I am Juan Andrade, Ask Me Anything

Hi! I am Juan Andrade, I am currently a full time Bonsai apprentice at Aichi-En nursery. My Oyakata is Junichiro Tanaka, a 4th generation bonsai professional. I came to Japan pursuing a dream common to many of us, which is to live and breath bonsai 24/7. My goal is to become a full time bonsai teacher to help raise the bar on western bonsai artistry.

Please feel free to ask me any questions. I will begin to answer Wednesday March 10th.

Thank you very much for the great questions - you can see me on Facebook.

Note: the time for asking questions has closed but the thread will remain open to allow additional answers to come in.


Ohayo gozaimasu Juan
And thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

I have two questions but there are both related :

  1. We hear a lot from black pine, red pine and white pine being used as bonsai in Japan, and I know how special black and white pine can be to the japanese. But are there other pine species in Japan? what are they if any and are those being used for bonsai too?
  2. I would like to know if anyone is working with Surasshumatsu (スラッシュマツ ) as a 盆栽 in Japan. It is the only pine that is readily available where I live.

Thanks in adv.
Best regards

Thanks for doing this Juan!

  1. What’s your favorite thing to eat in Japan?

  2. Do you plan to spend any time in the US after your apprenticeship teaching?

  3. Why did you pick Aichi-En as your location to study?

  4. Would you please tell us about the different cut pastes you use at Aichi-En?

  5. Do you have any long term or short term goals related to Bonsai?

I just read the interview with you in Bonsai Focus. Congratulations.

Hi Juan,

A couple of questions:

  1. How do encourage Acer Palmatum to close large wounds (other than time)?
  2. Who is your favourite potter?
  3. Initially, how are root over rock bonsai best attached to the rock? wire, foil, string, other?
  4. How old should the understock of JBP be when grafting nishiki onto it?
  5. Are Nishiki JBP still valued in Japan?

Thanks for your time.

Hi Juan,

Firts of all, many thanks for doing this. I’m an avid follower of your work and I really appreciate your effort to share on facebook your bonsai adventures.

My only question is if you can elaborate a little on methods used in Aichi-en to encourage Ume to bloom. Many thanks in advance. :smile:

Best wishes,

Dear Juan,

I would like to ask you about your goals for developing bonsai after you are done with your Apprenticeship in Japan. Are you planning to grow trees from seed, or refine existing material? I think there is a real shortage of bonsai growers in the US although I think there are many growers who would be interested in growing higher quality stock.

Thank you.


Hi Juan :smile:

Thanks in advance for your time - I’m looking forward to the responses!

Feel free to address any of the following:

  1. What do you find most difficult about apprentice life?

  2. Can you tell us about a pleasant surprise you experienced in the workshop?

  3. What have you learned about yourself at Aichi-en?

Thank you very much for all of the photos you’ve posted - I think your work is outstanding, keep up the great work!


As I see you haven’t started answering yet, I will throw in some extra work:D

  • What is key in developing and maintaining good sho-hin bonsai?
  • During your apprenticeship, what is the gravest error you (or your master) made, if any ofcourse?
  • Any tips or hints on companion plants?

Thank you in advance,

Hi Xavier!

Thanks for your questions. Black, red and white pines certainly dominate the Bonsai scene here. There might be others pine species present in the Japanese islands that I am not aware of. At least in the Nagoya area, which is central Japan, I have seen Mughos and Scots pines used as Bonsai. In two years, I can count them on the palm of my hands. I have also seen hybrids between black and red pines , but the leaf quality is not so good (the needles tend to twist on those, and sometimes heavily). No Pinus elliottii either, sorry :wink: Are you treating them as a black pine? Luckily, there is an impressive amount of cultivars amongst the traditional pine species: my favorite ones currently being ‘gansekisho’ red pine, ‘nasu’ white pine and ‘kotobuki’ black pine.

Hi Jeremiah! Thanks for your questions!

  1. Hands downmy favorite is Ramen, specially pork based broth with lots of garlic.
  2. When I came to Japan for my apprenticeship, I had to (in many ways) let got things that tied me down to my homeland. I don’t know exactly when my apprenticeship will be finished, but I am aware that business is picking up in the US (and maybe not so much in CR). So even though my original plan was to return to CR, I now realize that travel and work within the US and quite possibly moving there is a strong possibility.
  3. There are several kinds of bonsai nurseries in japan that tend to specially in certain areas of the business: field growing or collecting, development or structure making, refinement, maintenance, reselling, etc. Aichi-En falls broadly into structure-making and refining for customers. We do a little bit of filed growing as well , and we take care of several Kichou (important masterpiece Bonsai) for high-end customers. So making the decision to come here was not hard in the sense that I would have been getting a balanced education in Bonsai making. Peter Tea’s recommendation was very important to me., and once I came here for the first time as a visiting apprenticeship I fell in love with the place and the working environment. A big plus is that Oyakata is generous, kind, polite and overall awesome dude to go around with and learn from.

