of the long branchlets that do not fit into the shape of the tree.
Tak is finished with the tree here and explains that single branch will need to develop into a pad like his hand. If you let the tree just grow wild for a year or so this will help accelerate the process of ramification. As a final note, Tak explains that this tree will have a several degrees to play with for the front of the tree.
Tak graciously donated this tree to the club to raffle. And the winner is...
Alex Marien! Will it was his wife Hedy, but he is not complaining.
Winners picture. Do not you like the death stare?
Laughs, this bunch of people in this club is great! Again congrats Hedy on your new tree. I can not wait to see how it develop over the years! Thank you Tak Shimazu for your time and expertise! Until our next meeting!