Updated: Oct 8, 2020
Last week I was tasked to work on this large formal upright (Chokkan) Black Pine. The timing worked out great because I was planning on asking Mr. Tanaka if I could wire one big tree before my vacation back to California (more about that later). Before I got a chance to ask, I was told to pull the needles and wire this tree. Perfect! This tree is the second formal upright I’ve wired at Aichien and I was itching to apply what I learned on the last one.
What is the ideal formal upright?1. Has a straight trunk that gradually tapers from the base to the top.2. The lowest branch is the thickest branch and every branch above it gets smaller all the way to the top.3. The spaces between the branches coming off the trunk progressively gets shorter as you move up the tree.4. The apex of the tree is in perfect alignment with the center line of the trunk.
These are some of the key rules to what a formal upright is, though I’m sure there are many other small rules as well. So why all the rules? First off, the style is formal. Usually things that have the word formal attach to them tends to have many rules, which is why it’s so formal. Note that rule 3 is not set in stone. Slight deviations and the tree can still be considered a formal upright. I would say that if the tree at least tried to follow it, it’s a pass. If rule 3 is completely disregarded, then we have a problem.
Many times I hear people talking about formal upright trees and it’s never good. Phrases such as, “cookie cutter, boring, and straight,” comes to mind. Before we resort to name calling, I will set the record straight right now. There has yet to be a single Bonsai I have ever seen that looks exactly like another one. Silhouettes may looks similar but when you look deep into the tree (the important part) it’s a whole different perspective. When I see a good formal upright tree, they are always different and always amazing. Formal upright trees are the most difficult trees to create in Bonsai. I always take the time to look at the details and formalities of the tree. Not to mention a little respect for the time and effort put into the tree. For me, it’s like meeting a very respectable person. I want to stop and say hello.
Back to the tree and what I did
Haha, real funny Juan! This does give you an idea of the size of the tree though. Here is the tree after I pulled the old needles and cut new candle growth from last year to 1 or 2 buds. It’s a little difficult to see in this picture but the trunk is slightly leaning to the left. Since formal uprights are straight, that’s something I needed to address. Where’s the rebar?
Just kidding! No rebar this time. All I did was put a small wood block under the left side of the pot and straighten the tree out. For some reason, I didn’t get the wood block in this picture, but trust me, it’s there. :o) The trunk does look straighter thought doesn’t it?
Back in the days when Mr. Kihachiro Kamiya was alive, he was the sensei of a local Bonsai club that he created called Kihachi-kai. Many of you may know Mr. Kamiya as Mr. Boon Manikitivipart’s teacher in Japan. Mr. Kamiya won many awards including the Kokufuten prize for his customers. Since Mr. Kamiya passed away, the club with left without a teacher and almost dissolved. One of the members a couple of years ago approached Mr. Tanaka and ask if he could be their new sensei and have been working with the club members once a month ever since. This last week was their annual two day show. The current direction of the club isn’t about strict bonsai rules and super high quality bonsai. It’s more of a fun environment for hobbyist and novices to get together and work on their trees. There is a broad range in the quality of trees and participating in the show is open to all members. Let’s see what a local show in Japan looks like!