Despite updating the website and all that jazz, I have been updating this even less than usual. Updating Facebook and Instagram with throwaway nonsense has played a part in that, as has simply being very busy. A lot has happened over the end of 2014, not all of it good, and to be honest I was glad to see the end of it. It has been a pretty bad year for bonsai people in general with lots of people being hospitalised, getting various serious conditions and even worse with the passing of some both well and lesser known members of the bonsai community. I have escaped lightly in comparison and for that I am thankful. I was asked recently during a demonstration why I do bonsai and what is good about it as a profession. Despite a few egotistical idiots and people who seem to kill more trees than they grow, it is really the people in bonsai who make it worth while and the reason for doing it is for others, for clients, students, readers, friends and even for those out there who don’t like what I have to say or do.
There were a few things that happened in the autumn that have made me consider where the future may lie in both bonsai and also the niche in which I can make a living. One of the biggest eye opening experience was visiting Saulieu in October. For those that don’t know Saulieu is a very well organised exhibition in France held in Autumn which has aspirations to become the Taikanten to Noelanders’ Kokufuten. A complete European bonsai community need two large shows a year, one in the autumn and one in the winter image. Otherwise we just experience one tiny piece of the bonsai spectrum of enjoyment, too much focus in bonsai is placed on conifers and we miss out on a lot of other things.
That is a little beside the point to be honest as what happened there was the fact that there were over 50 traders and simply not enough visitors to support them. With so many people collecting trees from the mountains with little regard to their quality and suitability to becoming bonsai, there is a glut of material in the market and basic economic theory predicts that as supply goes up and demand goes down, the price drops. Sadly the average enthusiast is guided by price point and what they hear rather than what they see or have experienced to be good quality. One of the drivers of dropping demand is the bad experience that enthusiasts get from poor quality material and teaching…but this is a whole rabbit hole of another nature that we shouldn’t disappear down. Point being, fool me once, shame on you. Most people don’t come back for a second round of freshly collected yamadori.
It may sound as though I am complaining about profit margins but as things are in the bonsai community, we will see many nurseries close, many professionals having to quit because of those out there who have a day job but sell bonsai on the side with minimal profit margins or run workshops in their backyards. Lower prices may seem like something beneficial in the short term but success in bonsai is not something which can be measured in economic terms. If the western bonsai community has full time professionals who are talented, dedicated and committed to increasing the level of bonsai then we will all benefit. Sadly sustainability for the bonsai community doesn’t come for free but neither is it supposed to be expensive.
One of the most time consuming things and reasons for the silence of late has been the frankly depressing search for purchasing a suitable property to start a permanent base for Saruyama Towers. I am once again at the mercy of economic forces, Supply of affordable houses is low, demand is super high and so prices are ridiculous. In the area where we are looking, South East London and further out, the market is being ruined by investors. Buy to Let property developers who are making what they think is a short term financial profit but is actually at the expense of society as a whole. As the market becomes more and more inaccessible to people, it all comes crumbling down and people leave as they simply cannot afford it. “Move out to the country!” you say…and make Lady Saruyama commute for two hours plus every day or take the risk of becoming the sole earner and then what happens when I break my leg and cannot work? It is a difficult situation to get out of, however all hope is not lost. Irons in the fire and a new dawn on the horizon and all that jazz; have no fear, there is no chance of me giving up, I have already jumped into the abyss.
Kokufu is just around the corner, I leave for Japan in a few days so expect the usual photo deluge. I will be busy as usual with setting up the displays from the Chief and Akiyama, sales and looking after clients. This year we are not having a tilt at the big kokufu sho prize but it is still nice to be part. There will be the first ever UK based client displaying at the show as well as a few other foreign entrants. We will have about 14 trees I think to sort out over the two shows as well as setting up for the second suiseki show which looks like being a good one as well. Pictures will come, I have a super high capacity portable battery to keep my phone, camera and wifi router all charged up (thanks santa) so there are no excuses.
It is a shame that Noelanders comes so quickly after the end of Kokufu and the suiseki show; as a result, I will not be able to attend. January has been very quiet as a result of not having Noelanders and I feel as though a month of my life as just disappeared….still I hope it will be a success and that the UK shohin invasion will prove to be successful.
So like the all those politicians that are infesting the media at the moment, I shall leave you with the promise that in the future, things will all be better…(just don’t ask questions or for guarantees as actual results may vary 😉
Onwards and upwards….