A TROPICAL PENJING LECTURE-
DEMONSTRATION HONORING
YEE-SUN WU

                Yee-sun Wu is one of just six individuals in Fuku-Bonsai's International Honor Roll.  These six individuals were a part of the "World War II" generation from different countries that fought each other. Through their love of bonsai, they made personal and group contributions with variations of the theme:  "BONSAI; A BRIDGE TO INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIP AND PEACE!"  The six honored are: Saburo Kato and Akiji Kataoka (Japan), John Naka (California), Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro and Ted Tsukiyama (Hawaii) and Yee-sun Wu (Hong Kong). 

                Of these, Yee-sun Wu made the greatest individual contribution in introducing the culture and the practices of aristocratic Chinese penjing to the world.  There are many forms of penjing,  but the Yee-sun Wu "farmer-scholar" form is based upon a sound knowledge of horticultural principles blended with the academic philosophy of Chinese elite literary class.  It is a sophisticated art of a highly educated class with a cultural tradition that is the oldest in the world! Unlike Japanese bonsai and the bonsai of northern or central China,  Hong Kong is in the tropics and bonsai is the pastime of the wealthy elite that fled when the People's Republic of China was formed in 1949.

                The All-Big Island Bonsai Show was held at Wailoa Center in Hilo in July 2006 sponsored by the Big Island Bonsai Association who was celebrating its 25th anniversary.  The addition of the honor of Yee-sun Wu requested by Fuku-Bonsai and the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation was approved to compliment the themes: "Looking back on the past," and "Passing the torch to the next generation."

                        The lecture-demonstration was part of a Yee-sun Wu honor and a sharing of the techniques he introduced to the Western world. The exhibit within the honor niche included an essay summarizing his accomplishments,  portions of "Twelve Lessons from a Farmer-Scholar" (to be published next year in Bonsai Clubs International's Bonsai Magazine and to be later posted on this website), and six penjing trained by Fuku-Bonsai that were influenced by Yee-sun Wu.  "Plunging Penjing!", the Shimpaku Juniper on the tall cascade stand has been in training from about 1964. The other five plants were all begun from either seeds or cuttings about 1981, in the same 25 years since the Big Island Bonsai Association began. 

                    The Hawaiian Wild Olive on the left was trained from seed.  It clearly demonstrates that penjing techniques produce superior gnarled, furrowed trunks with exciting taper and form compared to conservative Japanese bonsai techniques.  The Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper on "Taihu-like" lava rock utilizes Chinese rock planting techniques that produce magical results! 

                    The three Bird-Tongue Podocarpus were brought back from the first 1981 China Penjing Tour as unrooted cuttings that were successfully rooted and utilized as part of the educational exhibit at the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center.  The center tree in a red antique Chinese pot is one of the prototypes of Fuku-Bonsai's "dragon" styling concept. The next tree on the right illustrates "reduction-building" techniques. The last tree is an example of "philosophical styling concepts" using "building" techniques. 

            In addition to the honor niche,  other exhibits showed the influences of Yee-sun Wu. 

            A pair of Indian Hawthorns (Raphiolepsis indica) was created in 1981 in the first demonstration given by David Fukumoto on the Big Island.  The pair contrasts the slower growth pattern of a tree that had been pot-trained vs. using Chinese accelerated growth ground-training methods.  Prior to the "Chinese Reduction" demonstration, most Big Island hobbyists trained using more traditional Japanese bonsai training techniques.

            A glass case island exhibit featured Chinese micro-bonsai, carved wood stands, "Roots!" design concepts, and the two Yee-sun Wu books that were published and available by donations to Wu charities who handled the distribution. 

          More information can be found at the Man Lung Penjing website at www.manlungpenjing.org  

        The lecture by David Fukumoto traced his contact with Yee-sun Wu since the 1960's including an enlarged explanation of the trees that were in the upstairs exhibit. 

         He contrasted Japanese bonsai which is a structured craft with a large amount of rules against the more difficult aristocratic Chinese penjing as practiced by Yee-sun Wu and his associates and is known as "Man Lung Penjing," or "The Art of the Scholar-Farmer." 

 

        THE DEMONSTRATION TREE:  Jaboticaba (Eugenia myrtifolia); a tropical tree with beautiful smooth bark trunks. It has been in non-traditional training from seed since 1981 (25 years). At Fuku-Bonsai, this is known as "DRAGON!"  styling and begins with a sharp bend near the roots.  Note that it has been allowed to grow "WILD" in preparation for this demonstration.  When there is drastic root loss and radical repotting, it is necessary to also be able to radically reduce the amount of foliage and top growth. 

          A closer view from the left front shows how the trunk has been lively styled over the years using Chinese pruning techniques. This type of styling was used very effectively by Hong Kong's Yee-sun Wu.

         Note also the handmade pot by Japanese master potter Akiji Kataoka who is also honored in the Fuku-Bonsai International Honor Roll. Whenever possible, Akiji Kataoka pots are used with trees trained by or inspired by Saburo Kato, John Naka, Haruo Kaneshiro, and Ted Tsukiyama, or Yee-sun Wu.

