2018 92nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition II– Part 1







The 92nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is being held in two parts again this year. The second part II runs from February 13-16, 2018 and here are a few photos of bonsai which captured my trained eye. Please remember that the bonsai are displayed in the exhibition are for live viewing, NOT for photographing. It is extremely difficult to get a good image of a tree because of different lighting and different backgrounds in each area. Plus the ceiling heights are also different and the exhibition is full of people trying to enjoy the beauty of the bonsai. Many of these photos were actually taken by my new iPhone X, not my Cannon DSLR. Then after trying to take a decent and acceptable image they must be adjusted for lighting, color balance, detail enhancement and the background seams must be removed, including their shadows on the display tables. Often the name tag, display number tag and information sheets are also removed to present an image of the displayed bonsai. Again, finer quality photos will be appearing in a future issue of International BONSAI.IMG_7530.jpg





Now having seen both Parts I and II it is my impression that Part II is better because of the quality of the bonsai and diversity of both species and styles. Also, having seen and studied more than 40 Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions it is my opinion that this is the best show yet. I still have another two days to carefully look over Part II, and I’m certain to find things I missed during my first three times through the exhibition.




Although all 221 bonsai were switched from Part I, except for the Imperial Bonsai Special Display, I noticed several of the accessory plantings used again, and why not, they look great. There were several Ezo spruce bonsai in this part and I found a great diversity in the foliage. I’ll try to photograph them today to share.




2018 Part II Statistics

161 Individual Bonsai Displays

114 Large Size Bonsai

43 Medium Size Bonsai Displays (approx. 86 individual trees)

4 Shohin Bonsai Displays (24 individual trees)


Total Bonsai Displayed approx. 224

19 Registered Important Bonsai Masterpieces

4 Kokufu Bonsai Prizes

3 Bonsai Displayed with Suiseki

2 Bonsai Displayed by Americans


Kokufu Prize

Japanese Black Pine



Kokufu Prize

Chinese Quince



Kokufu Prize

Trident Maple



Kokufu Prize

Needle Juniper

Congratulations go to Shinji Suzuki whose clients won three out of the four Kokufu Prize winners. He is responsible for displaying and preparing the bonsai for his clients, but not necessarily for their creation. Masterpiece bonsai of this quality take many decades to develop and are bought and sold frequently. Each time they change hands they usually improve in quality. It is not uncommon to see a famous bonsai in different gardens every year.




When my group visited Mr. Kimura’s garden last week I asked him how many bonsai he worked on which are on display. He said 55 pieces, which is down from over 70 a few years ago. Still, that’s a staggering number to be proud of considering about 445 bonsai were displayed this year. One of his newest tall rock planting creations of Tsuyama Hinoki Cypress was displayed for the first time this year, under his client’s name of course.




Three bonsai were displayed by Americans


Satsuki Azalea displayed by Mel Goldstein from Ohio. He will be displaying this masterpiece which is planted in a Gyozan container in the 6th US National Bonsai Exhibition on September 8-9, 2018, in Rochester, NY. Come see it in person.


Japanase Hemlock displayed by Doug Pall from Pennsylvania.



Dwarf Star Jasmine displayed by Adam Blank from Pennsylvania.







A beautifully carved “root stand”




Perhaps this simple and elegant sinuous styli e Japanese five-needle pine is my favorite bonsai in Part II. It is planted in an antique Chinese “Nanban” oval container. Of course there are many more impressive bonsai in the exhibition, but this tree talked to me….


Guess what?


Bittersweet! This vining plant is a pest in most areas of the US and is against the law to sell.









Again, the Nippon Bonsai Association has presented another exhibition of some of the finest bonsai in Japan. THE best exhibition of the finest bonsai, and the 100 finest suiseki took place at the 8th World Bonsai Convention in Saitama in April 2017.


2018 92nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition I– Part 2


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The 92nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is being held in two parts again this year. Here are some more images from the first part. I saw a great number of foreigners this time, many from Italy.



This year the Nippon Bonsai Association is using new white backgrounds for the main room only. They are a bit taller and shiny with a texture. The older tan colored backgrounds are being used in the smaller downstairs room and upstairs in the mezzanine level and also the shohin bonsai room. The main room has many more lights, all LED. The dark blue table cloths are a bit narrower which reveals more of the light tan skirting on top.



















That wraps up the report for Part I of this year’s Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. A report for Part II in a few days.

