Gone With The Wind in Japan…

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On my way to teaching at Robert Steven’s International Bonsai Biennial Convention in Indonesia I had the opportunity to spend three days in Japan studying bonsai. Normally when we visit Japan with our tours we do not see deciduous bonsai in leaf, so this was a special treat for me.

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A few days prior to my departure we were watching the progress of the deadly Super Typhoon Vongfong which was heading directly for Japan and traveling north through Tokyo. Although I’ve never experienced (nor do I want) a typhoon or hurricane it looked like it was my special time. The reports were not good and I was advised to skip Japan and fly directly to Indonesia. That would never happen. My scheduled flight from Chicago to Tokyo was delayed several hours, even before I left home so I changed my ticket to fly from Washington, DC to Tokyo rather than enjoy the flight delay in Chicago. It looked like I was “just” able to land in Tokyo before the typhoon was to hit Tokyo.

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Our smooth flight from Washington, DC to Tokyo was a few minutes early and we landed in a slight drizzle. The hotel had signs indicating the location of the typhoon and instructions if we got hit in the storm. Fortunately the typhoon changed its course away from Tokyo.

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The next morning greeted me with sunny, warm weather and clear skies- no clouds in sight. There was only a gentle breeze which felt good in the sun. I took a train from my hotel in Narita to the Ueno Green Club where the weekly auction for professional bonsai artists was taking place. The bonsai sold quickly, many for high prices.

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The bonsai were outside the building and were brought inside, one at a lime on a conveyer belt. Each tree was placed on a piece of plywood so it could easily be turned around for the bidders inspection. Small size and cascade style bonsai were placed on a short stools to be easily seen. There were many auctioneers, among the best were Isao Omachi and other younger bonsai artists. They carefully examined each tree and made many comments. In the front row were Mr. Kobayashi and Mr. Morimae. Mr. Kimura was in the back looking around and Mr. Suzuki was working in the front as well as Mr. Tanaka. Most of the well known bonsai artists in Japan were present buying, selling and often buying back items which did not sell for their anticipated prices. In addition to the bonsai were display tables and containers.

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It was interesting to see the bonsai outside before they were auctioned and afterwards when they were sold. There were some excellent bonsai sold and I’m certain many will soon become famous.

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An old bonsai from before World War II, Japanese five-needle pine

After a quick lunch with Mr. Morimae and Mr. Kobayashi I took another train to the Omiya Bonsai Village. By the time I arrived the wind had picked up and I noticed several smaller bonsai which had toppled over. The buildings at Mr. Takeyama’s Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden and Mr. Kato’s Mansei-en Bonsai Garden were full of bonsai being protected from high winds.

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I found it quite interesting to see which bonsai they protected, perhaps famous masterpieces or those belonging to clients. Whenever I visit Mr. Takeyama’s garden I enjoy seeing the famous Sargent juniper named “Dragon flying into the clouds”. However I did not immediately find it, until later on I noticed it inside being protected. Most of the bonsai gardens moved their smaller trees close together for some protection of the wind which was increasing throughout the afternoon.

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Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden

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Seiko-en Bonsai Garden

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New alcove at Mr. Yamada’s Seiko-en Bonsai Garden

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Pillar post of Japanese maple

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Omiya Bonsai Art Museum outdoor garden was closed

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Bonsai protected on the ground next to building

One of my main purposes for this visit was to see the special exhibit of bonsai from Mr. Murata’s Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, near by. Upon arrival they had a sign indicating the outdoor garden was closed because most of the bonsai were taken off their display tables and protected next to the building. Fortunately, Mr. Murata’s bonsai were in the inside gallery. No photos were allowed inside, but the exhibit featured an elegant cascade style Asparagus fern, Jade plant and an entire display of Acorus, or Japanese sweet flag. They also displayed a stately Hinoki cypress bonsai in the foyer which available for photographing.

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