2018 6thWinter Silhouette Bonsai Expo


The 6th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo was held on December 1-2, 2018 at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, North Carolina. This unique venue is an elegant building, marble lined with a four story atrium, the tallest south of Washington, DC, even taller than the state capital of Georgia. All six of these events have been sponsored and well organized by Steve Zeisel who wants to promote bonsai in the region. Everything is free, admission, bonsai entries and even the vendor fees. He only tries to break even with the event, and he does with the generous donations from the vendors and friends during a benefit auction.





I’ve been fortunate and honored to participate in all six of the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expos and have carefully studied all the bonsai, especially since I’ve been the judge for all of the shows. Each year the quality of the individual bonsai increases, but this year there was a tremendous leap ahead of all past shows. It was wonderful to see so much effort and creativity also put into the individual displays. None of the displays just included a lonely bonsai. They had accessories, companion plantings, other art, paintings, prints, scrolls and even a rusty old heater and bricks.



In fact, Steve added another award for the best display which was won by Tyler Sherrod with a Vine maple bonsai accompanied with a hanging scroll and small garden lantern.




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Although this is a “Winter Silhouette” exhibition, evergreens as well as fruiting and deciduous bonsai were tastefully displayed. Some of the evergreen bonsai were in their winter color which added another dimension to the show. It would be very boring to see only deciduous bonsai. There were approximately 70 bonsai on display from throughout the southeast, Pennsylvania and New York. Each was a treasured gem of the exhibitor and meticulously prepared for show, just like in Japan.


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There were four Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo lecture/demonstrations presented by Rodney Clemons (Georgia), Tyler Sherrod (North Carolina) assisted by Matt Reel, Owen Reich (Tennessee) and William N. Valavanis (New York) assisted by Sean Smith who also judged the show and presented an educational constructive critique of the bonsai and displays. Three rooms were filled to capacity with vendors offering anything you could imagine for bonsai creation and appreciation.






I’ve attended and participated in numerous bonsai events around the world, and the North Carolina Research Campus is the most elegant and beautiful venue I’ve seen, truly. I always enjoy displaying and supporting this worthwhile and important event for bonsai in the United States featuring bonsai in their naked glory. I personally think the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo is rapidly becoming an American version of the famous Japanese Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition held in Ueno Park, Tokyo,Japan.







I look forward to next year’s Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo on December 7-8, 2019. Enjoy my bonsai display photos of the event and the beautiful professional photos by Joe Noga. Additional high quality portrait photos will appear in a future issue of International BONSAI magazine.


If you can’t wait to see this beautiful venue, join us in June for the 2019 2ndUS National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition.


2018 38th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition Part 4





I spent my fourth and last day of study at the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Ten. Each time I traveled through the exhibition new trees, companion plantings and display are discovered. After the exhibition and sushi, I return to my hotel to check the photos and adjust interesting images for digital viewng.







The crowds are large in the morning each day, then they die down after lunch time. Over 10,000 visitors are expected which is a bit larger than in the past exhibitions under the leadership of Shinji Suzuki, chairman for the event. There were several foreign tour groups from Germany, Italy and other European countries. Often they go through the exhibition then on to the sales area. But occasionally I’ve seen some foreigners actually studying the bonsai and photographing.











Each day I continue to take photos for this blog, my PowerPoint presentations and International BONSAI.Several bonsai I missed during the last four days were photographed today with my iPhone X Max. It’s a great camera, as you have seen.











As displayed.



I think this might make a better composition….



Although I’ve visited the sales area daily, today I spent a bit more time looking at the beautiful bonsai. Looking at all the great bonsai at bargain prices is teasing to Americans, because it’s extremely difficult to get the trees into our country.







Again I visited again with Gerald Rainville from the Vancouver, Canada area. Last week we saw him at work at Koji Hiramatsu’s nursery in Takamatsu where he has been studying for the past few weeks. He’s been wiring small shohin Japanese black pines. Mr. Hiramatsu first started Gerald with wiring older larger shohin pines with large trunks. Then he wired 60 smaller Japanese black pine bonsai. Perhaps he started with the older pines because they had already been wired and trained in years past. The new pines did not have much training and Gerald did the initial styling. Along with Gerald was Evan Marsh from Sydney, Australia helping customers and meeting new foreign visitors at Mr. Hiramatsu’s sales area.



