Oribe Glazes

The color “Oribe” is a type of Japanese ceramic glaze in blue and/or green. It first appeared during the Keicho and Genna Eras (1596-1624). The name Oribe is derived from Furuta Oribe, a pupil of Sen no Rikyu, under whose guidance it was first produced. The color was originally used for serving food and drinking tea objects.

Oribe glazed Koyo water basins, Koyo Collection

Oribe glaze test tiles from the Koyo Kiln

Glazed container from the private Koyo Collection

Small glazed containers from the Koyo showroom

Most ceramic bonsai container artists in Japan, have their own distinctive variation of the Oribe glaze. One of my favorite ceramic artists is Kouichirou Aiba who specializes in Oribe glazed bonsai containers. His grandfather established a kiln specializing in pots for plants and tableware and Aiba established his Koyo To-en Kiln in 1969 in Tokoname Japan. Kouichirou Aiba’s (1944-2021) son Kuniaki Aiba continues with his father’s excellence under the name Koyo Juko. Kouso Aiba, Kouichiro’s wife also makes smaller containers for bonsai and kusamono.

Name card of Juko Koyo featuring oribe glaze

Mr. Kouichirou Aiba

Many Oribe glazed containers can be seen in my bonsai collection, since I specialize in deciduous, forest and unusual bonsai. Many different artists are represented in my bonsai collection. I personally like how the bright blue/green colors contrast well with spring, autumn and summer foliage. Some have asked me if I’m tired of Oribe containers. But I see something different in each containers because each glaze is unique. However, it is sometimes difficult to compose a bonsai display with many of the same colors. This is especially difficult when creating a shohin bonsai composition. But I have several different color containers for the same tree. I have 12 containers all of different colors for one Maple, some, however are unglazed for winter display.

Washington hawthorn, Koyo container

Deshojo Japanese maple, Koyo container

Koto Hime Japanese maple, Koyo container

Shishigashira Japanese maple, Koyo container

Shishigashira Japanese maple, Reiho container

Dwarf contort Bradford pear, Reiho container

Kiyo Hime Japanese maple, Reiho container

Full Moon maple, Reiho container

Full Moon maple, Suishouen Heikisui container

Yesterday, Diane and I were furniture shopping to fill our empty home which suffered another house fire on September 24, 2022. Having lived in hotels since September, we are anxious to return to a more normal life. As we were walking around I noticed a large painting which reminded me of the Oribe glaze created by the Koyo Kiln. The large painting will be hung behind a sofa, whenever we can move back home.

Painting for new Valavanis home

Toshio (Norio) Kobayashi

I’m always learning something new.

Last week I visited the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum and enjoyed a special exhibit on Bonsai Chronicles curated by Dr. Fumio Taguchi. There were large images and even accompanied with English translations. I was surprised that Norio Kobayashi’s first name was mentioned as “Toshio.” For over 60 years I have known this bonsai pioneer as “Norio.” He even wrote one of the first books in English with the name Norio in 1951. Mr. Kobayashi was instrumental with the founding of the Kokufu Bonsai Club which sponsored the first Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in 1934. In the 1960s the Kokufu Bonsai Club reorganized to become the Nippon Bonsai Association, current sponsor of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions. He is not related to Kunio Kobayashi.

1927 Bonsai Exhibition

Mr. Kobayashi first published and edited the monthly magazine “Bonsai” beginning in 1931. This was the third bonsai magazine published in Japan and became the most influential magazine for over half a century. He published and edited 518 consecutive issues, with the final issue in October 1967.

The last issue of Bonsai Magazine, No. 518 was published i n October 1967

While at the museum, one of the curators Dr. Fumio Taguchi approached and gave me a few copies of the English commemorative album from the special exhibition on Yuji Yoshimura where I presented a program on Yuji Yoshimura in November 2019. While chatting with Dr. Taguchi, I asked about Mr. Kobayashi’s first name, which I thought was Norio. He said that I’m wrong. The correct translation of his first name is Toshio! For decades we have been using his incorrect first name!

Mr. Kobayashi with the 518 issues of Bonsai Magazines

On the same topic, Yuji Yoshimura’s younger brother’s name was Kanekazu, and his family knew him as such. But, about 20 years ago I learned that the correct pronunciation of his name is Kinichi. Even Mr. Yoshimura’s two daughters did not know their uncle’s correct name. The Japanese language, especially names, is difficult. But at least we can now begin using the correct pronunciations. 

Kinichi (Kanekazu) Yoshimura

Photos courtesy of Dr. Taguchi and the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.

There is always new for me to learn and share with the global bonsai community.

