I’m sad to report the passing of Hatsuji Kato, fourth generation proprietor of Mansei-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya Bonsai Village, Japan this morning, July 23, 2018. Hatsuji Kato, 76, was the first son of bonsai pioneer Saburo Kato. Saburo Kato had three sons and a daughter. In the beginning all three of the sons, Hatsuji, Masao and Yoshi were involved with the bonsai business. Saburo Kato was a superb bonsai designer and specialized in Ego spruce and forest plantings. He was instrumental in the establishment of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation as well as the Nippon Bonsai Association and the Nippon Bonsai Cooperative, the professional organization.
After Saber Kato’s death in February 2008, Hats took over Manse-en Bonsai Garden. Often a family business is divided among the surviving children. However, if Manse-en were divided the business would fail. So Hatsuji became the new proprietor. He had a son, Haruhiko and a daughter. Haruhiko assisted his father running the business and will now take over the Manse-en Bonsai Garden as the fifth generation proprietor.
Originally the Kato family was well known for their bonsai creations, but during the past few decades more emphasis was placed on purchasing and selling bonsai, containers and Shinseki, as well as boarding for masterpiece bonsai. Hats Kato created many award winning masterpiece bonsai and many are included in this blog. He was deeply involved with the Nippon Bonsai Association and the Kikuyu Bonsai Exhibition.
He traveled the world teaching and attending bonsai gatherings and also visited the 4thUS National Bonsai Exhibition in 2012. As the chairman of the highly successful World Bonsai Convention in Saitama City in April 2017, he made certain all details were taken care of.
I originally met both Hatsuji and Saburo Kato in June 1970 when I was an apprentice to Kyuzo Murata in Omiya Bonsai Village. Hatsuji Kato was always very friendly to me and spoke English explaining techniques and answering my questions so I could understand what was going on in Mansei-en Bonsai Garden. He often answered my questions at bonsai exhibitions in Japan when I could not understand certain techniques or identify plant species. We met, all around the world where he attended bonsai conventions and exhibitions. He traveled to New Jersey many years ago to teach at a Mid-Atlantic Bonsai Convention.
Twice a year for over 15 years Kora Dalager and I led tours to Japan and always visited Mansei-en where we were warmly welcomed and allowed to photograph bonsai. In 2011 I took Dr. Jonathan Singer, a famed photographer to Japan to shoot photos for Fine Bonsai,a large format book that was published to support victims of the Japanese Tsunami.
My sincere condolences are extended to the Kato family. I personally will miss Hatsuji Kato’s warm smile during my visits to Japan and will cherish the times we spent together. His activities in the contemporary bonsai world have improved the understanding of Japanese classical bonsai. May his memory be eternal.