Discover Shikoku! The Journey Within– Part 4



35th Kinashi Bonsai & Garden Tree Festival

The 35th Kinishi Bonsai & Garden Tree Festival was also held on October 20-22, 2017 a short ride from the Kokubuji Bonsai Green Festival in the town of Takamatsu.









Although the formal display was not as large, all the bonsai were stunning. The main emphasis of this festival seemed to be both the indoor and outdoor sales areas with some unbelievable prices.







Japanese black pine, US$115.


Japanese black pine, US$ 158. Really!!





Nakazu Bansho Garden


Nakazu Bansho Garden was built by the second feudal lord of Marugame, who lived in a castle up high on a hill, but wanted to enjoy the beautiful scenic Seto Inland Sea close up. So, he constructed a large stroll garden next to the sea. The area has now been built up over the past several centuries, but a wall has been built to indicate the original sea shore line. This garden is about an hour’s drive from Takamatsu and worth every minute of the time needed to get there. The garden also has two museums, one for ceramics and the other devoted to paintings.






One of the highlights of the Nakazu Bansho Garden is a trained Japanese black pine in the shape of an umbrella. It consists of only ONE tree and has been trained for hundreds of years. Small posts hold up the century old heavy branches. There are over 1,500 trained pine trees throughout the garden. An area is devoted to Camellias which were full of fat buds for their autumn splendor.


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The pond was designed in the shape of Lake Biwa, north of Kyoto and several bright red bridges which carry visitors from one side of the pond to the other. The views are breathtaking and its now one of my favorite, if not the favorite garden in Japan.









Watch for my article in a future issue of International BONSAI, and visit Discover Shikoku!



Discover Shikoku! The Journey Begins– Part 3



30th Anniversary Kokubunji Bonsai Green Festival

The 30th anniversary of the Kokubunji Bonsai Green Festival is being held on October 20-22, 2017, in the town of Kokubunji. This is one of the two bonsai production towns or areas of Takamatsu. The other bonsai area is Kinashi, more on that festival in a future blog.


Hiro Yamaji and Koji Hiramatsu are the main organizers and leaders of this large and important festival which attracts thousands of bonsai hobbyists. The exhibition is comprised of both armature, professional and invited bonsai.


I was honored to participate in the Opening Ceremony and Ribbon Cutting, yes, complete with white gloves standing on a red carpet. Sound familiar? They also had a Taiko Drum Presentation, which is missing and will not be part of our US National Bonsai Exhibitions… .



Mr. Saito, a bonsai collector from Okayama and Director of the Nippon Bonsai Association had a special exhibit of seven of his finest masterpieces on display. They were magnificent and all have been displayed in past Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions, many award winning. I’m quite familiar with many of these bonsai and am including old photographs of their true naked beauty from past shows.




Kiyo Hime Japanese maple in a deep container. If you are wondering where that beautiful blue glazed antique is, look at the image of the Chinese quince. That’s a famous container often appearing in both the Kokufu and Taikan Bonsai Exhibitions.

Mr. Saito also has large special displays at the November Taikan Bonsai Exhibitions which have themes. In the past he has exhibited several masterpiece Japanese maples, Korean Hornbeam, Hinoki cypress, Chinese quince and many others. Kenji Oshima is the curator of his collection. Next month he will display Pomegranates.




















This cut leaf Japanese maple has excellent trunk taper which is hidden this season. I’ll have to return during the winter season to enjoy its naked beauty. But, I really don’t need a reason to return to Japan.
















The sales area was hopping with sales. It seemed that mostly shohin bonsai were for sale and blossoming companion plants were popular with the lady visitors.











All the bonsai were beautiful, especially a special display featuring “Creative Displays,” which I’m certain will interest Westerner who want to express individually, or something different than classical Japanese bonsai. That’s a hot topic which I don’t have the time to discuss here and now.



Watch for my article in a future issue of International BONSAI, and visit Discover Shikoku!







