Akihisa Saito, a new director of the Nippon Bonsai Association and his wife Harue have one of the finest and largest private bonsai collections in Japan. They have between 300 to 400 bonsai at their home in Okayama. Award winning bonsai artist Kenji Oshima, son of Mikio Oshima, from Okayama, is the curator of their collection.
Mr. Akihisa & Mrs. Harue Saito at their special display of Twisted trunk pomegranate bonsai at the 2017 Taikan Bonsai Exhibition. This bonsai received a Kokufu Bonsai Award in 2010.
Part of the Saito Bonsai Collection at their home. Gerald Rainville photo.
Each year they have a special large special display at the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition. The theme changes yearly and features masterpiece bonsai from their collection. It also has beautiful and colorful framed contemporary Japanese paper cuts figures between the bonsai. In the past their special display featured several masterpiece Hinoki cypress, Korean hornbeam, Japanese maple and Trident maples.
2012 display featuring Chinese quince bonsai
2013 display featuring Trident maple bonsai
Kenji Oshima with the 2013 display of Trident maple bonsai
2014 display featuring Hinoki cypress bonsai
Korean hornbeam from the 2015 display
2016 display featuring Japanese maple bonsai
2017 display featuring Twisted trunk pomegranate bonsai
During my trip to Takamatsu on Shikoku Island in September I had the opportunity to visit and demonstrate at the Kokubunji Bonsai Festival where I saw the Saito’s display of seven masterpiece bonsai. There I had the opportunity to meet Mr. & Mrs. Saito and asked what they were going to display at this year’s Taikan Bonsai Exhibition in Kyoto. He said Twisted trunk pomegranates and came through displaying seven large size bonsai.
September 2017 Saito Bonsai Collection display at Kokubunji Bonsai Festival
2010 Kokufu Bonsai Award Twisted pomegranate
September 2017 Twisted Pomegranate
November 2017 Twisted pomegranate
This year Mr. & Mrs. Saito won two Kokufu Bonsai Awards in the 2017 91st Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo. In total, they have seven Kokufu Bonsai Awards. In order to celebrate their two highest bonsai awards in Japan, Mr. & Mrs. Saito hosted a private party on Friday, after the judging of the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition in Kyoto. There were 36 invited guests to the party held in a beautiful large party house. A private car came to pick us up at the Taikan Ten Bonsai Exhibition and also returned us to our hotel after the event later in the evening.
2017 Kokufu Bosnai Award Japanese black pine
Their first Kokufu Bonsai Award this year was presented for a beautiful Japanese old and massive Japanese black pine. Kenji Oshima won the coveted Prime Minister Award for this bonsai in last year’s Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition which is limited to professional bonsai artists. Traditionally the top award winning bonsai from the Kokufu and Sakufu Bonsai Exhibitions are displayed in the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition as special display.
2010 Chinese quince bonsai
2017 Kokufu Bosnai Award Chinese quince, February
September 2017 Chinese quince bonsai
November 2017 Chinese quince bonsai
The award winning Chinese quince bonsai originally came from Korea many decades ago and ended up in Kyushu. He saw a photo of it in Kinbon magazine and wanted to add it to his bonsai collection. Unfortunately, the dealer who handled this bonsai did not want to work with him and the price was too high. Mr. Saito kept trying to buy the bonsai and finally was able to purchase the superb bonsai. The container is also quite special and rare. It’s an antique Chinese container approximately 200 years old. I have seen and enjoyed this container for years as it often appears in exhibitions. I thought the owner simply repotted the bonsai into the same container, but was incorrect. Mr. & Mrs. Saito own four identical containers and there are only six in the entire country of Japan. They have excellent taste in containers as well as bonsai.
I have never had the opportunity to attend such a party and felt honored to having been invited. A huge alcove displayed Mrs. Saito’s favorite Chinese quince bonsai along with a suiseki in the side alcove. After Mr. Saito welcomed his guests he made comments and spoke about the famous Chinese quince.
This year the Saitos displayed their Chinese quince in the special display of award winning bonsai. It was taken to the party house for display and returned in time for the exhibition opening. They also displayed their Kokufu Bonsai Award winning Twisted trunk bonsai in their special display. The Japanese black pine was not displayed this year because it was displayed last year in the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition of recent award winning bonsai.
In Mr. Saito’s opening and welcoming remarks, he introduced us to the Chinese quince’s poetic name “Hagoromo No Mai,” which means “Dance Of The Feather Mantle.” The celestial dance is one of the most famous Noh Plays about the legend of an angel who came to earth.
After Mr. Saito’s remarks a floor to ceiling curtain suddenly rose revealing three maiko and one geko entertainers and two musicians. I thought these four lovely ladies were geisha. We spoke with them and learned that the term geisha is used in the Tokyo area, while in Kyoto they are referred to as geiko. Maiko are young apprentices training to be geiko. They must be under 20 years old and use their own hair, use while geikos wear wigs. They performed twice and the geko had her beautiful robes changed on stage twice, from purple to white and finally orange. It was quite a sight to behold. Each time the robes had to be torn apart and are later resewn. It was quite a beautiful and rare experience for me.
Geiko with the Royal Family, Glenis Bebb (BCI President) and Lindsay Bebb (Chairman World Bonsai Friendship Federation)
Turnip with shell ladel
The multiple courses of beautiful began and as we enjoyed the delicious delicacies there were a few more short speeches. The three maiko and geiko circulated around the room chatting with all the guests serving liquid refreshments, anything one could wish for, except for McDonalds sweet tea. I had a beer, yes, me, then switched to orange juice.
Towards the end of the three hour meal and entertainment came a huge turnip for each guest, which was split and the center was consumed. Finally, a delicious ripe melon was served.
Mr. & Mrs. Saito love and enjoy Japanese culture and like to share and introduce it to others. Their celebration party was a wonderful evening which I will never forget and appreciate the generous hospitality of the Saitos who share their love and passion of bonsai.