The 11th Asia Pacific Bonsai and Suiseki Convention at Takamatsu, Japan 2011
(November 18-21, 2011)
When the ASPAC 2011 was announced to be held at Takamatsu, Japan, in the Kagawa prefecture of the Shikoku Island, I registered myself without any hesitation as it was an opportunity to visit Japan, the land where it all started. It was, however, with some trepidation that I left for the Convention for everyone advised me that getting vegetarian food would be a problem; but to offset the thought was the expectation of seeing something special by way of demos, exhibition, etc. So difficulties notwithstanding, I went thither and what a great experience it turned out to be !!!
The theme of the convention was “Friendship and Better Future”. The exhibition and bazaar were held at the Symbol Tower of the Sunport Hotel abutting the sea near the historic Tamamo Castle. The kick-off ceremony of the convention was with a spectacular traditional folk dance, opening speeches by the Chairman of the Convention and various dignitaries. The convention proper was officially started by the auspicious breaking of clay plaques in the traditional way (Kagamibiraki) by the eminent dignitaries and bonsai personages on the dais.
The pride of place demonstration on the first day post lunch was by none other than the Magician of the bonsai world, Master Masahiko Kimura. He worked on a huge collected Sargents Juniper which had a lot of dead wood and which was reputed to be more than a hundred & fifty years. The master said that as a bonsai artist he had a special way of expressing his innermost feelings through bonsai design. He then proceeded to work on the tree first explaining what he had in mind and proceeded to eliminate excess deadwood and branches not needed for the design. The apex was dead and was therefore shortened in view of the future design; the lowest left branch was lowered further and extended outwards as Master Kimura said that it was vital to the design; all major branches were also wired giving them a slightly downward slant. The master then said that further major work required for a radical design (for which he is so famous), such as power carving of the deadwood and refinement will be done at a later date so as not to stress the tree too much at one time. Even at that stage, i.e. only after initial work, the tree had a marked distinction which shone through. It was indeed a privilege to observe the master at work at close quarters.
During the next two days the participants were treated to double demos morning and evening by different artists and masters. On the morning session of the second day of the convention, we saw a maple forest being assembled by Master Hiroshi Takeyama who cut, trimmed and adjusted several pre-trained & defoliated Japanese maples; the forest looked so unified & natural that one could almost imagine the birds flying through the branches. The parallel demo was by Master Yukio Hirose where a prebonsai shohin shimpaku juniper plant was trimmed, jinned, carved with a power tool, wired and repotted in a new pot (after giving the viewers a choice of pots to choose from and then selecting a soft elongated flower style pot) which made it into an artistic statement. During his demo he also talked about soil components and particle sizes suitable for shohin size bonsai. In the afternoon session, Master Toru Suzuki refined a clump style Japanese black pine which was wired. One trunk was converted into a jinned stub, all branched were trimmed & wired into place and the whole planting was transplanted on a rock slab. At the same time Master Shigeo Isobe worked on a large overgrown Satsuki Azalea where he trimmed and extensively wired and meticulously adjusted even the smallest branches.
On the third day too parallel demos were carried out. In the morning session, Masters Takashi Iura and Isao Omachi worked on another collected and twisted shimpaku juniper where the tree was carved & wired a lot, as the master said that junipers tend to have very hard wood and could take to extensive jinning as well as wiring very easily At the same time Master Koji Hiramatsu worked on a mature bonsai of red pine where he too trimmed excess branches, refined a huge jin and extensively wired the tree. In the afternoon session, Master Masahiro Sasaki worked on an over grown shohin bonsai refining it to a showable condition and Master Mitsuo Matsuda created a group planting of several black pine saplings which when finished, had immense depth.
I was surprised to observe that none of the trees selected for the demonstrations were raw nursery stock / collected material but were trees which had undergone some training; some of them were in bonsai pots and some in wooden training containers. The demonstrators did not aim at miracles where an over-work like extensive wiring, pruning and potting at one go was likely to cause the death of the tree. Still, amazing transformations were made and great bonsai were created in the space of a few hours in front of a thrilled and spellbound audience on all the three days. The experience was really marvelous.
During all three days, spectators and participants could view at their leisure the specimen bonsai in the main exhibition hall and exhibit bonsai in the Tamamo Park which was nearby and where some of the outstanding and Kokufu Award winning bonsai as well as bonsai from the Imperial Collection were on display and also visit the Ritsurin Garden (for which a shuttle bus service was arranged) where the logo bonsai of black pine for the convention from the collection of the Late Mr.Daizo Iwasaki along with many other outstanding bonsai were on display in the tea-house. But, alas, photography of the exhibits was strictly not allowed. Photography was however allowed in both the garden where in the Tamamo Park I was able to also photograph several stands of chrysanthemum bonsai. The gardens themselves are very well-kept and are representatives of the traditional Japanese garden art.
The main bonsai bazaar was located in the ground floor in the Sunport Hotel and the secondary one in a large tent in the rear grounds. The main bazaar boasted of many stalls loaded with specimen quality bonsai, branded tools, stands, pots and other accessories, etc. The tent stalls also had a lot of pre-bonsai and other plants for sale apart from quality ready bonsai, pots, etc. Although the prices of most of the bonsai were astonishingly high – in fact one particular white pine in the main bazaar was tagged at a price of Yen 10,00,00,000/- or about one million US$ – the quality of bonsai was also outstandingly high and all were a sight to behold. However most varieties were suitable for temperate climates only.
On the last day, we were taken on a full day tour of Takasago-koen, the famous private bonsai and Japanese garden of the Late Mr. Daizo Iwasaki, who was the guiding spirit behind the convention but who, I was sad to learn, had expired only a few months before the convention. Takasago-en houses two sections of the potted tree garden which, between them contain over 20,000 bonsai of mainly black and white pines, some of them quite enormous and all of them great bonsai – if not masterpieces – in their own right, apart from the traditional Japanese garden. The major area of the garden is in the traditional Japanese garden style containing beautiful trees grown in the ground in the bonsai way (known as niwaki). The garden itself is very beautiful and all trees like pines, rhododendrons, podocarpus, junipers, etc., are very well kept and really a sight to behold and cherish, as indeed it will be because very possibly the garden will be sold and will not be open for public viewing hereafter.
The convention concluded with a farewell dinner (which incidentally I skipped because of the aforesaid food problem) and so came to an end. Throughout the convention I was struck by the excellent management, universal courtesy, politeness and cheerfulness of all the convention personnel. The managing committee had done so wonderful a job of organizing the things that there was never an occasion when they failed to help and serve. In fact whenever help was needed someone was always at hand. We were all of us made to feel at home by one and all. It was a most wonderful and exciting experience and I came away enriched in knowledge, enthralled by the experience and fascinated by the indelible impressions of the indomitable spirit a people who in the face of Tsunamis and earthquakes never failed in their courteous “ARIGATO (Thank you)” every time.
I think to a bonsai buff like me my visit to ASPAC Takamatsu was a dream come true for all time.