Retrospective:Where Has This Guy Been for 5 Years?

The title for this post is pretty self explanatory. Today I’ll answer the question of where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to since I stopped publishing articles and blogs here nearly 5 years ago. I felt my passion slipping away then, so I decided, for a while, to focus instead on lecturing in person, and to go to shows, not just as a vendor, but as an enthusiast. My goal was to rekindle my love of bonsai and bonsai pottery and rediscover the passion that had become jaded and sharp from the business of it all. And it was a decided success.
Let’s take a look at the highlight reel of some of the places I’ve been, some friends I’ve met along the way, and some of what I’ve seen since I’ve been away from the site! Don’t worry, once you pass through the gauntlet of pictures of my ugly mug there ware more pots and trees to look forward to at the end!

Charity Work

With my partner Dave Paris, along with the Beer, Wine, and Cheese and Bonsai Auctions Facebook groups, over the last 5 years charity work for members of the community is easily the thing I’m most proud of. We’ve raised well over $60,000 with combinations of Gofundme pages and Facebook auctions of items donated by generous members of the community. We’ve championed many causes, ranging from a new car for Nestor Torres, to the fairly recent Owen Reich home fire, to helping with Roy Minarai’s daughter’s medical bills, among many others. Watching the bonsai community come together and give to others in the art in need has been wonderful to behold and always reminds me that the people are the thing I love most about bonsai.

To recognize my services to the community in Charity work and in providing free pottery information through the site and database, I was made a Bonsai Angel at the 2018 National Exhibition. An exclusive honor that comes with a lovely Gold pin….it was the first and will be the last time anyone calls me an Angel. Never been so humbled in my life…nor have I ever been speechless.

Big Exhibition Lectures

Since the last article I published before this year, in March 2016, I’ve spoken at dozens of clubs and societies, along with several larger National, Regional, and State Level Exhibitions. In that nearly 5 year span, I’ve lectured at 2 US National Bonsai Exhibitions, 2 US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibitions, the UK National Exhibition, the Lone Star Bonsai Federation state exhibition, the Mid America Bonsai Alliance Regional Exhibition, the American Bonsai Society Exhibition in St. Louis, and was one of the headliners at the 2019 Golden State Bonsai Federation California state exhibition. It’s been an absolute blast to meet enthusiasts from all over the US and Europe at these Exhibitions and an honor to speak at them.

Speaking at the 2016 US National Bonsai Exhibition.
At the 2018 US National Bonsai Exhibition.
My Fukushige 7 point pottery display from the 2017 1st US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition.
Speaking at the 2019 2nd US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition.
Matthew Ouwinga, Myself, and Bill Valavanis at the 1st National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition with a selection of masterpiece pots from the Ouwinga Collection.
“This guy”, Matthew Ouwinga, generously brings a selection of the finest bonsai containers ever made for use in my National lectures.
It’s almost impossible to truly understand why masterpiece containers are what they are, and why they cost what they cost, from photos. Allowing public display at my lectures of some of the best examples of containers made by artists like Heian Tofukuji, Kouzan, Tsukinowa Yusen, Daisuke, and others Matt has done the community a great service, and I owe him a serious debt of gratitude.
Nowhere else in the West open to the public can you examine true masterpieces and Japanese Cultural Treasures of bonsai pottery other than these lectures. One day I hope that Matthew opens a museum in Maryland.
From the 2nd US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition. I’m explaining that the container I’m touching is the only container Heian Tofukuji ever signed with his real name.
A National tradition, the Coquito toast, with good friends Nestor Torres, Roy Minarai, and Chris Denton at my booth at the 1st US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition.
Louise Leister, Sean Smith, Mike Lebanik, Andy Youtz, Nestor Torres, Roy Minarai, Dave Paris, Me, Stacey Macey, and Trisha Walters relaxing after a long day at the US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition.
Speaking at Bonsai Europa, the UK National Bonsai Exhibition, to a standing room only crowd. A great exhibition and a fantastic time, compliments of Tony Tickle and Bury.
Best in Show and Best Shohin awards(also my favorite), 7 point display by friends Mark and Ritta Cooper at the UK National Bonsai Exhibition
For my co-headlining appearance at the GSBF California state exhibition, a full room was dedicated to a pottery exhibition I put together, with a later critique given by myself and Taiga Urushibata.
Well over a hundred pots and display tables were brought in by GSBF members for me to choose from to create a full room display, along with a couple dozen I literally stole from a generous vendor(thanks again to Nathan Simmons).
One of my two displays, a 6 point display of Fukushige.
Tofukuji(top), Seifu Yohei cup(middle), Ikkou(bottom), Ichiyou(on root stand, right, not shown).
Snapshot with caption of my lecture stolen from Bjorn Bjorholm’s YouTube video summarizing the LSBF Texas state convention.
BBQ Dinner after the LSBF Texas state convention. Clockwise from left: Me, Sylvia and Howard Smith, Daisaku Nomoto, and Juan Andrade.
With Joseph McCoy at my booth at the LSBF state convention.
The infamous LSBF Pub Committee. I really don’t recognize everyone, but that’s me in the center, Daisaku Nomoto, Juan Andrade, Howard Smith, and Bjorn Bjorholm on the left, and May Lau and Hoe Chuah sitting on the right.
With my carpool buddy, potter Byron Myrick, at MABA in Indianapolis, holding the Roy Minarai pot he won that I had donated for the auction.

Club Lectures and Nursery Events

I’ve been a guest lecturer at several dozen clubs, nurseries, societies, and associations over the last 5 years in the US and the UK. It’s been a real pleasure, not only to teach in so many different places, but to meet people in the community from such diverse regions and see the differences in how they practice bonsai and the differences in their taste in pottery.

Alex Rudd’s(Mai Bonsai) European Bonsai Potter Collective and Harry Harrington’s Bonsai4Me arranged for me to do a special private lecture just outside of London.
Held in a private room down the pub, it was a fun and informal lecture. Above we have Sean Stolp, Alex Rudd, Me, Richard Lock, Harry Harrington, Mark Choney, Thor Holvila and Carina Jern. Several potters other than Thor were in attendance as well, including David and Mark from Walsall Studio and Roman Husmann, who drove 5 hours out of his way home to Germany to see the lecture after seeing the first one I did in Manchester!
3 nerds sitting around Alex Rudd’s house discussing…what else? Bonsai pots!
Every Year I’ve attended except for the last 2(2019 for health reasons and 2020 for Covid) I speak and vend at Brussel’s Bonsai Rendezvous event. With Todd Schlafer and Amy Blanton.
Matt Ouwinga and Rodney Clemmons on stage for the nightly 3 artist dueling demos. Probably my favorite annual event, Brussell Martin always brings in 3 of the best artists in the World, along with the 3 world class regulars that are there every year(Kathy Shaner, Marc Noelanders, and Rodney Clemmons).
With amazing Czech artist Vaclav Novak, Jim Doyle, Libby Tisdale, and Seth Behner at a brewery after one of my two lectures at the annual Nature’s Way Bonsai Open House on World Bonsai Day.
Vaclav Novak demos a Yamadori pine in bunjin style at Nature’s Way Nursery’s Open House.
Me grilling the highly erudite Dr. Hoe Chuah about Chinese bonsai containers, about which he’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know, at one of my 2 lectures at the Houston Bonsai Society.
I finally give up, throw my hands up, and admit I don’t know what I’m talking about at the Nashville Bonsai Society.
In Seattle with Josef Addis and his pottery collection, before my lecture at the Puget Sound Bonsai Association. Josef was nice enough to chauffeur me around to the Pacific Bonsai Museum, Dan Robinson’s Elandan Gardens, and Robert Cho’s Asia Pacific Imports with its giant selection of Cantonese containers(and a few very special pots from Mr. Su!).
At some point I did a two week lecture tour of California sponsored by GSBF, with 8 or so speaking dates between the Bay Area and LA. While I was in the Bay Area, somehow Jonas Dupuich and Eric Schrader convinced me to get in front of a video camera. You can see it here: Eric Schrader Interview for Phutu.
Enjoying Korean BBQ with several bonsai guys from LA. ‘Nel Son’, Robert Pressler, Tyler Ferrer, Javier Vallin, and Rishi Bissoon(behind the lens).
With Curator Ted Matson on a private working tour of Huntington Gardens. It was amazing to see the gardens while they were closed and we had the place to ourselves. Very cool to see trees and pots donated by many of the founders of Bonsai on the West coast like John Naka.
Doing some work appraising the museum’s pottery collection. I was able to get through around half in the few hours they had me to work, with help from Ted Matson and Michael Bullington.
Obligatory meal photograph taken by Boon Manakitivipart after an excellent Dim Sum lunch with Boon and Morten Wellhaven.
With Nathan Simmons and Doyle Saito after my lecture at Robert Pressler’s Kimura Bonsai Nursery.
Mark Levinstein peruses my sales table at the Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai lecture. Ben Griffin at lower right playing on his phone.

