Remembering When Isao’s House & Bonsai Were Washed Out to Sea


Sculpted swan with swooping lines. A work of abstract art. It's an Itoigawa juniper that belongs to Isao Omachi.

A little over five years ago, Isao Omachi’s house and bonsai were washed out to sea. Here’s what he wrote on the anniversary of that terrible day:
Today is 11th March.
5 years has passed since terrible earthquake in Japan.
I never forget the day I lost everything.
But I could resume my 2nd life thanks to my friend’s support.
I can’t express my gratitude in the words.
Now I go ahead step by step.
Once again, Thank you everybody.
I’m looking forward to seeing you again!

The two bonsai shown here (whoops… see below) and Isao’s quote are from his timeline.  For more on Isao and his bonsai, here’s a link to some previous Bark posts.



My mistake. This does tree not belong to Isao Omachi. Hollowed out trunk, two living veins, a strange little deadwood creature and a bottomless pot. Dave DeGroot just sent this email:  
Thanks for sharing the information about Isao’s recovery from the tragic event a few years ago. I just wanted to mention that the second image attributed to him (the yew) is actually the work of Korean artist Yoo, Su Hyung, and resides at the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, WA. Mr. Yoo is a wonderful bonsai professional from the city of Pyontaek in South Korea. He has a facebook presence, and is well worth checking out.Thanks again for your always interesting Bonsai Bark and posts. Dave
Asleep at the wheel: I should have noticed the backdrop. Now that Dave mentions it, it's obvious, as is the tree, which as it turns out I saw in person last fall.



A happy Isao Omachi breaking down at the year's Kokufu exhibition (2015). Photo by Bill Valavanis.

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Root Over by Robert


Robert Steven has done it again. This time it's a perfect root-over-rock bonsai (I couldn't find the variety). Here's what Charles Bevan has to say about it: "This is unbelievably perfect. One quick glance at this tree brought me to a state of nirvana."

The three trees shown here are from Robert Steven’s timeline. No varieties given, and though we would rather know what they are, we can still enjoy simple bonsai beauty, with or without a name.


Even though we don't know what the trees are, one thing we do know about this forest planting is that it is very large and that such a huge pot most likely cost a small fortune.


The foliage and deadwood indicate that this is a juniper. But Robert lives in the tropics, where I don't think you'd see healthy junipers (I guess it could be belong to someone who lives somewhere else?). BTW: where's the living vein?

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Bonsai & Brad Pitt


Brad Bjorn posing with an impressive (Stewartia?) bonsai. From an article in Architectural Digest titled "Meet the Brad Pitt of Bonsai."

Still looking after my grand kids (and enjoying this fog-shrouded City by the Bay while they’re in school), so to save time and trouble we’ll borrow from our archives. This one appeared last December.

We don’t usually feature photos of people. I almost always find people in bonsai photos distracting. Rather than ‘look at me with my beautiful bonsai,’ I prefer ‘look at this beautiful bonsai.’

However, occasionally photos of people with trees work. In this case, because the article is about Bjorn Bjorholm, “the tall, blond, all-American,” a couple photos of Bjorn with bonsai are appropriate and necessary. Otherwise how would you know?

The article in question, ‘Meet the Brad Pitt of Bonsai‘ appears in the October, 2014 issue of Architectural Digest, one of the one percent’s most prestigious and beautiful magazines.
Continued below the photo…


Japanese white pine are among Bjorn's favorites. All the photos in this post are from the Architectural Digest article or a slide show that accompanies the article. The little icons in this and other photos appear in all the slide show photos.

Here’s a great excerpt from the article that anyone who has ever really messed something up (I guess that covers us all) can relate to: “Today Bjorholm is fluent in Japanese, “though some days are better than others.” And, he admits, when it comes to his life’s work, mistakes have been made, the most dreadful being when he accidentally snapped off a picturesque and highly important deadwood branch on a bonsai that had taken his employer years to perfect. “My heart sank because I knew he was going to tell me to go home,” Bjorholm says. Instead Fujikawa, his face a furious red, simply turned and walked away and refused to talk to his American apprentice for weeks.