Gerald Rainville wired 60 of these small Japanese black pine bonsai. Only two remain.





I hope you all enjoyed my trip to Japan through my blog as much as I enjoyed sharing the images and commentary with you. If you found the trip interesting, please consider joining Kora Dalager and me for our small size tour to visit the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition coming up in February. Send for a tour flyer or check out my website at:


We will of course, also lead another tour to Japan next autumn to visit the 39thNippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition. And, next year the exhibition will not fall on the Thanksgiving holiday and people can join us exploring Japan and return home in time to spend the holiday with family and friends.


Tomorrow morning I return to reality, and the upcoming forecast blizzard in Chicago on my way home to Rochester, New York. Then I turn around and pack up on Tuesday and Wednesday so we can leave for the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo on Thursday. This exhibition is held in an elegant venue covered with marble walls and floors at the North Carolina Research Lab in Kannapolis, North Carolina on December 1-2, 2018. Consider attending this superb FREE exhibition featuring naked bonsai. Along with other bonsai artists I’ll be presenting a demonstration and critique on Sunday morning. My Saturday afternoon lecture/demo will explore cascade style bonsai with new photos from this tour. And, of course there will be three rooms with vendors offering their finest plants, containers and more, just in time for Xmas shopping. I hope to welcome you to the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo in Kannapolis, North Carolina, just outside Charlotte. Check out:



2018 38th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition Part 3




Bonsai artist Shinji Suzuki is chairman of this year’s Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition. I’ve attended about 30 of these exhibitions and this year, with Mr. Suzuki’s direction there are numerous changes. Some of the exhibition areas are much taller than normal. It looks like some of the rows are a bit longer because the space between the displays and side walls are much narrower.


Mr. Suzuki had two unique displays. His son Hiroyuki made tall, narrow, mysterious artificial rocks and planted them with small size Sargent junipers. The trees looked like they were hanging on to life on cliff edges. The main display was quite long and the title was “Back to the Source” featuring a moon in the background. There were numerous small lights highlighting the beautiful mountains. Perhaps Hiroyuki Suzuki learned how to create the artificial stones when he was an apprentice to Mr. Kimura.




Hiroyuki Suzuki


Additionally, Shinji Suzuki along with famous Chinese painter, Zhao Dun presented another display on the front side. Last year he displayed a powerful Sargent juniper in his display. Zhao Dun created a painting of the bonsai and a photo of the actual bonsai was hung below the painting. To the right three large artificial stones, also planted with Sargent juniper added to the effect. All that was missing was new age music. I have never seen such modern creativity in Japan. Personally, it reminded me of bonsai on display at a flower and garden show in the United States rather than a refined Japanese bonsai exhibition. I liked the two displays and spent some time contemplating their meaning. Go Team Suzuki!




Another new addition to was the large S-Cube Gallery of Seiji Morimae’s sales area in the exhibition area, in front of the vendor area. Mr. Morimae designed the display featuring seven alcoves complete with lighting. Five of the alcoves featured bonsai created by Masahiko Kimura and two with antique Chinese containers. Everything was well labeled, complete with prices, which were high end. Please note the small red tags which means sold.



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15.jpgThe exhibition opened at 9:00am on Friday morning. By 10:00am ALL of Mr. Kimura’s bonsai were sold. And by noon ALL of the Chinese bonsai containers were also sold. The least expensive bonsai was $18,000. One antique Chinese container was sold at $180,000. Some are destined for China. It appeared to me the expensive items sold while some less expensive bonsai, containers and display tables remained, but there are still two days of sales remaining.



Opposite the wall of seven alcoves were more bonsai, some huge and several collections of beautiful containers. There was a great large Japanese grey bark elm bonsai which was actually sold while Mr. Morimae’s team were setting up.




At the end of the S-Cube Gallery was a wall with smaller suiseki and display tables, not necessarily cheaper. On the back side of the wall was another sales area featuring smaller and less expensive bonsai. Directly on the floor, on blue carpet, many new large blue glazed were lighted and for sale. All sold. Check out the red sold tags. The number of individual red tags on a container indicate how many containers of each style were sold.





