The 34th Nippon Taikan Bonsai Exhibition opened this morning after the traditional ribbon cutting ceremony. The show was well attended and the crowds continued to increase until mid-afternoon. Although anyone could take photos it was a bit difficult with people getting in the way. Also the yellow and purple backgrounds did not help with the white balance and different lighting.





Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora



Rock cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizonatlis


Japanese yew, Taxus cuspidata

While setting up the exhibition I happen to notice a couple photos of my trees being assembled for a special exhibit. The photos were recognized but I wonder where they got them. So I asked and was told that Toru Suzuki asked for photos for a special World Bonsai Corner photo display. Then I remembered that I did send the photos months ago. Perhaps a bit of old age creeping up here, no just gracefully “maturing.”



Bonsai displayed by members of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York

At Hatsuji Kato’s Mansei-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya Bonsai Village I noticed Mr. Hirao preparing a large Kiyo Hime Japanese maple for this exhibition. The tree is perhaps the finest, and one of the largest Kiyo Hime Japanese maple bonsai. It received one of the Kokufu Awards in February’s Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. At that time it was in a blue glazed antique Chinese container. Now it is planted in an unglazed brown container by Gyozan, currently the leading bonsai container artist in Tokoname, Japan, and it was difficult to photograph in Omiya. Apparently the antique Chinese container was too valuable to keep the tree during the growing season. I personally like both containers and would have both in my collection if I had this bonsai. But, I could not even afford the display table, let alone the valuable two containers and the tree as well.


Kiyo Hime Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Kiyo Hime’ in February 2014


Kiyo Hime Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Kiyo Hime’ in November 2014


Zuisho Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora ‘Zuisho’


Sargent juniper, Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii ‘Shimpaku’



Akebia, Akebia quinata


Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora


Winged spindle tree, Euonymus sieboldiana 


Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora










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Autumn In Kyoto

This morning a few of us visited a large flea market at the Toji Temple, which is near our hotel in Kyoto. We arrived early to avoid crowds, but were met with hoards of people including many foreigners looking and buying. Near the main entrance there was a large area with vendors selling flowers, plants, dried fruit and even bonsai.







It appeared as though anything you wanted could be found here, antiques, clothing (new and old), jeans, car license plates from Washington state, snacks, old books, antique scrolls and inserts, dishes, light bulbs, cutlery, tools, bonsai tables, stones and even pins! Lots of good stuff and we left fully loaded with goodies. We did not visit the snack shops….





Today was the set up and judging for the 34th Japan Taikan Bonsai Exhibition one of the main Japanese exhibitions . Earlier in the morning pre-selection judging was conducted narrowing down the 200 some entries for the prizes. The bonsai were grouped into three bonsai for: large, medium and small size evergreens, deciduous and satsuki. Selections were also made for suiseki, shohin bonsai, rock plantings, suiseki and literati bonsai as well. There were four trees selected for the large evergreens because one was selected for the Prime Minister Award. There was one Chinese suiseki alone, but I don’t know the name of the category, it won an award as well. The pre-selected entries were placed on long tables down the center of the exhibition room.


Large evergreen bonsai


Large deciduous bonsai


Literati bonsai


Rock planting bonsai


Small deciduous bonsai

At 2pm the final judging was conducted by some of the top bonsai artists and professional artists. The winning bonsai were immediately announced. After judging people were scrambling to put the bonsai in their designated display areas, many with scrolls, some with suiseki as well.



The Prime Minister Award went to a large size Sargent juniper bonsai which was displayed by Shinji Suzuki for his client. This bonsai was originally created by Masahiko Kimura many years ago, who also won two other awards with a Japanese yew and rock planting.


Sargent juniper Prime Minister Award


Dwarf stewartia, Stewartia monadelpha



Japanese flowering apricot, Prunus mume


Japanese yew, Taxus cuspidata


Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora, displayed with a western painting


Japanese persimmon, Diosporus kaki


Hawthorn, Crataegus sp.


Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora


Burning bush, Euonyus alatus


Sargent juniper, Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii ‘Shimpaku’


Japanese beech, Fagus crenata


Chinese hackberry, Celtis sinensis


Tsuyama hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Tsuyama’


Fingerd citron (Buddha’s hand citron) Citrus medica ‘Sarocdectylis




There were several foreign apprentices working hard to set up their teacher’s client’s bonsai as well as the large sales area. Here are a few quick photos I took during this busy time. More photos will be included in tomorrow’s blog entry. If you want to see finer-quality, color corrected photos with a complete report on this important event for the Japanese bonsai world, kindly subscribe to International BONSAI at:



This morning was spent visiting the Shunka-en Bonsai Museum of Kunio Kobayashi in the Edogawa Ward of Tokyo. Fortunately, Peter Warren from England was at the museum and had time to show our group around explaining interesting details about the museum, containers and display, in proper English too.




