Bonsai Beyond The Border– Yuji Yoshimura, A Bonsai Artist Across the Ocean; New York, 1958

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On October 12 – November 24, the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Japan presented an Autumn Special Exhibition to commemorate the 10th Anniversary and Sister Museum Partnership with the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington, DC. The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum featured bonsai Pioneer Yuji Yoshimura, second generation bonsai artist from Tokyo who, with the encouragement of his father, left Japan to teach Westerners classical Japanese bonsai. To date, the Japanese bonsai community has not recognized the unique and significant contribution Yuji Yoshimura made to expand the beauty and understanding of bonsai outside Japan.

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The special exhibition room was the venue for this special exhibit to honor Yuji Yoshimura. Museum curator Dr. Fumiya Taguchi traveled to Rochester, New York in August to gather documents, photos and other historical artifacts for the exhibit from my bonsai reference library. He truly did an exceptional job in organizing and presenting the exhibit.

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VIDEO.jpgYuji Yoshimura’s youngest brother, Kazumasa, and daughter Yoko watching the video.

Included in the exhibit was a video of Yuji Yoshimura’s demonstration at a Florida bonsai convention. Yuji Yoshimura’s youngest brother Kazumasa sat and watched as his eldest brother worked his magic teaching and demonstrating bonsai. Probably the only time he saw him with bonsai. Yuji Yoshimura’s two daughters, Yoko from Boston traveled for the exhibit along with her daughter Sasha, and Emi from Tokyo attended the exhibition and my program. In total nine members of the Yoshimura family visited the exhibit and attended my program.

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My program on Tuesday, November 19, 2019 was limited to 40 people by reservation only. Over 50 people eventually filled the room with standing room only. Unfortunately, some individuals could not be accommodated. Dr. Thomas Elias, a past director of the US National Arboretum and his wife attended my program. A landscape architect from Osaka, Japan traveled to learn about Yuji Yoshimura along with the Saitima City press and representatives from two major bonsai publications.

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Here is a synopsis of my program:

Memories of Japanese Father, “Mr Y.”

Yuji Yoshimura taught me for 30 years and opened my eyes and mind to the beautiful world of classical Japanese bonsai art which is now my passion and am sharing with people all over the world, like Mr Y instructed me to.

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The story begins with Yuji Yoshimura’s father Toshiji Yoshimura who was one of the pioneers of the modern Japanese bonsai world. He apprenticed with Yonikichi Kibe at the Taiko-en Bonsai Garden and established his Kofu-en Bonsai Garden in Tokyo at the end of his studies in 1924. He was quite active and played an important part of establishing the Nippon Bonsai Association and the Nippon Suiseki Association.

LECTUR 1.jpgMy translator, Yukio Murata, checking to see how low his grandfather, Kyuzo Murata was bowing to Toshiji Yoshimura.

 

LECTURE 3.jpg Mr & Mrs Toshiji Yoshimura with their 12 Children. Yuji Yoshimura is first on the left.

 

Yuji Yoshimura was born in 1921 at the Taiko-en Bonsai Garden while his father was still an apprentice. As the eldest son of 12 children his parents were very strict and made him weed the garden before going to school. This strict and rigid upbringing played an important part of his unique character and integrity. Mr Y was interested in drawing and later in life, music. Ikebana and tea ceremony were also studied. He worked and learned from his father and later graduated from the Tokyo Horticultural School in 1938. Later he would draw upon his solid background to establish his own concept of classical bonsai art.

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When Yuji Yoshimura was 19 years old he rode his bicycle from Tokyo to Omiya Bonsai Village to visit Kyuzo Murata, Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden and purchase a special water pool suiseki. At that time, in the early 1940s the suiseki had been appreciated for over 150 years as an art object. Forty years later I was able to add this special suiseki to my collection. I returned it to Japan six years ago for the 1st Japan Suiseki Exhibition. Dr. Taguchi brought it back to Japan for this exhibit.

Mr Y was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, spending five years in the cavalry, teaching his troops horsemanship. Mr. Y had a clever red horse which he loved and in fact, the horse saved his life then died.

LECTURE 4.jpgYuji Yoshimura’s youngest brother, Kazumasa, is standing in the front row wearing a hat. He was in the front row during my program.