A lovely young woman was selling artificial bonsai she made at the end of the long sales area. They were very realistic and the designs appeared to be well trained bonsai. The trunks are made if clay, and were a bit expensive. But they don’t need to be watered, trimmed or cared for, only periodically dusted. Perfect for many people.

2018 38th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition Part 2


The exhibition officially opened after the ribbon cutting ceremony at 8:40am. Politicians, Japanese bonsai dignitaries, a Chinese penjing collector and American bonsai bonsai leader cut the red and white ribbon to allow a crowd of visitors entry to the exhibition.



The Prime Minister Award was presented to a Japanese black pine originally created by Mr. Kimura.




There were a great number of Japanese and foreign visitors on the opening day, and most foreigners went directly into the huge sales area to get the “good items” before others. I seriously doubt Japan would sell out. However, Mr. Morimae did sell out before noon, and that report tomorrow.

There were six special displays including a one man showing from Mr. Kobayashi and Mr. Suzuki, more details tomorrow on Mr. Suzuki and his son’s displays.



Mr. Saito’s display featured Rough bark Japanese maples




Mr. Funayama’s display featured Japanese five-needle pine from Shikoku, Nasu and Azama.




Mr. Kobayashi’s displayed some of his finest creations including a famous Chinese quince from the collection of Yasunari Kawabata, a Japanese novelist and Nobel Prize winner in literature.







The displays were superb as were the individual bonsai. They looked much better formally displayed. The common display area entry fee is $500, while the larger alcove like areas with purple bunting were $1,000. One of the special displays cost $10,000.



Enjoy, time for me to return to the show.


2018 38th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition Part 1


The 38thNippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition opens tomorrow, November 23 and runs through November 26, 2018 at the Miyako Messe Exhibition Hall in Kyoto, Japan. Shinji Suzuki is the chairman this year and the exhibition is special with several private displays. This is the 30thyear of the Heisei Period, the current era in Japan. In October 2019 Japan will be enthroning a new Emperor which means a new era will begin. Therefor this will be the last Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition in the Heisei Period. There are several new changes and the entire layout is a bit different, many with taller display areas. Quite a bit of advertising has been posted on Facebook and Mr. Suzuki has been writing a series of articles during the past month in a major Kyoto Newspaper.





I’ve been fortunate to have attended and studied nearly 30 of these exhibitions and have seen many changes through the decades. Usually I’m allowed to watch the judging of this major exhibition which I find fascinating and learn so much watching the judges inspect and evaluate the bonsai.



This year I was not allowed to watch the judging because I was invited to actually be one of the 15 judges for the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition. This is quite an honor for me being the first American to evaluate a Japanese bonsai exhibition and I feel very honored. I was not told until last Saturday when visiting Mr. Takeyama’s garden. Also, I was told to be at the Opening Ceremony tomorrow morning at 8:30. About 20 different awards were selected of the bonsai and suiseki. The judging took about an honor with a lot of walking back and forth evaluating the bonsai and suiseki. Today alone I walked 4.6 miles in the exhibition hall, yes even with a walking boot cast…. Nothing can hold me back when it comes to my bonsai passion.






In my first blog post for this tour I mentioned that I noticed a spectacular Japanese black pine in Mr. Kimura’s garden which was going to the exhibition. I did not photograph it because a better photo could be taken with a plain background in the exhibition. The bonsai looked like a winner to me, and it actually won the highest Prime Minister Award. Unfortunately, my photo did not process perfectly so I’ll try to photograph it again tomorrow.  By the way, nearly every photo in my blogs were taken with my new iPhone XS Max. With Joe Noga’s instruction through the years I’m slowly learning how to adjust the images, but can’t come close to working his magic. The blue, green, yellow, silver and black backgrounds are extremely difficult for photographing.



US $120,000.




US $18,000.

Seiji Morimae has a huge special display where he is selling masterpiece bonsai, containers, suiseki and other art, including several bonsai from Masahiko Kimura. I only had time to photograph a couple of the rock plantings and an award winning Japanese black pine. He already sold two of these large size bonsai before the exhibition even opened. They are destined for China.





