Kokko-En Bonsai Garden of Yasushi Yoshimura


The 2019 7th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo, sponsored by Steve Zeisel, was a huge success. The bonsai, displays, demonstrations, critique and vendors were all wonderful and well attended. On Saturday afternoon a Benefit Auction was held to help pay for the event expenses. Vendors, exhibitors and friends donated bonsai related items for the Benefit Auction to support the event and in anticipation for the 8th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo in December 2020. One of the exhibitors, Mac McAtee donated a vintage 16-page booklet illustrated with 15 black & white photos he got from a friend. This English booklet was published and printed by Keibun Tanaka for Kokko-En Bonsai Garden. It must have been published in the late 1930-1940s.



Keibun Tanaka had a large bonsai garden in Tokyo with 5,000 bonsai, many which are now masterpiece bonsai specimens. The Sargent juniper bonsai named “Fudo” and another unnamed bonsai illustrated here passed through his hands. He was featured in the October 7, 1946 issue of Life magazine.


Yasushi Yoshimura (1897-1966) was a younger brother of Toshiji Yoshimura who established Kofu-En Bonsai Garden in 1924. Both Toshiji and Yasushi Yoshimura apprenticed at Taiko-en Bonsai Garden. Toshiji Yoshimura was the father of Yuji and Kanekazu Yoshimura. Yuji Yoshimura was actually born in the garden.

Yasushi Yoshimura became the last apprentice at the Taiko-En Bonsai Garden of Yonekichi Kibe (Beio), one of the most respected bonsai artists at that time. He studied with Magohachi Suzuki, first generation proprietor of Koju-En Bonsai Garden. Bonsai Magazine, published by Norio Kobayashi in 1934, stated that “without exaggeration, everyone agreed that Beio was second to none in the art of bonsai at that time.”

Yasushi Yoshiura became independent in 1921 and established Kokko-En Bonsai Garden near his brother’s garden in the Tamagawa area of Tokyo. He favored shohin bonsai and took care of the Matsudaira Shohin Bonsai Collection of Count Yorinaga and Akiko Matsudaira. He passed away in 1966 and Kokko-En Bonsai Garden was closed.


Hideaki Hiraoka apprenticed with Toshiji Yoshimura for seven years from 1975-1982. Kanekazu Yoshimura, Toshiji Yoshimura’s son gave Mr. Hiraoka the name Kokko-En Bonsai Garden, with the approval of the Yasushi Yoshimura family. He then established his garden in Hyogo, Japan.

History lesson over.

Two of the bonsai illustrated in the Koko-en Bonsai Garden booklet looked familiar and I was able to quickly find some old photos, although not of the highest quality.

JUNIPER EARLY 1940s.JPGSargent juniper early 1940’s


JUNIPER  1940s.JPGSargent juniper mid 1940’s


JUNIPER 1970s.JPGSargent juniper 1970’s



PINE 1940s.JPGJapanese Five-needle pine early 1940’s


PINE 1970s.JPGJapanese Five-needle pine 1970’s


PINE 11-2019.JPGJapanese Five-needle pine November 2019. I’m familiar with this bonsai and have seen it for the past 40 years at Fuyo-En Bonsai Garden in Omiya Bonsai Village, Japan. Hiroshi Takeyama and his late father Fusazo have been training this beautiful bonsai for well over 50 years.


2019 7th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo


The Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo is being held in Kannapolis, North Carolina, near Charlotte, on Saturday and Sunday 7-8, 2109.



This special exhibition is held in an elegant venue covered with marble walls and floors at the North Carolina Research Lab. The four story building is a unique venue to display bonsai.


This premier event featuring naked bonsai in all their glory is sponsored by Steve Zeisel only to promote bonsai. He is an advance hobbyist who truly wants to share the love he has for bonsai with others. The unique venue is the perfect location to showcase beautiful bonsai and to allow artists the freedom to express their bonsai and show creative bonsai displays.











I’ve been fortunate to have been invited to participate and teach in all of these exhibitions and can state that this year each artist really came through with the finest bonsai in seven years and also showed some very creative thoughts for displaying their treasures.



















32.jpgSeveral 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 favorite shows of the year which I look forward to.











Thanks to Steve for organizing this event featuring the winter silhouettes of bonsai!






Using Accessory Plantings For Displaying Bonsai


COVER.JPGThis blog was written to answer a question for a member of the Bonsai Nut Forum who asked about my display comments. I wrote too much for the answer and thought others might find my personal thoughts interesting. Enjoy!


