Senior plant manager Michael Imaino joined Fuku-Bonsai in 1983 and has become a bonsai master. He's the curator of the Fuku-Bonsai exhibit collection and the Hawaii State Bonsai Repository, a director of Fuku-Bonsai Inc., and the president of the non-profit Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation.  As part of a Bonsai Day on the second Saturday of each month, a workshop began formal bonsai training of our next generation. Fuku-Bonsai founder David Fukumoto was the leader assisted by Michael Imaino.  

                A unique Port Jackson Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) advanced prepared bonsai stock was selected as a symbolic focus for this third generation team.  Port Jackson Fig is an Australia specie with leaves about 6" to 8" long when growing vigorously. In a larger bonsai leaves will reduce to about 2" long. A carefully tended small bonsai can have leaves reduced to about 1" long. It had been propagated from a cutting in 1983 and grown in a large 15-gallon polybag that had been tilted severely to replicate a tree that had been blown over by a wind storm and was recovering.  It had been grown in the ground since 1992.

               We reviewed the bonsai success rules:   1) "Choose plants that will grow well for you in your environment or change your environment to fit the needs of the plant."  2) "Start with exceptional character to avoid the tedious process required to create character from young plants."  And, 3) "For best growth, provide the best possible growing environment." 

                A true bonsai master is a professional in all respects and can consistently and efficiently style huge quantities in a large range of forms. Detailed study of the underlying principles will produce a thorough understanding. Train the hands and body to execute by extensive repetition thousands of times for automatic rapid professional decision-making. Trees that survive and grow strongly and beautifully will be a reflection of a person's skill, esthetics, and management ability.  

                The quality of a finished bonsai is dictated by the quality of the prepared bonsai stock. It's not a secret. If you want a masterpiece bonsai in the near future, simply start with exceptional outstanding stock material.  At Fuku-Bonsai there must be ruthless culling of weak plants, those that have poor shapes, or those that do not resprout several new growth points when pruned. Outstanding bonsai are the result of bold confident training methods.

                  The bottom 2" of the tree is the most important. Bonsai created from standard nursery trees have very little character while trees that were "born to be bonsai" are trained early to have dynamic character.  If a tree does not have character you're wasting time and will only produce a larger older tree will weak character.  Concentrate and develop a dynamic trunk and rootage before moving to the next stage of training!

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        I.   FEBRUARY 10, 2001
        From left:  Dennis Maeda, Cliff Tanaka, Edison Yadao, Michael Imaino, & William Keiki.
        Portions of the tree are 6' tall forming a canopy above the gang. A trench around the base revealed that most of the roots were close to the trunk (except for one major root about 6" in diameter which was cut with a chain saw). Without the polybag barrier, the roots would have traveled in all directions and it would have been difficult to dig it out.
3rd FB master training 2.jpg (20488 bytes) Once the large root was cut, the tree came out quickly. All dirt was removed and the tree was potted into a 36"x24"x8.5" rectangular plastic tub with a wood reinforced rim. Tie-downs anchored in the wood strip secured the plant.  With the tree isolated, it was easy for the group to understand the styling concept and determine the angles to remove the excess structural materials. 
3rd FB master training 3.jpg (13016 bytes) At the end of the workshop overly long growth was removed and the ends sealed with petroleum jelly. Plywood and a plastic sheet supports and protects the root system raised up about 12" above the lowest part of the main trunk. In the back, a gallon can that had top and bottom removed and the side slit serves as a temporary dam to hold media covering the cut end of the large root. The tree is secured tightly as any shaking will damage new roots.

                  This is an intentionally large bonsai in an uncommon design that will challenge and teach the trainees.  As a visitor attraction, the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center must utilize showmanship, continually create new designs, and feature a number of exceptionally large bonsai. Such large trees are easier to maintain  as they don't dry out quickly during warm weather. Leaves will naturally reduce to an attractive size once the basic structural sections are created.  The tree was moved to a shady area to recover.