2018 92nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition Part I– Part 1




The 92nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is being held in two parts again this year. Part 1 is being held on February 8-11, 2018 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park. Part II will be held next week after all the bonsai are changed with new trees.




Sargent Juniper


Sekka Hinoki Cypress!


Japanese Maple6P4A7563

Chojubai Japanese Dwarf Flowering Quince planted with rocks



Crape Myrtle!





Both visual and physical balance are important so the bonsai looks stable and does not fall over…..


Sargent Juniper created by Minoru Akiyama who received the coveted Prime Minister Award a few years ago at the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibitions for professional bonsai artists. Here it is displayed under the owner’s name.


It never ceases to surprise me that there are so many bonsai I’ve never seen before, and I’ve seen quite a few bonsai throughout Japan. I’ve been blessed to have seen and studied bonsai at more than 40 Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions.


2018 Part I Statistics

161 Individual Bonsai Displays

116 Large Size Bonsai

41 Medium Size Bonsai Displays (approx. 82 individual trees)

4 Shohin Bonsai Displays (23 individual trees)

Total Bonsai Displayed approx. 221

18 Registered Important Bonsai Masterpieces

5 Kokufu Bonsai Prizes

2 Bonsai Displayed with Suiseki


Kokufu Bonsai Award

Sargent Juniper


Kokufu Bonsai Award

Trident Maple


Kokufu Bonsai Award

Japanese Black Pine


Kokufu Bonsai Award

Chinese Quince (better photo coming)



Kokufu Bonsai Award

Shohin Bonsai Composition– Japanese black pine, Dwarf kumquat, Chojubai Japanese dwarf flowering quince, Sargent juniper, Privet and Needle juniper

These are only my initial findings, I will probably discover more during my next visits, as several are required, I’m a slow learner.

Again, the Nippon Bonsai Association has assembled and displayed a superb selection of some of the finest bonsai in the country and in world too. I look forward to Part II, but first look for more bonsai in my blog tomorrow from Part I. Remember, better photos will be in a future issue of International BONSAI. You can easily subscribe here:


A Visit To Shunka-en Bonsai Museum– February 2018




Our group spent the morning at Kunio Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Museum in the Edogawa Ward of Tokyo. The perfectly clear weather, but cool, gave us the opportunity to fully enjoy the quiet beauty of Mr. Kobayashi’s creative works and also of his fine taste of appreciating and sharing his sense of display. His museum has approximately 12 alcoves for formal bonsai displays and each was filled with bonsai appropriate to the season. Late winter and early spring flowering bonsai were featured including Japanese flowering apricots, Japanese flowering quince and Winter flowering cherries.







We were fortunate to have Taka Yamaji as our guide through the museum who explained the displays and answered questions. Taka is Hiro Yamaji’s son, who speaks perfect English is now an apprentice to Minoru Akiyama in Yamanashi Prefecture. Both Hiro Yamaji and Minoru Akiyama h past judge have been past judges at the US National Bonsai Exhibitions. Minoru Akiyama was an apprentice to Mr. Kobayashi who is also his son in law, (he married his boss’s daughter.) Mr. Akiyama was also the senior apprentice when Peter Warren studied with Mr. Kobayashi and they often now often work together. The bonsai world is small and complex with many relationships.










An old Japanese black pine bonsai


A close up of the Japanese black pine base. Please note that each layer of bark represents a year’s growth. There is a thin wire holding the bark from falling off.




This small Japanese black pine bonsai was displayed at last year’s Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition.

Mr. Kobayashi has again filled his beautiful garden with large size bonsai which is what his Chinese clients prefer to purchase from him. A few years ago he added another growing area on the rooftop of his suiseki display building. I spotted another growing area next door in the parking lot where he built his apprentice dormitory. He is running out of space, but continues to create and sell his bonsai.





A room was filled with carefully packed suiseki and wrapped display tables for next week’s 5th Japan Suiseki Bonsai Exhibition. I was told my suiseki to be displayed was among the pile.


Everyone on our tour thoroughly enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Kobayashi family and apprentices and now have a deeper understanding of Japanese bonsai.


A Visit To Morimae’s S-Cube & Omiya Bonsai Village– February 2018


Kora Dalager’s and my semi-annual tour to see the finest bonsai in Japan began yesterday. First visit for the day was Seiji Morimae’s S-Cube bonsai garden Uchiku-Tei in the city of Hanyu, Japan, approximately one hour north of Tokyo. This season has been quite cold in the Tokyo area (balmy compared to Rochester, NY) and even snowy too, but kind of non-existent compared to our 75 plus inches (200 cm or 2 meters) of the white stuff. The cold weather here in Japan has delayed the Japanese flowering apricot bonsai blossoms, but they are loaded with large plump buds waiting for warmer weather.