This weekend Mr. Kobayashi is holding an exhibition of his client’s bonsai so all of the apprentices were busy cleaning trees and polishing the tables and containers. Trees were actually being placed as we enjoyed their beauty. It was interesting to me to watch three apprentices carefully place a Japanese maple bonsai on a display table as one took charge to perfect the positioning.




As in October, I noticed even more pieces of charcoal on the soil surface of many bonsai. Many of the pieces were quite large as well. Since many of the bonsai were transplanted in spring, it is easier to simply place the charcoal on the soil surface rather than repot the tree to add charcoal.




Threre are even more trees here than when I visited the garden last month. Most of the additions were large size Japanese black pines, primarily being trained for the Chinese market. I noticed both copper and sissy wire on the same tree for shaping the form on Japanese black pine bonsai as well as iron bars.



Japanese black pine bonsai with a price tag of US$30,000. It has great bark too!


Mr. Kobayashi returned home from Taiwan yesterday and was preparing for a TV interview in the afternoon, yet he found time to greet us, sign books and host our group for lunch.


After our visit with Mr. Kobayashi, Peter Warren and Mr. Suzuki drove our group to Tokyo Station where we took the bullet train to Kyoto. As we were waiting on the train platform we noticed Mr. Kimura who was in line to board the next car. He was traveling with Mr. Utusume, president of the Japan Bonsai Cooperative for professional bonsai artists. They were traveling to Kyoto so they could help judge the bonsai for the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition tomorrow. Mr. Kobayashi will be taking an early bullet train early tomorrow morning to also participate in the judging since he is the President of the Nippon Suiseki Association. Peter must drive the truck to Kyoto tonight with one of the Kokufu Prize winning bonsai as well as several client’s suiseki for display.



Well know Chojubai dwarf Japanese flowering apricot growing over a stone.

6P4A7086A new bonsai in the making


Mr. Kobayashi had several new containers on display from a new bonsai potter. One was especially unusual and colorful as well, fortunately I was able to add it to my collection. Now I must find a special tree for it so it can be displayed on Halloween.



Upon arrival in Kyoto we went for a sushi dinner then stopped for Beard Papa cream puffs. They taste delicious with Japanese ice tea, well, they actually taste great by themselves too.






“Bill Jumps A Broad- Again”

Kora Dalager and I are back in Japan showing ten people the best of the Japanese bonsai world and the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition in Kyoto this coming weekend. We have tour members from California, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania New York, and Switzerland.


We had a beautiful, bright sunny day in the Tokyo area. Not a cloud in the sky which made photographing a bit difficult. BUT, it looks like I skipped town at the right time. When I left home, all my nursery stock, pre-bonsai and sales bonsai were put away for winter. Only 98 of my best trees were outside, and still are, even though Diane offered to move them in the garage. Buffalo, New York has received 50 inches of snow and are expecting ANOTHER 2-3 feet of snow now in the second wave of weather. It missed Rochester, this time, who know about the next few days…

I brought a large and heavy box of four suiseki for the 2nd Japan Suiseki Exhibition which will be held during part 2 of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in February. The stones need to be here now to be photographed for the exhibition album. I brought suiseki from Sean Smith, Mike Pollock, Jake Wilson as well as mine all carefully packed. I was afraid TSA would open the box, as it was well taped and sealed and I know they could never seal it again. The box was even labeled “Rocks” because it is X-rayed. It arrived in perfect condition at Narita, then I had to take it through customs.

The customs agent wanted to know what is in the box. I said four stones. She said stones? Why? I told her they were suiseki. She said what’s that? OK, so I needed to explain what a suiseki is and how they are displayed with bonsai and even wrote out the two Japanese kanji characters for suiseki. She was still clueless. Why are they here? For an exhibition, and they are not staying in Japan. Where is the commercial invoice? There is no invoice. How about a flyer? No flyer. Well, what is your occupation? I learned years ago it was too difficult to explain that I’m a bonsai artist and educator, so simply say “publisher” which is correct too. Then I showed her my name card and she said “Bonsai!” OK, just leave….


We first visited S-Cube, the bonsai garden of Seiji Morimae, who is always a gracious host. We visited his garden first, rather than last on our schedule and the sun was great.