25.jpgAccessory plantings are commonly used to accompany bonsai on display for many reasons. They can complete the visual story the artist is trying to convey of displaying their bonsai, indicate the environment where the main bonsai is native to or to indicate seasonality or a celebration. Often in the west they are just put there to “look pretty” or take up space. Some do not use accessories allowing viewers to imagine a scene or season. Often art objects or suiseki are utilized.


6 copy.jpgTwo round glazed containers, but of different colors.


2.JPGUnglazed oval container displayed with a round glazed container.


Displaying bonsai is a personal statement of sharing the beauty of a bonsai. There are common customs used when displaying which have been established using basic design.

5.JPGOval container displayed with ?


But, there are no bonsai police. Although anything goes, usually exhibitors follow established traditions. There was an organized “school” of display in Japan the last few decades, but it not active since the original headmaster died in the 1980s and his successor is not active. The principles they established are still used, but there is no school of bonsai display currently in Japan that teaches.

15.jpgRectangular unglazed container displayed with a rock, irregular shaped unglazed.

My theory and design of bonsai display is based on my personal taste from intensely studying bonsai for nearly 60 years. It is highly influenced by the Japanese taste but based on design and my culture and background. I’m not Japanese, but rather a Greek-American. No, I don’t use feta cheese with olives and images of Uncle Sam in my displays. But have occasionally used Orthodox icons for special displays for religious holidays. Once I saw an Italian display using a sardine can for the companion planting. I thought it was cute and interesting, but not suitable for an important bonsai exhibition where it was displayed. Displaying a bonsai for personal enjoyment or local club show is different than showing your bonsai in a national or regional exhibition.



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Using accessory or companion plantings for bonsai is an interesting topic. And, unless one studies their use and sees many displays, difficult to understand. One thing that I have discovered is that most of the Japanese accessory plantings are full and bushy, often pot bound. I usually have mine sitting in shallow pans of water during the hot summer months. The image of a dense bushy companion is necessary to contrast with the main bonsai. When full and bushy, the containers are not usually visible as plants often hang over the container rim. I find it interesting that westerners pay big bucks for small pots for accessory plantings and they can’t even be seen when they are bushy. Perhaps that’s why western accessory plantings are usually sparse when compared to those seen in Japan.

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My personal taste for display which I try to follow is based on design, seasonality and purpose of showing a bonsai. This is a complex and the subject for my future next book on bonsai display, when I have time to complete the text.

1.JPGUnglazed rectangular container displayed with a round glazed container.

7.JPGRound glazed container displayed with an unglazed round container.

But, basically, if the main bonsai is in a symmetrical (round, hex or even sided) container the companion planting I try to select will be in an asymmetrical (rectangle or oval) pot. I try not to duplicate the container shapes, even though they are not often visible.

3.JPGRound glazed container displayed with a round glazed container.

Color and texture are also paramount and I try to avoid using two glazed containers or two unglazed containers, unless they are of a different color. I try to avoid duplication to create interest, contrast and sometimes harmony between the main bonsai and companion planting.

6.JPGSquare glazed container displayed with an unglazed rectangular container.

Most of the accompanying images were recently taken last week at the 39th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition in Kyoto, Japan. The other images were taken at the 93rd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition taken in February 1999 in Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan or older Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibitions. The comments are my personal thoughts and observations.

4.JPGUnglazed rectangular container displayed with a fern on an unglazed irregular rock.

As can be seen by the photos, there is no specific use of glazed/unglazed and symmetrical/asymmetrical containers. I suggest using your own taste and what is available. These comments on container use are my own taste to design an interesting and stimulating bonsai display.

9.JPGRound glazed container displayed with a round glazed container.

8.JPGUnglazed round container displayed with?

Like the entire art of bonsai, there is no right and wrong way to create and display bonsai and to appreciate the art. There is room for all views in the wonderful art of bonsai. However, some concepts are more accepted than others depending on culture and tradition.

10.JPGGlazed rectangular container displayed with round? container.

If you want to see high quality displays, visit the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo in Kannapolis this coming weekend or travel to the 2020 7th US National Bonsai Exhibition on September 12-13, 2020 in Rochester, New York.