S-Cube’s bonsai garden Uchiku-Tei has probably the largest collection of quality bonsai, suiseki, display tables and antiques for bonsai appreciation in Japan. It always amazes me to see what is new that Mr. Morimae’s has assembled and created for sale. This year had a real eye opener surprise for me.







Attached to his office complex there is a long display room filled with fine quality containers, suiseki and more, many of which originated from the famous Takagi Bonsai Collection. This time, however, I saw many empty shelves and thought to myself business must be good for Mr. Morimae. Then his daughter phoned to tell me to be sure to visit the new “Antique Building.” The huge building must be recently completed, as the paint has not dried yet. No, in keeping with the quiet aesthetic taste of Mr. Morimae all the walls are left natural to develop patina, BUT I did notice a wall outlet for i Phones. He once mentioned to me that “time is money” and it’s necessary for him to be connected at all times with his clients. As we were shopping his workers were moving all his antiques from his old display room to the new “Antique Building” which explained the many bare shelves.


Next stop was the bonsai garden of Masahiko Kimura who welcomed us and showed us his newest creations, large clinging-to-a-rock bonsai. Many were already sold to Chinese clients.






Next to his small lawn area framed with neatly shaped azaleas, I noticed something which appeared to be rather large piece of dead wood which was being carved. It was at least six feet tall and wide, over half the size of the car in front of it. The reason it looked like the beginning of a wooden sculpture is because all the foliage was neatly tied up in black shade cloth on the top. The area was dark and the foliage of the ancient Japanese yew, which was collected on Hokkaido Island, could not be easily seen. There was also snow around much of the base and the entire tree was mounded on a large skid reinforced by heavy metal. Mr. Kimura was studying his newest creation and said it is moved using a fork lift. I look forward to seeing this new bonsai creation in the future.



By the way, I recently discovered an EXCELLENT new Facebook page, Kimura’s Home Bonsai. I’m not certain, but think it’s written, photographed and videoed by one of his apprentices. VERY interesting! The videos are clear and show details on Mr. Kimura’s work. There was a recent post on how he carves, paints, highlights and plants a large rock planting. Check it out:


If you want to learn more about Masahiko Kimura you can also check out my International BONSAI magazine, the first and only professional bonsai magazine published in the United States. My most recent issue, Volume 40, issue No. 154 includes “Masahiko Kimura’s Fun Bonsai Classroom- Lesson 24” which details in 33 perfect color photos and text how he selects branches and refines an ancient Japanese red pine literati bonsai. In the past we have also featured Mr. Kimura in over 50 articles on the “Beauty of Masahiko Kimura’s Bonsai.” Check out these great and educational articles for more about his bonsai. You can easily subscribe at:







Next stop was a delicious lunch at Yoshi Nakamizu’s Omiya Bonsai Restaurant across the street from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum where went following lunch. Several of the masterpiece Japanese flowering apricot bonsai were in full blossom, and fortunately they were in the two areas where photos were allowed.

The museum was promoting a special one-man show of the beauty of Hiroshi Takeyama’s bonsai. This exhibit runs for a month from February 16 to March 14, 2018 and I’m quite sad to miss the showing of Mr. Takeyama’s bonsai. He is, probably my favorite bonsai artist I admire in Japan, well known around the world for his deciduous, forest plantings and unusual species bonsai.



Nearby we stopped at the Kato’s Mansei-en Bonsai Garden on our way to the Yamada Seiko-en Bonsai Garden, Murata’s Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden finally ending our busy day at Takeyama’s Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden.



Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden is beautiful around the year and this season features his Japanese flowering apricots, which were with full of buds. Several of his tropical species bonsai were being protected from the cold in large boxes sealed with blue tarp



Mr. Takeyama’s exhibition at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum will feature over 30 of his finest masterpieces which will be changed weekly. Throughout his garden many bonsai were being protected for his showing by wrapping the containers with heavy blankets and towels. A large Magnolia bonsai, with swelling buds was covered with a light weight frost covering. I wish I could attend Mr. Takeyama’s one-man showing, but always enjoy his garden visits where one can learn by carefully studying how the trees are well cared for.



2017 5th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo Awards



On Sunday morning after my educational constructive critique, I announced the award winners. It was a difficult job as there were so many excellent bonsai. Last year there was an award for Fruiting Bonsai, however only one had fruit. This year there was not a Fruiting Bonsai Award, and there were several which could have been awarded this prize. One never knows what will be exhibited.

