Kito Memorial Bonsai Exhibit

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When our tour visited Seiji Morimae last week in his garden, he took me aside and told me of an important bonsai exhibit we should visit. I asked the name of the exhibit and the location in case we were in the area or for directions of how to get there. Out came his iPhone and he made a phone call to get me the exact venue. I was prepared to get a difficult address, in Japanese only, only to find the taxi driver could not find the location. He quickly said OK, the exhibit is at the Meifu Bonsai Exhibition which was on our itinerary. Sometimes one gets lucky, fate was in our favor. The exhibit was so significant that Mr. Morimae made the trip from his garden in Hanyu, Saitama Prefecture to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. He even wrote about the memorial exhibit in his Japanese S-Cube blog. His photograph appears in his blog during his visit.

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Sargent juniper, Juniperus chinensis var. Sargentii ‘Shimpaku.’

 

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Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora.

 

Masao Kito was a director of the Nippon Bonsai Association and an important bonsai collector who passed away last year. He assembled a remarkable bonsai collection featuring evergreen bonsai, as can be seen in his memorial exhibit. Curator of his collection is Akio Kondo who is standing on the left of the exhibit entrance in the first photo. He is an award-winning professional bonsai artist who has won numerous top awards in Japan and spends considerable time in the United States teaching with Boon in California. His work is impeccable as can be seen throughout this exhibit.

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Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora.

 

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Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora.

 

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Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora.

Each one of 12 grand bonsai were designated Important Bonsai Masterpieces (Kicho Bonsai) by the Nippon Bonsai Association. They are identified by a silver colored metal plaque and also a more familiar hanging silver tag from a branch. One often sees one or two of these treasurers in a single exhibition, but it was a real treat, at least for me, to see one dozen in one exhibit at one time. Although I’ve seen each of these bonsai before in exhibitions, books and magazines, it was a real treat to see them all displayed together. Each one of the bonsai in this memorial exhibit was an Important Bonsai Masterpiece and had both the metal tag and the metal plaque displayed with the tree.

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The designation of an Important Bonsai Masterpiece is determined by a panel of experts considering the tree to be outstanding because of artistic value, historical significant, rarity of species and other unusual aspects of the tree. Such designation is intended to give the bonsai protection similar to other works of fine art making it possible to keep track of changes of ownership and prevent sales to collectors abroad without the association’s permission.

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Well-spaced throughout the exhibit were old photographs of Mr. Kito rand his family. It was great that they did not obstruct the visual beauty of each bonsai which allowed them to be easily photographed with a plain background. Flanking the photograph of Mr. Kito are awards and a metal presented to him by the Emperor of Japan.

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Sargent juniper, Juniperus chinensis var. Sargentii ‘Shimpaku.’

Each bonsai was beautifully displayed on a well-balanced and designed display table which were carefully selected by the curator Akio Kondo. The mossing was exceptionally well done with different species, colors and textures. This is often overlooked when presenting a formal display, even in Japan. Look carefully at the moss in these photos.

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Silverberry, Elaeagnus pungens.

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Hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa. This bonsai is NOT the common Dwarf hinoki cypress used for bonsai in the United States, it is the common Hinoki cypress used as a large timber tree in Japan.

 

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Sargent juniper, Juniperus chinensis var. Sargentii ‘Shimpaku.’

 

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Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii.

 

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Toyo Nishiki Japanese flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo Nishiki,’ featuring red, pink and white flowers in spring.

 

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Japanese grey-bark elm, Zelkova serrata.

 

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Chojubai Dwarf Japanese flowering quince, Chaenomeles japonica ‘Chojubai.’

 

Appropriately sized accessory plantings were well spaced between the bonsai which added seasonal interest and a slight visual rest between each of the bonsai.

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Colts foot, Tussilago farara, an invasive perennial with Dandelion-like yellow flowers. The golden yellow flowers die before the foliage appears in spring. It is often used as a bonsai accessory during winter displays.

2020 90th Meifu Bonsai Exhibition

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The 90th Meifu Bonsai Exhibition was held on January 10-12, 2020 in the Fukiage Hall in Nagoya, Japan. It is sponsored by Chubu Bonsai Cooperative, which is a professional bonsai organization. The exhibition is held in a huge clear span building with excellent lighting and wide aisles. The Gafu Ten Shohin Exhibition, held in Kyoto, was held on the same dates so we were able to visit this exhibition as well.