Discover Shikoku! The Journey Within– Part 2




Yesterday we traveled in our large comfortable van from Kochi in southern Shikoku Island to Kagawa in the north. Even with the light, sometimes heavy rain the drive was beautiful going through mountain passes and in many tunnels. Mist was rising from the mountains and some spectacular views of waterfalls and native trees were enjoyed.

The City of Takamatsu is the capital of Kagawa Prefecture and home to the largest bonsai pine production in Japan. According to 2014 figures, 219 bonsai nurseries shipped 75,000 bonsai valued at approximately US $2,400,000. There are two major production areas, Kinishi Bonsai Village and Kokubunji Bonsai Village. Each has their own bonsai festival in April and October, this weekend and I’ll report on them in the next blog entry.


Kandaka Shoju-en Bonsai Nursery

This is one of the oldest and most respected bonsai nurseries on Shikoku Island and now operated by fifth generation bonsai artist Keiji Kandaka. His father, forth generation is now 84 years old and still working, while the sixth generation son and grandson is also working in the nursery.


Keiji Kandaka


This is the season to remove old needles


Mr. Kandaka’s father


Mr. Kandaka’s son– sixth generation of Kandaka Shoju-en Bonsai Nursery



I first visited Kandaka Shoju-en Bonsai Nursery in 1970, when all of us were younger. The main focal point of this garden is a huge, 200 year old trained Japanese black pine garden tree, not bonsai. There are two main branches, each spreading about 25 feet in each direction, but trained horizontally, about one foot high. The trunk rises from the center and is quite powerful. I’ve been told Chinese buyers want this tree, but it would be impossible to ship.



I asked Mr. Kandaka about the origin of this container. He was not certain but said perhaps Shigaraki or Tokoname-ware.





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Masterpiece famous bonsai are throughout the nursery and there are thousands of smaller commercial quality bonsai, many which would be show worthy “masterwork” bonsai in the United states. I saw a few interesting cascade Sargent juniper bonsai trained with three main trunks, but it was raining and difficult to properly photograph. Even with Photoshop they will be hard to correct. But, I’ll try later in my spare time, IF I ever get any.


Kokubunji Bonsai Center

The approximately 20 bonsai nurseries in Kokubunji formed a cooperative sales area, open to the public where each nursery offers their trees for sale.





6P4A4323.jpg6P4A4300.jpgWhile we were there Hiroyoshi Yamaji, second generation bonsai grower pulled in with two trucks to pick up trees for sale at the festival tomorrow. He was accompanied by his wife and son, who is now an apprentice with Minoru Akiyama. He returned home to help the family business during this important event. Sound familiar? Loving wife and sons returning home to help. The bonsai industry, both in Japan and the United States is still considered to be a “cottage industry” dependent on family support.



Most of the bonsai were pines, of course, but there was a smaller are under shade cloth for deciduous, small and azalea bonsai.






Bonsai Shrine

This was the first time I’ve visited the Bonsai Shrine. See, I have not seen everything yet, but enjoying trying. The shrine dedicated to the God of plants, trees and flowers. It is high up on a steep hill and when arriving, you must walk down slippery metal steps only to go back up on steep concrete steps. They were slippery, especially in the rain and I’m proud to say I got up AND down again on my own two feet, which have been broken six times, first time broken in Omiya Bonsai Village.



Next to the Bonsai Shrine there is a huge stone commemorating the significant contributions of the Suezawa family to the bonsai production area. I remember a Mr. Suezawa about 30 years ago and he was over 80 years old at that time. He owned “Suezawa Heights” as well as many good pine bonsai. When I went shopping, he wanted cash in hand before I selected bonsai. I said OK, but need plastic bags. He stopped, thinked, then rode his bicycle down, and back up the mountain with bags so he could make a sale.


Konishi Shoraku-en Bosnai Nursery

Operated by Yukihiko Konishi, this nursery produces pine bonsai as well as brokering large trained garden trees for sale to the Chinese market. His son produces blueberries under shade cloth to protect the delicious fruit from hungry birds.







