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.

2023 California Shohin Bonsai Society Seminar

This popular event was held on February 3-5, 2023 at the newly remodeled Mission Del Oro Hotel in beautiful downtown Santa Nella, California. Over 125 full registrants participated in workshops, lecture-demonstrations as well as many day pass walk in visitors.

The main emphasis for this event was 29 workshops as well as eight lecture-demonstrations plus an elegant room full of beautiful developed shohin bonsai as well as shohin bonsai compositions.

Maidenhair Tree, Ginkgo biloba

Tamarix, Tamarix  ramosissima

None of the demonstrators, workshop leaders and committee got paid. Everyone donated their time, talent, travel expenses and hotel fees volunteered to help support the three California Bonsai Federation’s bonsai collections. All proceeds were split three ways to help support the shohin bonsai in each of the collections. This year, following the most delicious banquet meal I have had the pleasure of enjoying (and I have attended numerous banquets around the world) empty envelopes which will eventually have a $10,000 check to each of the three bonsai collections. This was the proceeds from the last California Shohin Bonsai Society’s Seminar from three years ago. The evening finished up with a large collection of donated items for the popular raffle, which is where the funds originate

In addition to the Shohin Bonsai Exhibit there were two rooms full of vendors offering their ware in the vending area. Everyone had fun, learned a lot, as long-time friends met once again while supporting shohin bonsai in California.

2022 10th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo– Part 2PART II

As promised, Joe Noga’s professional studio photographs.


Best of Show

Japanese Five-needle pine

Adair Martin

Best Conifer

Japanese Black pine

Arjun Sawhey

Best Deciduous

Chinese Hackberry

Brian Mercer

Best Flowering


Rob Kempinski

Best Display

Shohin Bonsai Composition

Shanon Salyer

Best Tropical

Brazilian Rain Tree

Bruce Hartman

Peope’s Choice

Dwarf Hinoki Cypress Forest

Steve Zeisel

Bonsai Displays

Additionally, Rodney Clemons, Tyler Sherrod and Wm. N. Valavanis presented educational and well attended demonstrations. Early on Sunday morning, Wm. N. Valavanis presented an exhibit critique for those who displayed bonsai.

The 11th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo will take place on December  2-3, 2023.

Thank you to all the exhibitors who brought their bonsai for display and to the North Carolina Research Center for hosting this important special National Exhibition.

A special note of appreciation to bonsai photographer Joe Noga and his team of Sam and Katrina who spent two days moving and capturing the beauty of each bonsai.

Thank you again Steve for sponsoring this important national exhibition!

10th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo

Steve Zeisel, sponsor of the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo did it again, and visitors enjoyed an elegant display of bonsai! Every bonsai was of much better quality than in the first nine expos featuring naked trees. He holds the event to promote bonsai and allows exhibitors to express their beautiful bonsai and creative displays, especially in their winter appearance. 

There were more bonsai this year, and all were better designed and exquisitely displayed. Each exhibitor was allocated a six or eight foot table to fill. Most were well arranged, however some artists tried to display too many trees in their allocated area. The critique on Sunday morning will discuss some basic display information so visitors can improve their bonsai for next year’s Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo.

The highly regarded and anticipated Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo was again held at the North Carolina Research Center in Kannapolis, outside Charlotte, NC, on December 3-4, 2022.

In addition to the bonsai on display in a magnificent five story rotunda which is covered in imported Italian marble, several suiseki and accessory plantings were shown. Steve has had an excellent track record of hosting this elegant display which also had three rooms of vendors combined with demonstrations.

Several demonstrations and a wide variety of vendors completed the exhibition as well as critique on Sunday morning for exhibitors. On Saturday afternoon, there was a benefit auction to help defray the costs to produce this fine exhibition. It’s one of my most favorite shows of the year which I look forward to.

A well deserved thank you to Steve Zeisel for sponsoring the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo. Attached are my quick photos so you can see the expo now. Joe Noga is professionally photographing the show and his high quality images will be forthcoming, along with the Award Winners.

Be sure to add next year’s Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo on December 2-3, 2023 on your must to do list.

2022 42ND Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition– Part 3

A few parting images from the exhibition. The attendance was not as previous years, but the bonsai were of a higher quality. This exhibition often includes hanging scrolls, suiseki and other art as accessories as well as grass plantings. The new black color background made the scrolls really stand out, perhaps a bit too much. Most of these professionally produced bonsai exhibitions often consider the owner’s taste. Remember most of these masterpiece bonsai are not cared for by their owners. Professional bonsai artists generally care for their trees, usually at their garden.