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The Meifu Bonsai Exhibition is the second longest running show in Japan, just under the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition which will hold the 94th show on February 8-11 and 13-16, 2020. It is the third largest bonsai exhibition and Japan and an important venue to see and study fine-quality bonsai of a great number of species and styles. There was only one shohin bonsai composition displayed, but we had a couple of days at the Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition which displayed 535 small bonsai.

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There were over 130 masterpiece bonsai displayed with accessories and suiseki. Many of these bonsai are owned by hobbyists, but displayed by the professional bonsai artists. A large percentage of these displayed bonsai have or will be displayed in the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. All very high-quality works of art.

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Taiwan boxwood featuring deeply fissured bark.

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A large full-color commemorative album is always published which is an excellent study guide for design as well as illustrating the current state of the Japanese bonsai community.

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There were several special displays this year. The top Tokoname bonsai ceramic artists were featured in an unusual table top display showing their bonsai containers being used to hold bonsai. We were fortunate to meet Kakuzan, one of the potters who made the large container for Japanese black pine from the collection of Yasuo Mitsuya. Mr. Mitsuya is well known in the United States for his demonstrations and instructions. He displayed his Japanese black pine which is approximately 130 years old and under his training for over 50 years.

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MITSUYA

Mr.Kakuzan, left, next to the container he made for Mr. Mitsuya’s Japanese black pine he trained for over 50 years. Yasuo Mitsuya, right, with the first and only professional bonsai magazine published in the United States.

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Another display featured four large panels with paintings displayed with bonsai, something new in Japan. You could sit on the low red benches and absorb the beauty of this exhibition while enjoying a cup of traditional green tea used in the formal Japanese tea ceremony with a sweet snack.  I personally walked 5.8 miles today looking at bonsai, and needed to rest my booted foot. A sales area completed the exhibition which featured a good number of vendors selling tools, containers, art, scrolls, display tables, suiseki, wire and of course bonsai.

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Perhaps the most special display this year was a commemorative for Masaru Kito, who passed away three years ago. This significant display will be the introduced in tomorrow’s blog since I’m too tired to adjust the images now and do need some sleep. So, look for something special tomorrow.

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2020 45th Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition– Part 3

 

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Sales Area

Like most exhibitions, this is the most popular area of the event. Most foreigners go past the bonsai exhibition upon entry and head directly to the sales area. Nearly anything you need or want for bonsai creation, training or appreciation can be found here, except for collected trees. A few items are quite inexpensive, but most are on the higher end because many Japanese spend more than foreigners on their hobby. Inside the sales area you can find a good size quick eating corner where hot food, sandwiches and bento boxes can be inexpensively purchased and enjoyed there. Near the entrance to the sales area a TV was playing a great video on shohin bonsai. Once inside a layout sign with the names of the 50 plus vendors are listed so you can find what you are looking for.

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AWARDS

An area was set up for short demos and even workshops. Guided tours of the exhibition will be held on Sunday. The demo area was rearranged later on Saturday for the award ceremony.

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Winter Flowering Jasmine

 

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Dwarf Star Jasmine

 

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Rough Bark Privet

 

SERISSA

Serissa!!

 

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White Spindle Tree

 

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Common Privet

 

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Crepe Myrtle

 

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During the set-up three photographers from Kinbon magazine were shooting all the bonsai for the commemorative photo album which will be published in spring. Each composition was carefully placed on the photo stage and checked with snapshots for exact placement. The commemorative album will be published in a few months.

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Even show chairman, Koji Hiramatsu, helped watering

Like all Japanese bonsai exhibitions, the Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition did not disappointed and I was very impressed with the organization, layout and how the professionals staffed the event. Plus, and more importantly, the small size jewels of this Japanese bonsai art were exquisite and beautifully displayed for visitors to appreciate and study. Tomorrow morning we will be rushing to Nagoya for another large bonsai exhibition.

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2020 45th Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition– Part 2

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Special Displays

There are several special display in this year’s Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition. It was interesting to view the special display of Registered Important Masterpiece containers, all in clear plexi glass boxes. Matt Ouwinga from Maryland had four of his rare and antique pots displayed.