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      MARCH 24, 2001:  Six weeks after the initial session, new growth is already 3" to 4" long and sprouting near all cut sections. The tree was allowed to grow vigorously and as new growth became established, choice branches were selected.  While young, thin, and supple,  they were easily bent in the desired directions.

                In training bonsai, it's most important to consider the health of the tree!  Rushing to advance training while forcing a plant into poor health is a bad practice.  In the tropics,   the best time for major training tropicals is between April and October during the strongest growth seasons.  After eight months of unrestricted growth, the tree was growing strongly and we moved into the next phase of training.

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  II.   OCTOBER 13, 2001
        The second major training session was also a Bonsai Day with visitors participating.  The container is a 3' long x 2' wide x 8.5" deep plastic tub with a wood reinforced rim. The tree is about 5' from end to end.  Leaves are about 6" long when it's growing strongly.
3rd FB master trng II.  2.jpg (25891 bytes)         With the wood, metal, and plastic supports removed,  an excellent, vigorous root system was discovered!  This would allow extensive training that would not be possible if the plant was not growing as strongly. Note the amount of roots growing from the 6" root stump (to the left of the plastic sheet)!


3rd FB master trng II.  3.jpg (26782 bytes)         Branch selection is based upon what you're trying to create. The new branch near to the most recent cut is usually the most vigorous.   When it was 2" to 3" long, it was pinched and branching has already occurred.  We mark desirable branches with plastic surveyor tape and each of our trainers discuss the options and we proceed after we have a consensus.  It's better to go slow at this point to avoid cutting off desirable branches.
3rd FB master trng II.  4.jpg (23370 bytes)         Cliff lops off a long unneeded section to encourage growth near the trunk.  It's often safer to initially leave sections longer than needed and cut back later after new growth has appeared.  Edison is exploring and exposing the roots on the other side.
3rd FB master trng II. 5.jpg (19148 bytes)         With U-shaped woodcarving gouge and mallet, Cliff is trimming down the 6" root stump section while Edison holds on to the portion being removed.
3rd FB master trng II.  6.jpg (20921 bytes)         With the roots exposed and positioned on top of a hollow tile concrete block and wood block, it shows the transitional planting angle planned for this stage of training that would raise the root-base about 2 1/2' above the lowest part of the main trunk.  Note that another undesirable section has been removed and trimmed.
3rd FB master trng II.  7.jpg (20248 bytes)         Michael had already constructed a "slope-sided box-column" and this allows the depth of the container to be increased. It will allow roots to lengthen and grow vigorously to be formed and trained to create the envisioned shape.  Using screws allow easy removal of sections in the future.  the tree is being held up and in position with a 2"x2" that passes under the main root and rests on the top of the box-column.
3rd FB master trng II.  8.jpg (16269 bytes)         The box-column is closed up with wood scraps screwed to the sloping side. Very coarse fast-draining media is used. Shaped crumpled aluminum foil form "temporary retaining walls to keep media and spaghnum moss covering exposed roots.  Rocks add solid support. Handfuls of spaghnum moss stabilize sloping media surfaces and act as a mulch for exposed media while allowing water to easily penetrate. 
3rd FB master trng II.  9.jpg (18042 bytes)        During a break in the training session, we stopped to discuss the progress that had been made and the need for the major crown (on the right) to have enough room to be properly developed. Red tape identify desirable sections of the tree. The consensus was to reduce the scale of the secondary trunk on the left.
3rd FB master trng II.  10.jpg (21559 bytes)         Michael is removing a section and this will expose the long sweep of the main trunk. When the tree matures, it will appear to be a branch that tapers, blends, and turns.
3rd FB master trng II.  11.jpg (22357 bytes)         When we remove large sections that will blend into another section, we cut it off short, then chisel and blend it in.
3rd FB master trng II.  12.jpg (18621 bytes)         Such trimmed sections are heavily coated with petroleum jelly to prevent drying and die-back. The objective is to create extremely strong growth into the new section and in a relatively short time it will thicken and blend right in!
3rd FB master trng II.  13.jpg (17317 bytes)         Here's what a pleased group of trainers and the tree looks like at the end of this second training session . . . about 20 years after it began as a rooted cutting . . . about 8 months after it was dug out of the ground and major styling began.
3rd FB master trng II.  14.jpg (16828 bytes)        Edison is watering it down with a gentle spray and this photo allows viewing the other side.   Which side will be the front?  We don't know and all effort is to create an exciting tree that will be interesting from any side!