More answers coming soon as it’s repotting time! :slight_smile:

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Hi Jeremiah! Following up on your next two questions:
4. 90% of the time we use a product called “Jointcaulk-A”. Technically, its an elastomeric sealant.Its waterproof and it never goes hard even after years out there in the sun. This is quite beneficial for rapid callous formation for several reasons: 1. Because its stays soft for a very long time, its easy for the callous to roll under it and push it off. Removing it is quite easy as well. 2. Because its hydrophobic when dry, it prevents water from entering the wound but it also protects the callous tissue from drying out. 3. It’s dark in color. Oyakata believes callous grows better when not exposed to light (same idea as the aluminum foil trick for covering japanese maple wounds). These caulking compounds are usually made of silicone, latex or polyurethane. I know the silicone one is used in the satsuki field-growing operations. The one available here is latex-based. The one I get back home is polyurethane-based and it works fine as well. These kinds of sealants work so well that they produce a thick, fast-growing callous. Sometimes we want a flat, slow growing callous so the wound is less visible (typically in older more refined trees). In these cases we use electrician’s putty, which the cost-effective version of the typical putty-type cut paste often sold for bonsai purposes.
5. I don’t know whether this will be short or long-term, but my priority now is to get acquire sufficient skill for my Master to consider me ready to go home. I do think, of course, of a business of my own in the near future. Ideally It would be a nursery / school dealing with high quality bonsai (collected conifers and field grown deciduous).

Thank you very much for reading the interview Catherine! :smiley:

Hi Scott!

Thank you for your questions!

  1. There are several large japanese maples that we have in the nursery which are in the process of wound healing (yamamomiji, arakawa and some red-leaf cultivars). The normal japanese maples and arakawas are strong enough to heal large wounds in a pot. The are planted in soil media with 20-30% more river sand than normal (drier mix means stronger root growth, which is reflected by stronger top growth). Those are not pinched in the spring, nor partially defoliated. They are just allowed to run strong for the entire growing season and not cut back. They are watered very heavily. We used the joint-caulk cut paste on them. The arakawa has a wound about 6 inched across at its widest point. I have monitored this particular wound for the last two years and the callous seems to spread about an inch per year. The trees have not been repotted so far. Usually, after re-potting, maples slow down a bit but their vigour increases greatly in the second and third year. The red-leaf cultivar just went straight into the ground. Being a bit weaker that regular momiji, growing in the ground or in a raised bed gives then best chance of healing wounds.

  2. I like old japanese pots. Collectively they are called “wabachi”. The glazed ones have a rustic feeling to the clay (usually cream colored clays) and the glazes themselves are thick and multi-colored and sometimes feature " glaze drips". The unglazed ones are usually red-clay with heavy patina on them They have a burnished polished feel and sometimes one can find patinas good enough to match chinese antiques. For a low-wage apprentice like me, they are the ultimate “bang for your buck” pots. To properly answer your question, out of the modern japanese potters, I like Syuzan and Sensyu pots (I can blame Peter Tea for that), though they are often out of my budget LOL

  3. Aichi-En is reputedly one of the places that first started making trident maples root over rock, particularly cascading tridents over tall stones. Oyakata’s grandfather tied the maples roots to the rock with steel wire. You might think that is a bit harsh, but the since the trees were developed in the field, the sheer strength of the root growth made them push and detach themselves from the rock over time. Because of this, he used the strongest wire available at the time. In theory, the idea was that the roots eventually engulf the wire and heal the over the wire scars. In practice (and in the long run) the better ones did heal over the wire scars, but you still you can find traces of wire scars on most of them if you look closely. In some cases the steel wire oxidized and I think it might have caused rotting and decay of the inner wood of the fused roots. If you are doing a big project in the field, I would recommend you thin stainless steel (thin wire= thin wire scars that heal easily). For smaller, slower growing projects ,I would recommend any strong non-stretch material that you can bind the roots with tightly and does not bite into them , like a flat plastic rope :wink:

Soon I will reply on your Nishiki questions :slight_smile: Time to sleep for me after a long day of repotting …

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Hello Pedro! Thank you very much for following my work. That is always a humbling thing for me to hear.

If grown from seed, Ume can be very unreliable when come to producing flower buds. There is a specimen Bonsai Ume in the garden here that is 125 years old and some branches on that tree have never flowered!! Of course, this specimen has never been grafted. Is your Ume tree young? Is it healthy? Usually these are the main reasons a tree is not producing flower buds. But young and vigorous trees can be easily grafted with cultivars that flower reliably. The best time to graft is early spring. We do side grafts with a baggie covering the graft, we put a bit of sphagnum inside to keep the moisture up. White flower types are usually used as under-stock for grafting red flower types, but I have seen the reverse done as well. Just depends on your flower preferences. In Japan, red flower types are popular because they ramify better than the white types. Older trees can be noticeably hard to graft, and it’s almost a requirement to get them strong prior to grafting. A 50% success rate is pretty good on them, 75% means your grafting skill if awesome! :smiley: I want people to loose the fear of grafting their trees. It is a fun, easy way to improve the quality (branches, flowers) of your Bonsai. If grafts fail, no harm done. Trees heal and we can always try again next year. Good luck and I hope you consider grafting your Ume!


Hi Juan. Thank you for your detailed reply to my question about Ume, it was very complete and very much appreciated. My Ume has been with me since 2011 and has never produced flowers. It is very vigorous and it is certainly not young. I was planning to graft a pink variety from a tree that I know for sure to produce flowers. Your message was just the encouragement I needed! Thank you very much!

Are you still in Japan ? I have not been able to get any responses from you on Facebook, or anywhere else. I just joined “Ask Bonsai Tonight”. Look forward to hearing from you and asking a few questions about deciduous work and specifically about the twisted trunk pom you wired for me last year at Brussels.
Vern Maddox