Bonsai Ageing: The Art of ‘Jin’
It is every bonsai enthusiast’s dream to own a very old tree, the fruit of several generations’ labours. For those who cannot afford very old and costly specimens. It is useful to know that the aged appearance of a bonsai is not always the result of extreme age. There is a variety of simple techniques which you can use to age your bonsai. The main ageing technique is known as ‘jin”.
This is a technique which will give the trunk, or part of it, or a branch the appearance of dead wood, gnarled and smoothed by the passage of time. Peel back a strip of bark with a special scalpel (a jin scalpel), or a very sharp grafting knife. Then rub the wood with very fine grade sandpaper to polish it well. Then treat it with dilute citric acid or scouring solution, making sure that it does not penetrate the wood too deeply as it could poison the tree. This treatment will quickly bleach the wood giving it an old, seasoned appearance.
When trunk and branches are treated in this way, it is described as ‘shari’ and when the method is taken further still, to the point where the trunk is literally hollowed out, the method is known as ‘sabamiki’.
The uninitiated may feel that the tree is being maltreated, but all trees treated in this way remain vigorous and healthy. The bark is not a living part of the tree, but a protective covering. However, a strip must always be left on as the cambium layer and the vessels carrying water and nutrients must be allowed to perform their tasks if the tree is to continue to flourish.