Designing Bonsai Displays For The Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo

OTO   11-2019.JPGOto Hime Japanese Maple for display

I spent all afternoon designing my three displays for the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo next weekend in Kannapolis, NC. There is more than picking out a tree, table, wiping them off and hauling them to a show. Much more for me, which takes basic fundamental display knowledge, taste and considerable time. Plus you need to get everything to the exhibition in good condition.

HAWTHORN.JPGWashington Hawthorn for display

The time spent this afternoon does not count the hours of preparing each of the bonsai. The exhibition moss still needs some hours to refine to perfection. The containers and display tables have been selected and need to be polished, as do all the containers.

4.jpgFour story rotunda display area at the North Carolina Research Campus. Note large round table in center.

The main purpose of this afternoon’s task was to select the tablecloth color, scroll, accessory and stand for the accessory. Just picking out the right color felt was a task. Ever go to a JoAnn Fabric store on Thanksgiving weekend with hordes of shoppers with fists of coupons? The trees have not been detailed yet but will be finished in the days ahead. The scroll positioning and heights have not been decided yet. Please note these are NOT formal studio photos, they are just quick working shots to help me select the final elements in my personal displays of classical bonsai.

6P4A6711.jpgMy two displays are on either side of the large round table in the center from 2017.

It is important to realize a couple of items about my displays. First, seasonality and second the total visual display area. My two tables area in the center of a four story rotunda surrounded by beautiful Cordoba marble. Each of my six foot tables is on either side of a huge round permanent valuable table from Hawaii which can’t be moved. Seven years ago I made the error of putting my sweet teacup on the table and I was instantly surrounded by security guards. So in order to present my entire display on two separate tables, between the permanent table, several items needed to be considered: tree species, display tables, direction, accessories, scrolls and tablecloth colors.

MAPLE-GRASS.JPGOto Hime Japanese maple displayed with Japanese forest grass.

Although this is a “winter silhouette” display, technically it’s still autumn. Yes, we have already had 12 inches of snow and are under a winter weather advisory with another 8 inches of snow and ice expected by tomorrow evening. So a late autumn/early winter season theme has been determined for my three displays. Normally I would not display two deciduous species, but will for this special exhibition. The Oto Hime Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Oto Hime,’ features twigs and the Washington hawthorn, Crataegus phaemopyrum, is full of red fruit. My third display is a pine, on the other side of a curtain, so not part of this display area. By the way pines do not indicate seasonality because they are always green. So seasonality has to be indicated using something else.

MAPLE-PAMPAS.JPGOto Hime Japanese maple displayed with Yakushima dwarf pampas grass.

There were two display tables suitable for the maple and hawthorn bonsai, and although different colors, they were similar in design. So another display table for the hawthorn needed to be selected. Fortunately, I have several to choose from. The left table display features the maple which has a left to right eye movement towards the round center table. It originally had a small golden fern as the accessory. However, it seemed to blend into the green tablecloth color. A Yakushima dwarf pampas grass planted in a rock looked great, as did a Japanese forest grass with brown foliage indicating seasonality. Both are in unglazed symmetrical pots, which is in my taste when displaying a bonsai in an asymmetrical glazed container. Both were suitable for displaying with the maple. Of the two grasses, the Yakushima dwarf pampas grass was a bit more delicate than the Japanese forest grass, so that was the final selection.

HAWTHORN- FERN.JPGWashington hawthorn displayed with golden fern which disappears in the green tablecloth.

However, the table on the right features a hawthorn which has a right to left eye movement towards the center table. It too looked good with both grasses. One of each could easily be utilized, but I did not want to duplicate two grasses. The Japanese forest grass looked good with the hawthorn, so I played around with the round disc stand to display it on. Two were of suitable size, one black and the other brown. Both are the same shape and size. The brown disc was finally selected because black stands indicate formality and this is an informal display.

HAWTHORN-GRASS BLACK.JPGWashington hawthorn displayed with Japanese forest grass on black disc.


HAWTHORN-GRASS BROWN.JPGWashington hawthorn displayed with Japanese forest grass on brown disc.

HAWTHORN BURNER.JPGWashington hawthorn displayed with bronze incense burner

There was a bronze antique incense burner in the shape of a hut. I used this accessory several years ago and even had Xmas incense smoke rising from the window. Again, I did not want to use the same unique accessory, so it was eliminated.

HAWTHORN-MONDO.JPGWashington hawthorn displayed with Black mondo grass.

