Shunka-en Bonsai Museum
The Shunka-en Bonsai Museum of Kunio Kobayashi is always a special treat for our bonsai tours. Located in central Tokyo it is easy to find and visit. Here you can see superb developed masterpiece bonsai as well as many still in training, some in wooden boxes. But, perhaps this is the pinnacle where you can see fine quality bonsai formally displayed. There are about 12 individual alcoves, in formal, semi-formal and informal styles to study as well as displays in corners and an authentic working tea house. Tea masters often teach here because of the quiet atmosphere, beauty and workmanship of the buildings.
One of Mr. Kobayashi’s former apprentice, Osama Fukudate, who now works for him recently won an award for his Sargent juniper bonsai at the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition, limited to professional bonsai artists.
Kunio Kobayashi commonly travels the world sharing his techniques. In fact, he was teaching in China during our visit. His lovely wife and apprentices showed us around and welcomed us to their museum complex.
Each of the three main alcoves were dramatically designed for our visit. A suiseki in the informal style, Japanese flowering apricot, ready to burst into bud in the semi-formal and a Japanese black pine in the formal alcove.
Books, display tables, containers and suiseki were available for purchase, if you could afford them. As we strolled through the beautiful grounds it began to sprinkle, then developed into a steady rain, indicating it was time to head on to our next stop in Shizuoka.
Taisho-en Bonsai Garden
The bullet train took our small group to Shizuoka to visit Taisho-en Bonsai Garden on our way to Kyoto. Nobuichi Urushibata, long time famous and award-winning bonsai artist and professional ballroom dancer (award winning here too- and has a room filled with trophies) is the proprietor of a well-known bonsai garden who opens his doors to foreigners who seriously want to live and study bonsai in Japan for months. He was quite prominent in the shohin bonsai community, but has cut back his activities for health reasons. He is one of the top Japanese bonsai artists. He also is producing mame bonsai in addition to shohin bonsai.
A mame size Trident maple for sale for only $300. Size has nothing to do with the quality or pricing.
His son Taiga Urushibata is a younger bonsai artist who speaks English and travels around the world teaching. He apprenticed with Masahiko Kimura in Omiya for many years. It is common in Japan for a bonsai artist to send his son (have not heard of any daughters) to another professional artist for training, bringing new techniques into the established bonsai garden. Nobuichi Urushibata specializes in mame, shohin and chuhin size bonsai; while his son Taiga prefers larger, more dynamic evergreen bonsai. Well, that’s what his teacher, Mr. Kimura specializes in. It is important to realize that although a bonsai artist might specialize in a specific species or style, they are well experienced, knowledgeable and skilled in all species and bonsai styles.
This unbelievable Japanese red pine trained by Taiga Urushibata recently won the coveted Prime Minister’s Award at the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition, the highest award for professional bonsai artists.
PThere were a tremendous number of old collected juniper bonsai which were being grafted. Junipers with coarse foliage were being changed into cultivars with finer leaves. I found it surprising that even many Needle junipers were being grafted with Sargent juniper foliage. Every bonsai in this garden was beautiful and the love and nurturing of these two bonsai artists was shining in each specimen.