Pots, Bonsai, and Other Stuff

A few highlights and random photos of bonsai pottery I’ve seen, sold, bought, or been given in my travels in the last 5 years, along with a few photos of the many bonsai I’ve seen and other pics. Enjoy!

The Huntington Gardens Japanese Garden in Southern California. See what I mean by how awesome it was to be there when closed? Empty pathways and a clear view.
Huntington Gardens Chinese Garden. Probably the most impressive garden I’ve ever visited in the US. These photos barely scratch the surface of everything there; I could fill this entire post with photos from Huntington alone. The giant viewing stones in the Chinese style garden are absolutely incredible. Must see.
One of many photos I took of the GSBF Bonsai Museum at Lake Merritt in Oakland. Many historical Bonsai in the collection, some dating back to importation for the 1908 World’s Fair.
Gorgeous antique British Agateware at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The V&A houses one of the most extensive and comprehensive pottery collections in the world.
Antique Chinese Hare’s Fur, Partridge Feather, and Oil Spot glazes in the above 3 photos.
Amazing antique Chinese Oxblood, Peach Blossom, and Flambé glazes at the A&V Museum.
Nakawatari Cream Crackle formerly of the Takagi collection. I’ve seen very few of these that were real, had to have it.
Collected one seed junipers and deadwood details at Deep Forest Gallery outside of Dallas.
Gigantic bald cypress, formerly one of Guy Guidry’s trees, now at Deep Forest Gallery.
Awesome glaze on a uniquely shaped pot gifted to me by Beau Venne.
Pots and pots and pots! One of several display and sales areas for containers at Nature’s Way Nursery.
Incredible California juniper that was in the process of being restyled at the Huntington Gardens Museum.
A gift from Patricia of PAS pottery when I was in England. I’d begged to buy one of her reds made in Shigaraki for years…finally she just gave up and gave me one.
Giant Ashe Juniper, named “King of the Hill”, collected and styled by Howard and Sylvia Smith at the LSBF state convention.
The two pics above were part of my sales booth at the 1st US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition.
Very famous Nick Lenz bonsai at the Pacific Bonsai Museum.
Japanese Beech at the Pacific Bonsai Museum. Easily the best in the US and one of my favorites on display.
Unglazed cascade pot with pure silver rivets I was given the opportunity to buy from Andrew Pearson of Stone Monkey Pottery. This was one of the pots Andrew displayed at the 11th Kobachi Artists Exhibition in Japan.
Awesome Raft style at the UK National Exhibition.
A really cool Tsukinowa Yusen with a greenish crawling glaze. I parted ways with this one somewhere….regret it.
Fantastic Kutani Ikko I also sold somewhere along the way, another I wouldn’t have minded keeping.
Large marked Kowatari Chinese cascade Canton pot, with very old kiri bako and a custom fitted stand for a perfect and tight fit in the box. This one isn’t going anywhere.
And we’ll finish up with a California Juniper by the great John Naka at the GSBF Bonsai Museum at Lake Merritt.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek at what I’ve been up to in the last several years since the articles stopped. Next Monday’s scheduled post we’ll be back to the old standby Artist profile, with future articles coming up on Patina, Cost and Value, and Yuuga, plus many artist profiles!

Thanks for reading!

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Modern Containers, Traditional Motifs Part 2

This is the 200th Post for the blog! I was just going to phone it in, and do a retrospective. Instead, I figured, why not a special post, why not a treat on a special day, with an additional treat of special and fascinating subject matter.
In this week’s regular Monday article, we looked at traditional motifs that frequently appear on bonsai containers and come from hand scrolls, folding screens and statues, myths, and legends. In this post we will look at traditional motifs that are derived from the famous ukiyo-e(woodblock prints) of Ando Hiroshige and Katsushita Hokusai.

The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō 

The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō are a series of woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige(born Ando Hiroshige) made in 1833-1834. He created the prints after his first journey upon the Tōkaidō road, where he was part of an official party escorting a gift of horses for the Imperial court.
The Tōkaidō road was a major trade and travel artery through Japan, connecting Edo to the capital at the time, Kyoto. The stations along the Tōkaidō road were way stations for travelers and merchants to restock supplies, eat, and rest. While Hiroshige created more than 30 versions of the prints, the Hōeidō version is the original and most famous, and also the source material most often used for depictions on bonsai containers.

The 16th print, 15th post, Kanbara, A Village in the Snow. Likely my favorite print from the series.
A depiction of Kanbara by blog favorite Shunka Seizan. I always expect to see more winter images on bonsai pottery, given that the Gafu Ten is in January, but they’re surprisingly rare.
Kanbara, A Village in the Snow painted on a suiban by Sano Daisuke. Incredibly detailed.
A cascade piece depicting the 15th station painted by Hayashi Toujaku.
Another winter depiction, clearly inspired by Kanbara from Sano Daisuke.
Kanbara as painted by Echizen Hosui.
Most of a full series of the 53 Stations painted by Tsukinowa Yusen, considered the greatest bonsai pottery painter ever to have lived. This set was made a Shohin National Treasure in 2015 and was displayed that year at the Gafu Ten. Better images can be seen in the album Yuuga(I think? They may have been added too late), the second volume which records Shohin National Treasures(the first being Miyabi).
Leaving Edo: Nihonbashi, (The bridge of Japan), the first print of the series.
A version of Leaving Edo, nail carving in panel by Bigei.
Hokusai’s first print in the series as painted by Tosui, Mizuno Shikao.
A yellow glazed window version painted by Shunka Seizan.
A full set of The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō painted by Tosui, 3rd Generation, Mizuno Shikao.
The 38th Station, Okazaki
A suiban with the 38th Station painted by Sano Daisuke.
Okazaki as painted by Miyazaki Isseki. Hiroshige’s works often feature on Isseki containers.
Kakegawa station as depicted by Shohachi.
10th station : Hakone (High rocks by a lake)
The 10th Station as depicted by 3rd Generation Tosui, Mizuno Shikao, on a suiban.
Detail view of one of the stations painted by Miyazaki Isseki.
Detail view of the 12th station by Tsukinowa Shosen, grandson of Yusen.
The 48th station, Sakashita, as painted by Miyazaki Isseki, with his typical unique use of negative space.
An almost chaotic depiction by Shinano Chazan in his own unmistakable style.
Last for our look at bonsai pottery interpretations of The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō is a full set of Suiban painted by Sano Daisuke, with Ruri glaze. A fantastic set, and only a handful of sets of Daisuke’s 53 Stations, containers or suiban, remain. The vast majority were separated for individual sale. Somewhere floating around here in the United States a full set of rectangles of the stations by Daisuke is for sale, unseparated, for just at 6 figures…
Two Hiroshige from the 53 Stations followed by a Van Gogh, just to show exactly how much these prints have influenced Western art as much as Eastern art and bonsai pottery.