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The 15th bonsai container completion was also held. The beautiful containers, most of these containers are too fancy to use in my opinion because they draw the viewer’s eye before the bonsai and are distracting. However, like most people who grow bonsai, I too, collect containers for their beauty and unique qualities. I even have a pink container with feet looking like a duck. Yes, it came from Tokoname. And today I even saw two shohin bonsai containers bright gold, looking like the precious metal. They were under two inches in size and over $300 each. By the way, $300 for a small shohin container is not unusual here. Three tall hand carved root stands were also displayed here too. But, like most of the containers, looked too ornate for displaying bonsai. Some even had monkeys carved into the “roots.”

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POTS

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The 6th World Shohin Bonsai Photo Award contest displayed 11 photos of bonsai submitted by foreigners.

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A developmental displayed featured ten small bonsai in training with multiple old photos showing how they were trained. It was quite interesting to see how the artists used their techniques to create great bonsai. Quite an educational display.

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Another special display featured a curated fine-quality small bonsai and containers for sale by the professional Shohin Bonsai Association. They were against a black background on black boxes quite dramatic.

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Sargent Juniper $12,000

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Chinese Quince $6,500

QUINCE

Chojubai Japanese Flowering Quince $3,500

 

SHISHIGASHIRA

Shishigashira Japanese Maple $6,800

 

BLACK PINE

Japanese Black Pine $6,500

Each individual small bonsai was beautifully displayed and prepared for this, the highest level shohin bonsai exhibition.

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2020 45th Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition– Part 1

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This morning the 45th Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition opened in Kyoto, Japan. This is the highest-level exhibition to show small size bonsai. Although a shohin bonsai exhibition, there were quite a few mame bonsai compositions as well as chuhin (medium) size bonsai. I have been fortunate to have visited and study this exhibition 40 years ago! At that time it was in a large two-story brick building with poor lighting. The current building, Miyako Messe is a modern building with superb lighting, which, unfortunately is a major cost for the organization.

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There are 118 exhibit areas full of mame, shohin and chuhin size bonsai compositions. There are 535 individual bonsai in this show. I actually counted each tree, not counting accessory plantings. Most were three-point displays, however there were a great number of box stand display tables exhibited. A couple only featured one small bonsai. There were six special display areas, some with larger bonsai and a long wall had eleven photo entries from foreign countries. Six displays only featured fine-quality containers by the ceramic artists, including Gyozan (Yukizyou Nakano.)

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The 15th bonsai container competition included entries from France, Germany, Australia as well as the United States by Stacy Allen Muse and Roy Minarai. All the containers were beautiful and some were quite unique in shape as well as glazes. One of my favorite containers in the competition was a red container featuring a floral applique by Roy Minarai from South Carolina. I was at the set-up and judging and carefully looked at all the containers. Roy’s beautiful container had the top left of one flower petal broken off! I immediately phoned and facetimed Roy to show him the flaw. He was quite disappointed and I offered to darken the light-colored area with a black magic marker to disguise the break. Roy watched me from South Carolina as I painted the broken area. A couple of hours later as I was leaving the exhibition for the day I stopped to see his container. Someone found the broken flower petal and glued it back onto the container!

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I have learned that each individual bonsai exhibition in Japan has their own size categories. So sizes vary from show to show. Shohin bonsai are pretty standard at 20cm (8”.) I was surprised to learn the terms “Mame” and “Shito” are NOT used in this exhibition. Remember, the Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition is the largest and most prestigious small size exhibition in Japan. The term “Mini Bonsai” is used here, in two size categories. The display registration fee is $400 per composition.

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Koji Hiramatsu, chairman of this exhibition, provided the data below.

There are 15 different categories in the exhibition:

1 Box stand display table size over 71cm (28”)

2 Box stand display table size up to 70cm (27”)

3 Box stand display table up to 60cm (24”)

4 Box stand display table under 50cm (20”)

The above four categories include 6 or 7 trees

5 Display compositions with hanging scrolls

6 Mini size bonsai below 10cm (4”)

7 Mini size bonsai below 7cm (3”)

8 Club displays

9 Satsuki azaleas

10 Suiseki

11 Container displays

12 Kifu size bonsai 21- 35cm (8 – 14”)

13 Chuhin size bonsai 35-45cm (14 – 18”)

14 Original display concepts

15 Literati style bonsai

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There were 35 different awards, with the Prime Minister’s Award being the top prize.

