Midwest Bonsai Society Exhibition

Bonsai Contest WinnerOn Saturday, 15-Aug, I spent a lovely day with my wife and friends at the Chicago Botanic Gardens where the Midwest Bonsai Society was having their 33rd annual exhibition. On display were well over 100 bonsai trees that were grown and nurtured by this year's competitors as well as nearly 50 world-class bonsai. This was my first time to see the exhibition and so I was a bit overwhelmed by the vast display of all the different species of tree and numerous different bonsai styles. Many of the bonsai on display had contest ribbons on them, but not being a hobbyist myself (yet) it was nearly impossible for me to differentiate between those that placed in the competition and those that didn't, let alone to see the differences between the first, second and third place winners. All of them looked quite beautiful from my perspective.

Bonsai Close-UpWhile I was viewing some of the award-winning bonsai, I noticed that many of the top award-winners all had the same name on them; I was thinking that the owner must be one of the top experts in this area. A few minutes later a group of people came over and started talking about one of the trees and it wasn't too long before one of the men in this group started to pick up and turn one of them around, under the supervision of a tall, white-haired man. The older man, as it turned out, was the man who grew the award-winning bonsai. I was able to stand nearby and listen while he discussed some of the characteristics of the tree that won its first-place award. Symmetry, and something he kept referring to as "line" seemed very important. I also learned that with most bonsai styles, there is meant to be one "viewing" side, even though I still have fun looking at them from multiple angles.

Yamaji HiroyoshiThe highlight of the show was a 90-minute demonstration by bonsai master 山地宏美 (Yamaji Hiroyoshi [English]) of 山松園 (Yamaji Sanshoen) in 高松市 (Takamatsu City), 香川県 (Kagawa Prefecture). Yamaji-san's specialty is working on pine trees, which is quite fitting since the name of his home city, Takamatsu, means "tall pine trees." In his demonstration, Yamaji-san took a lop-sided, mis-shapen pine tree and from it created a beautifully-shaped bonsai, guiding his audience through some of his various techniques as well as a few tools of the trade. Surprisingly, in order to complete the transformation, the tree had to endure quite a few "intrusive" procedures that included splitting and twisting the trunk, sawing, wedging and pruning. Once finished with the reconstruction work, there was a considerable amount of shaping, taping and bandaging to do, but the overall effect and future beauty could still be seen in its form. It was truly amazing and sometimes even shocking to see the amount of effort put into changing the tree into a bonsai. By the end of the 90-minute demonstration, the bonsai master was exhausted and soaked with sweat. Throughout the transformation, Yamaji-san repeatedly told his audience, "I don't do this in Japan;" he explained that the trees are typically trained into bonsai from the time that they're just saplings. I believe, therefore, that the presentation was primarily for the purpose of demonstrating technique and showing what's within the realm of possibility, rather than to complete a project in a way that is normal for bonsai hobbyists. In fact, Yamaji-san told us that this tree will be a show piece-- about 30 years from now!

Yamaji-san's demonstration - the beginning

Yamaji-san, assisted by staff from Yasukunai Bonsai shop

Yamaji-san's finished project

Detail view of the Chicago Botanic Gardensmy Japanese BoxthornThe whole day was very enjoyable, not only because of the fantastic bonsai exhibition, but also because of the wonderful surroundings of the permanent gardens at the Botanic Gardens and the gorgeous weather in Chicago that day. I am very pleased that I was able to see this wonderful show. To make the experience complete, I purchased a bonsai of my own to bring home and raise myself. This is my Serissa Foetida, commonly known as Japanese Boxthorn, or Snowrose. Suzumiya Haruhu is there to cheer me on, too! Hopefully it will grow small white flowers in the late autumn months. I could see myself getting into this!

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