In this article, Mr. Koji Hiramatsu will demonstrate how to create a 2-3" (7cm) shohin shimpaku juniper.
Mr. Hiramatsu will be the 4th generation owner of Shunshou-en, the most renowned pine Bonsai nursery in Japan. Mr. Koji Hiramatsu was demonstrator at ASPAC 2011, working on one of the late Iwasaki Daizo’s red pines.
One of the great things about Shohin Bonsai is that the creation almost exclusively uses nursery grown material, which makes it accessible to everyone. When training a juniper for Shohin, there are two important points : a fattened trunk base, and the presence of foliage in the center.
To fatten a trunk, you must first understand that trees grow top-down. By allowing the branches to grow long and strong, the tree can store larger quantities of energy, and thus, fatten rapidly. This particular Shimpaku juniper was grown from a cutting and is about 10 years old. Normally Mr. Hiramatsu would have let it grow another 10 years, but it is a good example of commonly available material.
Keeping the center foliage in good condition is the second key point. By growing the branches outwards and removing foliage on the base of these extending branches, we allow sunlight to get through to the middle.
Before work : Juniperus chinensis var. Itoigawa
Height : 1' (35cm) Width 2' (70cm) Depth : 2' (70cm)
Age : 10 years
Pruning, deadwood work, wiring and repotting the Juniper Shohin
The exterior branches were first cut off. Mr. Hiramatsu cut them down to about 4-6" (10-15cm) to be later used as deadwood branches « jin ».
The front of the tree was then chosen. This tree’s trunk was purposely scarred at around 4 years of age to create a nice feature, « shari ». For junipers, the most important part is the contrast between the white deadwood and reddish bark. This is what catches the eye. Deadwood trunk « shari », should be created little by little as to not injure the tree. This feature therefore determined the front.
The trunk is then cleaned using a soft metal brush. Some people use toothbrushes or spray-guns, any works fine. Use what you are comfortable with. This will bring out the reddish color of the bark, and, if done properly, will not injure the tree.
Tweezers are used to remove old, yellow leaves. Removing old leaves helps sunshine get through, keeping the leaves healthy and preventing insect of disease attacks.
In order to accentuate contrast between the deadwood and the bark of this Bonsai tree, the front foliage is removed. Forward pointing branches are undesired in this Bonsai as they hide the trunks features. The forward branch will therefore be transformed into a « jin ».
The trunk’s deadwood is slightly widened using a carving tool. This should be done slowly every 3 to 5 years as to not damage the live veins.
The rear deadwood is also widened and slightly hollowed. This brings much motion, twisting and dimension to the tree, giving it character.
Bark is peeled off the various branch stubs to be made into « jins » using pliers. This was done in May. At this time of the year, the sap in the branches makes it easy to pull off the bark. Please note that, for the general health of the tree, it should however be done in winter or early spring.
Picture after peeling off the bark from the « jin » branches. At this stage the « jins » do not look very natural. They must be smoothened out with a power tool.
Mr. Hiramatsu uses scissors and peels off fibers. This will give depth to the « jins ». The goal when creating a « jin » is to make it look like it was worn down by nature. Whether it be a crack of lightning splitting a branch in two or ferocious winds breaking them off, this is what we seek to create.
Now it is time to wire. Our goal will be to get the foliage into this triangle. For shohin of 7cm there are usually only two main branches and then the top. The first branch will be on the right.
The first branch is spread out and lowered into place. The second branch is also placed. This branch will eventually be removed but, for now, it is necessary to balance the tree (see arrow in the image on the right).
Now it is time to trim the roots. First Mr. Hiramatsu cut around the rootball. Cutters are used to remove thick roots.
Choosing a pot for the Juniper
When choosing a pot, one must select a pot that does not overpower the tree. The pot must bring out the trees features and accentuate them. For the 7cm category of shohin it is important to choose a pot that will make the tree look bigger.
These pots are all produced by Kindai Bonsai. They use a new production technique which gives the pot an aged look. They are very strong against sunshine and freezing. This high quality and low price makes them the new standard for Japanese Bonsai. However, when displayed in competition, older, much more valuable pots must be used. For Shohin, the more famous pots include the Kozan, Tofukuji, Yusen, Kanzan, Takemoto-Hayata.
Finally, a mix of white and black acyl paint was placed on the jins and shari to preserve the wood. Normally, in winter, we would use lime sulfur, but we must use this branches have sap.
Juniperus Chinensis var. Itoigawa
Height 7cm, Width 10, Length 11cm
Table : Makiashi
Pot : Melon Shaped Red Clay produced by Kindai
Total working time for Mr. Hiramatsu 10 hours.
When doing such an extreme transformation it is important to keep in mind of a few things.
First of all, this kind of treatment should be done in winter, when the tree is sleeping. Next, trees of 7cm should be kept away from harsh sunshine. Mr. Hiramatsu keeps them under a 30% gray sun cutting net in his vinyl house. This allows wind to get through, but reduces sunshine. Also keep in mind that watering must be done up to 3 times a day in summer of 7cm trees. When cutting down roots or leaves this intensively on a « shimpaku » juniper, the following leaves will probably come out as needles. This cannot really be prevented, but after 3 years it will be possible to remove them.
As you can see anyone can enjoy making Shohin from readily available material. This particular project can be done under 100 euro/dollar, so please enjoy making one!
About the Artist : Koji Hiramatsu is the 4th generation owner of Syunshou-en in Takamatsu, Japan. Although renowned as one of the greatest black pine nurseries in Japan, Koji is especially talented with junipers and pines. He works with Bonsai of all kinds and sizes and is one of the Shohin Bonsai Association of Japan’s directors. Koji has been invited as a demonstrator in many countries including India, Japan, Netherlands, United States, and will be demonstrating in France end of March 2013. Read our "DIY: grow a Bonsai tree yourself from a starterkit" article to learn how to do it!
About the author : BonsaiTranslations is a Kyoto based company specializing in translation of Bonsai books, Bonsai article creation and international coordination. It ‘s work can been seen in Esprit Bonsai (France), Bonsai Actual (Spain) and through the AJSBA (All Japan Shohin Bonsai Association)’s exhibition books. Inquiries : Bonsaitranslations (at) hotmail.com