The 36 Views of Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is considered a symbol of Japanese National identity, and is sacred in Japanese religious tradition. Perhaps no other visual representations of “Fuji San”(Mr. or Sir Fuji, an often heard referral showing respect and deference) is more emblematic than Katsushita Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji. The multicolor woodblock prints depict Mount Fuji from various views and locations, with surrounding towns and environments, and in differing weather. These iconic woodblock prints(ukiyo-e) were created at the height of Hokusai’s career, from 1830 to 1833. The vast majority of bonsai container depictions from the 36 Views are of Fine Wind, Clear Morning, Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit, and The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, although many other scenes do appear regularly.

Fine Wind, Clear Morning, the second of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji
A classical example of Fine Wind, Clear Morning on unglazed Shudei painted by Katsushita Kodou.
A more free form depiction from 3rd Generation Tosui, Mizuno Shikao, in the signature Tosui style.
A version of Fine Wind, Clear Morning from Tani Ranzan on rectangle in Ranzan’s own unique painting style.
Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit, the 3rd print from Hokusai’s 36 Views.
A depiction of Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit from Daisuke friend and pupil Toho(Shuji Shimada)
A recent gold award winning piece from the 16th Contemporary Kobachi Artists exhibition, painted by Junichi Nakayama. More on this artist and show in an upcoming article.
Depiction of Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit by Yoshiyuki Kawada, part of his full set of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji. You can view them all on his Facebook page.
Fujikake Yuzan go-sai hexagon. Very unlike his usual style and the source material. A fascinating piece.
Fuji View Field in Owari Province, the 9th print from Hokusai’s 36 Views.
Another from Yoshiyuki Kawada’s full set of Hokusai’s masterpiece woodblock prints, showing the 9th View.
Tosui, Mizuno Shikao. As far away from Kawada’s version above as one can get.
Enoshima in Sagami Province, the 17th of Hokusai’s series of views of Mount Fuji
Kawada’s take on Hokusai’s 17th print from The 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Very well sculpted, with fine details despite the difference in scale from the original.
A version from Fujikake Yuzan, part of his own complete set of Hokusai’s 36 Views.
Detail view from Tama River in Musashi Province painted by Fujikake Yuzan, from the same set as the container above.

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

Katsushita Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Considered to be the most famous and recognizable piece of Japanese art in the World.

While The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is actually a part of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji series, it deserves its own section due to its fame and the frequency with which it appears on bonsai containers. The print dates to the late Edo period, 1829-1833, and depicts 3 boats battling a giant rogue wave in the Sagami bay, with Fuji San in the background.

A fantastic depiction by 3rd generation Tosui, Mizuno Shikao. Painted in his unique style, which usually isn’t to my taste, but this is one of my favorite versions.
A Classical interpretation painted by Toho(Shuji Shimada).
An interesting depiction giving more prominence to Mount Fuji painted by Tani Ranzan.
A very traditional depiction carved by Ameniya Shinobu.
Awesome celadon glazed piece from Tadashi Ono, the best sculptor of bonsai containers of the current generation.
A taller cascade painted by Ishida Shoseki. The brushwork is excellent and I quite like the foot details.
Three very different interpretations of Hokusai’s Great Wave by Yoshiyuki Kawada. Excellent examples showing the versatility with which classical motifs can be depicted on modern bonsai containers.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my 200th post, and reading about the traditional woodblock prints that inspire modern bonsai container art. In the next installment of the series, we’ll look at shapes and details to pots that have named origins, be they individual artists, kilns, or eras.

Thanks for reading!

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Modern Containers, Traditional Motifs Part 1

Like bonsai itself, bonsai pottery is filled with classical designs and traditional motifs. Visual motifs like paintings and carvings on bonsai containers often come from famous paintings, poems, and prints. Stylistic motifs like shapes and details(say of the feet, or rim) can come from individual artists and be named after them or from specific eras. In this series of articles, we’ll look at the origins of often seen classical and traditional motifs and styles as well a variety of examples. I’ll keep the critique on the pots to a minimum on this one as it’s already run a bit long!


A Little History:
The Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, commonly called the Chojugiga, is an ancient Japanese cultural property and National Treasure owned by the Kozan-Ji temple and dates from the 12th to possibly 13th centuries. It is a series of painted hand scrolls featuring anthropomorphic, frolicking animals, magical humans, and samurai. Thieving monkeys, bathing rabbits, and wrestling frogs appear throughout, and these are the elements of the scrolls that find their way onto bonsai pottery often enough to be called traditional motifs. Originally the animal elements of the scrolls were whimsical and satirical representations of the priests of the time. The scrolls have been highly influential in Japanese art and culture, and are often credited as being the first manga. Some of the stylistic painting effects such as movement lines used by the artist are still in use in Manga in Japan today.

Frogs and rabbits wrestling, with the stamp of the Kozan-ji temple.
Rabbits and frogs chase a thieving monkey.
Depiction of the excerpt above by Ichinokura Sekisyu. Classical style, and the motif contrasts nicely to me with the more formal container.
A much simpler depiction with just the frog and rabbit painted by Owari Yuho, on a much more complex shape.
Oni footed round with a crisply painted version from the scrolls by Toho(Shuji Shimada).
A pair of glazed relief sculpted rounds with two animal figures from the scrolls by Ameniya Shinobu.
The most common depictions seen from the scrolls as painted by Shunka Seizan.
A later work painted by Daisuke and made by Ishida Shoseki, part of a series.
A very stylized, almost impressionistic depiction from Okumura Souzan.
Last but certainly not least, rabbit and frog with the Kozan-ji stamp by the master himself, Tsukinowa Yusen.

Raijin and Fujin

A Little History:
Raijin and Fujin are Japanese weather deities(Kami). Raijin is the god of thunder, storms, and lightning. Fujin is the god of the wind. Thought of as both protectors and destroyers, like many Japanese deities Raijin and Fujin are neither good nor bad. In a nation like Japan where natural disasters related to the weather are more commonplace than other societies with extensive mythologies, it’s difficult to see how two weather deities are thought of as protectors. Raijin’s positive aspects come from agriculture, as the bringer of storms and rain. Fujin’s good side is historically rooted in winds that twice decimated Mongol naval invasions in the 13th century.

The most common depictions on bonsai pottery come from folding screens painted by Tawaraya Sōtatsu. The works are considered emblematic of the Rinpa school of Japanese Painting and feature both painted color and gold foil.
Yoshiyuki Kawada’s gold award winning sculpted pieces featuring Raijin and Fujin.
An interesting version of the deities by Kutani Ikko, less classical than usually seen.
A highly detailed depiction of both deities with landscape painted by Ogurayama.
Fantastic carved depiction of the gods by Ameniya Shinobu. You can clearly see Raijin holding his hammers with drums surrounding him, and the windswept hair and bag of winds of Fujin.
Highly stylized depiction painted by Kyogoku Shiho showing Fujin in panel surrounded by geometrics.
Raijin by 3rd generation Tosui, Mizuno Shikao, in his usual highly identifiable style.
A more rustic depiction from Yuuki Shoseki. Very much unlike her usual style of painting.
The pair of deities from Chinese artist Sekizan. I like that the artist used a yellow glaze here as it does call to mind the gold foil from the original folding screens.
Interesting pair of go-sai(5 color) Fujin by Kutani Ikko on a beautifully made mokko by Bushuan.

