Its a bit hard to tell from those pics. Could you take some pics straight from the side? Id like to see one from the same side as yourr last pic but at a level even with the pot instead of from above. Also from other angles besides the one you have from the side.
Obviously those thick bar branches are something that need to be dealt with. More pictues would help I think. Feel free to remove those old needles if they are ready to come off, they will leave quite a mess if you let them drop on their own.
I kind of like this tree. My opinion is that both bar branches at the bottom should be removed. Maybe if there is even another too thick branch above that, that could be removed also. Since the branches in the middle and top are the youngest and most flexible, those are the ones that should become part of the design. You should be able to pull one of those down quite a bit. This will enventually give you a pad lower on the trunk even though the branch comes from the middle or even top section of the tree. Since pines are apically dominant, removing the bottom branches will send all the energy into the middle and top sections, which will help create a nice, strong tree.
Looking at the additional photos, I think removing the trunk and training a branch upward is a good plan. It will put foliage close to the trunk (since that trunk is currently a branch with close-in foliage).
Here's what I'd do...if you are ready to train and are not interested in growing it out any further.
1. Remove the trunk, and the secondary branch coming off the right branch.
2. Wire up the right branch to become the new leader
3. Wire down the left branch to become the primary branch.
4. Begin to build the primary branch structure from the new leader.
Thanks again for all your input Brian. Few questions,
What time of year would you normally choose to do this type of work?
If continuing to grow out further, would you put in the ground? And do you think aside from just a trunk size issue, would going in the ground increase the chances of gaining back buds?
Planting it in the ground may encouraging some back-budding, but not reliably, only incidentally because it's growing harder. My Zuisho is probably the same age, and very similar in development to yours, and it hasn't done any better in the ground this year than it's better years in a pot...not much of a comparison, but it's what I've got!
Those are pollen pods. They form at the base of new growth. Fruiting cones form at the tip of new growth (example attached). You can remove them or not....as long as you don't knock off the newly forming needles.
I see you made some decisions on the direction you're taking this tree...
I guess I did, shit or get off the pot right? Kind of went off your virt. I would have liked to have a lower branch as the new leader but the next lowest emerged from the same whorl so my thought was that it would lead to more swelling and reverse taper in that section. So that leaves me with a somewhat bare section at the moment, not sure if I will be able to sweep a branch down some to fill it in down the road or attempt a graft.
Thanks for the info in cons/pollen pods. Im always learning new things here!