The Story of a Little Shimpaku, from Japan to South Africa

Updated: May 20, 2019



Japan has always been at the top of my bucket list of places to go since I started bonsai. I finally got the opportunity to go in 2017, when the Eighth World Bonsai Convention was held in Saitama, Japan. It was a dream come true to get on the plane and touch down on Japanese soil. My goal for the convention was to absorb as much as I could and bring items back to remind me of my trip. One of those items was a small Juniperus chinensis “Shimpaku”.

At the convention, there were many sales tables with anything from fans and tools to trees. We looked around everywhere until I spotted a Juniper underneath one of the sales tables. The lady who ran the stall allowed me to bring it out and, man, was it magnificent. I have always wanted a Shimpaku, but unfortunately, most that were for sale were a bit outside my budget. This one was perfect though, especially in that regard.

We had a permit to allow us to import, so I bought it and carried it back to South Africa in a paper bag.

I was advised to look after it with great care due to the change in seasons. When I noticed it was losing a lot of needles on the inside, I decided to pot it into a growing container as it was very root bound. It did much better after that and started showing signs of new growth. This was in June 2017. I left the tree alone from then on, removing dead foliage when it appeared, and was relieved when I noticed that it was completely stable in the growing pot by November. It had grown roots beautifully in those few months. This is when I decided to wire and style the tree.


It was so dense inside the canopy that wiring was a challenge. I wanted to give the tree justice so took my time and systematically wired every branch on the tree. Once satisfied, I made sure everything was correct and started the styling. It took about seven hours to wire and style the tree. I worked very carefully not to damage the tree because of its emotional worth to me and what it took to get it back home.

Relief! When I finally finished styling, I was completely amazed by how the tree had come out. I could not have been happier. I jinned a large section of the tree to create depth and made fine adjustments to the pads as time went on. The front of the tree has drastically changed from what it was when I first bought it. Few of the needles browned, and it filled out quickly. I treated the deadwood areas and started thinking about what pot to use.


I had a pot shape in mind, but the colour wasn’t quite right because most of them in our shop were glazed. I decided to make another one by using our new unglazed clay mixture we had made recently. Once I had cast the pot, my wife finished all the other details of the pot.

We got the pot into a glaze firing with our other pots and the tone came out great. I wanted a dark charcoal colour to contrast the vivid green foliage. The round shape with the studs on the side gave enough detail to balance with the branch structure and trunk details. For helpful hints about how to pick the perfect pot for your bonsai, click here for our “how to” on picking a pot.

I planted the Shimpaku in early 2018 into its new container and saw that the root growth was so fine and dense in our soil mix. This clarified that the tree was happy and healthy, and I could proceed with the repotting. The combination of vivid green foliage and dark unglazed pot worked! I was pleased with the result.

I entered the Shimpaku into the SABA photographic competition at the end of May. It won the Exotic category.

This little tree will always remind me of my trip to Japan and what it did to fuel my passion for bonsai. Every time I look at it, I feel recharged and want to share my knowledge and time with my students that attend the Willow Bonsai Academy and to help progress this wonderful artform we all enjoy.

#WillowBonsai #Shimpaku #Japan

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