In October I attended an auction at the Ueno Green Club for professional bonsai artists where Mr. Morimae purchased an old expensive famous Japanese five-needle pine. The tree needed wiring and shaping. I recognized the tree and when I went home found an old photo of it 70 years ago in my bonsai reference library. Mr. Morimae said Hotsumi Terakawa shaped the tree for him and it’s arriving soon. A few minutes later Mr. Terakawa unloaded the bonsai and it’s beautiful. It took him three days to wire and only removed one small branch. Of course Mr. Morimae had to adjust a couple of branches. He will now transplant the masterpiece into an antique Chinese mirror shaped container so the tree could be viewed from different sides.


As purchased at auction


After shaping


Seiji Morimae and Hotsumi Terakawa

Our group next visited Masahiko Kimura where Marco Invernizzi is currently studying. I noticed a new unusual rock planting on an angle constructed of clay. Also new is a metal fence behind Mr. Kimura’s main display area. All the trees were immaculate and several were being prepared for display at the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition this weekend.





Omiya Bonsai Museum was our next stop and we were lucky to come during BONSAN- A Special Exhibition. Bonsan is the practice of growing trees and flowering plants in hollows or depressions of stones; a practice presently called “ishitsuki”, or rock plantings today. An album was published showing old paintings of how bonsan were used in the 13th Century Japan. Entering the museum were two beautiful rock plantings, a Trident maple and Sargent juniper which was from Mansei-en Bonsai Garden of Hatsuji Kato.





Tomio Yamada displayed his Trident maple and I remember watching him create it in June 1970, nearly 45 years ago. Other bonsai in the gallery all featured bonsai with stones as well.


Mansei-en was our next stop in Omiya Bonsai Village. As usual there were many famous masterpieces and some were being prepared for the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition. Masashi Hirao was there placing moss on a large Kiyo Hime Japanese maple bonsai. The sunlight was quite bright and the container could not be easily seen, but I noticed that it was unglazed brown. I asked Mr. Hirao about the container because this bonsai won one of the coveted Kokufu prizes in February and was in an Antique blue Chinese container. Why was the container changed? He said that the blue container just for the exhibition. It was transplanted afterwards into another container. There was no need to put it in such a valuable container now since it already won the highest prize in Japan and is no longer eligible for winning.






Masashi Hirao placing moss for the exhibition. I’ll take a proper photo this weekend showing the brown container.

Tomio Yamada’s Seiko-en Bonsai Garden was next and his bonsai were quite colorful. I was immediately attracted to a Fingered citron bonsai with large, strange yellow fruit. Two other specimens of the same species were also displayed in Hiroshi Takeyama’s garden also.





Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden was around the corner and that’s were I first apprenticed bonsai in Japan in 1970. Third generation proprietor Yukio Murata was watering and had a tooth brush in his hand. I thought he might be washing trunks as he went through his garden. But, after I asked him he said the toothbrush was used to clean out the nozzle because it gets clogged with debris from the deep well. He removed the nozzle to show me and also said he sometimes brushes his teeth as well while watering.





Mr. Takeyama’s garden featuring deciduous and unusual bonsai was not quite a colorful as in the past, but it was a bit early for his garden. There were a few Japanese maples in bright red coloring and the Korean hornbeams were past prime. The autumn coloring during next few weeks are going to be spectacular in this garden.




The excellent exchange rate is making for great buying and traveling in Japan now. Currently we are getting 118 Yen/ 1US Dollar. Have not seen that rate for years. This is an excellent time to visit Japan. Join us in February to see TWO Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions, the 2nd Japan Suiseki Exhibition and also bonsai gardens in the Tokyo/Omiya/Hanyu area. Tour flyer can be found in my web site or e-mail me for a copy at:



Join bonsai lovers throughout the east in Kannapolis, NC, on December 6-7,2014 for the second Winter Bonsai Silhouette Expo.


Last year Steve Zeisel organized the highly successful event in an elegant venue and I’m certain this year’s event will be even more crowded with people wanting to see the beauty of naked bonsai, but there might be a few clothed as well to avoid a peep show.



Artists are provided with a table and it’s up to them to come up with an attractive display of bonsai, although some simply place their trees next to each other in a row. But, the emphasis of this exhibition is the beauty of bonsai and how it can be effectively presented to the public.



The unusual venue in a rotunda complete with inlay marble floors and tall pillars provides the perfect setting for displaying bonsai.


Additionally, a room filled with vendors bringing their finest bonsai, pre-bonsai, containers, tools and supplies will tempt people to add to their bonsai collection or help in their maintenance and enjoyment.

quince title copy

On Saturday, December 7th, I’ll be presenting an educational program on Chinese Quince Bonsai showing its beauty, how they are trained and tips to develop your own specimens. To complete this comprehensive program a Chinese quince seedling which was field grown, then established in a container will be shaped. Since some people don’t have areas to develop trees in the ground, another container grown specimen will also be shaped.


