Monday, June 03, 2013

Satsuki season

As I'm writing this, the flowering season for Japanese azaleas, known as satsuki is nearing it's end.
We're currently busy removing all flowers and doing a rough pruning to stimulate the production of flower buds for next season. For the next few posts, I want to share a few of my impressions, starting with the preparations for exhibiting the trees.

There are several exhibitions for azalea bonsai around the Tokyo area in the end of May, I heard the words Kanuma, Tochigi, Ueno park and Meiji Jingu tossed around a lot. In addition, we arrange an exhibition ourselves, showing off our own and our customers' trees. For all of the exhibitions, we gather all of the trees at Shunkaen, make sure they are in top condition, make sure they are well watered through and transport them to and from the venues. Around mid May there was an impressive collection of trees, kept under roof to protect the flowers from rain, giving lots of sun to bring out the flowers on slow specimens while keeping the ones in full flower in the shade. I got to help with putting moss on the trees and cleaning the trunk and visible branches from green algae, mostly using a toothbrush. Some of the customers had done the moss-job themselves, it was fun comparing the different styles. One principle is to keep brighter shades of moss between and around the surface roots to bring them out a much as possible. Another style is to create the image of sunlight coming in from above by arranging lighter patches of moss in front center of the pot, perhaps going off slightly to one side, taking the outline of branches on the front of the tree into consideration.

My first moss job. 
Before scrubbing the trunk and putting moss
I had a hard enough time puzzling patches together, trying to fit them tight enough that no edges or gaps would be visible. In the larger exhibitions, prices are awarded to the best trees. As some of the customers were keen to compete, it was important to do a good job. I enjoyed this task and I was pretty happy with the outcome, being a first-timer. I was told that the owner of the second tree I did was at the hospital battling cancer, and he wanted to have his favorite tree displayed for perhaps the last time. Hearing this made the task a lot more personal and really encouraged me to focus and do my best. Being about to finish, one the older apprentices asked me to hurry up a bit, as we had a big batch of trees to finish before supper. This is oft repeated here; what separates the pro from the amateur is the ability to not only do things well, but also to do it fast. Recently, I've been thinking, at least hoping, that if you have a little practice using your aesthetic sense, you'll reach the same result whether you force yourself to finish in an hour, or spend a whole day pondering.
At this stage, I think I know what I like when I see it, getting there is the challenge, getting there fast is just plain difficult.
After. My second one.
One of the customers did this one by himself.

Done by Yoda-san who started one month before me. I was impressed.

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