2019 93rd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition Part 2– Part 1


The second half of this year’s 93rdKokufu Bonsai Exhibition is being held on February 14-17, 2019. This half is quite beautiful, one of the best ever! Many people often mention that this year, or that year are the best editions. However, most have a limited exposure or visits to this exhibition. I’ve been attending for more than 45 years, and, in my personal opinion, this second half is one of the finest I’ve ever been fortunate to study.


This is a famous Japanese maple bonsai and I was surprised to see how small it was. Probably only about 20″ tall.



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Rhododendron species




Japanese Red Pine


2019 Part 2 Statistics

151 Individual Bonsai Displays

Over 225 Individual Bonsai Specimens

108 Large Bonsai

36 Medium Bonsai

7 Shohin Bonsai Compositions

5 Kokufu Bonsai Prizes

4 Bonsai Displayed with Suiseki

I found that fact that 4 bonsai were displayed with suiseki quite interesting. Three of the four displayed bonsai with stones were in the same location in the exhibition. Usually the professional bonsai artists which handle and display the trees for the owners have designated locations in the exhibition. So, probably, the same person who displayed the three displays in Part 1, also displayed the three bonsai in Part 2. This shows the taste of the exhibitor, not the owner.


Japanese beech, look at the size of the leaf buds. It must have tiny leaves. I asked, it it not a special variety, only the location were it was grown and training techniques developed the small foliage and buds.



Dwarf Japanese five-needle Pine. Looks like a spruce with the short needles.

It is important to recognize that an owner of a bonsai cannot handle the trees for exhibitions in Japan. A professional bonsai artist must be paid to enter the tree for the selection process. If accepted it is his responsibility to display the tree. That means a display table, accessory and table for that too, must be provided. Usually these are rented from the professional bonsai artist which can be expensive. One exhibitor this year spent over $3,000 just to display one bonsai, they had to rent the small Japanese five-needle pine accessory. Often collectors have several masterpiece bonsai individually costing tens of thousands of dollars. If they can afford the trees, they can easily afford the exhibition costs. Quite often small accessory bonsai are rented for display too. This is one way the professional bonsai artists in Japan make a living. So, this means that often the display aesthetics shown are of the professional bonsai artist, not the owner. Quite often, the owners “sometimes” see their own trees because they are cared for in the gardens of the professional bonsai artists, not the owner’s home. Or, they are maintained at the owner’s residence by the professional bonsai artists who periodically visit. They are rare even watered by the owners. Of course, there are exceptions where the owners truly love and enjoy their bonsai and keep them at their gardens, of course with the assistance of the professional bonsai artists. Then, there are collectors who visit their trees in the professional bonsai artists gardens traveling by a helicopter because his time is so valuable. So far, none of my clients travel to my garden by helicopter, but, you never know what the future may hold.


Dwarf Euonymus


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Trident Maple. Under the care of Shinji Suzuki. One of his client’s bonsai also won a Kokufu Award in Part 1. Congratulations to Shinji! Two out of two awards.


Magnolia liliflora ‘Nigra’

I’ll photographic this Magnolia tomorrow with open flowers, but, I personally prefer the tree in opening buds rather than full blown blossoms.


Japanese five-needle Pine



Shohin Bonsai Composition

I think this type of display is THE most difficult to arrange. Note every container is of a different color and shape. 2 suiting   There are 2 evergreens, 2 deciduous and 2 fruiting species. All the bonsai have the identical visual weight and their direction all point to the center of the display. Excellent display, and, of course, the shohin bonsai are masterpieces too.



Japanese five-needle Pine



There are usually two special exhibits in each Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions. One of this years was very special. For about 50 years there has been tree from the Imperial Bonsai Collection, belonging to the Japanese Emperor, on display at the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions. These are old bonsai and the collection consists of famous and historical trees, not necessarily well formed beautiful bonsai. The Imperial Bonsai Collection is not open to the public, ever. It is indeed a privilege to see these trees and sometimes there may be one on display, often from a relative of the Emperor.


One of my teachers, Kyuzo Murata from Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya Bonsai Village was charged to care for the Imperial Bonsai Collection for many decades. When I was studying with him he invited me to go see the trees in June 1970. I believe there was an international bonsai tour that also included a viewing of the Imperial Bonsai Collection a few decades later.

This year the Emperor also displayed one of his bonsai, but, this time an excellent and beautiful pine bonsai was selected because this year marks the last Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition for his Heisei Era (1989-2019.)  He will be stepping down in April and his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne. This will begin a new, unannounced yet named era for the nation of Japan.


Note the small nail holes where the thin flakey bark is attached to the tree. I use superglue, and in fact I saw a Japanese flowering apricot bonsai in Part 1 with a piece of dead wood superglued on. It also had thin copper wire too. I look very closely…..

The displayed bonsai in this year’s Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is a rough bark cultivar of Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii‘Ganseki Sho.’ The Ganseki Sho cultivar is distinctive because of the thick linear plated bark which means “irregular bark.” There are many, many individual layers of bark, each representing a year’s growth of the tree. This bonsai has a history of 180 years. Often there is a very thin piece of copper wire or fishing line thread wrapped around the bark to hold it in place. If the climate is dry the layers of bark tend to flake off. Often small nails are used to secure the fragile bark to the tree. This pine bonsai is not a cork bark or ‘Nishiki’ cultivar, but one of several different rough bark varieties. There are several different rough bark cultivars of Japanese black, red and five-needle pines such as ‘Bekko Sho’ (Turtle Back Bark), ‘Nishiki’ (Cork Bark), ‘Ibo Kan’ (Wart Bark) and ‘Arakawa’ (Rough Bark) among others.


This Ganseki Sho Japanese black pine is from the Iwasaki Bonsai Collection

Thus, it is indeed a rare viewing of a historical, unusual, beautiful and antique bonsai masterpiece selected for the last Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition for the Heisei Era.


Sargent Juniper


Japanese five-needle Pine


This is one of Mr. Takeyama’s signature bonsai, a Zelkova.


Maidenhair Tree


Please remember this exhibition has been set up to display the bonsai to the public, not for photographing. It is quite difficult to get good quality photos with the varied light sources, different backgrounds and a mass of visitors, but I try my best. And, with the instructions from Joe Noga, I try to adjust the images in Photoshop for your appreciation and study.


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