2023 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition- Part 5

This year, Part 2 of the 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is being held on February 15-18, 2023 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan.

I’m not quite certain what the exhibitor was featuring here, the container or Gardenia

My “guess” the 400 year old antique Chinese container, valued at US $350,000 was being shown. The quality of this unique container overpowers the Gardenia, but it did have a few fruit.

An elegant Japanese hemlock forest

Hard to beat this Shishigashira Japanese maple. It has trunk movement, taper, surface root display, asymmetrical silhouette and evenly distributed fine twigs throughout the tree. Fine, delicate twigs on a Shishigashira Japanese maple are rare. And, it even looks comfortable in the antique Chinese container which is matched with the quality of the bonsai. One of my favorite bonsai, even though it looks like needing a repotting in my learned eye….

2023 10th Japan Suiseki Exhibition

The 10th Japan Suiseki Exhibition was held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo, on February 14-18, 2023. This is the same venue as the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition, but in a different gallery on the 2nd floor. Kunio Kobayashi and Seiji Morimae head up the Nippon Suiseki Association.

It was Toshio’s (Norio) Kobayashi’s (no relation to Kunio Kobayashi,) dream to elevate the art of bonsai by having an exhibition in an art museum. He succeeded, and in 1934, with the assistance of Count Matsudaira, a now annual exhibition of miniature trees can be enjoyed. Toshio Kobayashi was a pioneer in bonsai promotion and published the monthly Bonsai magazine for 518 issues. This year marks the 97TH edition of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. For a couple of decades, the exhibition was held twice a year, but changed to an annual event in 1960.

Exhibited by Ronald C. Maggio III

Displayed by Ronald C. Maggio

I found it interesting that in 1934 museum officials did not originally want to display bonsai because they were “dirty” with soil and “smelly” from organic fertilizers. That was the main reason soil needed to be 100% covered in green moss. The bonsai exhibition is now held on the bottom levels of the current art museum with ceramic floor tiles. The suiseki exhibition is held in a 2nd floor gallery which is carpet covered. No water is allowed in this exhibition room which is the reason why water is not included in the water basin displays of suiseki, the traditional and formal way of appreciating suiseki. Also, that’s why there are no accessory plantings displayed with the stones.

2023 10th Japan Suiseki Exhibition Statistics

8 Featured Entries

32 Alcove Displays

1 Guest Entry- Hosokawa School of Bonseki “Surging Sea”

78 General Exhibits

22 International General Exhibits from:

United States








Kunio Kobayashi and Seiji Morimae both have fine taste and the drive to promote and elevate both the arts of suiseki and bonsai. They have dedicated their lives to these arts and endlessly work year around and all day long for their passion.

Hosokawa School of Bonkei “Surging Sea”

A Visit To Shunka-en Bonsai Museum

On our journey to Tokoname, we visited Kunio Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Museum in Tokyo.  It’s been a few years since I last visited his museum and can’t believe he has even more larger bonsai than before. However, each was meticulously manicured and beautiful as well.

I noticed a great number of Japanese maples which were being approached and thread grafted. The Chinese want maples with red leaves, so they are changing the maples from the common Japanese maple, Acer palmatum to the cultivar “Deshojo” which has scarlet spring new growth. Sometimes the red foliage lasts through the summer. I was surprised they did not use “Seigen,” “Chisio,” and “Beni Chidori,” which all lead out red in spring. Perhaps Deshojo is a more vigorous grower and easy to cultivate. I also saw many such maples being grafted at Seiji Morimae’s S-Cube garden in Hanyu. I’m going to watch these trees develop in November when will be bringing a few people to visit Taikan Bonsai Exhibition.

2023 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition- Part 4

Chinese hackberry, Celtis sinensis.

This year, Part 2 of the 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is being held on February 15-18, 2023 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan.

Part 2 has all new trees, accessories, suiseki and other ornaments. I personally thought Part 1 was superb, and it was. However, Part 2 seemed to have higher quality and more unusual species. This was the opening day for Part 2, and I did not see big crowds, perhaps because of Covid?

Winter flowering cherry

Data from Part 2:

140 Exhibit Areas

90 Large Bonsai

27 Chuhin (Medium) Compositions (54 Pcs.)

14 Small bonsai

8 Shohin Compositions (52 pcs.)

Total Displayed Bonsai, Approximately 212

3 Kokufu Prizes

12 Kicho (Important Bonsai Masterpieces)

2 Special Exhibits

Foreign Exhibitors:

1 Italy

1 Thailand

1 Suri Lanka

Kokufu Prize. Amelanchier asiatica, Shadblow

Kokufu Prize. Sargent Juniper.

