Bonsai Empire’s Kimura Masterclass

My first Bonsai Today magazine was #41; 1996, and it featured an article showing Mr. Kimura planting a white pine in a snag of deadwood using mud balls of moss, clay, and akadama. A couple issues later he split a tall leggy white pine, wrapped it with his signature raffia, and made it into a 9-tree composition. I was quickly intrigued by Mr. Kimura and looked forward to his regular appearances in the Japanese magazine, at a time before the internet made bonsai readily accessible worldwide.

However, other than frequent printed articles over the last 25 years, I’d really only seen one Kimura demo on YouTube, and a couple translated interviews, but I always admired his work.

So when Oscar, owner of Bonsai Empire invited me to watch and review the new Kimura Masterclass, I was excited and honored. The Masterclass is available here: and I wouldn’t blame you if just you quit reading this post now, and simply jumped into the Masterclass.

First impressions:

Topics cover his signature material: Japanese White Pine (JWP), and rock planting Shimpaku junipers.

Intimate setting in his workshop, with partly obscured views of world-class bonsai hiding around corners.

Clean format, conservative use of graphics and music. Well-organized content.

Over 4 hours of lecture content! What would it cost to watch Mr. Kimura create 2 bonsai compositions? The value here is high, and the course is reasonably priced.

On to the lectures:

Mr. Kimura demonstrates work on trees that are not Kokufu quality, but are collected and cutting-grown material within the reach of many amateur bonsai enthusiasts. It was almost startling to see him work on video at first, as if the pages of old Bonsai Today magazines were coming to life…right down to the yellow Karin crates!

For example, we have all likely seen photos of Mr. Kimura using raffia, but it was new for me to see him apply raffia on video. He demonstrates the what (principle), discusses the why (importance), but you have to watch to learn the how (technique).

The video is high quality, and offers great close-ups and over-the-shoulder shots of the Magician at work. It is most helpful that the camera always seems to be in the right place to show the details necessary to grasp the techniques, right down to individual tufts of shoots, and throughout each lecture.

As I started watching the first lecture, a thought hit me: I wish I had 3 apprentices appear out of nowhere when I start working on trees!

The JWP lecture sequence follows Mr. Kimura’s approach to styling a tree. It is methodical and deliberate, and organized in steps that any enthusiast should follow when approaching design work on a new bonsai: clean, prune, evaluate, big bends, little branches, refine.

At certain points in the lectures, the frame rates speed up. It still clearly shows his work, holds attention, and still allows the viewer to easily follow along. I appreciated the use of time-lapse here, and think the technique was applied tastefully. There were only a couple spots when more time-lapse would have helped things move along, but that may have been more my own frame of mind. Otherwise, the lectures watch as though the viewer has a front-row seat in a major exhibition demo.

Mr. Kimura weaves pointers and anecdotes throughout the lectures which portray him as wise and very much human with a good sense of humor. All the while, it is clear he is all business when it comes to the work on trees. He is direct with his apprentices, “hand me #10 wire”, and provides straight-forward correction which many of us would receive if we were participating in one of his workshops.

Lectures include commentary about good cultivation and good wiring practices. Again, he discusses the what and why, but you need to watch to learn the how. Off-camera, an interviewer asks very good questions at appropriate times, that I would want to ask while Mr. Kimura works. He offers nuggets like wiring the left branches with your left hand, right with right, and his laugh is charming.

He speaks in his native Japanese, so the entire Masterclass has English subtitles. This is unavoidable, but Oscar thoughtfully edited the videos in a way that the viewer can easily bounce back and forth between reading the captions and still catching the details of the work.

Each lecture show the finished product at the beginning and end, so it offers a running comparison of where we are in the design process against the end result. This is very useful; compare it to mystery movies that reveal the “whodunit” right away, yet still hold the viewer’s interest through the movie.

Below is the subject JWP of the first lecture series; instantly recognizable as his work for those who know his work:

Mr. Kimura is also known for his large rock-planting compositions, so it was interesting to see him assemble one. He did not offer a lot of detail about the stone or attaching the wires, so he may be retaining some of his trade secrets, or expecting the viewer to get inspired to try his own ways.

Nice Shohin trees were used, and the placement seemed easy; almost too easy.

He spent time discussing the aesthetics of the overall composition, and long-term cultivation. The result was beautiful, and by the end, it did make me want to try a rock planting.

The Private collection video was cool, a real peek under the tent, that I could watch in freeze-frames to extend the 3:40 tour to an hour easily to study the client trees on the benches:

The Public collection showed many of his famous masterpieces which were a treat to revisit. I would have enjoyed more of this, especially still images of single trees, and wider shots. However the videography was beautiful and well-done.

Overall, Kimura Masterclass is a great addition to Bonsai Empire’s growing library of bonsai courses, and should be in yours too. The filming, arrangement, and production is top-notch, and the content is educational and entertaining. I hope you enjoy this Masterclass as much as I did.

Below is the press kit provided by Oscar:
Kimura Masterclass
Available: May 23rd
Price: $79.99 USD, as always with lifetime access
14 lectures, 4 hour total
Masterclass sales page text
Take advantage of this rare opportunity to learn from the world-renowned bonsai master, Masahiko Kimura. In his first ever online class, Mr. Kimura demonstrates his unique approach to Bonsai design. He reveals a life-time of cultivated knowledge and his own personal techniques to achieve results in a short amount of time.
This Masterclass is recorded in Mr. Kimura’s private workshop and consists of two long-format case studies. Each case study begins with a discussion of bonsai aesthetics and design options, followed by an explanation of the applied techniques:
  • Setting the main structure of a tree
  • Wiring
  • Shaping the apex
  • Pad creation
  • Importance of negative space in Bonsai design
  • And moss cultivation.
You can expect 14 lectures with over 4 hours of video tutorials with lifetime access. Be sure to watch the free lecture for a taste of the contents!
The course will be available as of May 23rd and is valued at $79.99.

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