The Fox’s Wedding

A Little History:
“On a day when the sun shines bright and the rain falls, wise parents advise their children to play indoors. It isn’t that they are worried about them catching a cold. No, it is something more mysterious. For on such days the kitsune, the magical foxes of Japan, hold their wedding processions.”-From the Hyakumongatori website.
The “kitsune no yomeiri”, or “Fox’s Wedding” in Japanese folklore is an explanation for unexplained forest lights or a ‘sunshower’(where it is raining but the sky is clear and the sun shining). Folklore surrounding the sunshower is fascinating reading. I’ve long been enamored of stories in folklore and fiction involving trickster gods and spirits, and they always seem to be associated with fairy lights and sunshowers.
For further reading on the Fox’s Wedding, I highly recommend the article on this site

Classical depiction of the Fox’s Wedding, showing the trickster foxes hiding their true guise throughout the procession, except for the front.
Another classical depiction, showing a long procession of Foxes and a surprise viewer hiding behind a tree.
Large painting by Fujikake Yuzan hanging in my pottery room, see my article A Hanging for more on this piece.
Another depiction from Fujikake Yuzan, an often seen motif from the artist, who I feel paints the best classical versions on bonsai containers.
Three depictions in mame/mini from Tosui, 3rd Generation, Mizuno Shikao, in varying colors and that signature Tosui style.
A more stylized depiction than is usually seen, by Joshu Katsuyama, a popular motif for this artist as well.
A classical version from perennial blog favorite(for his glazed pieces) Shunka Seizan.
A more classical depiction than his previous entry above, painted by Joshu Katsuyama.
A larger piece by the 3rd Generation Tosui, in his unmistakable style. These classical motifs are seen more often on Tosui containers than just about anyone.
Unique depiction painted by Ogurayama. Easily the most interesting of the lot to me, as it is more reminiscent of classical triptychs, scrolls, and woodblocks of the scene.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Part 1 in a series on classical motifs that appear frequently on bonsai containers. Almost all of the artists in this article have full articles devoted to them as well, check the Table of Contents if you’re interested in seeing more work from and learning more about any artist.
In future installments of this series we’ll look at famous woodblock prints like The 53 Stations of the Tokaido, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa and other Hokusai, as well as the origins of some named bonsai container styles and details.

Thanks for Reading!

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Joshu Katsuyama: Bang for your Buck Potters Part 3

He was born Ogiwara Katsuyoshi on December 8, 1937.
At first, he went by the artist/kiln name Ogiwara Shouzan, then changed it to Joshu Shouzan. He finally settled on Joshu Katsuyama, which is great for us because there are just too many Shouzan around and it gets confusing.

He was always an enthusiastic and talented artist, and when he decided to make his own shohin bonsai containers, he taught himself sometsuke(blue underglaze painting) and akae(red overglaze enamel painting). He began painting ceramics in his own studio in 1975.

His style of landscape and figure painting is heavily influenced by the Nanga style of painting from Southern China, as was Fujikake Yuzan(see previous article on blog). This leads many to think Katsuyama are Yuzan derivative, but really they’re contemporaries and both Chinese derivatives. The style can be slightly cartoonish, but is charming in its own unique way. His go-sai paintings are especially nice in this style, with some even rivaling the work of Yuzan, who is considered, along with Gekkou, to be the best of his generation. In addition to a variety of painting styles(sometsuke, akae, go-sai) Katsuyama is known for underside painting details on his pieces. Works without painting on the bottom are considered lesser pieces.

Considering that the prices of Katsuyama’s work versus stylistically similar artists like Yuzan are a third or less of the cost, this artist definitely belongs in the Bang For Your Buck Potters category. For a few hundred dollars, rather than a grand or two, you can acquire a container for your shelf or your Shohin bonsai that is worthy of admiration. They also retain value, and are always easy sells.

A go-sai(5 color) sansui rectangle showing excellent detail and the kind of Nanga influence we referred to earlier.
A sometsuke blue underglaze painted window container with multiple figures and a cliff side landscape. Excellent detail and interesting use of movement with the negative space and the direction the figures are facing.
Another go-sai, this one more typical of Katsuyama’s work than the rectangle previously shown. Less detailed but still a fantastic painted piece. The rim and feet details are especially nicely done.
Another Sometsuke painted container, this one a mokko with geometric designs at the inset points. While the brush work leaves a little to be desired, with some blurry bleed, still a great container for Shohin display.
Red and black overglaze enamel painting showing a much better use of negative space than the previous pieces. Excellent detail in a classical sansui landscape.
Sometsuke painting of the “Fox’s Wedding”, the Japanese folklore explanation for sun showers(rain when the sun is shining). A classical motif in bonsai container painting, most every artist has used the traditional design.
A tiny sometsuke mame pot with excellent detail for such a small space.
Another mame pot with bird. So tiny, so whimsical, so cute and well executed.
A slightly larger Ruri glazed inset panel square with landscape. The landscape on this one is a little less detailed than some of the other pieces we’ve looked at. The moderate bleed on the glaze is tolerable though, still a great piece for the price.
An akae overglaze enamel landscape with temple. Great details and use of white space. I really like the landscape motif on this piece. The cliff receding into the distance adds depth and breaks up the negative space, a great detail.
Another classical folklore scene of the Fox’s Wedding, this time a much better and more detailed version. In the American south, for a sun shower, we say “The devil is beating his wife.” It is surprising how many cultures associate sun showers with animals, especially foxes, in folklore.
A Winter scene based on Hiroshige Ando and the 53 Stations. We’ve talked about Ando’s famous woodblock prints many times here on the site. Like “Foxes Wedding”, the 53 Stations are classical motifs at which nearly every artist tries their hand.
Another gorgeous go-sai container with fantastic details and interesting positioning of the elements of the painting. The figures facing each other and the negative space on either side allows the side to be used for a bonsai with either left or right movement. Not commonly seen.
Two of the painted undersides that Joshu Katsuyama is famous for and has made somewhat of a signature of his more quality work. While the pieces without painted undersides are considered lesser works, they’re often just as nice, and can more easily fit a tight display budget.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my article on Joshu Katsuyama, he of so many names! Katsuyama is the first painter in my Bang for You Buck artists series, painted containers often being much more expensive than similar grades of glazed and unglazed bonsai pottery. But there are artists out there like Katsuyama that are affordable if you look!
Many more Bang for Your Buck articles coming in the future featuring potters every enthusiast can afford!

Thanks for reading!

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The 15th Annual Contemporary Kobachi Artist Exhibition Part 2

There were many notable entries other than the winners this year, a couple of which would definitely have been in contention for gold had it not been for accidental breakage before judging.