Kokufu Prize. Shohin Bonsai Composition, mixed species,

Rock planting, clinging-to-a rock style, SHOHIN bonsai.

All of my study is not completed yet, I got tired because I spent all morning in the suiseki exhibition, held on the second floor of the same building. I did however enjoy seeing an Amelanchier, Shadblow bonsai win one of the Kokufu Prizes. Also I noticed three Hemlock and many Shishigashira Japanese maples. Part 1 also had several too. Additionally, there as a Chinese hackberry, not often displayed. For the first time I saw a Japanese or Chinese plum Prunus salicina, NOT Japanese flowering apricot, Prunus mume, which is misnamed “Plum.”

I’ll probably notice more tomorrow. Think I’ll visit the bonsai exhibition first, then meander to the suiseki exhibition.

2023 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition- Part 3

We spent our third full day of visiting Part 1 of the 2023 Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition and the Ueno Green Club sales area of the Nippon Bonsai Growers Cooperative.

Enjoy these last few photos from Part 1 of the exhibition, plus a few random images from the Ueno Green Club.

US $750,000. Sold1

US $30,000.

We leave tomorrow to visit other bonsai gardens on our way to Tokoname to purchase containers. Look for additional images soon.

2023 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition- Part 2

2023 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition- Part 2

We spent our second full day of visiting Part 1 of the 2023 Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition and the Ueno Green Club sales area of the Nippon Bonsai Growers Cooperative.

Today we woke up to snow flurries which later in the morning became a bit heaver, just like our May weather conditions in Rochester, New York. I hate cold weather and even more SNOW, although I think it is decretive, especially on Xmas cards. The snow became a bit heavier and the outdoor sales area were empty. Marco Invernizzi and friends set up a heated café in the back of a truck near their sales area.

After lunch, the snow turned to rain and persisted through our evening walk to dinner. But we took a taxi home.

The exhibition attendance was quite sparse, but ideal for studying the trees, especially when trying to capture the essence of their beauty in a digital format to share with others around the world.

Special exhibit: Japanese Black Pine from the Imperiaollection

Special exhibit: Japanese Flowering Quince by the honorary President of the Nippon Bonsai Association

Throughout the four galleries of exhibited bonsai I noticed a small glass cup behind ever other of the bonsai compositions, hidden behind a rear leg of the bonsai display tables. Guess they were not hidden too well, as I noticed them and many other interesting things throughout the exhibition. Originally, I thought they contained water for extra humidity in the heated galleries. About the same time, I noticed Adam Jones, originally from Pennsylvania, and now living in Japan after studying bonsai with three generations of the Saburo Kato family in Omiya Bonsai Village. He married a Japanese lady and has started a family and a bonsai garden teaching and preparing bonsai for exporting in a quarantine greenhouse. The garden is centered around his beautiful ancient 200 year old home. His business, Tree House Bonsai, sells through the internet and does mail order as well. He can be contacted through his website, www.treehousebonsai.com  He is the only Westerner professional bonsai artist doing business in Japan.SSSSS

Since Adam is bilingual and knows, I asked him about the glass cups. He said they contain Biochar (charcoal) to help the trees stay healthy with purified air. Apparently one of leaders of the Nippon Bonsai Association has a business selling Biochar. I use it in my soil mixes.

I wonder what I will see and learn tomorrow at the exhibition and sales area…  Stay tuned for more photos tomorrow.

2023 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition- Part 1

2023 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition- Part 1

This year, Part 1 of the 97th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is being held on February 9-12, 2023 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan.

Having missed the last two Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions, I personally feel the beautiful bonsai on display this year was

Worth The Wait!

Got my old job back but the guard refused to let me hold the sign!

Data from Part 1:

140 Exhibit Areas

95 Large Bonsai

35 Chuhin (Medium) Compositions (70 pcs.)

8 Shohin Compositions (52 pcs.)

Total Displayed Bonsai, Approximately 189

3 Kokufu Prizes

13 Kicho (Important Bonsai Masterpieces)

2 Special Exhibits

Foreign Exhibitors:

2 U.S.A

4 Italy

2 Germany

1 Thailand

1 England

1 China

Kokufu Prize Japanese black pine

Kokufu prize Chojubai Award Japanese flowering quince

Kokufu Prize Korean hornbeam

The first Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition was held in March 1934 in the old Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. This is the 89th year the exhibition has been held with the 97th exhibitions. Originally the exhibition was held twice a year for about ten years. It was suspended for three years because of World War II. 

A few things I noticed this year is a slight change in the lighting causing interfering shadows on the backgrounds making the trees difficult to photograph. But, it must be remembered that the exhibition has been set up to showcase the bonsai for apppreciation, not for photography.

