New old Chinese pot

I’ve been intrigued by the fact that trees in the top end shows in Japan are generally presented in old Chinese pots, and in the US, usually the top end are Japanese pots, often from the Tokoname region. Seems a little backwards.

Last year, my New Year’s bonsai resolution was to buy no new pots…which I was able to do, because I only bought used pots! With that, came a year of studying pots that began to establish an appreciation for pairing developed trees with older pots. It helps convey the appearance of age, more on that later.

Though I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of this very deep bonsai topic, it has already been a fascinating study, and I look forward to continuing it this year.

Here is an old Chinese pot I bought for a black pine. It was made in the ShouYouKouSei kiln, during the Middle Crossing period. This period spans from 1816-1911, with many of the pots of that era made in the 1880s. It measures 37 by 23.5 by 8.5 cm.


The pot is slab-built, and relatively heavy for the size. Because the clay is dense and likely high-fired, I wonder if that slows down the patina development. Some is evident, but I’ve noticed that more porous pots develop it faster.



The attention to detail and craftsmanship of the pot is evident in the cloud feet:


Another interesting detail with these older pots is a slight warping. Look at the Kokufu books to see how common it is. I happen to appreciate it, but this pot is only warped on one side, so if I don’t want to show it, the option is available.

No discussion of pots is complete without a tip of the hat to Ryan Bell. I had the opportunity to meet Ryan recently, as it was his tireless search that ultimately led to this pot. Thanks Ryan! No doubt, he is one of the best resources online for bonsai pots, and an all-around nice guy:

So here is where things can get interesting; pairing pots with trees. Normally the discussion starts with shape and size, then glazed vs. unglazed, and likely ends there. What about pairing appropriately-aged pots with trees? Would a bright, shiny blue glazed pot convey the same sense of age that this old, heavily patina-laden pot does? Or would it be mis-matched for the age of the tree?

From Bjorn’s website

Now, back to my reality…I bought the old Chinese pot to eventually go with my chuhin black pine. Let’s compare a few pots first. Left is an unused Yamaaki, center is an older Yamaaki, showing some years of use, and right is the century-old ShouYouKouSei. Do the age differences appear obvious?


This current pot was a $20 bargain, but like all of these, the size and shape are ok. How about the conveyance of age? In this case, the pine has been in training for 6 years, and it’s probably a 20-year old tree. However, the pot does nothing to convey any additional age to the composition.

Now, look at the two alternatives.

Is the pine ready for the Chinese pot yet? Probably not. The weight and age of the pot would make the tree look very young. Anyone thinking about Hef’s most recent wedding photo at this point?

As eager as I am to use the Chinese pot, most likely the Yamaaki is most age-appropriate for the next few years. As the nebari creeps outward, the branches ramify, and the crown rounds out, the Chinese pot will become an excellent choice.

One last comparison, my hawthorn last fall in a nice cream colored Yamafusa (new in ’07), and a few months later in an older, used Yamaaki. Which one more effectively conveys the feeling of age?




6 thoughts on “New old Chinese pot

  1. You always convey nice analogies that bring home an important point of the connections between the “process” of bonsai and the “process” of life. At 5’8″ and chronologically challenged, I too have a certain (Hefner) patina. Nice Chinese pot and “excellent” to be BP.

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