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.

The New Kyoto Bonsai Garden

In March 2021 The Kyoto Bonsai Garden opened in the middle of the Daitokuji Temple complex. A preopening was held in November-December 2020. The Covid pandemic caused delays and the formal opening was March 20, 2021. Most of the bonsai in the preopening exhibit were from the Tanaka Foundation and other prominent bonsai artists.

We had the opportunity to visit the Kyoto Bonsai Garden, my first time yesterday before we returned to the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition about 20 minutes away. The concept of a bonsai garden was the dream of Seiji Morimae, who designed the garden and is the general manager. Last year Mr. Morimae sent me photos of the garden before the opening and I compiled a four-page article in the 2021/NO. 2 issue of International Bonsai Online, the new free digital edition of International BONSAIwhich can be viewed and freely subscribed at:www.internationalbonsaionlie.com. The four-page article has been attached to the end of this blog.

Although I’ve seen many photos of this new garden, my personal visit blew me away. The elegant serenity of the “Zen” garden featuring about 30 bonsai is beyond description. Mr. Morimae spent considerable time designing the garden. An unobstructed view of each bonsai masterpiece clearly shows the beauty of each tree. The stroll garden welcomes visitors into another world.

There is a long narrow entryway into the garden. All the bonsai on left were created by Maahiko Kimura. Directly opposite these bonsai is a special display of stones, originally from the Saburo Kato Mansei-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya. These stones have been carefully arranged leading visitors from the ancient Chinese taste, the origin of stone appreciation and bonsai, to the contemporary Japanese taste of stones. There were several old famous bonsai on display which I remember from 50 years ago. I’d like to show the old photos with their developments, but unfortunately my bonsai reference library has been carefully cleaned and safely packed away until our new home is completed.

All of the displayed bonsai are large, quite large, four man trees. A long exhibit building shows the formal display of smaller, common size bonsai.

Any trip to Kyoto will not be complete without a visit to the Kyoto Bonsai Garden, which is located in the Daitokuji Temple complex, specifically in the Hoshun’in sub temple. The 850-year-old Daitokuji Temple is one of the most popular gardens in Kyoto. Mr. Morimae has not finished his dream yet, as a new modern bonsai museum is in the works directly behind the Kyoto Bonsai Garden to be completed in a few years.

2022 42nd Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition– Part 2

Today the exhibition quietly opened on time, but without a ribbon cutting ceremony, which was cancelled because of Covid. The large crowd of visitors was missing as were foreigners. However, within an hour the exhibition was filled. And the vendor area many foreign customers. I’ve been doing this for several decades and have noticed foreigners head straight to the sales area first, then when they run out of money proceed to look at the trees. By early afternoon there were quite a few foreigners, even Peter Warren from England with his wife and young son Leo.

Often there are several Persimmons displayed, in addition to many Princess persimmon which were colorful and used as accessories for larger bonsai. This time, there was only one larger size but full of fruit and colorful foliage. I’m traveling with Julian Adams from Adams’ Bonsai in Lynchburg, Virginia, and author of the best-selling book, Growing Pines for Bonsai. He is particularly interested in the larger sized Persimmon because one of his specialties are Princess persimmon. Julian and I are frequent travelers to Japan together. All I need to say to Julian is let’s go back to Japan and he is ready. This trip was a bit different as we met up at our Kyoto hotel. He traveled through Dallas, Texas where his suitcase was left for a couple of days. He kept complaining that he had no clean underwear or socks. I have a suitcase filled with clean underwire (baklava all gone), but he did not take me up on my offer to borrow a pair. You will need to ask him if he went commando for a few days.

At 2pm I lead a walking tour through the exhibition in English. Approximately 25 people visitors from the United States, England, Australia and Serbia atoned and asked questions. Even several Japanese natives joined in. One more walking tour is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. On Sunday afternoon at 2pm Mr. Morimae is organizing a big charity auction benefiting Ukraine. Lots of good trees will be auctioned including award-winning bonsai from the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. More later on this exciting event.

2022 42nd Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition- Part 1

The 42nd Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition opens in a few hours from now at 9am, Friday November 25 and will continue through Monday, November 28, 2022. The event is being held at the Miyako Messe in Kyoto, Japan. This is one of the largest and most famous bonsai exhibitions in Japan.

Today, Thursday was set up and judging day. A new change this year is the alcove display backgrounds are black, not the usual light green. The yellow is still being used, however. This was my first shoot with a black background so I’m still learning how to photograph, I need Joe Noga for a distance learning session tomorrow. Hopefully the next photos will can be improved.

As the vendors were setting up the professional photograph for the commemorative album were being taken. At 2pm the judging was supposed to begin, but it rather started earlier at 1:30pm. This is the direct opposite of “Greek Time” which usually begins almost an hour after the opening.

Again, I’ve honored again for the third time to be on the judging panel. This year I noticed that the judges were actually bonsai artists and head of the numerous Japanese bonsai organizations. In the morning the top two, three or four examples were selected in the morning for the final judging in the afternoon.  They were classified as large, medium and small evergreen, deciduous and satsuki. There were also sections for rock plantings. literati and shohin bonsai compositions. Finally, there were three categories for suiseki: daiza, water basins and figure stones. For the first time there was a three way tie for an award. So we voted again with the same result. However, on the third time voting we had winner. Actually, any of the selected bonsai were beautiful and are award worthy, and most received one of the numerous awards.

Fortunately, I was able to get a few photos without the crowds today, tomorrow will be more difficult until late afternoon. On both Friday and Saturday, I’ll be leading a walk thru of the exhibitions in English. I hope to be able to improve my photography. More coming tomorrow.