TWTWTW Part two: The Eye of the Taiga

One of the highlights for a dozen bonsai enthusiasts at the Spirit of Shohin event was the chance to participate in a workshop with one of Japan’s finest young bonsai artists, Taiga Urushibata.

With translation assistance from Maarten van der Hoeven, Taiga put in an amazing two days effort, with a work ethic that would put most of us to shame. Stopping only for dark chocolate and strong coffee, he worked tirelessly dealing with some thirty trees in the two days.

With the participants themselves representative of a fair bit of bonsai experience, it was great to hear the comments back.

One  commented that the workshop had been “worth every penny.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you have a good tree to start with,  Taiga excels at refinement as was the case with me.”

Another, who had participated in both sessions, remarked:

“I really enjoyed both days and watching Taiga work is an education in itself” while another remarked that the

Taiga’s knowledge on bonsai techniques and horticulture is inspiring and one cannot help but pick up things watching and listening to him.”


Group Workshops are often by their “sharing” nature both fulfilling and frustrating events, given that the leader simply cannot devote the entire time to any one individual.  I personally believe that they work best for participants who have sufficient knowledge, skill and confidence to work away on their own on a task set by the workshop leader until such time as the leader can get back round. The mark of a good workshop leader is in how fairly they apportion their time around participants and how well they set achievable tasks for individuals to do while they themselves go round the others in the group.  The consensus was most strongly that Taiga excelled in both of  these aspects and people felt that he was scrupulously fair with the time he devoted to individuals.  Additionally, many said that he most certainly could not be accused of clock watching, and often had to be prised away from trees to go and get his lunch or have a break of any sort.

One thing that participants and onlookers alike realised was the importance of pre-wiring a workshop tree to get the most advantage out of the time available.  For many of us it seems odd to wire a tree in advance of a workshop only to have it lopped off as part of the design process.  This, however, is just one of bonsai life’s little foibles and I think ultimately we all realise that it is far better to soak up that “loss” than to spend time at a workshop doing wiring.  The participants all felt that the advice to wire their trees as much as possible beforehand had been good and meant they had more time to discuss and implement the actual design of their trees with Taiga.

Overall, the workshops went extremely well and Taiga most definitely showed why he is valued so highly in Japan.  And it should not be overlooked that apart from his tremendous work rate and obvious high level of skill, he comes across as a darn nice fella – something that is quite often overlooked in importance in the razamatazz of the bonsai world. To have had someone so genuinely a nice guy and so obviously passionate, enthusiastic and inspiring about trees headline our workshops made this an event worthy of its “national event” tag.

A HUGE thanks to Taiga for headlining our show – it was a pleasure to have you with us and we look forward to meeting you again in the hopefully not too distant future.

Thanks also to Maarten van der Hoeven for his role as translator, assistant and purveyor of ironic comments and dry humour.



One of the highlights of the weekend for Taiga was his ride in Steve Hale’s splendid Chevy Bel Air.  Taiga is a great fan of Chevrolets and is currently restoring a 1959 Impala.

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