2018 38th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition Part 1


The 38thNippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition opens tomorrow, November 23 and runs through November 26, 2018 at the Miyako Messe Exhibition Hall in Kyoto, Japan. Shinji Suzuki is the chairman this year and the exhibition is special with several private displays. This is the 30thyear of the Heisei Period, the current era in Japan. In October 2019 Japan will be enthroning a new Emperor which means a new era will begin. Therefor this will be the last Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition in the Heisei Period. There are several new changes and the entire layout is a bit different, many with taller display areas. Quite a bit of advertising has been posted on Facebook and Mr. Suzuki has been writing a series of articles during the past month in a major Kyoto Newspaper.





I’ve been fortunate to have attended and studied nearly 30 of these exhibitions and have seen many changes through the decades. Usually I’m allowed to watch the judging of this major exhibition which I find fascinating and learn so much watching the judges inspect and evaluate the bonsai.



This year I was not allowed to watch the judging because I was invited to actually be one of the 15 judges for the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition. This is quite an honor for me being the first American to evaluate a Japanese bonsai exhibition and I feel very honored. I was not told until last Saturday when visiting Mr. Takeyama’s garden. Also, I was told to be at the Opening Ceremony tomorrow morning at 8:30. About 20 different awards were selected of the bonsai and suiseki. The judging took about an honor with a lot of walking back and forth evaluating the bonsai and suiseki. Today alone I walked 4.6 miles in the exhibition hall, yes even with a walking boot cast…. Nothing can hold me back when it comes to my bonsai passion.






In my first blog post for this tour I mentioned that I noticed a spectacular Japanese black pine in Mr. Kimura’s garden which was going to the exhibition. I did not photograph it because a better photo could be taken with a plain background in the exhibition. The bonsai looked like a winner to me, and it actually won the highest Prime Minister Award. Unfortunately, my photo did not process perfectly so I’ll try to photograph it again tomorrow.  By the way, nearly every photo in my blogs were taken with my new iPhone XS Max. With Joe Noga’s instruction through the years I’m slowly learning how to adjust the images, but can’t come close to working his magic. The blue, green, yellow, silver and black backgrounds are extremely difficult for photographing.



US $120,000.




US $18,000.

Seiji Morimae has a huge special display where he is selling masterpiece bonsai, containers, suiseki and other art, including several bonsai from Masahiko Kimura. I only had time to photograph a couple of the rock plantings and an award winning Japanese black pine. He already sold two of these large size bonsai before the exhibition even opened. They are destined for China.





More details from this special edition of the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition will be forthcoming. There are a great number of masterpiece bonsai and suiseki in the exhibition which will require me to spend the next four days of study here. By the way, the Japanese word “Taikan” means Grand View, and this exhibition is truly a grand view of the Japanese bonsai word.






A Toji Flea Market Experience

15Our group left Shikoku Island on the way to Kyoto on a train crossing the scenic Inland Sea which is dotted with many small islands. The weather was warm and sunny and the islands were quite picturesque. However, the bridge structure did not allow us to capture images without steel posts bisecting the views.


Of course, we had reserved seats, however we must have been in the kid’s clown car…. It was fun and colorful. There was only one other family group with a cute child, so we essentially had an entire private car. The kid was quiet too.








Once we arrived at the hotel we immediately departed for the Toji Flea Market, but not until I checked the sign which posted the ideal maple viewing times in the major garden temples. We timed it perfectly, as nearly every garden was “at peak.”


On the 21stof each month there is a huge flea market on the grounds of the Toji Temple which is quite near our hotel across the street from the Kyoto Train Station. This is a major event for Kyoto, like the famous cherry blossoms in April and colorful red maple leaves in November.


Everything you could imagine is there for sale: delicious food, antiques, not so old antiques, tools, clothing, bonsai, containers, art, scrolls, more clothing, jewelry and much more.


Japanese hospitality runs through the Toji Flea Market, everyone is friendly and helpful and much of the sample food is edible. The entire grounds are packed with sales stalls and they even flow on to the main streets at the several entrances.