 

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More information will be provided in a future blog. There is quite a bit of material to digest above.

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Shunka-en Bonsai Museum & Taisho-en Bonsai Garden

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Shunka-en Bonsai Museum

The Shunka-en Bonsai Museum of Kunio Kobayashi is always a special treat for our bonsai tours. Located in central Tokyo it is easy to find and visit. Here you can see superb developed masterpiece bonsai as well as many still in training, some in wooden boxes. But, perhaps this is the pinnacle where you can see fine quality bonsai formally displayed. There are about 12 individual alcoves, in formal, semi-formal and informal styles to study as well as displays in corners and an authentic working tea house. Tea masters often teach here because of the quiet atmosphere, beauty and workmanship of the buildings.

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One of Mr. Kobayashi’s former apprentice, Osama Fukudate, who now works for him recently won an award for his Sargent juniper bonsai at the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition, limited to professional bonsai artists.

 

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Kunio Kobayashi commonly travels the world sharing his techniques. In fact, he was teaching in China during our visit. His lovely wife and apprentices showed us around and welcomed us to their museum complex.

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Each of the three main alcoves were dramatically designed for our visit. A suiseki in the informal style, Japanese flowering apricot, ready to burst into bud in the semi-formal and a Japanese black pine in the formal alcove.

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Books, display tables, containers and suiseki were available for purchase, if you could afford them. As we strolled through the beautiful grounds it began to sprinkle, then developed into a steady rain, indicating it was time to head on to our next stop in Shizuoka.

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CHOJUBAI

 

 

 

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Taisho-en Bonsai Garden

The bullet train took our small group to Shizuoka to visit Taisho-en Bonsai Garden on our way to Kyoto. Nobuichi Urushibata, long time famous and award-winning bonsai artist and professional ballroom dancer (award winning here too- and has a room filled with trophies) is the proprietor of a well-known bonsai garden who opens his doors to foreigners who seriously want to live and study bonsai in Japan for months. He was quite prominent in the shohin bonsai community, but has cut back his activities for health reasons. He is one of the top Japanese bonsai artists. He also is producing mame bonsai in addition to shohin bonsai.

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A mame size Trident maple for sale for only $300. Size has nothing to do with the quality or pricing.

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His son Taiga Urushibata is a younger bonsai artist who speaks English and travels around the world teaching. He apprenticed with Masahiko Kimura in Omiya for many years. It is common in Japan for a bonsai artist to send his son (have not heard of any daughters) to another professional artist for training, bringing new techniques into the established bonsai garden. Nobuichi Urushibata specializes in mame, shohin and chuhin size bonsai; while his son Taiga prefers larger, more dynamic evergreen bonsai. Well, that’s what his teacher, Mr. Kimura specializes in. It is important to realize that although a bonsai artist might specialize in a specific species or style, they are well experienced, knowledgeable and skilled in all species and bonsai styles.

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This unbelievable Japanese red pine trained by Taiga Urushibata recently won the coveted Prime Minister’s Award at the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition, the highest award for professional bonsai artists.

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PThere were a tremendous number of old collected juniper bonsai which were being grafted. Junipers with coarse foliage were being changed into cultivars with finer leaves. I found it surprising that even many Needle junipers were being grafted with Sargent juniper foliage. Every bonsai in this garden was beautiful and the love and nurturing of these two bonsai artists was shining in each specimen.

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A Visit To Saitama Prefecture

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Our first day of touring the Japanese bonsai world included Mr. Morimae, Mr. Kimura, Omiya Bonsai Art Museum and the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.

Seiji Morimae’s S-Cube business and Uchiku-tei Garden

Located about an hour north of Tokyo in Hanyu, Mr. Morimae has the largest collection of bonsai, suiseki, art and bonsai accessories available. His family and staff are most hospitable and always welcome our group of any size, from this tour with 5 participants to our record number of 42 several years ago. We normally get the opportunity to introduce the Japanese bonsai world to about 10-12 people.

