2019 39th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition – Part 1


VIEW 2.jpgThe 39thNippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition is being held on November 22-25, 2019 at the Miyako Messe Exhibition Hall in Kyoto, Japan. Shinji Suzuki is chairman again this year. Quite a bit of advance promotion was published in both print and social media. Hitomi Kawasaki, a bonsai researcher wrote an excellent five page illustrated article, plus the cover, of Enjoy Kyoto, a bimonthly English language guide to Kyoto. This must have worked because I noticed that there were more foreigners than Japanese at the ribbon cutting ceremony opening the exhibition and also throughout the day. Additionally, extensive ads in local Kyoto newspapers helped to promote this important and largest bonsai event in western Japan. The word “Taikan” means grand view.

ENTRANCE.jpgLots to report, so I’m going to share comments and photos in sequence, because it makes sense, at least to me. There are five special displays as well as an extensive sales area.



EZO.jpgLarge sinuous style rock planting of Ezo spruce created by Shinji Suzuki two years ago.

EZO DISPLAY.jpgThe majority of the set up was on Thursday. It was a busy day with a hoard of vendors setting up, while bonsai were moved around for the judging a 1:30pm. Studio photos were also being taken at the same time. All was well organized as they have had four decades of experience running this exhibition.




I’ve had numerous questions on the judging process so I’d like to explain how this exhibition selects the prize-winning bonsai. Before the final selection, the best three bonsai of the following categories are selected and set on long tables, each labeled: large, medium and small size evergreens, deciduous, satsuki, shohin bonsai, literati, rock plantings, forest plantings (only two entries and they were actually clump styles) and suiseki (daiza, water basins, figure and chrysanthemum stones.)



There were 13 judges from the sponsoring organizations, press, art galleries and three international judges, Harald Lehner (Germany), Zhang Xiabao (China) and me from America. I was quite honored to be invited again this year to offer my opinions. All the bonsai were lined up and the judges were sitting in front in a long row. As each category was announced a small clipboard and ballot were handed out and then collected after each judge simply put the tree number on the smalliece of paper. There were NO points, just select the best bonsai. Many of the trees were fine wire, lot of guy wires. Remember, this is not a dog show, it’s an art show of the highest caliber. This is how the professional exhibitions are evaluated in Japan, and they invented the bonsai evaluation process. People judging bonsai outside Japan make it more difficult.



JUDGING 8.jpgI found it interesting that last year there was a tie between two trees. Instantly, the moderator took the two tree numbers and placed them behind his back and one judge selected a hand, which became the winner. The other tree also received a prize. This year there was only one entry in the chrysanthemum suiseki category. Rather than have all 13 judges get up and walk over to look at the one stone to vote, the moderator simply asked the judges to raise their hand to cast one vote. This saved lots of time and walking. Remember most of the judges are not too young, and one even had two broken feet in walking casts. I walked nearly four miles in the one room on Thursday alone.

AWARD.jpgThe top Prime Minister Award Sargent juniper bonsai displayed by Shinji Suzuki, belonging to a client. This bonsai has been worked on by Matt Reel in 2014 when Kinbon Bonsai magazine did a photo essay oh his work.


Afterwards the bonsai were put in place and properly displayed. On Friday morning, fifteen minutes before the official opening they conducted a ribbon cutting ceremony. Only one short speech by the Mayor of Kyoto welcoming visitors, then they did something different this year, which I liked. Usually, immediately after the ribbon cutting ceremony the people cutting the ribbon are escorted into the exhibition followed by the public. This time the people cutting the ribbon stood by the side, welcoming visitors before they entered. As mentioned there were more foreigners at the ceremony than Japanese.

Because increased number of foreigners this year, in addition to Japanese language walking tours, of the exhibition conducted by Hitomi Kawasaki, they will have a couple conducted in English by me.

KAWASAKI.jpg Miss Hitomi Kawasaki, wearing a blue kimono, conducting a w.alking tour in Japanese.

D 2.jpg My English language walking tour.



Here are a few images of trees and displays. I’ll share more later. Enjoy!



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