This powerful old yew looks familiar.



Too bad about those little icons, but still, this is an undeniably super cascade in a perfect pot.



Before and after



Brad Pitt, bonsai artist.

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Before & After – Refining a Very Compelling Bonsai


This has to be one of the most compelling bonsai I've seen in a while. It has that wild, not overly refined look and 'just so' deadwood (it's not dominated by deadwood like so many trees). But the real deal is the trunk. When was the last time you saw a trunk with so much power and character?

To save a little time, we’ll dig back into our archives today (I’m out west watching the grand kids while mom & dad attend the BookExpo America 2016 in Chicago and lunches still need to be made). BTW: this is one of our all-time favorite bonsai out of the approximately one million trees we’ve featured here.

This before and after is more about refinement than styling rough stock. Less daunting perhaps, but only someone skilled in the art of bonsai can do what you see here. In this case, that someone is Gabriel Romero Aguade (Bonsai Sant-boi) (this isn’t the first time we’ve featured him on Bark).

Though no name is mentioned, the tree looks like a Yew. You can tell by the foliage and the reddish bark. Yew bonsai are popping up everywhere. Especially in Europe with the English (aka European) yew (Taxus baccata), where there seems to be an abundance of good stock.

beforeBefore. Already a very impressive bonsai. Just needs an expert hand to bring out its best.


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Great Photos from Our Deeply Discounted Bonsai Books


This luscious Satsuki azalea is one of a multitude of remarkable bonsai photos from the very aptly named, Fine Bonsai, Art and Nature.

There’s a theme to this large gallery and a method to our madness. All the photos are from bonsai books that we sell and all our books are currently on sale at Stone Lantern. We also offer books on Japanese Gardening and related topics.

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A piece of the cover of Francois Jeker's excellent, one-of-a-kind new book (well, almost new).



Windswept Japanese white pine tray planting from Zhao Qingquan's remarkable book, Penjing, the Chinese Art of Bonsai. In this case, I think the wind is a gentle but persistent on-shore breeze.


After. Finished for the moment. The challenge was for Masahiko Kimura to style a bunjin (literati) bonsai with only one branch. It’s a Japanese red pine from our Masters’ Series The Magician, the Bonsai Art of Kimura 2.



Time to repot. Morten Albek intentionally broke the pot to show this Cork bark Japanese black pine’s dense root mass. From Morten’s book, Shohin Bonsai, Majesty in Miniature.



The cover tree from our Masters Series Juniper book. Now back in print.



The cover tree for Botany for Bonsai. It’s a collected Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans) that belongs to Enrique Castaño, who happens to be the author of Botany for Bonsai and the winner of the 2010 John Y. Naka award (for this tree). BTW: it looks a lot like what is usually called Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) in Florida and sometimes called Button Mangrove (just to thicken the plot).



Norway spruce (Picea abies) by Francois Jeker. From the first volume of his two essential books on Bonsai Aesthetics (volume two is out of print).



A piece of the cover of Michael Hagedorn's delightfully readable Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk.



The tree is an old Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) from the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection. It’s one of 248 fine bonsai that are featured in the 3rd U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition Album. The 4th album is also available.



My guess is that this is one of the very best and most famous full cascade bonsai in the world. It's from the Black pine gallery in our Masters’ Series Pine Book.



Playfully sitting bonsai from Kenji Kobayashi's Keshiki Bonsai.



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Muscular Bonsai, Muscular Turntable

muscleolive11Old European olives are often full of character as well as muscle, and this one is no exception. I found it on flickr and then, as one thing led to another, I came to the conclusion that this tree belongs to Luis Vallejo (though I couldn’t find evidence on his website).

Taking off on a long trip today, so we’ll fall back on our archives again. Actually, this will be the third time for this one, but after yesterday’s post it seems like a good idea to show you one of my favorite olives.

There’s something compelling about bonsai with powerful trunks. Assuming that I’m not the only one so compelled, here are four very sturdy bonsai for your enjoyment.