On Sunday, bonsai artist Owen Reich, Bonsai Unearthed from Nashville, TN, will be presenting a lecture/demo on Pitch pine bonsai. This should be a great program because his demo tree has an interesting story, I think.


On Saturday evening a dinner and auction will be held in the second floor area of the rotunda. Vendors will be donating interesting items for the auction to help this important bonsai event for the east coast. Last year’s dinner, even without the auction was fun.


Check out last year’s blog entry for the first Winter Bonsai Silhouette Expo:


I hope to see many long time friends, many with their bonsai and make new friends as well. Let’s hope for good weather this year. So after you celebrate Thanksgiving and before you finish your holiday shopping, visit the Winter Bonsai Silhouette Expo. You can purchase gifts for your family, friends and even yourself too in the sales area!

For detailed information on the venue, accommodations, demonstrations and more check out:



Geo Feng High School

The China National Penjing exhibition was held on the grounds of the Geo Feng High School which is a private boarding school owed by Mr. Ma. The grounds are exquisite with trained garden trees throughout the campus.


Most of the taller trees are Podocarpus which are trained and regularly trimmed. The value of these trees is at least USD $20,000 each, and there are countless number. Also there are a great number of trained Japanese five-needle pines, which look like they were imported from Japan, also expensive. Additionally large penjing are placed around the field track, swimming pool and around pathways. I wonder if the students realize the beauty they are surrounded with and also their value. The huge garden stones were easily taller than most people. Around back one could enjoy a beautiful pond full of prize winning koi fish.






These grounds are far superior to many Japanese gardens I’ve seen in the United States. They are well maintained and I was told the gardeners are paid more than the high school teachers. We had a few lunches in one of the several cafeterias. The food was institute served on metal trays.




International Forum For The Development Of Penjing In China

Representatives from several foreign countries were invited to participate in a forum about the status of bonsai in their respective countries. Countries included: France, England, Italy, Taiwan, Viet Nam, Japan and the United States. We were asked about the National Penjing Exhibition, our impressions, likes and way to improve future exhibitions. Next questions came up which were quite interesting, especially comments and discussions from Susumu (Chui) Sudo from Japan. There is a new movement suggesting the development of modern, creative and innovative bonsai and display. Robert Steven from Indonesia had such a successful exhibition last weekend and reports can be found in my earlier blogs.


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Uhaku Sudo from Japan


Mr. Bum from Korea


Tony Tickle from England


Su Fan, host, moderator and organizer from China


William N. Valavanis from the United States


Several demonstrations took place on Friday afternoon, during the same time as the Penning Forum, so unfortunately I was not able to watch. In the morning the demo trees were displayed and an old Japanese red pine was given to Robert Steven to work on. Soon he told that his un shaped demo tree was sold for USD $15,000. It was an impressive bonsai already. So Robert selected a Japanese five-needle pine, not so old, but with a bit of character.


Original demo tree for Robert Steven, but sold before demonstration for USD $15,000


Someone shaped the tree


Kuio Kobayashi worked on an old multi trunk Japanese black pine and Mr. Cheng Cheng Kung from Taiwan worked on his specialty, carving juniper bonsai. By the time the forum concluded all the demo trees were displayed outdoors except for Mr. Cheng’s because he was still working on it under an umbrella because it began raining near the end of demos.


Kobayashi demo tree before shaping


Kobayashi demo tree after shaping

On Saturday morning the foreign guests were invited to have breakfast with the headmaster Mr. Ma. We were escorted to the tallest building on the campus and went to the 14th floor. When we got off the elevator it looked like we stepped into a fancy hotel, complete with artwork, stones and penning. There was a huge round table with a turntable in the center where the 15 foreign guests were seated. Mr. Ma entered the room a few minutes later and warmly greeted each one of us, me with a bear hug. This ”breakfast” ended up being a 21 course feast with Mr. Ma personally serving the main dishes to everyone. Delicious unusual food was enjoyed including a rare yellow fish which costs USD $1,000 each, and two were served. I just ate and was told afterwards some of the food included turtle soup, yams, sweet potatoes (small sizes so you could easily pick them up with chopsticks), many vegetables and a large whole crab. I was told mine was a male because I was eating the orange sperm.


Mr. Ma serving everyone the yellow fish



Whole crab before opening and eating


I sat next to Amy Liang from Taiwan who showed me how to eat crab



I was not allowed to announce or share photos of the winning trees until after the award ceremony. The awards were different this year from last year’s “China Ding” award for the best individual penjing. This year the awards went to the artists with the best collection of trees. Below are the top trees in the exhibition.

