My latest, desperate attempt to have a bonsai

I was fascinated by bonsai from the moment I laid eyes on them.

My dream house is probably somewhere high among the trees, but living in Japan has crashed those dreams down to the reality of a small apartment. I can’t really surround myself with a forest since I don’t have a proper outdoor garden area. Trees are basically a luxury I can view at parks nearby but not have one just outside my window.

Thus, bonsai seemed like the perfect compromise. I can still have trees…but small trees.

I bought a couple of sakura bonsai in the spring, when they were nicely blooming, from a gardening center that had a nice selection to choose from. They were quite expensive, but the dream of having cherry blossoms on our little balcony so appealed to me that I bought them anyway. Then I got to watch in growing consternation as they all died on me. This is especially devastating to me now as I learned it can take decades to grow bonsai.

Another bonsai I had did well up until I repotted it. I took the bonsai with me to a gardening center, hoping I couldn’t mess up another bonsai if I had the help of a professional, and asked them how I repotted it. I was of the impression mine had outgrown its little ceramic pot and that it was, thus, unhappy.

The gardening expert breezily told me to just pick any pot I wanted – “Bonsai are just like any other plant so the pot makes little difference”, he said – and had me buy some bonsai potting soil. My little bonsai died a slow death over the next few months, and I think the repotting is to blame for that.

Now we have my latest little bonsai – a maple tree. I am praying like crazy I can keep this thing alive. I bought it from a better gardening store that actually seems to look after their bonsai, and I am researching bonsai like crazy.

I think any bonsai enthusiast who sees my little bonsai in the photo above will go crazy that I’m not pruning it at all. My research has told me a “forest” configuration, like my maple trees, must be pruned into a triangular shape.

I’ve completely ignored that advice. My main, earnest, focus right now is to just keep the poor thing alive. I think if I can do that for a couple of years, then I’ll care about whether it looks like a proper bonsai.

I scoured Youtube for advice on bonasi and stumbled across an absolute gem from the United Kingdom. I love watching his videos. I think he would completely scoff at my bonsai, which is why I’m glad these videos are one-sided.

Wasp reign of terror

About ten days ago, I was out in my little garden area fussing around when I noticed something relatively large hovering nearby. Like a miniature helicopter. My eyes followed the movement and came across a wasp.

I feel like I lived most of my childhood outdoors. My mother was especially dragging us to the nearby nature center, on hikes, or on camping trips. As such, I feel like I am a completely indoor-loving person with a vague knowledge of the outdoors. I have memories of getting stung, repeatedly, by bees, I have memories of running like crazy because my brother threw a rock at a wasp nest. There were wasp nests all over the place when I was growing up.

However, this was not America. This was Japan, home to the infamous “murder hornets.” While America freaked out a little bit ago about their invasion, Japan has been living with them forever. It’s just something you get to deal with here.

Still, my first reaction to seeing a rather large wasp hovering around my garden area was to panic. I don’t want to die in my garden, thank you very much. I rather ungracefully forced open the screen door to my home and slammed it shut.

I also researched. The internet, famous for publishing only facts (har har), told me wasps can travel up to one kilometer from their nests. This is also the prime season for queen wasps to find a nest spot.

The wasp has taken to visiting our little garden area every day, but naturally at random times so I’m always on my toes as I continue trying to keep my plants alive out there. I don’t let me kids play out in the garden anymore, much to my deep chagrin.

I also bought online a little incense thing that supposedly drives away wasps. It arrives tomorrow, and while not particularly hopeful it’ll work, in the words of one of my favorite authors, Stuart McLean, I have the “reckless faith of the hopeless” that maybe it will.

Meanwhile, we’ve contacted our city government to deal with things. There’s more reckless faith involved that they might actually do something productive about this.

Children’s Day

A close-up of “koi-nobori” carp streamers.

May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan – a day that, contrary to its name, celebrates boys.

While girls get Hina Matsuri, boys get Children’s Day. If you so choose, you can spend a lot of money on an impressive-looking samurai helmet in a display case and have that in your home leading up to May 5th. I don’t personally know anyone who does this, but I see them for sale in a lot of shopping malls here.

One tradition I see everywhere, however, is hanging up “koi nobori” carp streamers. You see them flying all over the place here around this time. The idea, apparently, is boys are like carp. If they are strong enough to swim upstream, one day they will become dragons.

I believe The Japan Times wrote an article about this a while ago, and they mentioned this is the thinking behind the Pokemon Magicarp becoming the dragon Gyarados. As a Pokemon fan, I had always wondered about this. No longer.

Other than hanging up the streamers, I’m actually not sure what you’re supposed to do for Children’s Day. I saw a baby photo of my husband wearing a samurai helmet that was folded out of newspaper for Children’s Day, and something about an adorable baby wearing a warrior helmet made of newspaper just completely melted my heart. I made a samurai helmet of newspaper for my own kids, but they were entirely disinterested in wearing them, even as tiny babies who should’ve lacked the strength to remove it from their heads. Oh well.