During Part 1 of the 90th 2016 Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition four bonsai received a Kokufu Award, the highest award presented in Japan for distinctive quality bonsai. Among the winners was an unusual Trident maple, root-over-rock style. The upright shape of this stone is distinctive and unusual and I know I’ve seen an old photo of the bonsai. While looking through my bonsai reference library I found a photo of the same bonsai taken in 1965 from an old book. It’s important to remember that probably 30 years were spent to get the bonsai to the stage of development shown in 1965. Fine bonsai require time, as well as technical skill and taste to develop into masterpieces.
Comparing the two bonsai the twig development in the past 50 years is outstanding. The fine delicate twigs completed the triangular silhouette established with a few branches in 1965. However, more amazing to me is that the artists were able to maintain this Trident maple bonsai in the same size for 50 years. Trident maples are perhaps the most vigorous maple species used for bonsai. They can grow quickly, even for me in the frigid north were they are not winter hardy. In a container I can grow a Trident maple branch to about six feet in one season. This means that the trunk and twigs quickly develop and thicken. Very often Trident maple bonsai trained in the root-over-rock style rapidly thicken and completely cover the stone with their thickening roots. By the way, when the “roots” reach the soil the upper parts act as trunks, while the sections under the soil are the absorbing roots which keep the tree alive.
Tremendous care was provided to this beautiful Trident maple bonsai and I admire the decades of training, probably from several different artists, to develop such a fine specimen. I also congratulate the owner for the Kokufu Award, however the bonsai received the award. I could sit and admire this bonsai for hours and would if I had the time and opportunity.
Fine quality like this outstanding Trident maple bonsai require decades to fully develop, along with the technical skill and taste to maintain health and bonsai beauty.
Last week I saw a familiar Tohoku Sargent juniper at Kunio Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Garden in Tokyo. I know I have an older photo, but can’t easily find it now. But, even better I found two old photos of the bonsai in my reference library. There are two very similar Tohoku Sargent junipers in his collection. As mentioned in my blog, these two specimens have coarse foliage because they are from the Northern Tokohu region. The foliage looks like Prostrata junipers common in California for landscape use and bonsai training. Since Sargent junipers from this region have coarse foliage larger size bonsai are usually seen, not smaller size because the foliage would not be in scale. This also applies to other species such as San Jose junipers, which are best trained into large size bonsai. Smaller size Sargent juniper bonsai are often trained with Itoigawa Sargent junipers which have a finer texture and are brighter green. This variety is highly prized for bonsai training and many of the beautiful Sargent juniper bonsai in Japan have been completely reworked. All branches have been grafted on to old, and old appearing, trunks, of course in the exact desired position.
This photo of the Tohoku Sargent juniper bonsai was taken in 2010 when Seiji Morimae offered it for sale in his S-Cube WABI catalog No. 17. The asking price at that time was ¥10,000,000 which is approximately just under $100,000.
This photo of the Tohoku Sargent juniper was taken in 1968 from an old bonsai & Suiseki exhibition catalog honoring Shigeru Yoshida who was a former Prime Minister and first president of the Nippon Bonsai Association. He had an excellent bonsai collection which was cared for by one of the teachers I apprenticed with, Kyuzo Murata, Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya
This original post was sent while I was 39,000 feet above the Pacific flying home. Apparently there was a glitch and most of the posts were missing images. Hopefully this one will work correctly as I’m on the ground in the good old USA.
Kunio Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Museum is one of the highlights of each of our tours and my private visits to Tokyo. In fact, the museum is kind of near Narita Airport and I can easily make a short visit while traveling anywhere in Asia. In addition to beautiful masterpiece bonsai, the museum features 15 alcove display areas, which offers me the opportunity to study the displays of Mr. Kobayashi.
Each time we visit Shunka-en Bonsai Museum there are more and more bonsai, mostly larger impressive specimens for the Chinese market. In November the garden was overflowing again with bonsai and I thought Mr. Kobayashi could not possibly add any more trees. Wrong! He recently completed an upper growing area on top of the long building housing his display tables, suiseki and containers. This area is devoted to maple bonsai, while another upper growing area above his studio is full of pine bonsai.