NO 1

NO 2

NO 3

It’s quite interesting that all three are Japanese black pine. AND even more interesting is that some came from Japan. The China Zun Award was presented to the artist who had the top three scoring bonsai collection. When the top winner cam on stage he never smiled and later we learned that he is in business, not a hobbyist and people did not like that he or the imported tree won. It WAS a good tree. The award was brought out on stage on a rolling cart and looked quite heavy. There were two award trophies a large and small version for the winners of the top three tree collection and the smaller one for the artist who had the next best 10 tree collection.



There was an orchestra of over 100 people on stage in front of a large digital screen with two side screens, all synchronized to the music, which showed beautiful Chinese scenery. Also, many images of the penjing in the exhibition were flashed on the screen several times with no captions. The top award winning Japanese black pine was not revealed until nearly the end of the program, which also included traditional Chinese singing and solo performances.



On Friday everyone, guests, demonstrators and judges were bused to the exhibition. When we left the hotels it was raining and quite foggy, not too good for enjoying an exhibition in a large field track. I personally walked 5.6 miles on Wednesday when judging the penjing.



The hotel had umbrellas and as we were walking in, suddenly the rain stopped. The sun even came out later on in the morning and it got quite warm, but there was plenty of bottled water available. It seemed as though God was smiling on this world class and most important exhibition of penjing in China. During the late afternoon, after the outdoor demonstrations finished, it began raining again.


There were many signs announcing the exhibition and on the main building there were many long signs with the names of the sponsors. It looked like a bottled water company must have been a sponsor. Everywhere we looked were people handing out free bottles of water. Even in the forum later on in the day we were given water and every seat in the auditorium had water. Student from the school were all around helping people, picking up debris and handing out water.


Upon entry there were large banners with the photo and background of each judge, and in English as well. Around the corner there were three huge white signs with all the point scoring of each of the 121 bonsai and the names of the judges with their personal scores. If an exhibitor wanted to contest or discuss their scores they could simple track down the judge, remember all the judge’s photos were posted. Tony Tickle and I were not confronted and were pleased about that.




As people were putting away their umbrellas the fog was lifting and people could enjoy the beauty of each large scale impressive penning. In a large building, out of the weather were three smaller exhibitions:

Ornamental Stones

The largest of the indoor exhibitions featured over 100 valuable stones. At first my impression was like a fancy jewelry store. Beautiful and fantastic stones were well displayed and professionally well late. Many were large and people touched the stones to feel their texture. Smaller stones were behind individual glass cases. Down the center of the room were several large round tables, typical of Chinese restaurants. They were completely filled with small plates which looked like real food, but they were actually all stones and quite realistic.









The famous calligrapher, Chen Xishan, was featured in a three room exhibition. Many of the strokes were bold and distinctive, while a few were delicate. There were over 50 works of art including several multi scroll displays featuring a poem or story written on many scrolls, all hung together with the frame on the outside scrolls. All I could think of is if the artist spent considerable time, talent and work to write a poem on a scroll and suddenly he was distracted and goofed up the last character. The 11 scrolls make up a single presentation was quite unusual to me.





Although I did not see it advertised, there was a section of a gymnasium converted into a Chinese room filled with hand made, high quality rosewood furniture. On one table the artist showed the construction of a table with all the holes and slots for the hard wood to be joined together, with no nails of course. That’s the reason for high prices on quality display tables for bonsai as well because their makers use many of the same techniques.



Sales Area

Last year the Chinese National Penjing Exhibition did not include a large sales area. Well, they made up for it this year by setting up in a parking lot next to the exhibition building. There were vendors offering containers, penjing, pre-penjing, tools, rocks and more. Many of the vendors set up pop up tents which are common at art shows and festivals in the United States. With the rain and heat they became welcome shelters. There were huge penjing as well as much smaller specimens.




To me the Japanese bonsai “imported” stuck out like a sore thumb and were more refined than the Chinese penjing. But, unless you were familiar with Japanese bonsai one would never know. They have a different beauty than Chinese penjing. Japanese soil and books were also sold. On the judging day I saw an artist selling fine-quality expensive small display tables. There were several root stands, which I was interested in, but he was not there on the opening day and another vendor selling containers was in his tent.


Buy my Ginkgo please or take my wife!



Trident maple stumps. All sold out quickly at USD $2,000 each.


The same grower also displayed a tree he developed from a stump. Although beautiful this bonsai lacks the twigs and maturity of an older tree.


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