The prices seemed to drop as the afternoon wore on and just like bonsai conventions in the United States, many vendors began to pack up early ready to exit at the 4pm close.



The Toji Temple is an active Buddhist place of worship and we saw several religious ceremonies were going on. A refreshing change from looking at small trees and gardens. But, we will get back to the serious activities tomorrow.






Visiting Kokubunji & Kinashi Bonsai Villages



The two pine bonsai production villages of Kokubunji and Kinashi have merged to be part of the city of Takamatsu on Shikoku Island, Japan. According to 2014 figures, 219 bonsai nurseries shipped 75,000 bonsai valued at approximately US $2,400,000. A great number of the pine bonsai in Japan originated from Takamatsu where pine bonsai are King.

Hiro Yamaji, 2ndgeneration bonsai grower is no stranger to the United States. He has presented numerous programs and also been the headliner for many bonsai conventions and symposia. Mr. Yamaji was one of the international judges and demonstrators at the 2014 4thUS National Bonsai Exhibition. I first met Hiro during my first trip to Japan in 1970 when I was studying with Kyuzo Murata in Omiya Bonsai Village. During his honeymoon Mr. Yamaji and his bride visited my home and we have been friends for over 45 years. He took time from his busy schedule to show our tour the bonsai production areas of Takamatsu.


Nakanishi Chinshoen Bonsai Garden

We first visited the Nakanishi Chinshoen Bonsai Garden of Yoichi Nakanishi, a 5thgeneration bonsai grower. His garden is neat and immaculate, you could eat off the clean raked gravel and stone pathways. He specializes in pines, especially the Kotobuki Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii‘Kotobuki.’ This popular cultivar has very short, dark green straight needles and prominent white vegetative buds. It originated as an unusual tree from a nearby mountain and was collected over 70 years ago.





This bonsai could be yours for US$88,000.


Most of the larger Kotobuki Japanese black pines have been created by grafting buds or branches on to well shaped trunks of Japanese black pines. Many of his developed masterpiece bonsai are approximately 20 to 30 years old, but has numerous older masterpieces started by his father and grandfather. They are primarily propagated by grafting, however cuttings are successfully rooted when taken in March.




Hiramatsu Sunshoen Bonsai Garden

The 4thgeneration bonsai artist Koji Hiramatsu is the proprietor of the Hiramatsu Sunshoen Bonsai Garden. His father still helps caring, creating and training the bonsai. There are vast fields of Japanese black and Japanese five-needle pines being trained for trunk and branch development in the ground. They also grew the Cork bark Japanese black pines when they were popular. There are very few remaining.


The new specialty of Mr. Hiramatsu is shohin bonsai. He is an official instructor and officer of shohin bonsai organizations. Of course, pine shohin bonsai are in great number, he is also skilled with other species as well. Since Mr. Hiramatsu is fluent in English he is becoming a popular bonsai instructor outside Japan including the United States, Europe and Canada. He will be one of the international judges and demonstrators at the next 2020 7thUS National Bonsai Exhibition. He frequently hosts foreign students who want to learn his training techniques.

About 30 years ago Gerald Rainville, originally from Montreal, Canada, now living near Vancouver, Canada, came to study with Mr. Hiramatsu’s father. He now has a considerable bonsai and landscape business shipping bonsai throughout Canada. Mr. Rainville travels to Japan for a month long study period yearly. He was at the bonsai garden during our visit so he could attend the upcoming Nippon Bonsai Taikan Ten Exhibition in a few days.




During our visit we also met Evan Marsh, from Sydney, Australia who is now studying with Mr. Hiramatsu. Both Gerald and Evan were busy wiring Shohin Japanese black pine bonsai for sale at the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Ten Exhibition.






Hiramatsu Seijuen Bonsai Garden

After lunch we visited Mr. Hiramatsu’s uncle, Kiyoshi Hiramatsu at his Hiramatsu Seijuen Bonsai Garden which is next to Koji’s garden. This talented 3rdgeneration bonsai artist also specializes in pine and shohin bonsai.