I continued to look around found a Black mondo grass planting in an antique white glazed Chinese container. The round shape is good, quality excellent, but I did not want to use two glazed containers in one display. That’s easy to correct, I’ll just change the accessory pot to an unglazed symmetrical shape to contrast with the glazed asymmetrical container of the hawthorn.

The scroll selection was next. The maple display season is late autumn so a scroll with a deer was studied. The direction of the deer was great, looking toward the bonsai. It even featured a hit of a Japanese maple turning red in autumn. Great, now the scroll for the hawthorn display season is early winter. An unusual scroll with a full moon among the clouds was excellent. It even has white snowflakes falling down. In spring I use this scroll and the snowflakes suddenly change to cherry blossoms falling. So now two scrolls were selected, but were about the same length which I wanted to avoid. Since the hawthorn was a taller bonsai the long scroll featuring the full moon and snowflakes was chosen. Then I had to look for another late autumn theme scroll which is shorter in length. Finally, I found a short scroll depicting Mt. Fuji with a small flock of geese migrating towards the bonsai.


Also, note there is one more display I have already designed, but was too heavy for me to move alone to photograph. If you want to see it, and my final display designs, join us on Saturday/Sunday at the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo in Kannapolis, NC. Please note, I may change my designs again. Come see the final selections on Saturday or Sunday. There will be several lecture/demos, three rooms full of vendors and a FREE bonsai critique for exhibitors early on Sunday morning conducted by me.


A Visit To Tokoname – Home To World Famous Bonsai Containers

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14.jpgTokoname is one of the six old Japanese kilns which have continued to support Japanese living for over 1,000 years.  Tea pots and sewer pipes are the most famous items crafted and produced in the city of Tokoname, a bit south of Nagoya, Japan. Of course, most of the high-quality bonsai containers are also made here, but these pots are not the reason Tokoname is famous around the word.

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Skilled and talented ceramic artists creating both traditional and contemporary bonsai containers have settled in this small town because the clay is good, strong and beautiful. The potters have been meeting the demand of Japanese professional bonsai artists for hundreds of years. The attention to detail, function and artistic design have made this city the center for container production in the world.


A few decades ago there were 30-40 kilns producing bonsai containers in Tokoname. Unfortunately, the introduction of Chinese pots has reduced the number of working kilns to about 10-15 today. There are many different quality levels of Tokoname pots. Some of the contemporary Chinese pots are better than the low quality Tokoname production pots. Their quality and pricing has made them very popular around the world, even in Japan. The Chinese potters have mastered techniques to produce large size pots. The size of bonsai around the world has been increasing because large trees are more available and commercially profitable.

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Our tour group spent a wonderful day in the city of Tokoname visiting many of the top bonsai pot kilns. Many of these ceramic artists specialize in unique glazes they have created, perfected and are now famous for. Some of these potters are 4th and 5th generation artists with a history reaching back to 1889. While respecting their inherited traditions, the newer generation is always seeking ways to improve quality, reduce production costs as well as to add their own personality to the fine-quality pots they create. Many are now specializing in glazed containers while their father’s specialty were unglazed pots.

Shuho Kiln (Hidemi Kataoka)

Yamaaki Kiln (Hiroaki Inoue)

Reiho Kiln (Katsushi Kataoka)

Koyo Kiln (Kuniaki Aiba)

Shozan Kiln (Kazuhiro Watanabe)

Gyozan Kiln (Yukizyou Nakano)

It is interesting to note that several of the potters also have talented wives who are also skilled in making containers as well. And, some are well known for their unique shapes, paintings and sizes.






6.jpgI was particularly impressed at the Ikko Kiln where Mr. Watanabe’s wife also creates exquisite mame three-inch size bonsai. Their creation and care more difficult than the common shohin bonsai. Mame bonsai are not often seen in Japan, and I found it a treat to appreciate these tiny jewels of the bonsai world.




Our entire tour group from Australia, Switzerland, California, Pennsylvania and New York spent a wonderful ten days enjoying fellowship, Japanese culture, bonsai and beautiful weather. Our next tours will visit Gafu Ten in January to see shohin bonsai, Kokufu Bonsai Ten in February and Nippon Bonsai Taikan Ten in November. If you would like to join Kora Dalager and me for an exciting, value-priced tour to experience the Japanese bonsai world, contact Bonsai Travel at: dalagerkora@gmail.com




A visit To Shunka-en Bonsai Museum







Last week we visited the museum of bonsai artist Kunio Kobayashi in Tokyo. He had just returned from a convention in Viet Nam, but he still had the energy to welcome our group with his wife and curator of his museum, Jin Yasufumi.