Myrtus communis by Rui Ferrreira. I’ve never seen a Common myrtle with a heavy trunk, let alone one as massive as this one. The photo is from the EXPOS PORTUGAL – 3º Congresso Federação Portuguesa de Bonsai – Ericeira 2011. You can find it on Kintall’s home page. BTW, if you check out the comments in this post from 2013, you can see a couple other shots of this tree.


Muscle with nine (?) trunks. This Trident, by Jose Machado, shows a nebari kind of muscle, but muscle it is. Also from EXPOS PORTUGAL – 3º Congresso Federação Portuguesa de Bonsai – Ericeira 2011, on Kintall’s home page).

If you like these muscular bonsai (really any bonsai), you might want consider our amazing Green T Professional Bonsai Turntable. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a photo for you (just below). Next step, click here to learn more and then click here and tempt yourself. It might be the smartest thing you’ll do all day.


Green T Turntable in action
with a massive Mugo pine that belongs to Paolo Riboli

Olive Bonsai – Massive Trunks, Wild Trees

oliveThis European olive is a very substantial tree. But then, substantial European olives are quite common... though olives as substantial and developed as this one aren't quite so common.

Another foray into our archives. This one originally appeared December, 2013. It was titled ‘Wild Trees & Massive Trunks.’

All of the trees in this post are European olives. The photos are from José Gómez del Río on facebook


Another rugged olive with a great trunk and a good pot choice too. 


This wild unrefined look is typical of olives. As long as we’re on the subject of pots, you might notice how the tree just barely fits into this one.


A marked contrast from the first three. I like the movement and the details in the trunk, but does the tilted apex create an unbalanced feel?
 A rugged forest somewhere in the foothills of the Pyrenees? 


Another very unusual tree. 


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Pine Bonsai – Texture, Movement & Color


It's hard not to notice what a powerful tree this is, even with the apex slightly nipped and most of the pot missing. It's a Japanese white pine from the 34th Taikan-ten Bonsai Exhibition.

Spring bonsai and other chores beckon and time is compressed, so we’ll delve back into our archives today. This one is from December, 2014.

All the photos in this post are from the 34th Taikan-ten Bonsai Exhibition (with the exception of the wiring photo just below). Taikan-ten takes place once a year in Kyoto and is considered by most people to be the second most important bonsai exhibition in Japan if not in the world (Kokufu is the king of bonsai exhibitions). I found them on Michael Bonsai facebook feed. The first three are Japanese white pines and the last one is a Japanese black pine.

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One thing you might notice about these photos in that none of them are conventional shots (front shots that simply show the whole tree, pot, stand and all). Instead, the emphasis is more on features, or sometimes even abstract qualities of each tree. As much about texture, movement and color, as they are about bonsai.

You might recognize some of these trees. It’s not usual for famous old trees to show up again and again at the big bonsai shows. Often in different pots and sometimes after serious restyling.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 7.31.22 AM






All the bonsai photos shown here are from Michael Bonsai.



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Whirlpool, Dancer & Other Magnificent Japanese White Pine Bonsai

417Do you recognize this tree? We devoted a whole chapter to it in our Pine book (Jewel to Whirlpool). The artist is Tomio Yamada (at least at that time). It's called Uzushio which as you might guess, means whirlpool. Like the other trees in this post, it resides at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.

It’s finally spring here in northern Vermont. In addition to bonsai,  I have a passion for landscaping and it’s time to mulch (we’ll cover the weeds that are already taking hold and see what happens). So to save some time and get back outside before the sun sets, we’re going to dip into our archives. This one originally appeared in January 2014.

All the trees in this post are Japanese white pines that reside at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama Japan. Japanese white pines (Pinus parviflora) are native to Japan. All white pines have five needles to a bundle, so the Japanese white is often called Japanese five needle pine (Pinus pentaphylla).

For a number of reasons, Japanese white pines are prized in bonsai circles. Not the least of these is small needles (unlike our native Pinus strobus) and handsome greyish bark. Then there’s the fact that they take so well to bonsai culture.