Although the beauty and excellence of the bonsai is important, I considered how the bonsai was created, the length of time of training and the total aesthetic impact. There were two “finalists” for the Evergreen Bonsai Award. Although both were beautiful and well grown the final decision went to the Japanese five-needle pine that took considerable work to create. Although the other Taiwan sergeant juniper was large and most impressive the foliage pads and bark appeared “young and immature” to my trained eye.

Steve Zeisel, sponsor of the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo, kind of made my job selection a bit easier this year. There was not a single “Best of Show” Award; there were four, each in a different category. Also, I was quite pleased to see Steve use the word “evergreen” rather than “conifer” for a category. Most bonsai exhibitions, at least in North America, have a “conifer” and “deciduous” category. Which of these two categories would you enter a Bald cypress, Larch or Dawn Redwood, as all three are deciduous conifers. The word conifer describes the fruiting of the species. That does not make sense to me because other categories are classified horticulturally according to the foliage. So, in my opinion the correct categories would be Evergreen, Deciduous and Broadleaf. Even better would be Narrow Leaf Evergreens, Broadleaf Evergreens and Deciduous. Since many bonsai are appreciated for their flowers and fruit another category could be “Flowering and Fruiting or Flowering and Fruiting.”

In North America people like to grow species that cannot be easily grown in their area. We call this “Zone Envy.” People from warm regions want to grown Larch, deciduous species and pines which cannot be grown because of their climate. Northern area bonsai hobbyists want to grow figs and other tropical species that are not winter hardy in their area. So, people in the Northern areas must grow non winter hardy species like figs indoors. And, therefore another category is created called “Indoor Bonsai” or Tropical Bonsai.” If people from the hot Southern areas could grow larch, deciduous and pines, another category could be formed. But, so far the bonsai community has not been successful in growing the winter hardy species in hot climates. Perhaps a cooler could be utilized, but that would only take into consideration the cool dormant season. Then summer humidity would need to be considered for the health of the plant. Many winter hardy Northern species cannot tolerate high humidity. This might make an excellent future research project.



Best of Show– Evergreen

Miyajima Japanese Five-needle Pine

Pinus parviflora ‘Miyajima’

Adair Martin, Georgia

This bonsai was created well over 20-30 years ago by Mas Imazumi who grafted a few Japanese five-needle pine scions onto an ancient Lodgepole pine with aged bark and old deadwood feature. Boon Manakitivipart trained and developed the bonsai with his students and was finally refined by Adair Martin.


Best of Show- Deciduous

American Hornbeam

Carpinus caroliniana

Tom Bjorholm, Tennessee



Best of Show­– Tropical

Green Island Fig

Ficus microcarpa ‘Green Island’

Seth Nelson, Florida

This masterpiece bonsai has an interesting story as told by Seth Nelson, curator of the James Smith Bonsai Gallery at the Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce, Florida, in his recent post on Facebook. The Green Island Fig bonsai has been trained for approximately 30 years. Jim Vandingham in Florida who studied and worked for the Tropical Bonsai Pioneer Jim Smith originally created this bonsai. Seth inherited the bonsai and the earliest photo was taken in 2010. This year, working with Juan Andrade they redesigned the bonsai to improve the aesthetic appearance of the bonsai. The bonsai was turned around making the original rear view the current front. No branches were removed, only a few unattractive thick aerial roots were pruned. On August 26, 2017 the planting angle of the trunk was changed creating a new appearance. Jim Vandingham has seen the newly designed bonsai and is pleased to see his original creation in a new light. The bonsai was defoliated for the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo to display the fine twigs and interesting buds and bark. During my critique, Seth turned the tree around to the original front, which also looked good, but now needs a couple of back branches. Good bonsai often have more than one viewing side. Developmental photos by Seth Nelson.





August 2017



August 2017



August 2017



Best of Show– Display

Princess Persimmon

Diospyros rhombifolia

Mac McAntee, North Carolina

There were about six “creative displays” in the exhibition. Only three actually featured bonsai and it appeared to me that the others only used bonsai as an accessory and reminded me of a museum diorama. On one featured an erupting volcano painting, but I could not find a dinosaur…

The award winning Persimmon Display by Mac McAntee was beautiful, well presented and distinctive. Each year he presents his bonsai according to his own taste, the way it should be. His display did not follow the classic Japanese bonsai display that avoids duplication as he wanted to feature Persimmons throughout his exhibit.

