We had a private morning visit to the Shunka-en Bonsai Museum of Kunio Kobayashi in the Edogawa area of Tokyo, Japan. Mr. Kobayashi has developed his museum to display many of his masterpiece bonsai in a garden setting as well as in formal alcoves. This is a most complete example of how bonsai can be enjoyed and appreciated in formal displays as well as illustrating the necessary outdoor environment for health and training.
In addition to having each bonsai in pristine condition, each specimen was matched to the perfect display table in size, color, design and quality. The accessories, antique containers, scrolls, as well as the display tables were all first class and of the highest quality, typical of the refinement Mr. Kobayashi enjoys and teaches.
Graduate apprentice Peter Warren from England returns back to his teacher for assistance during the busy exhibition season of Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. Now an established international bonsai artist, Peter is usually found teaching and maintaining collections in Europe as well as the United States. I see more of Peter than many bonsai friends in the United States. Normally Peter is working at the Ueno Green Club sales area of his friend, award winning artist Minoru Akiyama. However he remained at the Shunka-en Bonsai Museum so he could guide us around and explain details which most people would not even think of.
Minoru Akiyama was one of the senior apprentices of Kunio Kobayashi when Peter was studying there many years ago and a close friendship has developed. They often teach together in Europe and the United States. Mr. Akiyama is a second generation bonsai artist who’s father is well known and married of Mr. Kobayashi’s daughters. It is a common practice for one bonsai artist to send his son to another artist for training in order to add new techniques to an established garden.
During our visit Isao Fukita, another senior graduate apprentice of Mr. Kobayashi was watering bonsai, in the cold.
It was interesting to see slight changes at the Shunka-en Bonsai Museum because of the Chinese market. Larger Japanese black pines are now commonly seen being trained. Some bonsai are as large as me, which is not saying much. Additionally there is a new area of Japanese maples being trained, some in wooden boxes. Many of these maples have red leaves, I guess the Chinese like red foliage, because most Japanese artists prefer the common Japanese maple with solid green foliage. They are more vigorous too.
Of course there were loads of finely developed Satsuki azaleas, one of the specialties of Kunio Kobayashi, and here again, large old stumps were being trained in wooden boxes. It was interesting to see the winter color differences of the Satsuki azalea foliage, some green, others bronze while some cultivars were nearly bare of foliage. All the Satsuki azaleas were full of plump flower buds for late spring display. If you want to see this garden ablaze in color, consider joining our new tour in late May/early June when we will bring a small group to see Mr. Kobayashi’s prize winning Satsuki azaleas, as well as two exhibitions, Satsuki festival and private visit to Taisho-en Bonsai Garden in Shizuoka which specializes in shohin bonsai.
Most of the bonsai at the Shunka-en Bonsai Museum had a whitish coloring because of the recently applied dormant spray of lime sulfur. Remember, the primary purpose of lime super is not for dead wood preservation, but rather to protect plants from pests. Normally a heavy application of lime sulfur is given after the exhibition season, but because of the unusually cold weather it was given earlier. The bonsai still looked good. Of course, masterpieces in preparation for display were not sprayed and many were in locations under the roof eves for a bit more protection to the tender buds.
After a quick lunch several of us returned to the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition for another study period. It’s amazing what new discoveries can be learned each time a bonsai is seen. Details, details and more details are elements in refined classic bonsai and distinctive display. Of course, any trip is not complete without a stop at the Ueno Green Club.