More details from this special edition of the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition will be forthcoming. There are a great number of masterpiece bonsai and suiseki in the exhibition which will require me to spend the next four days of study here. By the way, the Japanese word “Taikan” means Grand View, and this exhibition is truly a grand view of the Japanese bonsai word.






A Toji Flea Market Experience

15Our group left Shikoku Island on the way to Kyoto on a train crossing the scenic Inland Sea which is dotted with many small islands. The weather was warm and sunny and the islands were quite picturesque. However, the bridge structure did not allow us to capture images without steel posts bisecting the views.


Of course, we had reserved seats, however we must have been in the kid’s clown car…. It was fun and colorful. There was only one other family group with a cute child, so we essentially had an entire private car. The kid was quiet too.








Once we arrived at the hotel we immediately departed for the Toji Flea Market, but not until I checked the sign which posted the ideal maple viewing times in the major garden temples. We timed it perfectly, as nearly every garden was “at peak.”


On the 21stof each month there is a huge flea market on the grounds of the Toji Temple which is quite near our hotel across the street from the Kyoto Train Station. This is a major event for Kyoto, like the famous cherry blossoms in April and colorful red maple leaves in November.


Everything you could imagine is there for sale: delicious food, antiques, not so old antiques, tools, clothing, bonsai, containers, art, scrolls, more clothing, jewelry and much more.


Japanese hospitality runs through the Toji Flea Market, everyone is friendly and helpful and much of the sample food is edible. The entire grounds are packed with sales stalls and they even flow on to the main streets at the several entrances.


The prices seemed to drop as the afternoon wore on and just like bonsai conventions in the United States, many vendors began to pack up early ready to exit at the 4pm close.



The Toji Temple is an active Buddhist place of worship and we saw several religious ceremonies were going on. A refreshing change from looking at small trees and gardens. But, we will get back to the serious activities tomorrow.






Visiting Kokubunji & Kinashi Bonsai Villages



The two pine bonsai production villages of Kokubunji and Kinashi have merged to be part of the city of Takamatsu on Shikoku Island, Japan. According to 2014 figures, 219 bonsai nurseries shipped 75,000 bonsai valued at approximately US $2,400,000. A great number of the pine bonsai in Japan originated from Takamatsu where pine bonsai are King.

Hiro Yamaji, 2ndgeneration bonsai grower is no stranger to the United States. He has presented numerous programs and also been the headliner for many bonsai conventions and symposia. Mr. Yamaji was one of the international judges and demonstrators at the 2014 4thUS National Bonsai Exhibition. I first met Hiro during my first trip to Japan in 1970 when I was studying with Kyuzo Murata in Omiya Bonsai Village. During his honeymoon Mr. Yamaji and his bride visited my home and we have been friends for over 45 years. He took time from his busy schedule to show our tour the bonsai production areas of Takamatsu.


Nakanishi Chinshoen Bonsai Garden

We first visited the Nakanishi Chinshoen Bonsai Garden of Yoichi Nakanishi, a 5thgeneration bonsai grower. His garden is neat and immaculate, you could eat off the clean raked gravel and stone pathways. He specializes in pines, especially the Kotobuki Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii‘Kotobuki.’ This popular cultivar has very short, dark green straight needles and prominent white vegetative buds. It originated as an unusual tree from a nearby mountain and was collected over 70 years ago.





This bonsai could be yours for US$88,000.


Most of the larger Kotobuki Japanese black pines have been created by grafting buds or branches on to well shaped trunks of Japanese black pines. Many of his developed masterpiece bonsai are approximately 20 to 30 years old, but has numerous older masterpieces started by his father and grandfather. They are primarily propagated by grafting, however cuttings are successfully rooted when taken in March.




Hiramatsu Sunshoen Bonsai Garden

The 4thgeneration bonsai artist Koji Hiramatsu is the proprietor of the Hiramatsu Sunshoen Bonsai Garden. His father still helps caring, creating and training the bonsai. There are vast fields of Japanese black and Japanese five-needle pines being trained for trunk and branch development in the ground. They also grew the Cork bark Japanese black pines when they were popular. There are very few remaining.


