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.