6P4A4358.jpgMr. Konishi was recently awarded a government sash award medal for his contributions to bonsai. He is also active in ASPAC (Asia Pacific Bonsai & Suiseki Association) and the (WBFF) World Bonsai Friendship Federation where he is a consultant, like me to help the organization. In 2011, he was the chairman for the successful and well attended ASPAC Convention in Takamatsu. He is one of the prime leaders of Japanese bonsai and I frequently see him around the world at bonsai conventions and exhibitions. I’ll be with him in a couple of weeks in Taiwan.





He showed us a new Japanese black pine seedling introduction he is propagating. It’s an unnamed selection which has short needles, but are quite attractive because of their angled character.


Mr. Konishi has many fields and he showed us how Miyajima Japanese Five-needle Pine are produced. Young Japanese black pines are used as understock to produce good roots. They are tightly wired and developed in the ground. The wire is NOT removed, but rather bites into the trunk and swells into interesting forms. In a few years the wire scars disappear.



The Nishiki (Cork bark) Japanese black pine develops bark into “wings” and adds to create an interesting heavy trunk. By the way, this bark characteristic is can also be seen on Japanese red and Japanese five-needle pines, as well as a few deciduous species. The pines are mostly grafted, but there are a few cultivars which will root. Although the bark is disnctive and adds impact to the bonsai design, it is not easy to produce a bonsai with a thick lower trunk to create taper. Usually the lower trunks are thin and do not appear to be attractive. However, with skill, some propagators can produce low grafts where the bark seems to roll over presenting a thick lower trunk with taper. The Nishiki Japanese black pine was once popular and quite expensive, but was over produced and not widely grown here now. In the past decades, I’ve seen fields of beautiful developed Nishiki Japanese black pines, plowed down to make room for other varieties which have value.


A good graft


_P4A4315.jpgA poor graft




I saw an interesting Nishiki (Cork bark) Japanese black pine in Mr. Konishi’s display area. The bonsai had a different character than others I’ve seen and studied. I know there is a cultivar with only develops the winged bark on branches, rather than the trunk. However, Mr. Konishi explained that this bonsai was collected from a nearby mountain 50 years ago and is not grafted, even though it looks like it. He told me that it had thick bark which was quite heavy and fell off, only leaving the winged bark on the branches. I suggested super glue…..


BoPoster for the Kinishi Bonsai & Garden Tree Festival. YES, I know what the

Watch for my article in a future issue of International BONSAI, and visit Discover Shikoku!




Discover Shikoku! The Journey Within– Part 1


I was invited to Shikoku Island in Japan by Kohei Kubota (Discover Shikoku!) and Takahiro Miyazaki (International Tourism Division for Shikoku) to visit and report on interesting sites for bonsai tourists. I arrived on Tuesday evening and we began our exploration in the city of Kochi on early Wednesday morning. Although I’ve been visiting Shikoku Island since 1970, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Kochi and looked forward to the adventure.


Shikoku Island is comprised of four prefectures (Shikoku means four provinces), Kagawa, Ehime, Tokushima and Kochi which is the largest most southern prefecture. It is a popular stop for the Shikoku Pilgrimage which visits 88 important official temples.


Chikurin-Ji Temple

Founded by Gyoki, a Buddhist high priest in 724, this temple is a treasure to experienced, not to be missed. Monk Yamada showed us around highlighting the important and interesting sights. In the main hall we saw a small statue of Buddha, but was quickly pointed out that the main statue was stored in the large wooden box behind. It is brought out once every 50 years and the last time it was viewed was three years ago. We did not the required 47 years to wait, so must return then to see it then, if I’m alive…









6P4A4116.jpgThe grounds and gardens were immaculate and there were many large old garden trees. I was impressed to see large Hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa, growing with several small seedlings beneath growing in the lush moss. Very few people have actually seen the common, species Hinoki cypress, which is an important timber tree in Japan. Most people are familiar with the Dwarf hinoki cypress, a common garden tree frequently trained for bonsai.


Makino Botanic Garden

Next to the Chikurin-ji is the Makino Botanical Garden, which was originally land belonging to the temple. Dr. Tomitaro Makino was a well-known botanist who collected 400,000 botanical specimens and named over 1,500 species. When I first came to Japan in 1970 I was immediately introduced to his Flora of Japan book by my teacher Kyuzo Murata, Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden, in Omiya Bonsai Village. This books if filled with beautiful botanical drawings and is an important volume in my bonsai reference library which I often use today.