Mr. Kobayashi has two large Sargent juniper bonsai, which have been around for a long time. They are not one of the more common Sargent juniper cultivars with fine delicate foliage, which are normally grafted to old trunks full of dead wood and mostly seen in exhibits. These two are from the Northern Tohoku region of Japan and have coarse foliage, similar to Prostrata junipers in California. They have been trained into large size bonsai so the heavy foliage will appear in proportion. Mr. Kobayashi has been busy and redesigned and pruned one of his specimens. The top area was stripped of foliage and additional dead wood areas have been created. It looks magnificent! It was kind of bushy in November when I last saw it, but did not photograph it at that time. However, I do have a photo of it before reshaping, but can’t seem to find it on my laptop, which has over 40,000 images so they are instantly available for programs. I recently upgraded my Mac OS operating system and needed to delete thousands of photos. Of course all my images are backed up at home on both DVDs and external hard drives.
I’m posting this last report from our tour on the way home 39,011 feet above the Pacific Ocean (or Canada,) traveling at 633 mph, its dark outside. United’s Wi-fi is GREAT, I can keep working, however I just took a six hour nap. I’m awake and ready to go again, but not anxious to return to -8F snowy weather in Rochester. Perhaps I should have stayed in Tokyo a few more days? I did think of that, but wanted to return home to spend, what is left of Valentines Day with Diane. And, I’m off again next week for my annual Southern teaching trip, then home again for five days before teaching in the Philippines. Guess where I change planes on the way home? So, I’ll be in Tokyo for another two days soon. It is also shipping season for our bare-root seedlings and pre-bonsai plus I need to continue working on the next issue of International BONSAI.
I hope you have enjoyed my photos and personal comments in these reports. Remember you too can join us and experience one of our exciting tours to Japan. Better photos will be in International BONSAI, and if you are not a subscriber, we can fix that by visiting www.internationalbonsai.com
After our visit with Mr. Morimae and Negishi we drove to see Masahiko Kimura. Although I’ve visited Mr. Kimura twice yearly for over 30 years, the beauty of his trees is always refreshing. However, during this visit I noticed a great number of new bonsai. I asked him how many new bonsai he had and he said “many” In a quick count there were at least a dozen. Now, twelve new trees might not seem like a great amount, however these were giant bonsai, two and three man trees, some with trunks wider than my waist. I wondered about this and then remembered the day before I saw several Kimura masterpiece bonsai at Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Museum in Tokyo. Upon inquiry in Tokyo, I was told all the trees in the one section were sold and will be soon shipped to China. So, I guess Mr. Kimura had to bring new bonsai from his private area behind his home to his front display area to fill empty spots.
Be on the watch for new rock plantings by Mr. Kimura
After a delicious luncheon at the Bonsai Restaurant operated by Maki and Yoshi Nakamizu we crossed the street to see the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum. During the winter season Japanese flowering apricot and deciduous bonsai are displayed in the large, open air garden. And there were no weeds anywhere. In fact it would be difficult to find any weeds in the Omiya Bonsai Village.
We first visited Mansei-en Bonsai Garden operated by Hatsuji Kato and his son Haruhiko, a fourth and fifth generation bonsai artist and dealer. The garden was packed with bonsai of all temperate species, suiseki and large size bonsai including a giant Silverberry.
We walked through the village stopping by Seiko-en Bonsai Garden and Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden on our way to the last stop of the day, Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden. Although Mr. Takeyama was not home but on his way from Tokyo, his wife and staff allowed us to take photos of the trees. The Japanese flowering apricot bonsai were nearly in full blossom and filled the air with spicy aroma. For the first time I noticed inexpensive new Chinese containers. They were not being used, but rather sat under the tables, perhaps ageing. This was a long day for our group, but we saw a lot of beautiful and distinctive bonsai.
During each one of our bonsai tours to Japan, an unexpected special event happens, mostly connected with Seiji Morimae. Well, this time we really had a unique visit.
Reception room at S-Cube featuring a bonsai from the Iwasaki Collection
We first visited Seiji Morimae and his S-Cube business. The garden is actually named Uchiku Tei which is a contraction of his teacher’s names. He has probably the largest selection of fine quality suiseki and bonsai for sale in Japan located in Hanyu, Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo and Omiya Bonsai Village. Mr. Morimae is the 18th generation of his family still in the garden/horticultural business over a 500 year period. As a renown authority of bonsai, suiseki and display, he has visited the United States many times teaching as well as in China where he is a professor of bonsai in a university. He also has a bonsai garden business in China as well.
We were warmly welcomed by both Mr. & Mrs. Morimae, as well as their lovely daughter who also works with them. The three of them are also welcoming hosts for the 3rd Japan Suiseki Exhibition in Tokyo, but they took time to greet us first, then rushed to the exhibition.
As always, there were a great number of suiseki, containers and other art items for sale. That’s in addition to the bonsai, which are unfortunately not easily imported into the United States. He is also shipping a great number to China.
Mr. Morimae arranged a special display of beautiful suiseki for sale in one of his buildings.
As we were boarding our private mini-van, he offered to have us taken for a short visit to one of his clients, Shoichiro Negishi, which is about a ten minute drive, but on the way to Omiya.
Mr. Negishi is a unique humble individual with impeccable taste, specializing in display and suiseki. He was one of the long time original students of Ichiu Katayama who established the Keido School of Display. His displays are often featured in Japanese bonsai magazines.
His alcove room is a duplicate of his teacher’s. Upon arrival both Mr. and Mrs. Negishi escorted us, past a tea ceremony alcove display into his large reception room. He designed a special seasonal display for us of a Japanese flowering apricot and wooden carving of an old man sleeping in the side alcove. He explained the reasoning of this special display and the calligraphy scroll.
But, on the side he had a small shelve unit with a superb small size suiseki which featured a Japanese flowering apricot tree and flying bird on the left side. His wife is a tea ceremony master and she made and served each of us the traditional frothy bitter green tea. Then Mr. Negishi changed the display and brought out another larger suiseki, also featuring Japanese flowering apricot blossoms. I asked Mr. Negishi how many suiseki he has and the quantity is in the thousands. He also quickly pointed out to me that he has over 1,600 hanging scrolls. What must be understood is the scrolls are museum quality and his suiseki are masterpieces.
On the way out he showed us his garden, which had a lovely pond full of colorful nishiki koi. All of a sudden Mr. Negishi brought out a large net. At first, I thought he was going to catch us a sushi lunch, but rather he was just nudging the fish to swim in the open so we could enjoy their colors. They were cold and hiding under a wooden shade raft. But, it is not unheard of for a host to catch and serve fish sashimi after they are admire. But not nishiki koi are not edible, I think.
Sorry for the delay in this second report, but I wanted to make certain the information presented here is correct and needed to check the official program for Part 1 of the exhibition. Thanks to Larry Ragle who with his wife, Nina, are on our tour. The tour, except for me, was fortunate to visit Part 1 and Larry took photos of the Kokufu Award winning bonsai so this report would be complete because I was unable to attend.
In Part 1 there were 4 Kokufu Awards (National Awards) presented. After the exhibits are finally arranged another select group of bonsai artists select outstanding bonsai for this coveted award, the highest award in Japan, and probably the world as well. In the United States we also have a National Award at the U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition. Once a bonsai receives the Kokufu Award, it is not eligible again to compete, but can be again displayed. Usually the price and value increase, but not always. A bonsai artist cannot encourage a client to purchase the bonsai from him in anticipation of winning, because they can’t. Oh, I just thought of something. I mentioned purchasing a bonsai from “him,” not “her”. I can’t think of a woman Japanese professional bonsai artist. Perhaps there are a few, but I have not seen them active in this exhibition. Interesting…
KOKUFU AWARD WINNERS PART 1
Shohin Bonsai Composition
In Part 2 five bonsai received a Kokufu Award. Although I missed attending Part 1, I was able to see photos of all the bonsai, but not the actual trees. There are differences between looking at photographs and actually appreciating the beauty and atmosphere of bonsai in person. Several professional Japanese bonsai artists mentioned to me that the trees were better in Part 2 than in Part 1, but both are considered to be the finest in Japan for that year. Some foreign visitors suggested that Part 1 was better, but that was probably a personal opinion, not that of a professional Japanese bonsai artist who is familiar with the overall picture of the entire exhibition and also of the judging selection process which took place a couple of weeks ago.
KOKUFU AWARD WINNERS PART 2
Japanese Flowering Apricot
I found it extremely interesting that a Chinese quince bonsai was selected from each part of the exhibition for the Kokufu Award. Images of both, next to each other are presented here so they can be evaluated. Both are probably seeding grown, first in the field, then completed and refined in a container. Obviously the first one with the fattest trunk was allowed to grow in the ground longer than the second tree. But I’m not certain it is the oldest. Both have been trained with different design feelings. The fat bonsai looks much younger to me and has had less training than the thinner trunk bonsai. The lack of a stable base with surface roots of the larger specimen does not suggest stability. Probably most westerners would prefer the fattest trunk bonsai? Although the beauty of bonsai is a personal view, there are certain basic design elements that are important in all bonsai and many people have decided to skip those and just create interesting bonsai that please them, which is fine on a personal level. I personally feel it IS a good thing that every one does not like the same design, as it would be boring to walk into an exhibition and see all formal upright style Japanese black pine bonsai. We need bonsai of all designs, and in many different styles, and species to present a well balanced bonsai exhibition.
After studying the bonsai, display compositions, companion plantings and display tables in the exhibition I went to the upper balcony over viewing the main gallery where the larger bonsai are displayed. Large size bonsai are also shown on the same floor, only in a smaller gallery with shorter ceiling. I got tired and needed to sit for a while. Looking at the overall room full of beautiful bonsai I noticed that there were mostly evergreens. So, I counted the trees in that one main display gallery. There were only 16 deciduous bonsai, while there were 58 evergreens.
Main gallery with large size bonsai, a sea of green beauty
Well, as long as I was at that level and did not need to climb any more stairs I counted the medium size bonsai in the mezzanine. There are also medium size bonsai in the next smaller room that normally have the shohin bonsai compositions. This count was much more time consuming because each display had one, two or three bonsai in a composition, depending on size. There were a total of 63 bonsai in that gallery and 36 were deciduous and 27 were evergreen.
Mezzanine gallery with medium size bonsai
Smaller room with medium and shohin bonsai
Approximately 20,000 people visited the 90th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition and I’m certain everyone enjoyed the beauty of the bonsai as much as I did. Check out future issues of International BONSAI for finer quality images
The 90th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is being held in two parts again this year in order to display more traditional Japanese bonsai to the world. Part 1 was held on February 5-8, 2016 and Part 2 on February 10-13, 2016, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo. On Tuesday, February 9th, all the bonsai are removed replaced with new trees. This exhibition was started in 1934 and was held twice a year in March and November for years. Count Matsudaira, who popularized shohin bonsai, was President of the Kokufu Bonsai Association who organized and sponsored the exhibition until 1964 when the organization dissolved and reorganized as the Nippon Bonsai Association. Today the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is organized and run by the Nippon Bonsai Association, but sponsored by the City of Tokyo, Ministry of Education and NHK TV.
To many, including me, this is the highest level quality bonsai in the world, while many others enjoy the more naturalistic forms often seen outside Japan where they are more popular. Both Parts 1 and 2 each had 181 display areas, however there are a great number medium size bonsai which usually include two or more trees. In Part 2 there were only four shohin bonsai compositions which each had more than five specimens. So there are actually approximately 250 individual bonsai on display.
Seika Dwarf Hinoki Cypress
Because of teaching obligations at the California Shohin Seminar I was unable to attend Part 1 and it really bothered me to miss and not have the opportunity to study a couple of hundred beautiful bonsai. But one of my friends photographed many of those trees and I will have a complete report soon. This year, for the first time in modern history, photographs are allowed, but without flash. You should have seen all the cell phones snapping away as well as with larger cameras. While teaching in California I saw most of the exhibition on FaceBook where one individual posted over 200 photos alone. It was only a couple of years ago when I was limited to taking about a dozen photos for International BONSAI. I did not find the numerous photographers distracting, but remember a few years ago when visitors complained to the Nippon Bonsai Association that the click of cameras bothered their appreciation of the bonsai.
Hinoki Cypress from the Imperial Bonsai Collection
Koto Hime Japanese Maple
Many bonsai professionals have told me that the quality of bonsai in Part 2 were better than in Part 1. Enjoy the photos here and remember finer quality photos will be in future issues of International BONSAI after they are professionally corrected and adjusted. The prize winning bonsai will also be shown here in a day or two, as I was not able to photograph all the trees because of the great number of visitors.
The 3rd Japan Suiseki Exhibition is being held on February 9-13, 2016 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan. It is in the same building as the Kikuyu Bonsai Exhibition on the 4th floor. The opening ceremony was held on Tuesday, the day between Part 1 and Part 2 of the bonsai exhibition when they remove over 200 trees and reset the show with another 200 plus trees.
The Nippon Suiseki Association, sponsor of the event is guided by Kunio Kobayashi and Seiji Morimae. They are primarily responsible for the exhibition and their families and staff set it up, host and clean as well. A large job, but the passion these two fine gentlemen have for the promotion of suiseki, and bonsai too, is unequaled in Japan.
This year there were approximately 133 suiseki on display from Japanese exhibitors and 24 from foreign exhibitors, plus 10 historic and beautiful water basins and display tables. Included were also 25 large size alcove displays, featuring stones combined with scrolls. Unfortunately, the museum does not permit companion plants in this gallery.
I was amazed at the quality of the stones, of course, but also at the “perfect” display table for each display. Although I’m always surprised at the vast amount of new bonsai on display at the yearly Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions, it seems like there are even more suiseki. Both bonsai and suiseki grow wild in Japan, you know. But what is even more remarkable is that all the stones are not newly collected. They all have patina and age, which is difficult to fake. Several of the historic special display stones were collected and have been appreciated for well over 100 years. They were not just picked up from a mountain, water stream or behind a Wal-Mart.
The main special displays were labeled “Bonseki” because they are antiques and that is the old and original term used to designate scenic stones. Additionally, there were two guest displays from the Hosokawa School of Bonseki, one of the oldest schools still teaching the art of arranging stones with sand on flat black trays.
Two display tables made of bamboo interested me so I photographed a few details. Its unbelievable how much work goes into the design and construction of display tables. Of course, many of these display tables can cost more than a car in the United States.
Exhibitors from the following countries shared their suiseki: Italy, Malaysia, England, Germany, Switzerland, China, Denmark, Philippines and the United States.
There was one unique small stone, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. It was, of course, displayed in a glass case for security, but my photo came out well. It was displayed by Yvonne Graubaek from Denmark and was labeled as a bonseki because of its old age, probably from the Edo Period. This stone has a most interesting story. Yvonne purchased (actually stole) her stone on E-bay, a couple of years ago for only $200! She was just looking at the stone offerings and spotted this gem. Twelve people were lurking watching the price for a long time. She recognized the value and “bought it now.” And, I’m glad she did because she will appreciate its beauty, plus I have the opportunity to see it too. The bonsai is in two pieces, the stone that looks like Mt. Fuji and the base, or daiza which is carved from wood and colored. The blue waves were added. The flat display table is also part of the carved daiza. When I get home I’ll start looking at E-bay…..
Mr. Morimae insisted that I have my photo taken with the President of the Nippon Suiseki Association and Mr. Babba, a noted collector of Kamogawa stones from Kyoto. He has hundreds of high quality suiseki in his collection and always has a large special display at the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition held in Kyoto.
This year I displayed one of my suiseki, which was collected in Ontario, Canada. At home it is normally displayed in a water basin. My friend Bob Blankfield hand carved a wooden daiza for the suiseki last month, specifically for this exhibition. I was kind of afraid to send my bronze basin because it might get lost. I was completely surprised to see it displayed in a bronze basin supplied by Mr. Morimae or Kobayashi, along with the elegant display table. The length of the bronze water basin, with the sand suggests a much wider view than displaying it in the daiza.
Enjoy the suiseki photos.
Bonsai porn photos begin tomorrow when Part 2 of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition opens.