A common bonsai practice is grafting White pines onto root-stock from the more vigorous Japanese black pine (Pinus thumbergii), which makes for faster growing and stronger trees than White pines on their own stock. Almost all of the imported White pine bonsai are grafted on Black pine stock.

Another positive feature of the Japanese white pine is its winter hardiness. Here in northern Vermont where temperatures are known to get as low as -20F to -30F (even colder in the old days), they can survive in the ground if you provide protection from the wind and heavy mulching. In bonsai pots, you would want somewhat higher temperatures and very good protection (cold frame or unheated garage for example).

For the past fifty or sixty years Japanese white pine bonsai have been exported from Japan to destinations all over the West. However, the very best usually stay home. For this reason, you will seldom see Japanese whites here in the West that are as developed as ones shown here.



Mulitple trunk, raft-style Japanese white pine. This is a truly spectacular example of raft style bonsai. It's mature and abundant, with a flowing natural feel that is the result of bonsai artistry at its best (nature too). In fact, it's so spectacular that like Whirlpool (above) it has a name (Maiko - Dancer). In Japan, names are usually reserved for the best bonsai. This tree resides at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, as do all five trees in this post (from Omiya's timeline on facebook).


Like the one just above, this one shows a strong trunk that tell a story of hardship and survival. Like most of the others at the Omiya Museum, it has a name: Shungaku (Shungaku was a historical figure, though my extensive 30 second research didn't reveal much detail).


Multiple trunk Japanese white pines are quite common. Though not as dramatic or old as the one at the top of the page, this one still shows great movement and balance, with a nice light, almost floating effect. Rather than a name, the artist, Kenichi Abe, is listed with this tree.

This one is called Sokaku (nest of the cranes). It's unusual, with it long straight split trunk. I like the loop on the left half of the trunk. Though you don't see it very often, you can create split trunk bonsai with a trunk splitter some other tools and a little patience and skill.

All the bonsai in this post are from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum’s timeline on facebook.


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Running Around in Circles?


The deadwood on this unusual juniper looks a lot like a spontaneous Zen brush stoke. The photo was posted by John Milton. Here's his caption: "The final result, not quite sure I pulled 'Stanley'* off but, did my best. Still very raw as the branches are un-styled grafts without ramification, even though it looks full in the before picture. With some mochikomi** over next couple years, should fill out nicely." Scroll down for the before photo.

John Milton has been an apprentice at Aichi-en under Junichiro Tanaka-San since June 2013. He posted the photo above on his facebook feed three days ago. The other two trees shown here are from his seemingly abandoned, but still quite excellent blog (his last post was June, 2015).

Running around in circles? You’re not alone. And without being too obvious, you might notice a feature that all three trees shown here have in common.

redpineIn John's own words: "I just thought I’d share a Red pine tree that resides here at Aichi-en as I did some maintenance on it (pulling needles, reducing the shoot’s to two and thinning), plus it is a hard to get a decent picture of it where it is positioned at the nursery. This tree I find, has a good feeling for me and is a personal favourite, although it’s hard to choose here. It in fact technically, has an obvious ‘rule’ fault but, I don’t think takes anything away from it. Rather, I think it adds to its character."

The whole universe is based on rhythms. Everything happens in circles, in spirals.” John Hartford (from Brainy quotes).

When in doubt or danger, run in circles, scream and shout.” Laurence J Peter (also from Brainy quotes).


whitepineHere's John's caption for this one: "Recently I was given this exposed root White pine to wire. It is a customers tree that he wanted wired. I must say that I like the tree and I’m glad I was given it to work." This is not the first time for us with this tree; we featured it here on Bark last year (if you're interested in the before photo you can find it there).



Before. I guess you can figure out which tree.

*Stanley: Your guess is as good as mine. I couldn’t find any other reference, except maybe this (a bit of a long shot).

**Mochikomi: A standard term that refers to years of cultivation of a tree in a bonsai pot, with the result being a sense of age and elegance.

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