Throwback Thursday – First Tanuki….and last   2 comments

Early in everyone’s bonsai journey they long to have a bonsai with massive amounts of deadwood. Something that inspires the look and feel of being high in the mountains with a ripped and torn look about the tree. Something showing the harshness of nature and the plants determination to persevere.

My inspiration runs deep. I have seen the trees, I know what it is that I want.





On a trip to the mountains cutting firewood in 1986, I came across this huge tree, cedar I think, and decided that the roots of the tree now exposed from falling over would make a perfect base for the Tanuki I wished to make.

What is a tanuki?

From wikipedia; In tanuki bonsai, a living tree is joined to an interesting piece of deadwood to create a composite in the driftwood style. The deadwood usually has the form of a weathered tree trunk, or at least its lower portion. To add living material to the deadwood, a groove or channel is first carved into it. The living tree (usually a young juniper, because of the species’ vigor, flexibility, and ability to endure harsh shaping) is fixed within the channel using non-reactive nails or screws, wire wrappings, or clamps. Over time, the young tree grows into the deadwood channel, which disguises the fact that it is a separate entity. Once firmly in place, the nails, screws, or other affixing devices are removed, and the living tree is cultivated and shaped with typical bonsai techniques.

Real driftwood-style bonsai are usually not grown from the common bonsai source materials, but instead are specimens taken from the wild, and are prized but very rare. The tanuki process makes it possible to generate a driftwood-style product from much more common materials. Whether that product can be considered a traditional bonsai is open to question, as implied by the Japanese name for this technique. In Japanese folklore, tanuki (?, alternatively タヌキ), the Japanese raccoon dog, are shape-changing tricksters. Tanuki bonsai are sometimes known by the less-demeaning term “Phoenix Grafts” in the West, and many bonsai growers outside Japan consider tanuki an acceptable bonsai technique. But this technique is not currently an accepted part of the Japanese bonsai tradition, and tanuki would not be displayed at a formal Japanese bonsai show.

So, in 1986 with only two years under my belt I put together two tanuki, one with a juniper and one with an elm. What the hell was I thinking? Take special notice of the fact that neither of the trunks were placed into a position that allows them to be hidden. They are just plants growing with two giant stumps of dead tree roots in the same pot. Now this is some damn good artistry if you ask me. Whats really troubling about these two pictures is that I actually wasted the film on them thinking these were going to be something. There were times I would load the 110 Kodak Instamatic with flash cubes take two pictures, and run the film down to be developed with out even taking the other 22 pictures. I just wanted to see them in print! Enjoy…





2 responses to “Throwback Thursday – First Tanuki….and last

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  1. I wonder if that first tree in the mountains is a Foxtail Pine?

  2. I have admired that tree at Tioga Pass for years!

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