My work

Portfolio of bonsai work by Julian Tsai. Work encompasses projects done during apprenticeship (2018-2020) at Fujikawa Kouka-en in Osaka, Japan in addition to various client projects in the states.

Projects include refinement work, styling, as well as developmental work for both deciduous and coniferous material. Please use the sliders to see progression of photos.

Check out the Facebook and Instagram links to see what I’m currently up to

Utah Juniper – Osteosperma

Utah juniper originally collected by Tom Vuong. I’ve been working on this tree with my customer the last 3 years. I put a high emphasis on the cleanliness of juniper structure and how pads are set. This is very critical to ensure that your tree not only looks good, but can continuously improve and develop age as bonsai.

After rebuilding most parts of the tree with structurally cleaner branches the form is getting well defined. Another year of pad work will have the silhouette well established. Transition into bonsai pot 2024.

Photo 1 & 2: July 2023
Photo 3: December 2022
Photo 4: October 2021

Japanese White Pine – Pinus Parviflora

Informal upright Japanese white pine. Work done at Kouka-en, 2018

Japanese Wisteria – Wisteria Floribunda

Originally grown by a friend and long time socal bonsai practioner, Michiko Watanabe. I potted into the round from a nursery can in 2021. Best blooms seen so far after historic California winter season of 2023.

Kishu Shinpaku – Juniperus Chinesis var. Kishu

Humble field grown material, but a lot of interest for the size. Mother/daughter style.

Coast Redwood – Sequoia Sempervirens

Here is another work in progress tree–I like to show progressions so people can understand the “process building” of bonsai! I started working on this tree in summer of 2022. It hadn’t been repotted in many years hence the rising root mass and was very overgrown. Additionally the trunk lines were very chaotic. The tree required 3 major operations just to get it to the starting line. First to bend all trunks using 3 rebars and a jack to place movement and set positioning. Second was to cut and rebuild all the branches–redwood growth is notoriously leggy and must be grown compact to refine. Lastly was to remove all of the roots and build a new system. All 3 operations were successfully done over the last 6 months, now I can focus on the refinement and branch building!

Note that I deliberately did not try to style the tree as it was in the first go around, which would result in a faster albeit low quality inferior tree!

California Juniper – Juniperus Californica

Detail wire and styling on an old California Juniper. Slipped into a shallow soft rectangle. Will need additional work to compact foliage and strengthen tree.

Ginkgo – Ginkgo Biloba

Creation of a fused forest from a old 30 year old clump. Separated in 2021, growing strongly as independent pieces over 2022, and potted in a blue canton in 2023. Will work on refining ramification going forward.

Japanese Black Pine – Pinus Thunbergii

Very interesting Japanese black pine originally styled by John Wang. Clean up and refinement work done, as well as tweaking of pads. It only needs a little more work to be show ready. Decandling, cutting back some leggy areas, remove old wire, and finally very light detail wiring planned for 2023 season.

Chinese Elm – Ulmus Parvifolia

Seedling grown shohin chinese elm in Tofukuji Jr. riveted drum. This was one of my very first bonsai. I grew it from a stray seedling off a neighbor’s chinese elm tree. The tree itself is only 10 years old. With good technique, and consistent care high quality trees can be made “quickly.” In general there are 3 things to consider when making cut backs on deciduous trees. Use it to inform your decisions for deciduous material.

Cut backs achieve 3 things:
1. Change in Direction
2. Increase in density
3. Taper in branch line.

Procumbens Juniper – Juniperus Procumbens “nana”

Bunjin, mother daughter style procumbens juniper. Sonare, or procumbens juniper is often overlooked by it’s popular sibling, shinpaku. Despite the coarser foliage, a very refined and clean look is achievable. The daughter trunk, elongated left branch and mutiple pad lines interplay to make an elegant tree.

It was repotted into a Zenigo pot in December of 2022. The tree will undergo another round of scissor work and refinement later in 2023.

Trident Maple – Acer Buergerianum

Trident maple in development originally from Peter Tea Bonsai. All the primary branch placement is set, currently scissor work is focusing on building ramification. This work is done with the intent to produce the finest as well as most ramified canopy possible.

The tree was repotted in 2023 and several root grafts were added to the trunk.

Tigerbark Ficus – Ficus Microcarpa

Shohin ficus, developed entirely from cutting over 8 years by myself.

Green Atlas Cedar – Cedrus Atlantica

Old multi-trunked green atlas cedar. Acquired in 2020, rebuilding back trunk and sub apices which had died back in previous years. Multi-trunked forms of this tree are rare and will become among the best of this species in the states.

2020 Initial root work, and rough cut back into same pot
2021 First wiring, rebuilding back trunk and sub apices
2022 Repot into peach Maruhei pot, annual scissor work
2023 Up potted into reiho, old nebari fully uncovered, another round of cut backs and needle pulling done

California Juniper – Juniperus Californica

Another old, triple apexed California juniper from the Clark Collection. Unfortunately no before photo–often on gigs I am in the mindset of improving branches and tree structure, which does not always translate to a finished styling. Happened to turn out nice as well this time!

20% foliage reduction, restructuring of sub apexes, and full detail wire.

Pomegranate var. “Nejikan” – Punica Granatum

Deciduous Projects are slow and steady. Branching are developed through cut backs–timing, frequency, and depth. Wire is a tool to guide branching or soften and improve lines, but it cannot build branching itself! Pomegranates have a coarse growth habit so it’s important to developing branching with compact internodes and tapering lines.