Roy Minarai
In the 14th Competition, American Roy Minarai took home the silver prize. Accidental breakage before judging but after setup squashed any hopes of placing this year. Still, the display reflects the great skill we have come to expect from Roy. A good variety of glazes and shapes in a nice display. The sango yu(coral red glaze) oval with the sculptured flowers is especially nice, both carving and glaze. Even with damage to the flowers, it was rumored that this display barely missed placing for the bronze award.
Made by Taiwanese professional photographer Thou Okuma, these intricate root stands caught my eye immediately. The excellent and consistent carving and variety of hardwoods used impress, especially given that he is self taught and has only been carving root stands since 2014.
Yoshiyuki Kawada
A great artist whose work only improves with time. One of the best carvers of his generation. Amazing that American popularity and a new kiln helped to accomplish this for such a worthy and talented artist. He took the gold prize in 2019 so was ineligible at this exhibition for award, but there’s no doubt these would have been contenders had they been in competition.
These unglazed containers were some of my favorites in the show. Takuzo Kishida has had a celebrated millennium, some of the highlights of which include multiple solo and duo exhibitions at the prestigious Takagi Bonsai Art Museum. Innovative details and highly technical precision characterize this display. The centerpiece handles really drew my attention, reminiscent of details of some of the more decorative antique Chinese containers.
Kiyoshi Koiwai
A friend on Facebook I recommend following. I always admire his work when he posts it. His shapes, while often classical, are not standard, sometimes bearing huge lips, and always great glazes. His recent microcrystalline glazes have brought him great accords. Gold award winner at the 12th Kobachi exhibition.
Shigeru Zyubei
Coming off of last years gold prize winning exhibit, his second, Zyubei was not eligible for award this year, but was guaranteed in to display. A favorite on the blog here, these Zyubei show a couple of the new glazes he has been featuring, and are available(as are others if you shoot me a message or email). Pictures never do Zyubei pots justice, they look much darker than they are and don’t show highlights, especially in a poor lighting environment like this.
A former student of Ishida Shoseki who began his apprenticeship in 1996, Hiroko Hanawa, who goes by Shosui, also studied with her daughter in law and successor Yuuki Shoseki beginning in 2007. A very colorful go-sai(5-color) duo of Wind and Thunder, Raijin and Fujin, classical deities and common subjects in Japanese bonsai pottery painting motif.
Jean-Philippe Koenig
Hailing from the Alsace region of France, Mr. Koenig is one of five Western potters to participate this year, a record! In the 1980s he began bonsai and pottery in Japan and then spent time in Australia, where he worked as a pastry chef to fund his pottery studies. A nice trio of rounds with a distinctly European vibe to the glazes.
Haruhisa Totsuka
The form and clay color of this potter’s work is always excellent. In 2013, he inherited the kiln of his late teacher, the best bonsai pottery sculptor of his generation, Sruga Yamasyou. After winning 2018’s 13th exhibition silver prize, he went home empty handed. The trio is fantastic though, the feet and bases are especially unique and special.
Boris Lomov
Another entry from a Western artist, the first I believe, from down under. Hailing from Sydney, Australia, Mr. Lomov’s entry fared very well in comparison to the other category entries. Nice glazes and I really like the painted Chojugiga(Japanese classical anthropomorphic animal motif) painting on the center pot.
Kouhouko Kiln
Given name Fānglǐyǒng, was trained in the famous Jingdezhen kilns in China. A great presentation of containers with charming decorations. A good variety of shapes and painting techniques are shown as well. A whimsical and simple trio that reminds me of older containers. He wants his work to reflect the harmony of Chinese and Japanese pots studied in exhibition books.
Tomatsuri Shunpou
At 87 years old, Tosai Tokeshi, whose kiln name is Tomatsuri Shunpou, has been practicing Satsuki bonsai for 57 years, and has been a certified instructor since 2010. He began making pots for his own Satsuki under the guidance of Shigeru Fukuda(Bushuan) in 2009, at 76 years of age! He entered the Kobachi in 2018 and won silver prize for unglazed containers in 2019. The influence Sensyu and Syuzan have had on his work is always very clear.
Martin Englert
Germany again represents the West, as our greatest bonsai container painter. Sadly, after 14’s Silver Award no prize was awarded in the 15th Kobachi, but his presence alone is important, and he certainly didn’t rest on his laurels and phone it in! Fantastic pieces.
Fabulous Shudei vermillion red clay make up these pots by Akio Yama, who has been making bonsai containers since 2012. A great variety of shape and technical precision. The display itself is also tastefully presented, showcasing the containers to best effect.
The entry from perennial entrant and sometimes winner Shigetoshi Yamada. He studied to become a professional potter specializing in non bonsai items like “umbrella stands, ikebana, etc.” Shun has been painting bonsai pots since 1995, and is self taught as a painter. A much better effort from this artist than the 14th Kobachi, which I felt were busier and darker than his usual style.
Ruban Yu
A threesome from Taiwanese painter and potter, a friend of the site, Ruban Yu. Unfortunately, I heard that he had some shipping difficulties and minor damage, which certainly hurt his chances for award.
One of my favorite entries this year. Such a wide variety of shape, style, and technique. This artist never ceases to impress. Perhaps a better display showing the pots to best advantage would have been more effective at catching the judges’ eye.

That’s it for my coverage of the 2020 Annual Contemporary Kobachi Artists Exhibition at Gafu-Ten. I hope you enjoyed seeing the containers from these artists as much as I look forward to seeing them every year!

In the coming weeks, the regular Monday posts will have a good mixture of articles on aesthetics and history, as well as the site’s usual artist profiles. Some articles to watch out for over the next couple of months include: Patina, Cost and Value, Joshu Katsuyama, And Zyubei; as well as a surprise article featuring Japanese Recognized Masterpieces and a certain well known pottery dealer. So stay tuned and subscribe!

As always, thanks for reading!

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The 15th Annual Contemporary Kobachi Artist Exhibition Part 1

I look forward every January to the Gafu Ten exhibition and the results and images of the major pottery competition held there in Kyoto, The Contemporary Kobachi Artists Exhibition. For articles on the previous exhibitions, click on Table of Contents. You can also find that page and others in the Menu drop screen on mobile or the Header on PC.

2019 saw more countries competing than ever before, a continuing trend. It’s an honor just to show at the exhibition, taking home a prize is top class In awards for bonsai pottery. While I disagreed with some of the results of the judging, and claim politics may have played a hand, there is no doubt that the winning containers all deserved recognition. Gold, silver, and bronze awards are given in 3 categories: Glazed, Unglazed, and Painted.


Keiun(桂雲).  His given name is Yasuo Fukuda. Fukushige(Bushuan) is his nephew, and he learned pottery in his studio. Keiun also entered the 14th Kobachi, and this display is miles above 2019 in every way. He’s inherited many of the glazes from Fukushige now that he is retired, and also does quite a bit of calligraphy work on containers. There is an excellent display of variety, classical styles and glazes here. His more traditional style couldn’t be more different from that of his nephew.

Going by the name to Jiji (ツ) kiln is Juninho Nakayama. An interesting and minimal use of decorative relief images and painting definitely made this entry stand out. I enjoyed the clean lines to the forms and the beautiful Celadon glaze as well. Not ostentatious at all, just lovely: Shibui at its best.

Tsutomo Matsuda, artist name Seiun, also won the silver prize at the 10th Kobachi exhibition in 2014. In 2020 he took home the Bronze award for this entry of fantastically glazed octagons. Great forms and a good mix of colors in the contemporary glaze style.


Tani Ranzan, former sushi chef, sculptor, bonsai artist and potter, and painter. A very well known and popular potter here in America, for his sculptural unglazed pots as well as his painted containers. A Renaissance man of bonsai finally takes home the gold he deserves.

Tadashi Ono(大矢忠) again takes home an award, like it seems he does every year. This year a silver award with a series of classical relief sculptures in the signature style he is known for, which usually exceeds and incorporates the rim with the carving.

Yoshi (芳), real name Yoshihiru Hiromasa. This potter is relatively unknown to me. The firing method looks perhaps like a Saggar fire on some of these. I have a friend who did this in Shigaraki, Japan during her apprenticeship. They used rice husks in an electric kiln with pots buried in the husks partway to leave carbonization and natural ash finishes on the buried portions. Rustic and utilitarian.


Reijaku(玲雀), given name Chen Myorin, is a Taiwanese painter who began painting containers in 1976. In both painting and clay technique, this artist shows true mastery. The Taiwanese have become the country to beat outside of Japan in the painted category over the last few years, taking home multiple prizes.

Stacy Allen Muse. A Florida Native and American, brought an award home for America, and himself, in the silver prize class.

Tomoyo Nakazato, called Chi(知), has been making pots since 2017 and painting since 2018. A short amount of time to win a bronze award for his 3 painted mame rounds. A nice display of simple containers, tastefully presented, with a variety of Japanese classical geometric and arabesque patterns.


Itoh Gekkou
Doshita Keishin
Nakano Gyouzan
Ikkou(Watanabe Kazuhiro)

That’s my Part 1 of my coverage of the 2020 Japanese Annual Contemporary Artist Exhibition.
In Part 2, we will a much longer look at the other displays. Those that didn’t take home prizes but were definitely worth mention, including entries from Zyubei, Roy Minarai, Kawada, Ruban Yu, and Shun, among many others.
I hope you enjoyed seeing the pots from these artists as much as I look forward to seeing them every year!

As Always, Thanks for Reading!

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The 12th, 13th, and 14th Annual Contemporary Kobachi Artist Exhibition

I was away from writing for so long I missed 3 entire years of The Annual Kobachi Exhibition which I have written about since it’s 7th year. The reports from The All Japan Shohin Bonsai Association who holds the exhibition every year in January at the Gafu Ten are No longer available online(even with the Wayback Machine!). So I will have to piece together some highlights and hopefully the winners from each exhibition so there will be a record in English. I’m a day early with the weekly post today because I have another one for you later this week!

If you’d like to see articles about the previous exhibitions, check the “A Table of Contents” page in the Menu on mobile or on the the header banner on PC. Lots to learn as you follow the potters who have entered multiple times!