The new specialty of Mr. Hiramatsu is shohin bonsai. He is an official instructor and officer of shohin bonsai organizations. Of course, pine shohin bonsai are in great number, he is also skilled with other species as well. Since Mr. Hiramatsu is fluent in English he is becoming a popular bonsai instructor outside Japan including the United States, Europe and Canada. He will be one of the international judges and demonstrators at the next 2020 7thUS National Bonsai Exhibition. He frequently hosts foreign students who want to learn his training techniques.

About 30 years ago Gerald Rainville, originally from Montreal, Canada, now living near Vancouver, Canada, came to study with Mr. Hiramatsu’s father. He now has a considerable bonsai and landscape business shipping bonsai throughout Canada. Mr. Rainville travels to Japan for a month long study period yearly. He was at the bonsai garden during our visit so he could attend the upcoming Nippon Bonsai Taikan Ten Exhibition in a few days.




During our visit we also met Evan Marsh, from Sydney, Australia who is now studying with Mr. Hiramatsu. Both Gerald and Evan were busy wiring Shohin Japanese black pine bonsai for sale at the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Ten Exhibition.






Hiramatsu Seijuen Bonsai Garden

After lunch we visited Mr. Hiramatsu’s uncle, Kiyoshi Hiramatsu at his Hiramatsu Seijuen Bonsai Garden which is next to Koji’s garden. This talented 3rdgeneration bonsai artist also specializes in pine and shohin bonsai.









There were a great number of bonsai neatly packed into his compact garden. He had a small shohin bonsai composition on display for us which included an unusual forest of Sekka Hinoki cypress. He was quick to mention he was going to allow two trees to grow taller for better design, or will add a few more taller trees.


Sanshoen Bonsai Garden

Our guide for the day, Hiro Yamaji brought us to his garden for a visit. He has seven fields full of pine bonsai in addition to his newly expanded and designed main bonsai garden and studio. Across the street he has another area with five quarantine greenhouses full of pine bonsai being prepared for shipping to the United States and Europe.





Arthur Skolnik and Marty Schmalenberg studied with Mr. Yamaji many years ago to learn his pine training techniques. Since Mr. Yamaji speaks both English and French, in addition to Japanese, he frequently travels to France to sell and teach bonsai.


Kandaka Shojuen Bonsai Garden

Keiji Kandaka, 4thgeneration proprietor of Kandaka Shojuen Bonsai Garden has one of the largest gardens in the area. Pine bonsai of all sizes and many different species and cultivars are well represented here. In the rear of his garden Mr. Kandaka has a small area devoted to his finest bonsai masterpieces, all pines of course.








The main focal point of his garden is a Japanese black pine garden tree which is over 200 years old, yet only about 10 feet in height. But, the fantastic and unique quality of this garden tree are the lower braches which stretch horizontally approximately 30 feet in length. The branches are trained flat, similar to a skirt, quite unique and well worth a visit.





Exploring Takamatsu, Japan



Takamatsu is the largest city on Shikoku Island and the gateway to the island over the Great Seto Bridge connecting the island to Honshu. The city is quite famous for the production of pine bonsai. However, today we did not see any bonsai since we will spend an entire day exploring two bonsai villages.



Our tour visited Ritsurin Garden which is one of the top three strolling style gardens in Japan. The word Ritsurin actually means “Chestnut Groves,” but it is most famous for magnificent, manicured old Japanese black and Japanese red pines some of which are over 300 years old. Over 1,400 specimen pines are in the garden, however, only 1,000 are trained by bud pinching, removing old needles and thinning out branches to maintain perfect shaping.




300 year old Sago palms Cycas revoluta, with thick corky bark!




Established over 400 years ago Ritsurin Garden was started by the Sato Clan. It was then inherited by the Matsudaira Clan in 1642. Check out yesterday’s blog entry “The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine” for an interesting history of a famous garden tree and the relationship of the Matsudaira Clan with bonsai. I quickly posted a photo of this pine on Facebook and a couple of friends wanted more history of the unique specimen so that I wrote that blog first, because it interested me. Then I fell asleep writing and correcting photos so this blog entry was delayed…


There are six ponds and several streams in the garden with many scenic vistas set against Mt. Shiun.