I was excited to visit this botanical garden opened in 1958 to honor Dr. Makino and his accomplishments. The bronze stature of him is holding a tall mushroom which was one of his favorite plants.


The hills and valleys were scenic and appeared to be natural, but every plant was planted in certain locations in important botanical sequences.

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Japanese five-needle pines, Pinus parviflora

blackJapanese black pines, Pinus thunbergii



Pinus thunbergii ‘Ogi’  which has fasciated or crested growth. Interesting and rarbe, but not suitable for bonsai


Japanese red pines, Pinus densiflora


We were fortunate to visit yesterday because they had a special exhibit of pines. There were three sections to the display featuring Japanese five-needle pine, Japanese red pine and Japanese black pines. These were displayed for their unique cultivars, NOT for their bonsai forms. I found this especially valuable for my education because I’ve only read about some of these cultivars, not actually having seen them. There were single needle cultivars of Japanese red and black pines, as well as golden Japanese red pines and cork bark cultivars.



Outside the pine exhibit were a few large Chabo Hiba hinoki cypress. This dwarf cultivar was used for bonsai in the early 1900s and many of the historic first bonsai imported to the United States were of this cultivar, which is difficult to find.


There was another exhibit building featuring Chinese and Japanese native orchids which were in full flower with aromatic blossoms. Across from the orchid display was a special exhibit of Acorus, or Dwarf sweet flag, Acorus gramineus.


Walking through the botanical garden was a tropical greenhouse in the distance. Many plant species which are used for bonsai training were seen as we walked through the hilly gardens. In the greenhouse were unusual tropical plants and an outdoor display of carnivorous plants, several native to the United States. Nearly every plant in the botanical garden was labeled, which I found helpful.






This carnivorous plant looks like Dark Vader!

This visit was valuable for me. There is more to bonsai art than just pruning, wiring and shaping… which most people do not understand or appreciate.


Garden of Monet


Views are appreciated for their scenic reflections

There are only two official “Gardens of Monet” in the world and we were fortunate to visit the one near Kochi. Claude Monet was a founder of French impressionist painting and loved and treasured Japan’s ukieo-e wood block prints. He developed his personal garden in France so he could paint beautiful scenes. The village of Kitagawa developed this unique Garden of Monet.








We were fortunate to be guided by the head gardener who explained many interesting facts. The original garden, opened in 2003 duplicated exactly the original garden in France. However, as the French plants grew, they failed because of the difference of moist and wet climates. So, this garden changed to Japanese species which are in the “spirit” of Monet. The head gardener visited France and Europe to study the scenes and species and has done a superb job developing and maintaining the Garden of Monet, which features vast areas of colorful flowers, as well as water gardens with blue water lilies Monet liked to paint. Plus, a garden of light was developed.


Although the gardens and vistas looked unkempt, they are actually planned and skillfully maintained. I also saw something new “Super Salvia” a tall growing Salvia from the United States.


Oka Palace

Next, we briefly visited the Oka Palace, developed by a wealthy merchant built in 1844. The Tosa Clan Lord would stay in the Oka Palace during his stay in the area, preparing for his required visit to Edo, every year. His procession was comprised of 2,000 to 3,000 people and took two to three months.


We visited his sitting room, slightly elevated from other rooms and saw where he sat viewing his small garden featuring a trained garden tree which has been trained to look like a dragon’s face. Since the Tosa Lord was not there, I took the privilege to use his seat to enjoy the garden view.


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Ioki Cave

On our return trip back to Kochi City we stopped at the Ioki Cave which was made by flowing water and soft limestone erosion some three million years ago. This well-known cave for its peaceful and healing properties.


The entrance was dark, and I was a bit apprehension to enter because it was completely dark inside. I saw a small white bag hanging on a stick and was told it keeps the wild boars away. Later we were told the cave is home to bats, poisonous snakes and wild boars. Following the winding path in the shallow water (we were given boots and helmets) suddenly the sky opened up to a magnificent sight. I thought I was in Jurassic Park!