The 12th Annual Kobachi Exhibition



Gold Prie awarded to Kyoshi Koiwai for his 3 piece entry with wonderful glazes and lips. Perfect forms!
Detail of me favorite of the three. Outstanding form and glaze.
My second, but close, favorite. Wonderful and uniform micro crystals. An aspect of his glazes(his zinc crystals in particular) that he told me personally won him the bronze prize this month at the 2021 exhibition.
Silver prize winner for 2017 was Dokou(土交). I like the form on the mokko and the variety but, I really felt there were better entries this year and was surprised at this choice.
The Bronze Award for the 12th Kobachi goes to a longtime favorite of the blog(and my collection!), multiple Gold Award winner Shigeru Zyubei. His new work is outstanding, but it was an odd choice for him to enter all Taiko cascades.
Detail of the striated blue Cantonese style glaze Zyubei is famous for.


The Gold Prize was Awarded to “Shouzan”(昭山). Both the technical form and Shudei vermillion red clay are outstanding.

A potter who I was not familiar with and could not find any information about took the silver award. Great series of mame pots, lots of variety and vibrant clay.
Tadashi Ono once again takes an award in the unglazed category, this time the bronze. Easily the best sculptor of his generation.

A rare .honorable mention was also given, although I am not familiar with the artist. All the pieces are variable in size, style, and technique, well deserved.


The gold award for painted containers went to a potter I wasn’t immediately familiar with. Yoshikawa Itidou’s display is outstanding though(thanks to Alfred Tan for the name). A great variety of sizes, motifs, and shapes. A deserving award winner from the Itodou kiln.
The silver award in 2017 went to a friend of the blog whose work I’ve followed since he began posting on Facebook, Taiwanese artist Ruban Yu.The variety of painting and pottery techniques here is outstanding. Orange glazed with sometsuke sansui windowsand no window bleed, panel pdetailed ainted multicolor unglazed, and a an alarm overglaze enamel with outstanding details. A well deserved award.
A trio of sometsuke pots takes the bronze for female painter Syoko Kunii. Good variety of design, and excellent classical sometsuke graphic work.


The nephew of popular and respected Bonsai potter Fukushige. In 2020 he goes on to win the Gold award. That’s real improvement!
Long loved by the blog, since he first appeared selling publicly, a great painted entry from Shunka Seizan. While I’m still most in love with his glazes, his paintings are rapidly becoming contenders for award.
As usual, an excellent and varied display from future and past gold award winner Shun. A little dark and classical, not the artist’s usual style.
Doshita Toyosei, special exhibition.
Doshita Keishin, wife of Toyosei, special display.
Shinobu trio showing the excellent glazes, forms, and unique details that this potter has become famous for.

The 13th Annual Kobachi Exhibition



Tadashi Ono, bronze award in the previous year, and yet another Gold Prize to add to his others. The best sculptor of his generation, this years display showed excellent detail and varied clay color.
Haruhisa Totsuka wins the unglazed silver prize with a trio of varied rounds. His display in last years (2020) exhibition was one of my favorites.
The Bronze award for the 2018 Kobachi went to a potter whose name I couldn’t find. The display shows a great display of form, and excellent technical skill with such thin walls.


Longtime love of the site Shigeru Zyubei takes gold prize with a trio of fantastically glazed pieces. I’ve written multiple articles about the artist, one of my favorites, so my opinions should be clear if you check the A Table Of Contents page!
The silver award went to Haruhisa Totsuka for a well varied trio of pieces. Different glazes, nice shape variety, good technique, and definitely deserving.
The variety of shapes, sizes, glazes, and styles on the bronze prize winner’s display, Yoichi Yoshida, is just outstanding. It was definitely one of my favorite displays in the exhibition.


Yuuki Shoseki, well known daughter in law of pioneer female container painter Ishida Shoseki, takes the Gold in the 13th Kobachi for a trio painted very much in her signature, classical, bright style.
A fantastic display of Toshimine mame containers wins the silver award. A great display showing variety and detailed technique from a painter fast becoming well known in the West.
Ruban Yu takes the bronze at the 18th Kobachi. With a bronze and a silver in back to back to years, I don’t think we have long to wait before this Taiwanese artist takes home a gold award.


Watanabe Ikkou special exhibition
Itoh Gekkou Special Display

The 14th Annual Kobachi Exhibition



A surprising choice for Gold this year in the glazed containers, Taiwanese potter “Shung Cheng”(順成). Only the 2nd non-Japanese to take Gold Prize(the first being Andrew Pearson). The pottery itself is excellent, and she shows a great variety of technical skill and talent. Variable glazes, sizes, fancy feet: a worthy award.
American Roy Minarai became the second Westerner accepted in the exhibition and brought home a Silver Award in his first outing. Not too shabby for 3 years of bonsai pottery, putting America on the map in Asia where we have long been made jest of for our bonsai pottery!
I hated the photo they took at the exhibition, so I included a detail photo of Roy’s display of his award winning containers at the National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition in Charlotte, NC. The shitakusa, among other things, was Bill Valavanis’s idea, you can always trust Bill to come up with some of the best non-conforming display ideas, such as using a storage box as a stand for the Shinsha Yu glazed square. 2022 will definitely be Roy’s year for gold(if he does it right) 😉
A completely Unknown potter to me placed at bronze for glazed containers in 2019. Personally I thought there were better entries and this one escaped me completely. Although the pots do have a nice variety, the display is very crowded.

Yoshiyuki Kawada takes the gold award in 2019! Fantastically carved containers, Kawada is fast becoming one of the top 3 carvers of his generation. Classical depictions of Raijin and Fujin, Japanese weather gods, grace avant-garde containers in this duo. The work he’s done since Beer, Wine, and Cheese banded together to buy him a kiln has been worth every penny spent, and then some! Quite the comeuppance given his former unpopularity! Congratulations Kawada San!
A great unglazed silver award entry from Shunpou. Much improved from his entry in the 13th exhibition. His work, in both shape and rustic clay, as well as technique, shows slight reminiscences to Syuzan and Senshu.
An excellent trio of pots takes the bronze from a potter I was unfamiliar with, Itsuho, Tada Kenta. Great bi-color clay rounds.


A much better photo than the one from the exhibition. The gold award at the 14th Annual Kobachi Exhibition went to Hiroshi Yanagawa. The level of detail and technical craft in these pieces is unbelievable. Very Chinese in style, different and more archaic than the Southern Hanga style we often see imitated by Fujikake Yuzan and Joshu Katsuyama. These express a level of skill and technique not seen in decades…or maybe longer.
Speaking of generations of talent, this photo is pretty cool. On the left is Hiroshi Yanagawa standing next to one of his teachers, the grandson of the great Yusen, Tsukinowa Shosen. Hiroshi Yanagawa’s Gold Winning Painted Display is between them.
Martin Englert took home the silver prize for Germany and the EU, another win in 2019 for the West! What a wonderful trio of containers! Congratulations Martin, the best painter of his generation working in the Western world!
Another relative unknown, with a potter’s name that appears to be “Yo”, takes the bronze prize in 2019. A trio of charming rounds depicting classical images from the chojugiga(see article on blog in A Table of Contents). Traditional depictions seem to always be a judge favorite, a literal classic.


Watanabe Ikkou Special Display of over 30 pots. I once had a respected enthusiast tell me Ikkou made production pots….they don’t give out 30 pot special exhibits at the most renowned Shohin pottery exhibition in Bonsai for production work!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the three Annual Contemporary Kobachi Exhibitions I missed while on hiatus. I definitely missed a few details, but hopefully I’ve provided somewhat of a record for those of us in the Western World.
Thanks for Reading!

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A Quick Look at Really Bad Forgeries, or, Exposing The Man Behind the Curtain

It’s almost common knowledge these days that there are many forgeries of Japanese potters’ work. I’ve even heard some claim that there are more fake pieces than real containers when it comes to some of the top level artists. The truth is, I think, that these claims are highly exaggerated in the West. While I often see forgeries, I see far less than some would lead you to believe, and almost always they are glaringly obvious. For starters, an overwhelming majority of the forgeries that do exist are only of top tier artists. It’s exceedingly rare to see a forgery of an item that can sell for less than $500. Nobody is out there cranking out fake production Yamaaki or Koyo containers, they’re making fakes of Tofukuji, Yusen, Gekkou, and other high end and top shelf potters.