             Again the tree was allowed to grow vigorously. This tree is not your usual typical bonsai. The conceptual "future design" sketch is reproduced below.


        Here's a tree that was once sitting of top of a dirt hill that during a rainstorm and flood got toppled and thrown down the hill. Additional rainstorms and floods tore away at the hill, leaving exposed roots.  But the tree survives to become a distinctive unique individual! If you buy the story, you can appreciate the general direction of where we plan to go.

        The principles are simple.  Start with a tree that already has some character to suggest what it can become.  Don't start until the image is clear in your mind and you can picture the environment and almost "feel the wind."  When you and the tree are ready, do it!


3rd FB master trng III.  1.jpg (20479 bytes)

  III.  JUNE 8, 2002

        Eight months after the previous training session,  sixteen months after digging up the tree, and about 21 years after we began a 3" rooted cutting, we began the third training session again on another Bonsai Day at the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center. The training continued under Mike's lead with Edison Yadao being groom as the next trainer and Cliff Tanaka assisting.


3rd FB master trng III.  2.jpg (20206 bytes)         When the box-column was partially unscrewed and loose material removed, a lot of new roots had developed and the tree was removed.
3rd FB master trng III.  3.jpg (22617 bytes)        With the tree out, the box-column was reassembled. Note the roots in the foreground are roughly at a right angle to the major trunks.  The primary objective of this 3rd training session is to hang the tree high so the roots will drop and lengthen parrallel to the main trunk. 

               3rd FB master trng III.  4.jpg (15311 bytes)

     Michael had prepared a number of 6" high "U-shaped box-column extensions" to increase the height of the hanging support.  The first session raised the root-base one foot up.   The second took it 2 1/2'.  This third session will take it 5' up!  The structure must be able to support the weight of the media, but must allow the tower to be disassembled 6" every so often to begin exposing the roots.  The 1"x2" vertical strips help keep the sections lined up.  The box-column is made up of treated 3/4" exterior plyboard and expected to last as long as necessary.  It is expected to take 5 to 15 years for the roots to thicken and be exposed to complete the envisioned design!
3rd FB master trng III.  5.jpg (22261 bytes)         The plant is hung up and there are large smiles when it's apparent that the idea will work!
3rd FB master trng III.  6.jpg (22591 bytes)         A closer view from the other side. A 2"x2" bar goes through the root and is balanced on two shims sitting on the top "box-column extension.  Once the potting material settles down, it will be possible to knock out the shim and remove the 2"x2" support bar. It is also likely that the top 6" extension can also be removed with the end section begun to be exposed.
3rd FB master trng III.  7.jpg (20056 bytes)         Based upon a common vision of the future shape,   Edison thins out the tree to leave only the selected branches which are shortened. But now allowing only growth through a greatly reduced number of growth points and with no root reduction,  each growth point will grow more vigorously.
3rd FB master trng III.  8.jpg (18502 bytes)         Training began 16 months before, but there are already well positioned new branches as well as secondary branch ramification . At this point, the number of branches were again greatly reduced. We were able to utilize only ideally positioned branches and removed the rest.
3rd FB master trng III.  9.jpg (16373 bytes)         Michael cut and screwed in wood fillers to complete creating the box-column.  Scrap wood filled out large areas and crumple aluminum foil (placed from the inside) plugged smaller openings. 
3rd FB master trng III.  10.jpg (18506 bytes)         With the session over, there's a nice feeling of success.  But it's hard to smile as we still had to move it to it's growing on location AND IT'S HEAVY!

        Stay tuned for future reports!

***   Continue to an update on this tree!


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