The cave is well known for its unique fern communities. Forty different fern species are native in this cave. Japan has 400 to 600 different fern species. Kochi Prefecture has more native ferns than all of North America.


That was quite busy day, especially with Jet lag! Next we cross Shikoku Island to Kagawa Prefecture home to the Takamatsu area featuring the finest pine bonsai production in the world.



Watch for my article in a future issue of International BONSAI, and visit

Discover Shikoku!

2017 4th Zhongguo Feng Penjing Exhibition– Part 4 Stones, Sales Area & More



Mixed in with the shohin bonsai displays were beautiful stone arrangements, small and elegant of course. They were displayed on traditional shohin bonsai box stands. Some of the stone arrangements had artificial trees, very cute and probably took a great amount of time to create, but easy to care for.








There were several displays featuring grasses and two hanging bonsai as well.








The entire exhibition was held in the center of a huge greenhouse complex. Surrounding the exhibition on three sides, but still in the greenhouse complex was the sales area which wrapped around the exhibition.




On one side there were mostly plants and bonsai, from young untrained material to developed, and heavy bonsai which needed to be moved by a fork lift. All looked healthy and clean. Nearly all were Chinese, but I did spot many Japanese imports. Since I’ve been to Japan a couple of times, I can easily recognize Japanese bonsai, especially the Satsuki azaleas. I did not spend too much time looking at the plants because they were too tempting and I did not want to get into trouble. But, if they were easily importable, I would have purchased many.






There seemed to be a great number of sales areas devoted to shohin bonsai, containers and display tables. Hand carved root stands were abundant if you looked. In June I had a difficult time finding the perfect size shohin display table for a Sargent juniper displayed at the 2017 US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition held in North Carolina. Suddenly I came across a wide selection of small square display tables. When I approached the salesperson he looked proud of his hand made tables and took one off the table and stood on it. It was only three inches square, but quite strong. Unfortunately the airline personal were stronger and I now have a “kit.” But I purchased several of different sizes for future displays.








The larger size bonsai containers were quite elegant. Each registrant received a beautiful commemorative container upon arrival. Two of the identical containers were put into the auction and were sold for $2,000 and $3,000. Each container was numbered and the ones auctioned had special numbers which are considered lucky.


This bonsai was planted on an interesting piece of driftwood and looked different.


A couple of more photos of the demonstrators. Elsa Boudouri from Greece created a beautiful Japanese black pine, while Chris Xepapas from Australia shaped a cascade Sargent juniper while I shaped another Japanese black pine. We were three Greeks, but never had the opportunity to get a group shot together. So it takes two images to get us all together.



Two Greeks and my Australian friend & assistant

The entire exhibition was great, well organized and hosted by friendly young people who spoke English and were helpful. A big thanks to the three groups organizing the event and to Robert Steven who arranged for the demonstrators from around the world. Well done!


2017 4th Zhongguo Feng Penjing Exhibition– Part 3 Exhibition




I was very pleased to see this exhibition, as it was different from others I’ve seen in China. There were a wide range of different styles and sizes represented which presented an interesting balance, something for everyone. I was told it “almost” represented all the different styles of bonsai in China. Some of the bonsai were huge, while most were of average size. But I believe there were more individual shohin bonsai than larger trees. The only reason I’m in one of the photos is for size comparison, but remember, I’m not that tall. Good things come in small sizes. Compare the prices of small bonsai containers to larger pots.





The exhibition was in a huge greenhouse complex with shading on the ceiling to shield the harsh sun and intense heat. Red and white flags decorated the ceiling to break up the wide expanse. Surrounding the exhibition, but still in the greenhouse complex, were the vendors offering a wide range of products and plants which will be in Part 4.







The layout and design of the exhibition was great! Three walls surrounded the exhibition which displayed shohin and small size bonsai. The lighting and white backgrounds were perfect for photographing and a good representative can be seen in Part 1 of this blog.