The sole detail that appears legitimate on this piece is the artists’s mark. These are the easiest parts of a container to forge, so should be the last thing you look at for authentication.
A forged Heian Tofukuji I received in a purchased lot of a dozen pots as a surprise. Obviously fake, it cost me around 20$, even though I didn’t know I was buying it. Worth it, great teaching tool.

The main culprits of the proliferation of this diabolical BS today are auction service sites like Buyee and other drop ship eBay-style auction services. In the 80’s in Japan the forgery boom was the result of the huge amount of wealth flowing into bonsai from the economic boom years, back when you couldn’t throw a fake Tofukuji without hitting another fake Tofukuji! Now, of course, it’s the internet. These sites used to provide access to a great service, years ago, but now the Asian auction sites have become overrun with garbage, rip offs, broken and forged merchandise, and thieves.  DO NOT BUY there without checking with a reputable dealer or appraiser on what you are buying. You have no recourse overseas if you buy a forged Isseki from an auction site in Japan, Taiwan, or China, you’re just out 5 grand.

I’ve collected images of a few examples recently that I saw for sale in Taiwan, China, and Japan. These should illustrate, as the above Tofukuji with its absolutely atrocious attempt at the artist’s work, how much the problem is overblown. This is certainly true for buyers of mid to high level show pots, containers costing $500-1500(unless those containers are lower end pieces from top shelf potters, like a tiny Tofukuji or Daisuke accent or mame pot). Collectors and investors at the top shelf level have to be much more careful.

So today we’ll look at some of the more commonly forged artists, with examples, that show that forgery is not nearly the problem it was in the 80s and 90s in Japan. With a few simple tips, and a good authenticator or appraiser to help you with purchases, you can buy with confidence in today’s market.



I’ve placed a link to my article on each of the artists work at the beginning of their section, so you can familiarize yourself with their work and easily see the differences being highlighted.

A Forged Itoh Gekkou I found for sale in Taiwan. Everything, literally everything, is wrong with this container and screams fake. The painting style, technique, motif, shape, construction, Chinese even the signature are all at odds with Gekkou’s work. This was $50 US in Taiwan….it sold. And I guarantee it made its was to an online auction site in Japan and probably now resides in the West! Buy from reputable sellers!

Another forged Gekkou showing an atrocious paint job that has nothing in common with Gekkou’s style. The bleed of the strokes is especially unlike Gekkou’s painting technique.
This one is a little harder. The painting work is not bad, a classical Arabesque motif, although not a style normally seen from Gekkou, but not too unusual. We can really see that there’s a problem when we flip the piece over. Not only is the color of the underside dark, it’s uniformly dark. Patina doesn’t build like that on the bottom. This technique is often seen on fakes where the forger takes an old painted pot similar to the artist, and then paints on a signature with a very low fire glaze paint. This is likely one such example of that technique.
Herds another one where everything is all wrong. The shape, the thick glaze, the window border style, and the painting itself, which is nothing like Gekkou either stylistically or technically.

This one is also a little harder, most of the others look cheap even to the untrained eye. The one thing you should notice first about all 3 of these fake Gekkou landscape scenes is the lack of birds. Almost every Gekkou Sansui(mountain and water landscape) will have a flock of birds flying in formation. Not all Gekkou have them, and not all forgeries don’t, but the overwhelming majority of authentic and fake Gekkou differ here. No birds is a sign to look closer. In addition, the landscape painting itself is lacking in detail and has some bleed. The color of the sometsuke Blue glaze paint is also FAR too light.

Real Gekkou. Look for the birds first.



One often sees additional details on forgeries that would make a pot special. I guess the thinking goes, “why would a forger go the extra mile to make something unique for the artist?” In this case he’s initialed something in addition to the stamp. The stamp itself, however, appears drawn, not impressed. Nail carvings displace slip around the lines in a different manner than a stamp. It’s possible it’s just a bad impression, but not a good sign. Mostly, the clay color is off, a very strange one to see from the artist. The pear skin isn’t uniform, only on the outside, not the bottom or inside. On real Tofukuji we usually see grog throughout the clay body
The clay, color of the Cantonese style Ruri glaze, and method of foot attachment, and drain holes are all dead giveaways for this fake. The construction style is also far too clean. That’s not to say that Tofukuji was sloppy, rather that his style has a rustic warmth. More than anything, the stamp is totally wrong.
This is the easiest one of all. Only ONE of these painted catfish pots exists. There are no others like it made by Tofukuji, yet it is still on of the most frequently forged pieces in existence. The original is 9.5 cm. This is 9.7 cm. An easy fake to spot!



Here’s another example of a piece that is wrong in just about every way. The colors are all wrong, way too bright for the blue and green. The leaves on the tree in the foreground are stylistically wrong, and the background details are amateurish dots. It’s an OBVIOUS forgery.
which brings us to our next point.
You cannot trust a hand signature, nail carved, on a Yusen, or any other artist for that matter. These days, enterprising forgers are finding old, high quality containers that resemble the work of famous artists and cutting the signature in with a CNC machine. As this is done from a scan of a real signature, there will be no visible difference, it will be perfect. The only way to tell is in person. Signing a pot displaces clay, and even the best of artists don’t clean up well enough to eliminate all of that displaced clay along the lines of the characters. You have to rub the signature. You’ll feel the displaced clay. A CNC machine will be perfectly flat around the lines and also have perfectly uniform depth.

Another very obvious one likely also signature cut by CNC. For starters, the vast majority of Yusen containers are carved from a single block of clay(kurinuki), while this is slab or coil built. The detail is sorely lacking to the painting, it’s amateurish, and there is no decorated design on the feet. The signature, again, looks fine but sloppy.

A much nicer example. There were two things that first gave me pause when I first saw it. First, despite being tiny, I see no obvious tool marks from single block carving which are common for Yusen on the interior and underside. And second, it’s extremely unique, top and bottom yellow glaze with full wraparound landscape scene….well that should be very very expensive….and it was 500$. The painting itself is lacking as well. The leaves are too larger for Yusen work, the thatched roofs lack gradation detail, the background conifers are amateurish, and there is no one in the main house(Yusen sansui almost always have a figure in the main hut, unless the figure is elsewhere).

Similar to the blue and red above, everything is wrong with this one, for all the reasons mentioned in these other forgeries. The painting style is unlike Yusen, and amateurish at best.

Another example of a likely older piece of regional pottery that was forge signed using a CNC machine. The motif is a classic one, but totally unlike the real classical dragon motifs painted by Yusen.

A real Yusen painted with classical dragon motif. The difference is striking. There’s no comparison between the levels of skill of these two artists.



Another one that was way too cheap and too unique so made me pause for another look. While the designs aren’t uncommon for Daisuke, they’re more common from his friend Konno Shinzan, often called his brother, and the piece is unsigned. Could be Shinzan, but unsigned and unmarked, and sold as Daisuke, that’s as bad as if it were a definite forgery.

This one is supposed to be later Daisuke work. If you looked back at the two articles in the links above, you know as well as I do there is no way Daisuke painted this. Daisuke was the master of the crowded pot. Negative space has to fight for room in his pieces. This container is almost a study in minimalism. And it was too cheap.

Miyazaki Isseki

You can see another post I wrote on this matter featuring Isseki, Ino Shukuho, and Yusen at the following LINK:

Descriptions of those forgeries can be found at the link. Here is an especially egregious Isseki.

All of these Pots in this article were Cheaper than they should be. CAVEAT EMPTOR. Let the buyer beware. While the bonsai pottery market Is MUCH safer than it is often rumored to be in the West, there are still shady sellers willing to take advantage of the emerging market that the West has become. I’ve seen several handfuls of forgeries purchased from online from these sites in America and Europe by buyers who didn’t know enough to buy in a high end art market without help.