          A closer view of the pot shows an innovative surface texture.  Akiji Kataoka mastered bonsai ceramic production techniques that utilized press-molding of clay slabs against plaster molds.  In his premium handmade designs, he used his standard plaster molds, but incorporated slip-dipped seaweed against the molds before pressing the reddish clay slabs. After the leather hard pots were removed from the molds, a dark gray clay slip was painted and burnished. During firing, the seaweed burnt out and in cleaning, an unique pattern showing the original reddish clay was exposed.  These Kataoka pots were  custommade for Fuku-Bonsai for the formal potting of the three John Naka trees at the International Bonsai Convention in 1990 in Hawaii.
             Another close-up view of the trunk showing the lively trunkline created using Chinese pruning techniques. It strives for open-ended multiple styling options.  With trees created in this manner, exciting bonsai can be trained. 

              Imagine a "one branch styling" with everything above the first branch removed!  Or a "two branch styling" or "three-branch styling!"  Each could be attractive and exciting! 

           Looking straight into the long lowest branch, you can see the movement of the trunk and branches.  Note that in allowing a tree to grow "wild," you also increase the girth of the trunk while preserving the taper. 
             New Jaboticaba shoots are an orangy-red with opposite paired leaves. When a healthy vigorously growing tree is pruned, generally two new growths emerge and it is possible to train primarily by pruning.

            Older trees have round dark purple fruit growing out of trunks and branches and another common name for this plant is Brazilian Grape. The fruit has a refreshing grape-like taste and can be used for making drinks, jellies, or wine.

          A close-up view of the trunk and branches again shows the attractive smooth bark and structure.
           With the explanation of how the tree had been brought to this stage, Michael took over. Michael Imaino joined Fuku-Bonsai in 1983 and has become a bonsai master in his own right with a different type of styling. Many of the newer trees at Fuku-Bonsai are collaborations between David and Michael. Michael as Senior Plant Manager, has overall responsibility for the bonsai and nursery while David is now overseeing development of the Micro-Lobster specialty. 
           Michael is a professional and very precise in all that he does.  He has the discipline to tie down each tree and has mastered complex detailed pruning. In a very short time he had the tree out of the pot and began removing most of the potting media as we planned to reshape the roots from a wide low pot to a narrow tall square pot. 
              Reforming the root ball required combing out all roots, removing some that were too large to bend down, and using temporary paper-covered wire to keep the roots in a narrow column to go down the selected pot. 
          The mechanics of the potting went quickly with Michael explaining the basics.  Anyone lucky enough to get Michael as their Fuku-Bonsai workshop trainer can tell you that he's not flashy but does good work.  The demonstration portion was quickly over! At the end of the presentation, the tree was in a tall, square cascade-type pot. 

 POT DESCRIPTION:  Unglazed "udei" (dark brown) stoneware pot measuring 5.25" x 5.25" x 12.25" tall.

 TREE DIMENSIONS: Trunk thickness: about 1.5"

           Highest point of tree is 17.25" from pot bottom.

           Root-trunk rises 5" above top of pot.

           Tree extends about 13" out from the pot.

POST DEMONSTRATION (October 2006)   Upon being brought back to Fuku-Bonsai, the tree was placed in an area that receives morning to noon direct sun. This is written three months later.  There's a fair amount of new growth and the tree has been lightly trimmed. Following Chinese tradition, the tree is photographed with corners determining viewing angles with three interesting views.

 

  From left-front corner: The tree swings back and downwards,  then moves to the right and down. About two inches above where the longest lowest branch comes off the main trunk, there's a good potential future apex branch. If the portion above that point is removed, there may be an improved future shape. The display base is a curly maple burl carved by David Fukumoto and turned with the tree to also show different views.

 

    From front corner:  The tree rises then swings down and to the right, then forward and breaking into a dropping long branch that swings left first then moves to the right.  The top with both right and left directional branches.  The lower section will dominate and the stronger top growth will be continually trimmed so growth energy moves to the lower part of the tree.  This view of the carved base is the most interesting.

 

   From the right-front corner:   Even this view is attractive because the lowest part of the tree is coming forward.  Again the dynamic motion of the rising trunk abruptly drops and swings to the left to step down into an interesting line. The outstanding taper is best seen from this angle.  Each of the three major views have interest and this is the characteristic of a well-trained tree using "Dragon" styling. Each tree is lively with variable futures and unique!

 

CONCLUSION

         Most of the Western world learned and adopted the concepts of Japanese bonsai which is greatly influenced by the Japanese national character that seeks conformity and harmony with nature and others. They are also limited by the slower growing trees of a temperate climate and their most dynamic designs have been refinements of trees that were shaped by harsh environments.

         In contrast, the principles of Man Lung Penjing are based upon an intimate knowledge of horticulture and a respect for unique plants and creative independent individuals. With faster growing trees, the emphasis shifts from rearranging what is already present to actual creation of an entire design from seed or cutting! This tree is only 25 years in training from seed!

        As Americans, we are more in tune with the rugged Chinese individuality rather than concensus oriented Japanese.  As tropical bonsai growers, we work with trees that develop more rapidly. So, the techniques and philosophy that were shared by Yee-sun Wu are now more widely known and are increasingly influencing international bonsai. He richly deserves all honors!  

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  Fuku-Bonsai Inc., 2006