A Japanese Master and his son take a trip to the Alps

Text and photography: Louis Bourdeau

In November 2012, Mr Kenichi Abe and his son Daiki came to the Alps from Fukushima to supervise a bonsai workshop and enjoy a few days observing alpine Nature. Mr Abe has already made several trips to Europe, especially to Belgium and Italy, but Daiki was travelling outside Japan for the very first time. For me, it was a unique opportunity to receive first-hand the impressions of two generations of Japanese bonsai professionals whose main source of inspiration is the wilderness of their own mountains.

Mr Abe and Daïki are carefully inspecting a spruce growing above the tree line.

The main purpose of this trip was to supervise a two-day workshop for members of the Bonsai Club du Léman, the French-Swiss association of enthusiasts whose help in organizing the trip has been very precious to me. Many of those taking part in the workshop took the opportunity of bringing along alpine yamadori: Pinus uncinata, P. mugo, P. sylvestris and Picea, among other species.


Although Mr Abe and Daiki usually work on bonsai grown from seeds, they haven’t been fazed by the yamadori with its very strong character. Whatever the origin of the trees, in the Abe family’s specific style the goal is always the same: to express Nature’s splendour through the beauty of empty spaces. Some defects were noted on some of the yamadori trunks — lack of movement needs strong bending — or on some nebari, but Mr Abe equally appreciates the deadwood of a typical uncinata pine or the beautiful double trunk of Japanese white pine brought by one of the club members.

Kenichi Abe during the workshop of Club du Léman.

After two days rich in lessons and emotion, we have spent the rest of the trip in observing the native trees of the European mountains. To do this, we toured the Chamonix Valley, south of Geneva, to enjoy the outstanding high mountain scenery. Even though the snow was the unexpected guest of the trip and did not make things easy, the beautiful autumn colours allowed us to admire the four conifer species growing just below the upper tree line in the European subalpine zone: spruce, larch, stone pine and mountain pine.


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