Learning Bonsai with Matsusue-sensei

We have just returned from spending 4 days in Kasai city, where we were fortunate enough to learn from and work with Koji Matsusue.  Upon arrival I was blown away by the Bonsai specimens he had on display. ???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????On our first day we were first shown by Matsusue-sensai how to prune a bonsai pine tree. Using rather large tweezers and special bonsai scissors, he then were entrusted with the job of carrying on his work.


We set about pruning the beautiful Pine tree.

It was surprising just how long it took, one of the best things about bonsai is, it doesn’t matter how long the pruning takes, it needs to be just right and is never rushed.  More than a day later the tree was finished, a word I have used before is relevant here also the affect after the pruning is ‘Sukashi’ literal translation ‘See through’.

The tree after pruning.

The tree after pruning.

That afternoon we made our way to a Bonsai nursery owned by Hiraoka-san where Matsusue-sensei very kindly asked us to chose a Bonsai Juniper that we would work on back at his studio.

The choice was a difficult one.  All very different in their own unique way.

The choice was a difficult one. All very beautiful in their own unique way.

While at the nursery we were shown a number of different types of Bonsai and were also lucky enough to see a very special Bonsai Maple once owned by a Shogun.

More than 120 years old

More than 120 years old


Multiple stems in one pot are called Kaboudachi, a Bonsai with two trunks is called Soukan. Straight trunk bonsai is called Chokan and the name for a twisted trunk bonsai is Myougi.

We made our way back to Matsusue-sensai’s workshop to start work on our Bonsai tree. the first step was to try and visualise how you wanted the tree to look.  You had to decide which way was front and which direction the wind  and the elements would appear to affect the tree from.  A lot to think about and to try an sketch.

The tree before any work was carried out.

The tree before any work was carried out.

We also had to try and decide which branches were not needed based on the desired final shape of the tree.  We set to work cutting out and pruning any unwanted branches and growth.


Once we were happy with the basic shape of the tree, we started the next stage which was wiring the branches so their direction/position could be tweaked and changed.

???????????????????????????????It was surprising just how long the wiring took as each individual branch had to have wire and be flexible, the thickness of the wire depended on the size of the branch.  It was quite amazing just how much you could move each branch to create the desired shape.


It was then handed to Matsusue-sensei for him to work his magic and apply the finishing touches.  It was amazing to just watch such a master at work.

???????????????????????????????The difference in the shape of the tree and how much better it looked after Matsusue-sensei had finished with it was astounding.  We also got to chose a pot to re pot the bonsai into.  The choice of pot is very important.


The finished tree. Loosely based on the Cedar from Hidcote.

We were very kindly offered the chance to take our bonsai away with us, what with strict laws regarding distribution of soil matter we decided it would be better to leave the trees in the very capable hands of Matsusue-sensei.

The 4 days we spent learning Bonsai with Matsusue-sensei were some of the most enjoyable so far on the triad fellowship.  I will definitely be taking the skills I learnt from Matsusue-sensei back home with me and trying my hand at Bonsai.

It is an experience I will never forget.




  1. Sarah Malleson

    Hi Phil, what a privilege to work with such an expert and be able to put your creative skills into practice. I’m loving reading your blog posts and following your progress.

  2. Douglas Needham

    What an honor and privilege to learn from Matsusue-sensei. I enjoyed meeting him and his family in 2013. He is such a talented young man. Thanks for sharing.

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