On Sunday we took the bullet train from Kyoto to Nagoya where our private tour bus was waiting. We first visited the Daiju-en Bonsai Garden of Toru Suzuki.
Daiju-en Bonsai Garden is famous and was established by Saichi Suzuki, Toru Suzuki’s grandfather who was a pine bonsai specialist. I had the good fortune to meet Saichi Suzuki a couple of decades ago and visit his small garden full of Japanese black and Japanese five-needle pines. He pioneered many of the standard bonsai techniques we use today. The well known Zuisho Japanese five-needle pine was introduced and the training and propagation techniques were perfected by Saichi Suzuki.
Toshinori Suzuki, Saichi Suzuki’s son, continued on with the bonsai garden. Toshinori Suzuki was also a pine and Needle juniper specialist and won many of the top awards in exhibitions. His first apprentice was Yasuo Mitsuya who is well known bonsai artist who has visited and taught in the United States.
Toru Suzuki, the present proprietor of Daiju-en Bonsai could not meet us for or visit because he is in charge of the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition which finishes on Monday and is still in Kyoto. His son-in-law welcomed our group, the first bonsai tour to see his garden and pointed out famous trees, answered questions and then led us to our next stop, the Shinpukuji Temple about 30 minutes away in Okazaki. The drive to the temple was up a winding road flanked with tall stands of bamboo, Hinoki cypress and some Cryptomeria as well, quite beautiful.
By the way, it’s now 5:30 am on Monday, the latest we have slept in since arriving in Japan last week. Julian said that I slept well last night and that I fell asleep working on my computer last night so made me go to bed. Back to my report–
Last year Julian Adams and I visited Shinpukuji Temple which has an impressive bonsai collection which is cared for by the Daiju-en Bonsai Garden “family”, graduate apprentices and a few “migrant workers,” which I’ll explain about later. The temple was built and rebuilt many times after fires and the present main building was built in the early 15th century and rebuilt after another fire 50 years later. Our group was the first bonsai tour that visited this small, excellent bonsai collection in a picturesque and beautiful setting, especially with the Japanese maples changing into their autumn splendor.
Shinpukuji Temple was established in the 6th century because of the legend of a sacred fountain which heals, especially eyes. They were selling different bottles of Holy Water, each for various parts of the body. The head priest, Mr. Omura, a bonsai collector, was finishing up chanting and talking to visitors, so I stayed a bit, it was Sunday after all and there was no Greek Orthodox Church in Okazaki a church is church and there is only one God. When the priest finished his service I asked which bottle of Holy Water heals feet. Rather than point me to the bottle which heals the general body, I was directed to a lucky charm with two golden feet. I asked him if that would guarantee that I would not break my foot for the seventh time and he said it will if I believe it. I also got a small golden ring with a rabbit because I was born in the year of the rabbit in the Oriental zodiac, perhaps that will heal as well.
There are many famous bonsai in the bonsai collection here, some which have received the top prizes in the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. A couple were even started by Saichi Suzuki too. Mr. Omura and his father, the former head priest, love bonsai and Princess persimmons. Behind the ancient main building was a new modern bonsai museum including a formal indoor display as well as small outdoor bonsai garden.
A few days ago at the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition I ran into Boon from California who was studying the bonsai with Mr. Omura. It just so happened that Boon was “working” on the Shinpukuji Temple Bonsai Collection. He often comes to help tend the bonsai because is former teacher was primarily in charge of the trees and he has been helping him for years. Boon often brings friends with him, thus the foreign migrant workers.
Boon met us in the display room and showed us around including a huge chrysanthemum stone which was presented to the temple by the Emperor of Japan. He also gave the temple a bonsai, but it was outside mixed in with other trees. Then Boon took us downstairs into another museum area which had ancient relics, all behind glass, except for large statues and a palladium for transporting royalty. There were famous bonsai containers, scrolls, paintings and parts of sacred Buddhist statues. Only the head remained and the back of the skull was missing, but filled with cotton and the pieces also displayed, kind of interesting.
Shinpukuji Temple is a popular tourist destination because of the healing magic fountain and so has a large restaurant. Boon mentioned that they once served 600 visitors, but not all at the same sitting. Our group had a Buddhist vegetarian bamboo cuisine lunch with Boon. Every piece of the several different serving dishes was made from bamboo growing nearby. Most of the delicious food was also bamboo as well.
After lunch Boon and Mr. Omura led us through the private area in back where the remaining bonsai were maintained. Trees not at their prime like Japanese flowering aprcots, Satsuki azaleas and other spring flowering bonsai were in that area, as well as others still in training. Boon pointed out a few of the trees he has been working on, some for more than ten years. There were many unusual deciduous species which especially interested me like a couple of rose bonsai, the largest in Japan.
Next we went to our hotel in Tokoname, and since it was still light, Kora arranged for a private visit to the kiln of Gyozan, the Number One potter of Japan. In the past, his containers started at US $20,000, but now has smaller size pots beginning around US$300. In addition to the traditional unglazed containers, Gyozan also makes unusual glazed containers. Some of the smaller pots featured lovely subtle paintings by his wife. When we arrived at the kiln the setting sun was bright enough to illuminate Gyozan’s bonsai collection, all in containers he made. By the time we left it was dark. Gyozan and his wife drove our group to our nearby hotel to rest for the evening before our last full day of our tour to visit and shop at the top kilns making bonsai containers.