Shikoku Village

Near Takamatsu we traveled to Shikoku Village, an open air museum and gallery where we encountered the traditional face of Japan. There are over 20 old building dating from the Edo Period from around Japan which were brought here and reconstructed to preserve how people of old Japan lived.





The entry way to this most interesting and hilly museum was a suspension bridge which appeared to be made of vines. However, upon closer inspection thick metal cables were the actual support. The swinging bridge made of rough, irregular boards was suspended over a pond. I wanted to cross the bridge, but my walking cast prevented me. Although I know how to swim, and may be crazy, I’m not stupid and went around another way. Several of our tour members did, successfully, traverse the dangerous bridge.


There was an amphitheater, soy brewing building as well as a sugar cane press. Several old farm houses were reconstructed including one with an alcove (Tokonoma) which even had an ikebana arrangement. There were a couple of boar fences which must be working since I did not encounter any, nor the poisonous snakes as posted on signs.


It was an interesting and educational view to old time Japan, but it was hilly with lots and lots of irregular steps. I was fortunate to survive the trip without any injury and walked (hiked?) over four miles.






Chrysanthemum Display

Directly across our hotel, near the train station and port is Tamamo Park, which are the ruins of Takamatsu Castle. When the Asia Pacific Bonsai & Suiseki Convention was held a few years ago one of the main buildings was completely displayed with bonsai.


From our hotel window, we noticed a chrysanthemum display and walked across the street to see it. Chrysanthemums are shown all over Japan during October and November. Yesterday was the last day of the show so several blossoms were just past peak, but still stunning.




34.jpgTraditionally chrysanthemums are grown in several different forms. The basic form consists of one plant with three stems, of different heights and an exact number of leaves per stem. They are displayed in groups of 12 pots with four different cultivars of different colors. Quite interesting, but a bit boring. After you see one, you have seen them all. Kind of like shohin bonsai displays or satsuki azalea exhibitions.


There were a few cascade style chrysanthemums and two “Thousand Bloom” forms, each consisting of only one plant per pot.


I’m a bit familiar with bonsai chrysanthemums. In 1971 and 1972 I studied the art with Tameji Nakajima in Tokyo who was the top grower. H. Carl Young and his wife Shin, also studied with him and wrote the excellent book The Art of the Chrysanthemum,which, by the way, has an great history of bonsai. While studying with Mr. Nakajima I was able to introduce several of his hybrid chrysanthemums for bonsai to the United States. These cultivars have tiny blossoms, woody stems and tend to be long lived.


The entire bonsai chrysanthemum is grown and trained in only ONE season. They are started in November and displayed the following autumn and must be transplanted monthly. It’s a bit difficult to get one to live for over a year, but when I was growing, displaying and teaching the art in the late 1970s I was fortunate (lucky) to have a trunk live for three years.


Root-over-rock style is popular because an image of a heavy trunk is presented with long roots. Often wood or artificial stone is carved for the plant. Sometimes they are even painted. I was particularily impressed with the large number of shohin bonsai chrysanthemums displayed, quite creatively too. The last display featured “2020” promoting the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.



Visiting Shunka-en Bonsai Museum




Shunka-en Bonsai Museum in Tokyo is the home, studio, gallery and growing area of Kunio Kobayashi. I’ve visited here many times before, and like in the past there is always something new to see and study, plus Mr. Kobayashi’s personal bonsai collection.IMG_0420.JPG

The scenic garden views, especially from the top two viewing areas were quite beautiful. I found it interesting that all of the maple and other deciduous bonsai were in one area, satsuki azaleas in another and the remaining evergreens in the central area of the garden museum. A new bamboo fence for an attractive background was new as was a poly house.



All of the bonsai, especially on the monkey pole display tables were tied down to avoid tipping over during windy weather and earthquakes. Of course, the bonsai are kept outdoors, all year around here.












JIN.jpg6P4A9280.jpgWhen Mr. Kobayashi has guests, he brings a few bonsai indoors and arranges displays in one of the dozen or more alcoves in the museum. Each display features a major bonsai, companion and usually a hanging scroll. Jin Yasufumi, a graduate apprentice is now working for Mr. Kobayashi in the curator position for his museum. He is friendly and speaks excellent English. After our tour members looked around and came down from bonsai overload, Jin gave us a guided tour of the museum, including the upstairs container room full of antique and historic Chinese and Japanese containers, each valued more than average homes in the United States6P4A9292.jpg

There were particularly a large number of large Japanese black pine bonsai, probably for the Chinese market. Nearly all of the maple bonsai were leafless and their beautiful branch ramification was visible.