 

Upon returning from his Army experience in 1948, he established Naka Meguro Kofu-en, separate from his father’s garden. Mr Y met Alfred Koehn, a German Diplomat and author and in 1952 together they offered the first bonsai class for the public at his bonsai garden. The six-week course was a hit and within three years over 600 foreigners learned from Mr Y. The course was filled with diplomat’s wives who enjoyed the hobby. In decades to come, a few of these students returned to America and continued with bonsai.

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One of his students from England, Mrs. Halford, studied bonsai with him for two years and later assisted him with his book “The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscapes” in 1957. This was the first authoritative book on bonsai in English and is now in its 45th printing. This book was the first book to translate and classify bonsai styles which is still in use today around the world.

Mr Y, now 37 years old, arrived in America in December 1958 after a month’s ship ride. He remained in America for the next 39 years of his life and brought 22 cases of bonsai, seeds, tools and other items needed to teach bonsai. His first class in America was in January 1959 at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Later that year The Yoshimura Bonsai Company opened at one of his student’s home near New York City. Later he moved to the Detmer Nursery with more room to teach classes and grow bonsai where he created thousands of bonsai.

CAYuji Yoshimura teaching in California in the early 1960s.

He lived simply and had a busy teaching schedule at the New York Botanical Garden and at his nursery. Mr Y also made several teaching trips to Australia, India, Hong Kong, Hawaii and England. Few people know the tremendous amount of time he took to prepare for his classes and programs. In the early days, he made yearly visits by car to teach in California.

VIEW 4The bicentennial gift of 53 bonsai and 6 suiseki from Japan to the United States started the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

 

In 1973, he presented a demonstration at the US National Arboretum and spoke about his dream to have a bonsai museum in the nation’s capital. Well, the dream was realized and we now the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. To honor his lifetime of contributions to bonsai art the Yoshimura Lecture/Demonstration Center was opened. Today demonstrations and the many bonsai in the collections are worked on in the center. When the North American Bonsai Pavilion opened Mr Y donated a Zelkova he trained and a Crape Myrtle which his father started many decades before.

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The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum and National Bonsai & Penjing Museum  Sister Museum ceremony.

Mr Y inherited his love of suiseki from his father and now that bonsai was established in America decided to also promote stone appreciation. Together with a student they co-authored “The Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation.” He often used stones in rock planting bonsai and bonkei. Later on, he expanded his use of stones in garden landscapes. Together with him we sponsored the very first Stone Appreciation Seminar in Rochester, New York.

Mr Y passed away on Christmas eve 1997. The National Bonsai Foundation established the Yuji Yoshimura Fund to honor his contributions for educational purposes. To date that fund has raised over $375,000 for the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. Additionally, the National Bonsai Foundation has raised and donated over $6,000,000 to the museum. In 2005 the Yuji Yoshimura Fund sponsored Arishige Matsurua, Director of the Nippon Suiseki Association to travel to America to teach suiseki.

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In June 2015, the US National Arboretum honored Mr Y by inducting him into the National Bonsai Hall of Fame honoring him and recognizing people who made valuable contributions to bonsai in the United States. They have dedicated their lives to bonsai who achieve national excellence and contributed to the advancement of bonsai in America. He was the second person in the National Bonsai Hall of Fame. The first was John Naka a famous and beloved bonsai artist from California.

So, we have come to the end of honoring Yuji Yoshimura. He was the direct link between Japanese classical bonsai and the progressive Western approach. He spent his entire life promoting classical bonsai sacrificing a great deal for bonsai; his family, health, comfort and personal relationships. His success cannot be judged by standards. He reached the top of his field, something few achieve.

Yuji Yoshimura took his knowledge, skill, education and strength of his artistic genius to forge ahead classical Japanese bonsai art. I feel honored and blessed to have learned from him and specially to talk about him today.

FAMILYThe Yoshimura family and one Greek at the program.

I’d like to thank Dr. Taguchi and the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum for hosting this special exhibition and for asking me to present these thoughts. Kyuzo Murata’s grandson, Yukio, third generation proprietor of Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya Bonsai Village did the excellent task of translating my program. I began my program in my poor Japanese, which could not be understood and Yukio completed the lecture in proper Japanese. I was greatly honored for this opportunity and appreciate the significant statement that after 60 years the Japanese bonsai community has finally recognized Yuji Yoshimura’s pioneering bonsai education and great contributions to the world of bonsai art.

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