There were a great number of bonsai neatly packed into his compact garden. He had a small shohin bonsai composition on display for us which included an unusual forest of Sekka Hinoki cypress. He was quick to mention he was going to allow two trees to grow taller for better design, or will add a few more taller trees.


Sanshoen Bonsai Garden

Our guide for the day, Hiro Yamaji brought us to his garden for a visit. He has seven fields full of pine bonsai in addition to his newly expanded and designed main bonsai garden and studio. Across the street he has another area with five quarantine greenhouses full of pine bonsai being prepared for shipping to the United States and Europe.





Arthur Skolnik and Marty Schmalenberg studied with Mr. Yamaji many years ago to learn his pine training techniques. Since Mr. Yamaji speaks both English and French, in addition to Japanese, he frequently travels to France to sell and teach bonsai.


Kandaka Shojuen Bonsai Garden

Keiji Kandaka, 4thgeneration proprietor of Kandaka Shojuen Bonsai Garden has one of the largest gardens in the area. Pine bonsai of all sizes and many different species and cultivars are well represented here. In the rear of his garden Mr. Kandaka has a small area devoted to his finest bonsai masterpieces, all pines of course.








The main focal point of his garden is a Japanese black pine garden tree which is over 200 years old, yet only about 10 feet in height. But, the fantastic and unique quality of this garden tree are the lower braches which stretch horizontally approximately 30 feet in length. The branches are trained flat, similar to a skirt, quite unique and well worth a visit.





Exploring Takamatsu, Japan



Takamatsu is the largest city on Shikoku Island and the gateway to the island over the Great Seto Bridge connecting the island to Honshu. The city is quite famous for the production of pine bonsai. However, today we did not see any bonsai since we will spend an entire day exploring two bonsai villages.



Our tour visited Ritsurin Garden which is one of the top three strolling style gardens in Japan. The word Ritsurin actually means “Chestnut Groves,” but it is most famous for magnificent, manicured old Japanese black and Japanese red pines some of which are over 300 years old. Over 1,400 specimen pines are in the garden, however, only 1,000 are trained by bud pinching, removing old needles and thinning out branches to maintain perfect shaping.




300 year old Sago palms Cycas revoluta, with thick corky bark!




Established over 400 years ago Ritsurin Garden was started by the Sato Clan. It was then inherited by the Matsudaira Clan in 1642. Check out yesterday’s blog entry “The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine” for an interesting history of a famous garden tree and the relationship of the Matsudaira Clan with bonsai. I quickly posted a photo of this pine on Facebook and a couple of friends wanted more history of the unique specimen so that I wrote that blog first, because it interested me. Then I fell asleep writing and correcting photos so this blog entry was delayed…


There are six ponds and several streams in the garden with many scenic vistas set against Mt. Shiun.





Shikoku Village

Near Takamatsu we traveled to Shikoku Village, an open air museum and gallery where we encountered the traditional face of Japan. There are over 20 old building dating from the Edo Period from around Japan which were brought here and reconstructed to preserve how people of old Japan lived.





The entry way to this most interesting and hilly museum was a suspension bridge which appeared to be made of vines. However, upon closer inspection thick metal cables were the actual support. The swinging bridge made of rough, irregular boards was suspended over a pond. I wanted to cross the bridge, but my walking cast prevented me. Although I know how to swim, and may be crazy, I’m not stupid and went around another way. Several of our tour members did, successfully, traverse the dangerous bridge.


There was an amphitheater, soy brewing building as well as a sugar cane press. Several old farm houses were reconstructed including one with an alcove (Tokonoma) which even had an ikebana arrangement. There were a couple of boar fences which must be working since I did not encounter any, nor the poisonous snakes as posted on signs.


It was an interesting and educational view to old time Japan, but it was hilly with lots and lots of irregular steps. I was fortunate to survive the trip without any injury and walked (hiked?) over four miles.






Chrysanthemum Display

Directly across our hotel, near the train station and port is Tamamo Park, which are the ruins of Takamatsu Castle. When the Asia Pacific Bonsai & Suiseki Convention was held a few years ago one of the main buildings was completely displayed with bonsai.


