Discover Shikoku! The Journey Within– Part 2




Yesterday we traveled in our large comfortable van from Kochi in southern Shikoku Island to Kagawa in the north. Even with the light, sometimes heavy rain the drive was beautiful going through mountain passes and in many tunnels. Mist was rising from the mountains and some spectacular views of waterfalls and native trees were enjoyed.

The City of Takamatsu is the capital of Kagawa Prefecture and home to the largest bonsai pine production in Japan. According to 2014 figures, 219 bonsai nurseries shipped 75,000 bonsai valued at approximately US $2,400,000. There are two major production areas, Kinishi Bonsai Village and Kokubunji Bonsai Village. Each has their own bonsai festival in April and October, this weekend and I’ll report on them in the next blog entry.


Kandaka Shoju-en Bonsai Nursery

This is one of the oldest and most respected bonsai nurseries on Shikoku Island and now operated by fifth generation bonsai artist Keiji Kandaka. His father, forth generation is now 84 years old and still working, while the sixth generation son and grandson is also working in the nursery.


Keiji Kandaka


This is the season to remove old needles


Mr. Kandaka’s father


Mr. Kandaka’s son– sixth generation of Kandaka Shoju-en Bonsai Nursery



I first visited Kandaka Shoju-en Bonsai Nursery in 1970, when all of us were younger. The main focal point of this garden is a huge, 200 year old trained Japanese black pine garden tree, not bonsai. There are two main branches, each spreading about 25 feet in each direction, but trained horizontally, about one foot high. The trunk rises from the center and is quite powerful. I’ve been told Chinese buyers want this tree, but it would be impossible to ship.



I asked Mr. Kandaka about the origin of this container. He was not certain but said perhaps Shigaraki or Tokoname-ware.





Duplicate State.jpg


Masterpiece famous bonsai are throughout the nursery and there are thousands of smaller commercial quality bonsai, many which would be show worthy “masterwork” bonsai in the United states. I saw a few interesting cascade Sargent juniper bonsai trained with three main trunks, but it was raining and difficult to properly photograph. Even with Photoshop they will be hard to correct. But, I’ll try later in my spare time, IF I ever get any.


Kokubunji Bonsai Center

The approximately 20 bonsai nurseries in Kokubunji formed a cooperative sales area, open to the public where each nursery offers their trees for sale.





6P4A4323.jpg6P4A4300.jpgWhile we were there Hiroyoshi Yamaji, second generation bonsai grower pulled in with two trucks to pick up trees for sale at the festival tomorrow. He was accompanied by his wife and son, who is now an apprentice with Minoru Akiyama. He returned home to help the family business during this important event. Sound familiar? Loving wife and sons returning home to help. The bonsai industry, both in Japan and the United States is still considered to be a “cottage industry” dependent on family support.



Most of the bonsai were pines, of course, but there was a smaller are under shade cloth for deciduous, small and azalea bonsai.






Bonsai Shrine

This was the first time I’ve visited the Bonsai Shrine. See, I have not seen everything yet, but enjoying trying. The shrine dedicated to the God of plants, trees and flowers. It is high up on a steep hill and when arriving, you must walk down slippery metal steps only to go back up on steep concrete steps. They were slippery, especially in the rain and I’m proud to say I got up AND down again on my own two feet, which have been broken six times, first time broken in Omiya Bonsai Village.



Next to the Bonsai Shrine there is a huge stone commemorating the significant contributions of the Suezawa family to the bonsai production area. I remember a Mr. Suezawa about 30 years ago and he was over 80 years old at that time. He owned “Suezawa Heights” as well as many good pine bonsai. When I went shopping, he wanted cash in hand before I selected bonsai. I said OK, but need plastic bags. He stopped, thinked, then rode his bicycle down, and back up the mountain with bags so he could make a sale.


Konishi Shoraku-en Bosnai Nursery

Operated by Yukihiko Konishi, this nursery produces pine bonsai as well as brokering large trained garden trees for sale to the Chinese market. His son produces blueberries under shade cloth to protect the delicious fruit from hungry birds.







6P4A4358.jpgMr. Konishi was recently awarded a government sash award medal for his contributions to bonsai. He is also active in ASPAC (Asia Pacific Bonsai & Suiseki Association) and the (WBFF) World Bonsai Friendship Federation where he is a consultant, like me to help the organization. In 2011, he was the chairman for the successful and well attended ASPAC Convention in Takamatsu. He is one of the prime leaders of Japanese bonsai and I frequently see him around the world at bonsai conventions and exhibitions. I’ll be with him in a couple of weeks in Taiwan.





He showed us a new Japanese black pine seedling introduction he is propagating. It’s an unnamed selection which has short needles, but are quite attractive because of their angled character.


Mr. Konishi has many fields and he showed us how Miyajima Japanese Five-needle Pine are produced. Young Japanese black pines are used as understock to produce good roots. They are tightly wired and developed in the ground. The wire is NOT removed, but rather bites into the trunk and swells into interesting forms. In a few years the wire scars disappear.



The Nishiki (Cork bark) Japanese black pine develops bark into “wings” and adds to create an interesting heavy trunk. By the way, this bark characteristic is can also be seen on Japanese red and Japanese five-needle pines, as well as a few deciduous species. The pines are mostly grafted, but there are a few cultivars which will root. Although the bark is disnctive and adds impact to the bonsai design, it is not easy to produce a bonsai with a thick lower trunk to create taper. Usually the lower trunks are thin and do not appear to be attractive. However, with skill, some propagators can produce low grafts where the bark seems to roll over presenting a thick lower trunk with taper. The Nishiki Japanese black pine was once popular and quite expensive, but was over produced and not widely grown here now. In the past decades, I’ve seen fields of beautiful developed Nishiki Japanese black pines, plowed down to make room for other varieties which have value.


A good graft


_P4A4315.jpgA poor graft




I saw an interesting Nishiki (Cork bark) Japanese black pine in Mr. Konishi’s display area. The bonsai had a different character than others I’ve seen and studied. I know there is a cultivar with only develops the winged bark on branches, rather than the trunk. However, Mr. Konishi explained that this bonsai was collected from a nearby mountain 50 years ago and is not grafted, even though it looks like it. He told me that it had thick bark which was quite heavy and fell off, only leaving the winged bark on the branches. I suggested super glue…..


BoPoster for the Kinishi Bonsai & Garden Tree Festival. YES, I know what the

Watch for my article in a future issue of International BONSAI, and visit Discover Shikoku!