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As soon as we got off our private mini-van, Mr. Morimae ran up and said, come I want to show you how we pot large size bonsai. We immediately followed him to the back of the nursey where a new fork lift was holding a large 200 year old Miyajima Japanese five-needle pine in the air while two apprentices were working the roots. The garden tree was growing in a pot for over 20 years when he obtained the tree. Now the old field soil was being removed and they were looking for a pot. They had a deep pot, but it was too small, so they searched and found a larger Chinese pot and brought it over in the back of a small truck. That pot was too large, really. So out came the pruning shears and they made the smaller deeper pot work. Very interesting!

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Mr. Morimae proceeded to show us around and told us about a recent auction he had on January 4th where he sold over 300 bonsai. All the professional bonsai artists were there including Mr. Kimura who purchased several trees. A Tsuyama Hinoki forest on a piece of wood was the most interesting and I’m sure he will create a masterpiece with it in the future. He mentioned that he was going to deliver them to Mr. Kimura at 2pm. We were going directly to Mr. Kimura’s after this visit and offered to take the tree to him, but there were too many to fit into our private mini-van.

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A special display for the New Year season was designed by Mr. Morimae. Everyone seemed to buy suiseki, tables and containers because of their high quality and great pricing.

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Mr. Morimae then brought out the February issue of Bonsai Sekai magazine (Bonsai World) which included a two-page cartoon of my November lecture on Yuji Yoshimura at the museum. I can’t read any of it, but the drawings are cute, despite of the subject. Trying to get it translated.

CARTOON PAGE 1

CARTOON PAGE 2

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Masahiko Kimura

We then traveled to Mr. Kimura’s garden where we saw his masterpiece bonsai, all manicured.

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The February issue of Kinbon magazine featured Mr. Kimura working a Japanese yew bonsai from a two meter size tree he was training in the ground. He removed the bark and hollowed the wood so he could coil the six-foot long trunk and fit it into a small pot. End result was almost two feet tall with a huge piece of dead wood. I asked to see it and he said it’s out back where visitors are not allowed. Suddenly he said, come with me, and we walked back through a larger section of his nursery where trees in training are worked on, out of the public eye. He has a huge poly house filled with masterpiece evergreens being prepared for the upcoming Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition next month. He must have had nearly 80 trees, all large size. In the rear of his poly house he had another small poly tent set up with the new Japanese yew where it is misted several times daily for intensive care.

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Last year I saw a really large Japanese yew he was working on, and I think I showed a photo of it in my blog when it took up an entire skid. The trunk was at least 3 feet in diameter. Kinbon did an article on the tree and it was featured in his one-man show at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum. Truly an impressive work of art. I asked to see it, but was too late, as it was already in China.

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Omiya Bonsai Art Museum

It is always a treat to see such fine quality bonsai formally displayed in special lighted boxes as well as in three different styles of alcove displays, plus in the stroll garden as well. Last November I had the honor to lecture here when the museum had a special exhibit featuring Yuji Yoshimura, who I studied with for 30 years. The exhibition album was just published a few weeks ago. The 40-page album is filled with historical photos of Mr. Yoshimura, some over 60 years old from my library. The English translation album will be published in March. It was wonderful to see the Japanese bonsai community finally realize the important life-long contribution Mr. Yoshimura made to expand bonsai around the world, now 60 years later.

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Omiya Bonsai Village

We next took a nice leisurely walk through the famous bonsai village stopping at Mansei-en, Seiko-en, Kyuka-en and finally at Fuyo-en where our private mini-van picked us up. During our stroll, it began to sprinkle and out driver found us and brought us each an umbrella, which I never opened, but used as a cane to avoid slipping on the wet rocks. My first of eight foot breaks was in Mansei-en over a decade ago.  All the trees were beautiful, especially the Japanese flowering apricot bonsai full of plump flower buds ready to burst, just in time for next month’s Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. Our driver was especially friendly and even made an unexpected stop to buy some Beard Pappa cream puffs for the ride back to our hotel in Tokyo. I bought 15 cream puffs, but they did not all make it back to the hotel. I just finished the last three with my Japanese sweet ice tea writing and editing the photos for this blog at 1 am.

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We all had a wonderful day and look forward to another week of bonsai and garden visits plus two major exhibitions.