Itoigawa Juniper – Juniper Chinensis var. itoigawa

Another collaboration project with a customer. This tree was originally a prostrata juniper that was styled by Mike Pistello several years ago in a demo for Santa Cruz Bonsai Club in 2016. It was won by the current owner and subsequently grafted to itoigawa. I gave the first styling with the new foliage in 2022. The tree was then repotted into a Jim Gremel in 2023. I always enjoy the process of making trees, and this one has a good future.

Yamadori Japanese White Pine – Pinus Parviflora

Customer white pine at Kouka-en for consignment. Tree was restyled and repotted at new angle in antique Chinese pot. 2019

Coast Live Oak – Quercus Agrifolia

Old coast live oak, acquired 2021. Working on furthering ramification, maintaining strength in lower branches, and eliminating coarse tips.

Repotted into Sanpou pot 2023. Hard cut back to force back buds. Will soften and refine branching over 2023

California Juniper – Juniperus Californica

Progression of a California Juniper from raw material. Building structure in the tree from heavy bending and laying out new lines. Work should be done with the intent to continuously evolve and improve the trees overtime. Some top areas need to develop and grow, hence the temporary place holder branches. Spagetting the tree to finish the shape looks great for a photo or instant bonsai, but makes the tree worse in the future.

Itoigawa Juniper – Juniperus Chinensis Var. Itoigawa

A Telperion farms itoigawa juniper originally styled by Bjorn Bjornholm in 2019. Since the original work the tree had grown quite coarse with thick branch tips. Heavy branching was just and the structure was reset in 2022. I was able to follow up on the work again in 2023, further refining the branching based off the previously set design. One more year of healthy growth will solidify the branching and can be further refined.

I make the distinction that in 2022, I cut heavily and did not try to make a “fuller” styling by utilizing coarse branches. While this may make for a more impressive “transformation” it compromises the branch structure which can result in another major reset in a few years. By doing proper work the tree is able to progress and gets better each year.

Magnolia Liliiflora

Field grown magnolia, development of pre-bonsai material. Large flower variety, best magnolia in Japan displayed at 2018 Kokufu-ten shown in last slide.

Hope to propagate and increase popularity of these in the states.

San Jose Juniper – Juniperus Chinensis var. San Jose

Here is a project I have been developing together with Bob Pressler. This tree has a great story. Originally grafted with itoigawa, it met the unfortunate fate of being sprayed with horticultural oil during a record heat wave of 2017. All the foliage died, but miraculously the understock foliage began budding from the crotches. We’ve patiently regrown all the new branches and over 3 iterations, set a very clean, compact, and interesting design.

Japanese Black Pine – Pinus Thunbergii

Powerful chuhin sized black pine. Interestingly this tree was previous worked on by professional Juan Andrade in 2014 where big structural bends were done to the trunk. By coincidence my Oyakata acquired the same tree 5 years later. I further compacted the trunk and wired the entire tree.

Procumbens Juniper – Juniperus Procumbens “nana”

Chuhin sized sonare juniper, notably this tree in it’s current image has almost no wire on it. Building branches with clean structure enables a high level of refinement with minimal manipulation, resulting in a very soft yet aesthetically clean look. All the shari work has hand carved with si diao tools to accentuate the natural movement on the trunk.

Another thing to note with trees with well built branches, are that they can look good from multiple sides. Currently I have 2 fronts, one with more “bonsai” inspired lines and the latter with greater “penjing” directionality.

Cork Oak – Quercus Suber

In addition to work on more developed trees, I also create bonsai trees from scratch. Oak trees are resilient, beautiful broadleaf evergreens with the characteristic cork bark which our wine corks are made out of.

I started this tree in 2016 from a 10 gallon can. Over 5 years, I’ve grown new trunk lines, primary branches, and developed feeder roots immediate to the base of the trunk. I’m beginning to develop the ramification more from this year and will be a very powerful chuhin sized tree.

Prostrata Juniper, grafted kishu shinpaku – Juniperus Chinensis var. kishu

This tree is an older grafted prostrata juniper with kishu foliage. It had underwent several iterations, first with another professional.

For long term sustainability of trees, structure is extremely important. Many times we are too focused on the outer silhouette we don’t spend enough time to grow and build branches.

Over 3 periods, coarse branches on this tree were reworked up to the last iteration where I suggested an angle change and redesign to the customer.

Itoigawa Juniper – Juniperus Chinensis var. Itoigawa

Old field grown material from Japan. Well developed lifelines and shari. Work done at Kouka-en, 2019

Japanese White Pine – Pinus Parviflora

Another Japanese white pine, styled Kouka-en 2018. Interesting design, apex compressed with jack.

Procumbens Juniper – Juniperus Procumbens

I like to show that even from humble material, you can find potential with a little creativity and good technique! Here is an old bonsai given a new lease on life.

Japanese Cedar – Cryptomeria Japonica

Developing a cryptomeria at Peter Tea Bonsai, from 2020 to 2022–

This particular cryptomeria is reminiscent of the ancient cedars in Yakushima, Japan as opposed to the more commonly seen formal upright style for this tree.

Japanese Cedar – Cryptomeria Japonica

Here are 2 more refined cryptomeria undergoing bi-annual scissor work. These trees are further down the refinement path compared to the previous tree.

Bujin Japanese White Pine – Pinus Parviflora

Simple but old Japanese white pine, Kouka-en 2018

Japanese Red Pine – Pinus Densiflora

Powerful chuhin sized red pine, Kouka-en 2019