All the Kicho important bonsai masterpieces did not have the silver colored plaque and special hanging label. Although all the Kicho important bonsai masterpieces were labeled with cardboard signs. Also, a great many of the bonsai were not centered on the display tables and some were not straight. Perhaps they were moved when watering? The aisles appeared to be wider, probably because of Covid restrictions. Everyone entering the museum had to wear a face mask and sanitized their hands.

More photos tomorrow as I continue my study and appreciation of this fine art.

An Unexpected Surprise Visit To Omiya!

An Unexpected Surprise Visit To Omiya!

Many years ago, Megumi Kadokura posted several old photos of bonsai on Facebook. I recognized many of the bonsai and people. We began corresponding and I learned that her grandfather was a well-known bonsai artist who had his garden near the Omiya Koen train stop. He was a prominent leader in the bonsai world when the organization changed from the Tokyo Bonsai Club to the Nippon Bonsai Society in the early 1960s. He often displayed in the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in the 1950s. In the early 1970s I remember seeing the garden while on the train and one day while I was an Omiya Bonsai Village apprentice with another artist, I was allowed to visit this hidden gem of the Omiya Bonsai Village, once. At that time, it was not proper for an apprentice to visit other bonsai gardens. However, since I was a foreigner and my teacher spoke English I was able to do many things other apprentices could not.

Unfortunately, the garden is now gone, and Megumi donated many of her grandfather’s artifacts and display tables to the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum. We finally met several years ago and now visit with her during my many visits to the Omiya Bonsai Village, since she lives nearby.

Dave Steele and Carlos Morales were with me at the California Shohin Bonsai Meeting. Since my tour begins tomorrow, Thursday, we traveled to Japan a day early to “look around.” Megumi came to our hotel on Tuesday evening upon our arrival in Tokyo and offered to drive us to the Omiya Bonsai Village. Although a train ride is quicker, we jumped at the opportunity to get a sneak preview of what my tour will visit next week.

Of course, our first visit was to see Hiroshi Takeyama’s Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden. I apprenticed at Shoto-en Bonsai which was across the street and have known Mr. Takeyama for over 50 years. Several decades ago I brought him to teach at one of my 30 successful bonsai symposia in Rochester.

Mr. Takeyama, the second-generation proprietor of the garden specializes in deciduous, unusual species and forest plantings, which I admire. His garden had a wonderful spicy fragrance of the many Japanese flowering apricots which were in full blossom. Most of his Trident maple forests with beautiful fine twigs were protected in a poly house during the winter which is temporarily constructed covering two of his bonsai tables. Also in the poly house were his small deciduous bonsai and a few other tender species. The poly house is not heated and both ends are open revealing a private display of some of his best small and a bit tender species. Developing the fine twigs on deciduous species requires several decades and can easily wither during cold winters.

I noticed that all of the Rough bark Japanese maples were outside because they do not develop fine twigs, while other maples were protected. In autumn Mr. Takeyama prepares his deciduous species for spring repotting by removing a small circle of roots growing around the edge of the container and filling in with fresh soil. Sometimes, the roots produce a lot of pressure and will expand during the cold temperatures breaking valuable containers, especially when pot bound. Since deciduous species tend to be more vigorous than evergreens they require repotting more often.

A wood planting, I wonder how long it will last.

Mr. Takeyama now accepts PayPal!

We then paid our respects to Mr. Murata’s family since he passed away recently. I spent my first summer in 1970 studying with Kyuzo Murata at Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden, who passed about 20 years ago. His son Isamu took over his father’s garden. After he recently passed his son, Yukio the the third-generation, took over the family business. He speaks English well and is quite knowledgable. Down the road, two blocks away, we visited Seiko-en Bonsai Garden of Tomio Yamada and is daughter Kaori who developed “saika bonsai.” Mr. Yamada daughter is the fifth- generation artist of Seiko-en Bonsai Garden.

Finally, we stopped at the oldest garden in Omiya, of the Kato family, Mansei-en Bonsai Garden now run by the fifth-generation Haruhiko Kato. We ran into Bjorn Bjorhlom, who was leading a bonsai tour. I’m thinking that this year’s Kokufu Bonsai Exhibit will be full of foreigners because they have not been allowed to enter Japan for three years!

Notice the Japanese maple bonsai with fine twigs are placed under the roof eaves.

A rough bark old Japanese black pine, NOT nishiki or cork bark.

Enjoy the photos, next week when I bring my tour here I’ll all the things I missed today…

Interesting outdoor small sink on the balcony of the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.