2016 Autumn Japan Bonsai Exploration– Part 3

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Daiju-en Bonsai Garden in Okazaki, Japan, is one of the most famous bonsai gardens in Japan because of the historical contributions of the Suzuki family. Established by Saichi Suzuki in the early 1900s the garden continued with his son Toshinori’s leadership. Now son and grandson Toru Suzuki operates the garden.

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Saichi Suzuki is responsible for the introduction and developmental techniques for the Zuisho Japanese five-needle pine. He wrote a 32 series article, which I had translated for International BONSAI several decades ago. This article describes, in detail, how Zuisho was discovered, propagation methods and techniques Mr. Suzuki experimented with. Also information is shared on growing pine bonsai. Mr. Suzuki discovered many of the techniques for pine bonsai, now standard practice around the world.

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Japanese black pine created by Daichi Suzuki.

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He is also responsible for the introduction and popularization of the Princess persimmon. I remember seeing the “original” Princess persimmon Mr. Suzuki displayed at the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition in the early 1980s with my mother on one of my earlier trips to Japan. It truly was the hit of the show as nobody had seen anything like it before. This began the Princess persimmon boom in Japan. There are many species like this which became popular during the decades such as Dwarf stewartia, Hibiscus, Nishiki Japanese black pine and Zuisho, just to mention a few. Many are no longer cultivated in Japan and I remember, to my shock, seeing fields of two to three foot tall developed Nishiki Japanese black pine plowed under because they were no longer popular and valuable for sale. Too bad this species is prohibited to be imported to the United States. During one of my last visits with Saichi Suzuki he gave me a rooted cutting, the size of a chopstick of a little-known Wisteria cultivar which has blossoms SIX feet long. That’s even taller than me, but that’s not saying much. To date I’ve only been able to grow a single flower to 56 inches in length, but I’m still trying. Also the original cutting the size of a chopstick is now well over 12 inches in diameter in my main bonsai display area and puts on a spectacular show every other mid-May, depending on the winter.

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Toshinori Suzuki inherited Daiju-n Bonsai Garden after his father’s passing. He continued to refine the new growth trimming techniques for Japanese black pine which have been featured in several Japanese language books. He also liked Needle juniper and Japanese cryptomeria, two new growth labor intensive species. Toshinori Suzuki created many of the top masterpiece Needle juniper bonsai in Japan. Bonsai awards were abundantly won by both Saichi and Toshinori Suzuki. Mr. Suzuki’s first apprentice is Yasuo Mitsuya and Kenji Miyata. One of his last apprentices is Kenji Oshima from Okayama, now an award winning bonsai artist.

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Needle juniper created by Toshinori Suzuki.

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Award winning Chinese quince by Toshinori Suzuki. He won this award about 40 years ago.

Toru Suzuki, a leader of the current modern world, took over his father and grandfather’s legacy and continued to specialize in pine, juniper and Chinese quince bonsai. An interest and study of suiseki makes him an authority on this subject. He is on the list of authorized bonsai instructors of the Nippon Bonsai Association, and frequently travels around the world teaching and demonstrating bonsai. A few weeks ago he traveled to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington, DC, on the grounds of the US National Arboretum presenting a demonstration working on the Japanese black pine his grandfather donated to the US National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, now part of the original Japanese bonsai collection. The National Bonsai Foundation was formed to support the activities of the museum and additional information on Mr. Suzuki’s visit can be found at:

www.bonsai-nbf.org/celebrating-the-national-bonsai-penjing-museums-40th-anniversary/

Information on that site can also be found on joining this worthy organization to help support of the first public bonsai collections in the world and our nation’s only bonsai museum. The organization also has a Facebook presence– Bonsai Circle (National Bonsai Foundation) a free public group with many interesting article and photos:

www.facebook.com/groups/bonsaicircle/

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Japanese hawthorn

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Hardy Kiwi! Diane has one, but it does not look like this yet….

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Most professional bonsai artists in Japan make a significant amount of their yearly income by displaying their client’s bonsai in large exhibitions such as the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition, opening on Saturday in Kyoto and the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in February in Tokyo. Clients are required to have a “handler” to have their bonsai judged and accepted for display. Additionally, display tables, mossing, companion planting and perhaps an antique Chinese container rental may be necessary, as well as perhaps years of preparation. Usually this is performed at the bonsai artist’s garden, which can be quite expensive as well as the $500 to $1,000 entry fee. Don’t forget the transportation costs too, which can run up if one lives in western Osaka and the exhibition is in Tokyo, a good day’s drive away. I remember, many decades ago, in the height of the bonsai boom in Japan when Toshinori Suzuki took 14 truck loads of his client’s bonsai to the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition. Tomorrow Toru Suzuki will take, or rather the apprentices will take and carry 14 bonsai in three truck loads. Unfortunately, the popularity and times have changed in Japan BUT the commitment of the bonsai artists and quality and refinement of bonsai continues to rise.

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Mr. “Bonsai Crazy” on left answering questions. He speaks perfect English and is a popular bonsai teacher in the United States. Currently he is an apprentice to Toru Suzuki.

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One of the older building in the 6th century Temple complex.

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Head priest and bonsai collector Mr. Omura teaching before he welcomed us at lunch.

We continued on our private motor coach to the Shinpukuji Temple, also in Okazaki about an hour away. Julian Adams and I visited years ago which required $50 taxi cost, each way of course. Our timing today was perfect to partake in a special Buddhist luncheon, which was included with our tour. This year was different, however, as we did not need to sit on the floor as tables were added, as well as an English diagram of all the different goodies handed out before the meal. ALL of the cups, chopsticks, spoons, plates, dishes and tray were made of bamboo, harvested on the grounds of this temple complex from the sixth century. Most of the food items were bamboo also, all delicious.

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As we were finishing head priest Mr. Omura came to welcome us to Shinpukuji Temple and invited us “behind the scene” to his extensive bonsai collection of developing trees and those not at their peak display, such as Witchazel and other spring blossoming species. We then walked trough the tall and stately bamboo and Japanese cryptomeria forest to the temple’s museum.

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The main museumlevel has an entry alcove usually featuring a large chrysanthemum suiseki and seasonal bonsai. The bonsai of the day was a large Persimmon. The lower level museum houses priceless antique Buddhist art, as well as contemporary pieces.

Upstairs on the main level a row of bonsai featured autumn fruiting species, especially Princess persimmons, a favorite of Mr. Omura. An outside area had about two dozen larger bonsai of many species. Most of the bonsai came from the Daiju-en Bonsai Garden of the Suzuki family, including many antique bonsai from Saichi Suzuki. One of the most famous Needle juniper bonsai in Japan is owned by Mr. Omura. The other most famous Needle juniper bonsai was seed earlier at Daiju-en Bonsai Garden.

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Mr. Omura proudly showed us one of the bonsai which received one of the coveted Kokufu Sho Awards, highest level award in Japan at the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition three years ago. His bonsai was a medium size Japanese five-needle pine bonsai, grown from seed, not grafted. In the reception room I saw, for the first time, the actual award certificate for a Kokufu Show Award.

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Finally, Mr. Omura showed me his Chinese quince he plans on entering in next year’s 91st Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in February. I wish him luck and look forward to seeing his bonsai naked in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Gallery where the fine twigs and colorful unusual peeling bark can be appreciated. Of course it will a pleasure to greet him again in Tokyo as well.

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NO, I did not go up, nor down these steps to the main temple. My cane and knees don’t like steps……. We were driven up by a private car.

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