Generally, the common current trend of display often tells a story or reminds viewers of natural scenes. However, nearly all Japanese bonsai display indicates seasonality. This can be done in three ways, the condition of the tree, scroll theme or the accessory. This is important. What about evergreens? Although many species have a winter purplish color, most do not. In this case the scroll, accessory planting or figurine must indicate the season. The seasonality of evergreens, which are always “evergreen,” is suggested by a scroll, perhaps a mountain scene for winter or waterfall for summer. I really like the Nippon Taikan Bonsai Exhibitions because the entire composition can be expressed by the artists and visitors can easily study Japanese aesthetics.

Many of the displayed bonsai have been awarded the title of “important bonsai masterpiece” classification or “kicho bonsai”. They are carefully judged and require a judging fee of about $200. Then if the tree is considered worthy of the title the owner, not artist pay about $10,000. These trees are nearly always accepted when selecting bonsai for displays. Most often the trees are simply displayed and may include a small important masterpiece bonsai hanging on the tree, but not in front. Other times the owner really wants to show off his expensive masterpiece and will include the silver metal plaque in front of their bonsai. Most exhibitors, however, truly love the art and simply want to share their beauty with the public, and no indication is visible. Others want you to know they own such an important masterpiece and leave the identification tag on the tree, or sometimes display their plaque. The worldwide bonsai community is the same everywhere. Some display for the love of their art and others want praise and recognition. I’ve even seen bonsai displayed anonymously, with no owner’s name. But even these trees require hundreds of dollars (yen) entry fees, transporting charges and also must pay for the rental of display tables, scrolls, accessories and even containers. The professional bonsai artist generally offers these services. Way back in the 1990s I know of one professional artist who took 17 truckloads of his customer’s trees for exhibition.

Bonsai lovers and inhabitant’s Mark and Rita Cooper from England displayed one of their new Shishigashira Japanese maple bonsai. But without any indication of its important bonsai masterpiece status. They simply wanted to share their bonsai. It did win an award, I know, because I was one of the judges. They commented to me they now want to enter this bonsai in the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in Ueno Park, Tokyo, in February. But they must first find or rent a suitable container, because the quality and size of the present container are not of the top level to be accepted in the exhibition. There is more to displaying a bonsai than to walk into your garden the night before a show, select a tree and clean the container, hopefully, add moss and take it to a show. Many of the bonsai in Japan, and now in the United States as well are taking years to prepare their trees for show.

On Sunday afternoon the bonsai community, organized by Seiji Morimae, sponsored a charity auction for the people of the Ukraine, which has a sister city relationship with the city of Kyoto. Even the Kyoto mayor attended the auction. He really likes bonsai and attends this exhibition yearly. It’s always good to have a high-level politician who likes bonsai on your side. 

Approximately 75 bonsai, important bonsai masterpieces, suiseki, containers and other art were donated. Mashiko Kimura donated four of his bonsai for the auction including a certificate of authentic. Perhaps the most valuable bonsai auctioned was a large prize winning multiple trunk Chinese quince which is well known and also an important bonsai masterpiece. Mr. Morimae is a master auctioneer and quickly sold all the items in just less than two hours to about 40 bidders. But, to be fair, he had a large army of apprentices moving the trees all the time. Many were four-man size. Oh, the beautiful Chinese quince sold for about $850,000, PLUS a 5% buyers fee of about $40,000. I’m certain the new owner will have someone to care for the tree, or perhaps a professional bonsai artist purchased it for resale.

Traveling half way around the world to spend a four-day weekend at the exhibition was a very rewarding tiring learning experience to personally because I have not been able to enter Japan for three years. Now I’m tired, remember the weekend before we drove 6,000 miles to participate in the Pacific Bonsai Expo in California. But I can sleep on the plane ride home, because we leave on Thursday for the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo in North Carolina. To be honest, I’m displaying the two maples from the Pacific Bonsai Expo in North Carolina as they are show ready. I did not even unwrap the display tables. All ready to roll! Oh, in the meantime I must help Diane with handling the fire damaged home. We now have a “tentative” move in date of March 10th. Of course, it will be snowy and the beginning of transplanting season. Good thing I’ve been blessed with a loving, hard working beautiful wife and dedicated crew to help with whatever is needed to keep me going to improve and spread bonsai. Good thing I’m bionic! I hope you have enjoyed my trip through this blog.