4.jpgEach time I visit this museum garden Mr. Kobayashi adds something new, a small garden display, new growing area on a roof or a koi pond. This time he recently added a large RED bridge crossing his koi pond. It’s heavy duty, a bit slippery, but I did not tumble over becoming food for the colorful large size fish.


Mr. Kobayashi’s museum features over a dozen alcoves where he formally displays bonsai, suiseki and art. Jin Yasufumi, who has been here for nine years showed us around the elegant museum explaining details people might have missed.











44.jpgLong time friends Mrs. Kobayashi and Kora Dalager

Mr. & Mrs. Kobayashi treated us to a delicious Italian luncheon before Jin drove us to the Tokyo train station.

MC DONALDS.jpgOf course, at the station I could not resist the temptation of a sweet tea at my favorite culinary emporium. Guess what, McDonalds in Japan does not have sweet tea! However, they do have ice tea and also small packets of sugary sweet syrup, which is not the same, but close enough when I need a fix. Please note I did NOT eat there, only ice tea. There IS a brand of ice tea Japan has which I love.

ICE TEA.jpgDid you notice the bottle is empty…

2019 39th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition – Part 4


An important part of any bonsai exhibition around the world is the sales or vendor area. Most people visit to see and enjoy the trees, but they eventually end up in the sales area purchasing something for their collection. Even here in Japan I watch every year as people enter the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition and rush to the sales area in the back. Although most are foreigners, the others, especially Chinese are eager to buy. Vendors are a most important part of bonsai exhibitions; however, they rarely receive the recognition they deserve for bringing in the visitors.


Seiji Morimae, proprietor of S-Cube is a driving force of both the bonsai and suiseki communities in Japan. He can trace his ancestors 500 years back to the landscape and horticulture industry. Although primarily dealing with high end masterpiece bonsai he also has reasonably priced items, something for everyone. Mr. Morimae is eager to help foreigners better understand bonsai, suiseki as well as the art of bonsai display.

Each year he always has the largest sales area in the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibitions and people flock to his displays, especially foreigners. This years his display gallery featured five masterpiece bonsai and two collections of containers. Several of the bonsai for sale are creations by Masahiko Kimura. This year, however, two Sargent juniper bonsai which Mr. Morimae personally branch grafted were displayed, and one was sold on Saturday afternoon. His other bonsai probably sold as well on Sunday or Monday.


A.jpgSargent juniper created by Shinji Suzuki which has won numerous awards and has been popular in exhibitions and print. The red tapes on the signs indicate the item has been sold. Sold US$180,000.



KIMURA copy.jpgJapanese black pine shaped by Masahiko Kimura. Sold US$30,000.




KIMURA 2.jpgSargent juniper grafted by Seiji Morimae 18 years ago. Sold US$350,000. Mr. Funayama just added a new bonsai to his collection.

SHINO KENTARU.jpgSargent juniper shaped by Shino Kentaru. Sold US$58,000.


MORIMAE B.jpgSargent juniper grafted by Seiji Morimae 18 years ago. Not sold yet… US$230,000.


CHINESE POTS.jpgA collection of antique containers was individually sold.


TOFUKUJI COLLECTION.jpgThis collection of 50 Tofukuji containers were sold as a set.


VIEW.jpgAcross the aisle, S-Cube had another long sales table full of bonsai, containers, display tables and suiseki.

KIMURA 1.jpg

CUBE 1.jpg



Unfortunately for visitors to future Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibitions, Mr. Morimae will not be having a gallery sales area, this is his last. Next year he will be opening a bonsai garden in a famous temple complex. I look forward to seeing what kind of magic and surprises he will come up with.





LAYOUT.jpgThe sales area is huge!

Anything you could ever want, perhaps not afford, can probably be found in this sales area. Inexpensive pots, antique containers, tools, supplies, display tables, hanging scrolls, suiseki, antiques, pre-bonsai, masterpiece specimens and publications are all here for sale.


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Gerald Rainville selling bonsai for his teacher Koji Hiramatsu. Both of these artists will be judges and demonstrators at the upcoming 2020 7th US National Bonsai Exhibition on September 12-13, 2020 in Rochester, New York.