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The fruiting bonsai were colorful and the Chojubai Japanese flowering quince and Sasanqua camellia were blossoming. There was a large unusual Magnolia bonsai with plump flower buds for spring flowering. I could not photograph a large Satsuki azalea because it was just watered and was on the ground level. Mr. Kobayashi recently won an award with this Satsuki azalea which will be displayed in the upcoming Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition limited for professionals.






As previously mentioned, Mr. Kobayashi continues to add bonsai and containers to his museum garden for sale. Well, it now looks like he finally ran out of space because he is overflowing out his front gate on to the two side walls enclosing his garden. A few bonsai, lots of containers and even companion plants sit right on the street. Flags from different countries flank the walls welcoming the many visitors from foreign countries.


The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine


This Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora cv., is growing in Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu, Japan. It is on the shore of Nako Pond in front of the Kikugetsu-tei tea house complex and has been named “The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine.”


It was originally a small bonsai and the 11thTokugawa Shogun, Ienari (1773-1841), presented the bonsai to the 9thLord of the Matsudaira clan, Yorihiro (1798-1842.) The family treasured this bonsai but were afraid they will kill it, so they planted it in their garden for preservation. And it did thrive!


The exposed roots of the tree form the focal point for the garden tree. This is not the common Japanese five-needle pine, because it was grafted. I’m not certain of the exact cultivar of this tree, but it has short blue-green needles, similar to the cultivar ‘Miyajima.’ The graft union can still be distinctively seen. In modern times Japanese five-needle pine are commonly grafted onto Japanese black pine. However, Yuji Yoshimura told me he thought the tree was grafted onto Japanese red pine during that period of time.

I’ve been admiring that beautiful trained garden tree since I first saw it in 1970. In fact, that tree is the front piece of my second book, Encyclopedia of Classical Bonsai Art: Japanese Five-needle Pine: Nature, Gardens, Bonsai & Taxonomy.I wrote the book in 1976 and the cover price was $9.95. Currently out of print, sometimes it becomes available for around $600.


September 2017

Today, November 19, 2018 my tour visited Ritsurin Park and I noticed several entire branches with brown needles which have died. The remaining branches are healthy, and the tree has been well cared for. Many of the long heavy branches are supported with wooden posts. I look forward to admiring this unique historical bonsai for many more decades.


By the way, the Matsudaira clan was founded in the 14thCentury and ruled until 1873. It was a large important clad which has a connection to bonsai. Count Morinaga Matsudaira (1874-1944), was a political figure and was a President of the House of Peers. He was a noted collector of bonsai and was fascinated with their small size. He wanted to see how small a tree could be created and commissioned ceramic artists to make small bonsai containers. Count Matsudaira was also the President of the Kokufu Bonsai Association and started the present day Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in 1934. He was closely associated with Norio Kobayashihi and together are credited with the founding of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. The 93rdexhibition will be held on February 9-12 and 14-17, 2019.


Count Matsudaira and his wife, Countess Akiko, were instrumental in establishing shohin bonsai and created a collection of over 1,000 small size bonsai. It was unheard of for women to cultivate bonsai at that time, and is still rare in Japan today. When traveling they often brought several of their shohin bonsai in baskets with them. Perhaps they even brought some of their shohin bonsai to Ritsurin Garden, their ancestral home. Countess Akiko Masuhara continued to care for their collection after the Count died in 1944 with great enthusiasm. About 200 shohin bonsai survived World War II, and she cared for them in Atami with the assistance of the Yoshimura family.


The Nippon Bonsai Association published a commemorative album on the Matsudaira Bonsai Collection in 1975. She died in the late 1970s and the Matsudaira Shohin Bonsai Collection was scattered throughout Japan, and one made it to the United States. I was fortunate to add a distinctive Japanese maple bonsai from the Matsudaira Shohin Bonsai Collection to my collection in 1985. This famous bonsai has been displayed in at least two Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions.