An Early Spring Visit To Shunka-en Bonsai Museum

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Today I woke up to a cold, rainy day in Tokyo, not the best weather conditions to visit Kunio Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Museum. But I did not let a little rain stop me from taking a bus, train, subway and taxi to get to see his bonsai. I’ve visited gardens to see bonsai in the sun, rain, snow, ice, sleet, slush, mud and even in the remnants of a typhoon in Japan a couple of years ago. The rain stopped just before lunch, but it was still cold, 41F compared to the 90F I left in  Manila.

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Each time I visit this beautiful garden I see more and more bonsai, all beautiful and large and well maintained too. Last month during I my visit I saw a new rooftop addition holding mostly maple bonsai. Well, at the top of the stairs there is the foundation for another addition to the left side over another building. The reason for the additions is to make room for more bonsai. Mr. Kobayashi recently sold over 100 bonsai to Chinese collectors. And, we are not talking about $100 trees, several more zeros must be added to the prices.

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In the museum building the several alcoves featured flowering and early spring colorful bonsai, in addition to one Sargent juniper. The collective individual alcove displays actually create a well rounded bonsai exhibit.

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Satsuki bonsai are one of Mr. Kobayashi’s specialties and he has loads of masterpieces in addition to trees in development. Generally dead wood is not left on Satsuki bonsai because it is not long lasting and rots away. I noticed a “holy” tree created by drilling holes with a drill into the dead wood sections. The holes were made to accelerate the decaying process to remove the dead wood quicker and allow the living sections which spiral to be appreciated.

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Upon my arrival Mr. Kobayashi was transplanting a large Japanese black pine, just finishing up, so I thought. There was a large rock on the right of the trunk base to appear as though the tree was clasping a stone as the lower trunk and surface roots were lacking stability. The interesting section was highlighted, while the ugly part was being hidden. Mr. Kobayashi selected from several different stones to insert into the base on the left side of the trunk. After trying to chip away a section with a pliers he pulled out his electric die grinder to custom shape the stone. Then, before trying to fit the stone in the area desired he took a pneumatic air gun to clean the area. Finally a two-part epoxy putty was mixed by a student to activate the ingredients to become hard. The black and white colored sections were mixed until they were grey, then handed to Mr. Kobayashi. He pushed the epoxy into the areas then used a wooden mallet to push everything close together. After shaping with fingers a chopstick was used to texture the area to look more natural.

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When the tree was finally finished two young strong apprentices carried the bonsai outside to the area Mr. Kobayashi wanted to display the tree. Then, after the bonsai was leveled, Mr. Kobayashi changed his mind and his tree needed to be moved, again. Sound familiar? Finally the bonsai was placed on a stand surrounding the koi pond. After Mr. Kobayashi thoroughly watered the bonsai we all went inside to have lunch together.

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After a couple of more hours it was time for me to take a bus, taxi and shuttle bus to get back to the Narita airport for my final flight home. These active last few days in Japan, combined with my week in Manila were kind of tiring, but well worth the extra effort to share my bonsai knowledge, see long time friends, make new friends and to study some of the finest bonsai the Philippines and Japan has to offer. Now back home as I have a workshop tomorrow afternoon. No time for jet lag.35

 

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