If you want to collect and invest in higher end pots, there are a few things you should do.
1. Get an authenticator/appraiser. They charge, but it’s better than getting ripped off. 2. Buy from reputable sources. Sources that are not only reputable among enthusiasts, but among dealers and appraisers. There are people who sell shady merchandise that are well thought of.
3. Study. Learn as much about the potters and pots you love as you can.
4. Find out what you love. Collecting pots is no different from bonsai. At first you want some of everything. Study first, to find where your tastes truly lie, then start to buy.
5. Use your best pots. And grow bonsai that deserve them. This is where these hobbies truly intersect, otherwise they’re mostly separate; your love of bonsai will improve your pottery collection, and your love of pottery will improve your bonsai.

I’ll be trying to update with a new article every Monday, with occasional surprise articles on other days.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my first regularly scheduled published article and learned a little something.


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Getting Sexy with Pots(Part 1)

After a very long health related hiatus, I figured this first post should be something sexy….real sexy…..That’s right! We’re going to discuss “sexing” Bonsai containers today.

Alas, we won’t be discussing the collectible and risqué designs of Nick Lenz, Dale Cochoy, or Jim Barrett. Rather, we will discuss the qualities that make a container either strong or elegant.

Let us begin with a caveat and a trigger warning: I am fully self aware that this dichotomy is sexist, archaic, and, in the end, unnecessary. It is the common terminology of use in bonsai in Japan in multiple fields of visual art. That I dislike the terminology doesn’t change the fact that it is the terminology we use when talking about both bonsai trees and containers.

What do we mean when we talk about the gender of Bonsai containers. Is the above Buna (Japanese Beech) raft style Bonsai masculine or feminine? The container? All containers are to varying degrees masculine and varying degrees feminine. There aren’t really any containers that are 100% masculine or 100% feminine.

They each have a ratio of masculine to feminine qualities, just like our bonsai trees. Once you’ve decided on non-gendered issues like size, height, and color, figuring out that mixture of additional masculine and feminine components is an excellent and simple method of matching a bonsai to the right container. Say you have a tree that’s “mostly masculine” but has some “distinct feminine features.” Then let’s start looking for a container that’s 75% masculine and 25% feminine.

Please remember, this is very subjective. Assigning numbers and percentages to these qualities is more a feeling than legitimate mathematics.

Standard Masculine Features

  • Shapes: Square, Rectangle, Mokko, Polygon(hexagon, octagon, etc.)
  • Taller height
  • Angles
  • Cut feet, stepped feet
  • Rivets
  • Straight walls
  • Sharp angular outer lip
  • Offset panels
  • Most carved decoration
  • Cut corners

Standard Feminine Features

  • Shapes: Oval, Round, Fukuro, Rinka
  • Shallower height
  • Soft edges(rather than angles)
  • Fancy Feet, cloud feet, chicken feet, Cats Paw feet, etc.
  • Both concave and convex walls
  • Decorations such as braided rims,
  • Most lips
  • Inset panels
  • Most painted decoration
  • Sashes and bands
  • Incised corners

Let’s look at some examples and see what we’re talking about.

A basic lipped rectangle with thick walls, sash(obi iri) and cut feet. While the lip and it’s softer angles and the wide sash are feminine features, this is most certainly a masculine container.  Almost totally masculine.

A totally different rectangle. While the basic shape, offset panel, and angular feet are masculine features, everything else is feminine. Painting, rounded edges, inset corners, lip, and bottom band. The shape still plays the lions share of determining gender, so this is still a masculine rectangle, but suited for a tree with grace as well. Maybe 70% masculine and 30% feminine.

What would you put in a pot with that ratio?Masculine and powerful trunk, deadwood, and striking jin. The deadwood and trunk, the main features, hold up to the masculinity of the rectangle shape, angular feet, and offset panel. At the same time, the movement of both the trunk and the Jin is elegant and graceful and plays a big role. A perfect fit: 70/30 tree with a 70/30 pot.

How about a comparison of two Tofukuji rounds. The first is rustic and rugged, very masculine for a round with its matte finish, carved decoration, and thick walls. A Very masculine round. 70/30•M/F

The next round, despite having masculine features like sharp edges, is all grace and elegance. Recessed Cloud feet, burnished finish, inner lip, and a slight wabi sabi wonkiness that make for a very feminine round with just a little masculinity. 90/10•F/M

A deep mokko, almost oval, from Koushousen Yamaaki. The oval shape and lip are feminine, but the depth, feet and mushikui decoration are masculine. Suitable for a powerful informal upright pine with elegant movement. 80/20•M/F

This old Chinese Shudei is a 50/50 split to me. The shape is masculine, rectangle, but the lip, inset feet, indent band, highly burnished finish, and convex and bowed walls are all feminine features. A rectangle in drag. 50/50

A definitely masculine pure silver riveted hexagon from Andrew Pearson of Stone Monkey Ceramics in England. While the feet are ornate and feminine, and the silver color to the rivets is more feminine than usual clay rivets, this is a clearly masculine pot. when the rivets tarnish, it will be even more masculine. 90/10•M/F

A pair of rectangle Tsukinowa Yusen. Everything about these pots other than the painting and slight outward slope to the walls is a masculine feature. Nonetheless, they’re fairly feminine pots. It’s easy to imagine a fairly delicate flowering Shohin here with elegant movement but a powerful trunk. 60/40•M/F

A very shallow oval from Heian Kouzan Jr. while the inset cut feet are masculine, this is a very feminine pot, with it’s shallow height, bottom indent band, and slightly sloping walls. 95/5•M/F

From the same family, Heian Kouzan Sr., here is a Rinka shape with fancy feet, soft kinyo glaze, and lip. While the height is masculine, everything else is elegant and feminine. Could still suit a powerful deciduous bunjin maybe. 90/10•F/M

 A great pair of unglazed pieces showing why offset panels(as in the first piece), are thought to be masculine features, while recessed panels are considered feminine features.

An illustration with an Ino Shukuho and a Doshita Keishin, respectively, on the difference between “incised corners”(sumi iri) which are feminine and “cut corners”(sumi kiri) which are masculine  It is a bit of a pet peeve of mine to see this these mislabeled as they’re very different in character.  It’s easy to see when you compare them side by side why the difference in gender is more than just convention.

A classical very shallow feminine antique Chinese Kinyo container that was once likely a suiban. Simple, shallow, elegant, and very feminine. The masculine straight walls and cut feet would still suit a very powerful but elegant deciduous bonsai. 90/10•F/M, but a feminine pot nonetheless.

Now, in the interest of brevity, we’ll continue this discussion in another post. But before I let you leave, I’d like you to take a look at these bonsai, all different species, all with different qualities and attributes, all with varying levels of masculine and feminine character. All in one of 6 antique special Glazed Kinyo fukuro containers(Updated info I just learned!  Thanks Bill you’re a treasure!).

Think about how the owners considered the choice of this particular container.  Some of these trees are as much masculine as feminine, and vice versa.

I would love to hear your feedback and discussion on this post and it’s ideas, you can find the article shared in multiple Facebook groups, reply here, or send me your comments on Facebook messenger.

Postscript: this is still my favorite pot.

Posted in Famous and Antique Potters, Modern Potters, Pot Info, ID, Hanko, Books, ect., Trees | 4 Comments

New Beginnings and New Revisions

As many of you know, I’ve been faced with some major health issues over the last couple of years. After the coup de grace of those issues last week, I’ve decided to spend more time fixing some of the things on this site that should have been fixed a while ago.

First up, the Asian Marks database will be no more. Instead, it will be separated into 3 separate databases featuring Japanese, Chinese, and Tokoname marks. I’ve also hopefully improved the interface for mobile users and will be adding many, many more marks. The beta testing version of the Japanese Marks page is already up, so give it a look and messenger me on Facebook with feedback.

As of 1/16, the Chinese page beta is also now live.

Second, articles and blog posts will begin soon. Lots more in store now that the website is back awake. I hope the community I’ve come to love will enjoy it!

The Notorious MRB

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