The featured bonsai is, of course, a Princess persimmon he trained from a tree originating in California. He built the display table completely out of Persimmon wood. The intricate detail in the top rail was patterned from a Persimmon leaf and in the center he inlayed a solid Persimmon leaf made from Persimmon wood as well. The unique and most appropriate print featuring an opossum eating a Persimmon fruit was found on the Internet and was enlarged and framed for his Persimmon display. The accessory was a ceramic Chinese figurine featuring an elderly man holding Persimmon fruit. Then as a final piece, Mac used tan colored tablecloth to add interest to the display. It is not as an accident that he displayed it in a rhomboid shape. This species of Persimmon is rhombifolia.

It is NOT necessary to always display bonsai according to the classic Japanese bonsai style to be effective. What is important is that the display be interesting, well balanced, in good taste and the main feature being a bonsai. Mac did this perfectly, reflecting his understanding and appreciation of bonsai.



Peoples’ Choice Award

Dwarf Hinoki Cypress & Japanese Maple

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ & Acer palmatum

Steve Zeisel, North Carolina




American Bonsai Society Award

American Hornbeam

Carpinus caroliniana

Gary Clark, North Carolina

The American Bonsai Society President Karen Harkaway, together with Adam Lavigne presented the American Bonsai Society Award for a native species, to this beautiful snowy forest scene display of American hornbeam. This display was also my second choice for the Best of Show– Display Award.

Congratulations to the winners of these awards, but each exhibitor in the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo should also be complimented for sharing the beauty of their bonsai with others to appreciate.

I look forward to next year’s 2018 6th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo in December and hope to welcome you there, hopefully with one of your bonsai.



2017 5th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Bonsai Expo



This year’s edition of the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo at the David H. Murdock North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, North Carolina, was the best edition of this exhibition. Held on December 2-3, 2017 in an elegant marble enclosed four story atrium, the event drew many more visitors from across the east coast. Although the venue was the same as in the past, with careful planning and layout there were more vendors, demonstrations and exhibitors than in past years. More importantly, the quality of each bonsai improved. This event is sponsored by Steve Zeisel, a bonsai hobbyist from Raleigh, North Carolina, who is also the current president of the Triangle Bonsai Society. The North Carolina Research Campus supports the event to help Steve achieve his goal.









Sponsor Steve Zeisel hosts the expo, to improve the quality of bonsai in the region and attract the public to enjoy the art. He does not do this to make money, as he usually loses funds and time from his busy nutritional research position and travels. He simply does this for his love of bonsai. There is no entrance fee for the public, nor for the vendors as well. Each year the expo grows in size which is a good indication of the interest in bonsai and that Steve is doing something right.






There are no restrictions or entrance fees for exhibitors. They simply sign up for an eight or six foot display table and are responsible to present an interesting exhibit. Although this is officially a winter silhouette bonsai exhibition several evergreens and tropical bonsai are displayed, but most are deciduous specieds where the true beauty of naked bonsai can be appreciated. Creativity is always encouraged and this year many more “creative” exhibits were shown. Some actually looked like dioramas rather than proper bonsai displays, but each featured bonsai. The public seemed to enjoy all the displays which were usually crowded with visitors and shoppers. A few bonsai with colorful fruit were very popular as were a couple of bonsai still in full autumn coloring.







The Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo lecture/demonstrations were presented by Rodney Clemons (Georgia), Sean Smith (Pennsylvania), Tyler Sherrod (North Carolina), Owen Reich (Tennessee) and William N. Valavanis (New York) who also judged the show and presented an educational constructive critique of the bonsai and displays.







Two and a half rooms were filled with vendors from across the east coast offering bonsai, pre-bonsai, containers, supplies, suiseki, display tables, hanging scrolls and more. There was something for everyone from basic pre-bonsai for beginners vend to masterpieces and antique Chinese containers for advanced hobbyists and collectors. There is no vendor fee, however each vendor donates something for the Saturday auction, which is a fun event and to help raise funds to assist with the exhibition expenses.








I’ve attended and participated in numerous bonsai events around the world, this year alone over twelve, and the North Carolina Research Campus is the most elegant beautiful venue I’ve seen, truly. I always enjoy displaying and supporting this worthwhile and important event for bonsai in the United States and look forward to next year’s Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo during the first weakened in December in 2018. Enjoy my bonsai display photos of the event and look for the high quality professional photos by Joe Noga bin a future issue of International BONSAI magazine.