A Visit To Shinji Suzuki’s Bonsai Garden

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Heavy snow continues to fall in Tokyo on Saturday, it’s one of the biggest storms I’ve experienced in Japan. This would be just an ordinary snowfall for Rochester, NY, where nothing would be closed and school would go on as normal.

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At breakfast I saw Michael Hagedorn with some of his students who were on their way to Obuse, near Nagano to visit Shinji Suzuki’s garden. Michael studied there about seven years ago and is returning for a few days. Mr. Suzuki is in Tokyo setting up the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition Part 2 and the new Japan Suiseki Exhibition. Since I’ve never visited Mr. Suzuki’s garden, Marc Arpag and I immediately changed our plans and joined Michael’s group. Everyone stayed in Obuse for a few days, but Marc and I returned to Tokyo a couple of hours later.

Obuse is a few hours from Tokyo in normal weather. But this snowstorm made the trip up a bit longer, and the return to Tokyo took an extra three hours. When we got back to Ueno Station we needed to wait 30 minutes before we could catch a taxi.

Mr. Suzuki’s garden is beautiful (even in the snow) and immaculate. You could eat off the floors. Everything was pristine and orderly. All the containers were straight on the benches parallel with the edge of the board. Even the carpets and tarps on the floor in the repotting greenhouse were precise. Well, not many people are aware of these small things, but small details are what distinguishes a true master. I believe surroundings are a direct reflection of an artist’s work and personality. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and Mr. Suzuki’s garden did a superb job impressing Marc and me.

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In the entrance way to Mr. Suzuki’s garden were two large historic Japanese red pine bonsai under shelter. These bonsai are from the Tokugawa era and have been container grown for over 250 years, perhaps even 300. They are some of the oldest bonsai in Japan.

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The reception room had a large tokonoma alcove with a beautiful multiple trunk Japanese maple bonsai. Also displayed in the room were a Sargent juniper and Japanese flowering apricot bonsai. Thus, an evergreen, deciduous and flowering bonsai were on display, and each of a different style. A truly distinctive display to welcome visitors. The room had a small heater which was appreciated because it was freezing outside. Remember, I don’t like snow and cold weather and personally go dormant at 70F.

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Tyler Sherrod, one of Mr. Suzuki’s apprentices from North Carolina gave us a private tour of all areas including several greenhouses, repotting greenhouse, container room and an entire building storing display tables.

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The finest containers and display tables were tied for protection in case an earthquake strikes. I even noticed several of the growing benches had cables anchoring them to the ground.

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Mr. Suzuki was in Tokyo setting up the exhibits and had his other American apprentice Matt Reel, from Oregon, with him to help so they were not in Obuse during our visit. Matt Real recently completed a Sargent juniper bonsai restyle which was photographed for Kinbon magazine.

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Tyler Sherrod showed us an unusual clinging-to-a-rock style Japanese five-needle pine bonsai which was entered in the Japan Bonsai Creator’s Exhibition and won an award.

Most of the bonsai were large evergreens, however deciduous species were also present. I even noticed an Enkianthus (Pearl bush) and deciduous azalea bonsai, as well as numerous Chojubai Japanese flowering quince bonsai.

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It was interesting to see one building full of display tables all behind curtains to protect the wood from strong light. They were grouped by size and style. All the tall cascade tables were in one area, next to the root stand section.

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After our visit Marc and I took a taxi back to Obuse Station where we took a local train to Nagano where we immediately boarded the bullet train bound to Uneo. But, we sat on the train for about 90 minutes before it even moved and when it did, it was slower than normal because of the heavy snow. Obuse looked to have about 12 inches of snow, while Tokyo only got about 10 inches, but it’s still coming down hard and blowing snow too.

As mentioned before, God seems to be looking out for our tour, and it was a blessing to have switched our visit to Mr. Kimura, Omiya Bonsai Village and Mr. Morimae’s S-Cube garden from Saturday to Friday. The heavy wet blowing snow would have made for a memorable visit, but not the good kind. I have yet to see a snow plow, but did see one snow blower in Nagano. Businesses in Tokyo were closing early and moving snow with dustpans and brooms. The ground was slippery, but I was careful and did not break my foot for the seventh time. I’ve already broken one foot in Japan six years ago, that’s enough.

Other members of our tour returned to the Ueno Green Club sales area where all of the bonsai for sale in the outdoor areas were completely covered with snow. I did not see any customers in the photos I was shown.

Considering the cold weather and blowing heavy snow with travel delays, our 10 hour trip to Mr. Suzuki’s bonsai garden was well worth the extra time and difficult traveling conditions. I look forward to sharing the beauty of Mr. Suzuki’s garden and artistry with friends in our future bonsai tours.

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4 thoughts on “A Visit To Shinji Suzuki’s Bonsai Garden

  1. Dear Bill:

    You guys are really hardy pioneers for putting up with the less than idea weather. The pictures are great and the narration superb. Thanks again.

    The temp in Rochester is now 13F and the sun is trying to peek out. We had little or no new snow overnight.

    Have Mark and Ron spent all of their money yet? I bet they will have some good stories to tell when they get home.

    Best wishes to you and all of the other Eskimos.

    Rick Marriott

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