The central part of the bonsai exhibit was a delightful stroll through a maze of tall yellow backgrounds which were able to be put side to side to make a wider background for the larger size trees t. It was easy to get lost, but everywhere one turned you could see another beautiful small display which lead visitors through a lovely stroll through the bonsai. All were painted yellow and were of different heights which provided an interesting view for the visitors. The yellow color was not perfect for photos, but the exhibition was not set up for photographers. Nearly every background wall had a much lower attached lower block where a shorter bonsai or was displayed.





Careful and thoughtful taste was used when grouping the trees into effective smaller displays, many quite distinctive. In most cases, size and direction of the trees were considered.




Common Pomegranate, not the dwarf cultivar










There were several grass plantings. An identical 3 foot wide planting of  Dwarf Acorus planted with stones on a marble tray sold for US $3,000. in the auction.





Note the display table has been cut on one side






This shohin Japanese black pine was in the sales area, not the exhibition


This was my personal favorite bonsai in the exhibition


As in most of the exhibitions I’ve attended in China, the opening ceremony and first day were extremely crowded and made it difficult to photograph the exhibition. But on the third day one could roll a bowling ball through the exhibition and not hit a single person. On the first day seven busses were necessary to move people from our beautiful and comfortable hotel to the exhibition. On our last day, everyone fit in one bus.


2017 4th Zhongguo Feng Penjing Exhibition– Part 2 Demonstrations


While over 10,000 people enjoyed the beautiful bonsai and visiting over 300 vendors the organizations sponsoring the exhibition arranged for Robert Steven to coordinate the demonstration programs.



There were thirty demonstrators from throughout the world, each working on conifer bonsai, mostly Sargent Juniper, Japanese five-needle pine and Japanese Black & Red Pines.




All the demo trees were well established, many in bonsai containers. The many Chinese demonstrators, however, had a definite advantage because they brought their own material, mostly pretrained and much larger and quite a bit different that the trees provided to the foreigners. I don’t blame them and I would have the same if had the opportunity.



There were five sessions for the demonstrations, during two and a half days. Although three hours were allocated for each demo, most did not require the total time.


Eight demonstrations were on the same stage at the same time, but the last session only had six demonstrators. During the demos there was loud Chinese music in the background. Behind the eight demonstrators was a huge LED projection screen with close ups of the people working, and these changed as well all the time. It was quite distracting for both the viewers and demonstrators. Carefully look at the next photo of Sharon from Germany working. There is a black circle around her, while the red circle is around her projected image. Kind of strange…. There is also a head above her head from the screen as well.



All the demo trees were displayed beforehand next to a hanging scroll of each demonstrator’s face, name and country. A great unique idea! And, the same image was also used on large banners announcing the demos and also used on the custom made aprons. Even better a duplicate scroll was presented to each demonstrator along with a certificate at the conclusion of each demo.
















I selected my Japanese black pine demo tree and decided on a good front to make a simple classical bonsai. The back had an ugly scar with a piece of dead wood imbedded into the hollow scar. Just before my demo I decide to turn the tree around to emphasize a long lower branch for the focal point. Unfortunately, that left the scar exposed. But I brought my own tools, and copper wire too, since I don’t really like using sissy wire. During the demos there was a moderator in Chinese with a translator. When he approached me he grabbed the lower trunk of my tree to move it. Well, I had a wooden mallet which I was using to hollow out the trunk in my hand and said ‘NO’, he kept his hands on the rough bark, so when I went to smack his hand, he moved. I nicely explained that the rough bark requires years to develop and is highly prized. I then needed a sweet tea break, not McDonalds, but still delicious… and full of sugar. My good friend Dianne Boekhout from Perth, Western Australia assisted me and we both had black hands after needle plucking and wiring. She has helped me several times and know how I work, and is also President of the Australian Associated Bonsai Clubs.





I did NOT add the cone and got lucky we did not knock it off while shaping  the tree




Actually, just before our demo I spotted another great tree, a large Japanese red pine. So, I tried to switch it, however the Chinese owner brought it from home for his demo so it was not available. Good thing we did not use it. He had SEVEN people helping him shape the tree and took all the allocated time.