From our hotel window, we noticed a chrysanthemum display and walked across the street to see it. Chrysanthemums are shown all over Japan during October and November. Yesterday was the last day of the show so several blossoms were just past peak, but still stunning.




34.jpgTraditionally chrysanthemums are grown in several different forms. The basic form consists of one plant with three stems, of different heights and an exact number of leaves per stem. They are displayed in groups of 12 pots with four different cultivars of different colors. Quite interesting, but a bit boring. After you see one, you have seen them all. Kind of like shohin bonsai displays or satsuki azalea exhibitions.


There were a few cascade style chrysanthemums and two “Thousand Bloom” forms, each consisting of only one plant per pot.


I’m a bit familiar with bonsai chrysanthemums. In 1971 and 1972 I studied the art with Tameji Nakajima in Tokyo who was the top grower. H. Carl Young and his wife Shin, also studied with him and wrote the excellent book The Art of the Chrysanthemum,which, by the way, has an great history of bonsai. While studying with Mr. Nakajima I was able to introduce several of his hybrid chrysanthemums for bonsai to the United States. These cultivars have tiny blossoms, woody stems and tend to be long lived.


The entire bonsai chrysanthemum is grown and trained in only ONE season. They are started in November and displayed the following autumn and must be transplanted monthly. It’s a bit difficult to get one to live for over a year, but when I was growing, displaying and teaching the art in the late 1970s I was fortunate (lucky) to have a trunk live for three years.


Root-over-rock style is popular because an image of a heavy trunk is presented with long roots. Often wood or artificial stone is carved for the plant. Sometimes they are even painted. I was particularily impressed with the large number of shohin bonsai chrysanthemums displayed, quite creatively too. The last display featured “2020” promoting the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.



Visiting Shunka-en Bonsai Museum




Shunka-en Bonsai Museum in Tokyo is the home, studio, gallery and growing area of Kunio Kobayashi. I’ve visited here many times before, and like in the past there is always something new to see and study, plus Mr. Kobayashi’s personal bonsai collection.IMG_0420.JPG

The scenic garden views, especially from the top two viewing areas were quite beautiful. I found it interesting that all of the maple and other deciduous bonsai were in one area, satsuki azaleas in another and the remaining evergreens in the central area of the garden museum. A new bamboo fence for an attractive background was new as was a poly house.



All of the bonsai, especially on the monkey pole display tables were tied down to avoid tipping over during windy weather and earthquakes. Of course, the bonsai are kept outdoors, all year around here.












JIN.jpg6P4A9280.jpgWhen Mr. Kobayashi has guests, he brings a few bonsai indoors and arranges displays in one of the dozen or more alcoves in the museum. Each display features a major bonsai, companion and usually a hanging scroll. Jin Yasufumi, a graduate apprentice is now working for Mr. Kobayashi in the curator position for his museum. He is friendly and speaks excellent English. After our tour members looked around and came down from bonsai overload, Jin gave us a guided tour of the museum, including the upstairs container room full of antique and historic Chinese and Japanese containers, each valued more than average homes in the United States6P4A9292.jpg

There were particularly a large number of large Japanese black pine bonsai, probably for the Chinese market. Nearly all of the maple bonsai were leafless and their beautiful branch ramification was visible.

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The fruiting bonsai were colorful and the Chojubai Japanese flowering quince and Sasanqua camellia were blossoming. There was a large unusual Magnolia bonsai with plump flower buds for spring flowering. I could not photograph a large Satsuki azalea because it was just watered and was on the ground level. Mr. Kobayashi recently won an award with this Satsuki azalea which will be displayed in the upcoming Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition limited for professionals.






As previously mentioned, Mr. Kobayashi continues to add bonsai and containers to his museum garden for sale. Well, it now looks like he finally ran out of space because he is overflowing out his front gate on to the two side walls enclosing his garden. A few bonsai, lots of containers and even companion plants sit right on the street. Flags from different countries flank the walls welcoming the many visitors from foreign countries.


The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine


This Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora cv., is growing in Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu, Japan. It is on the shore of Nako Pond in front of the Kikugetsu-tei tea house complex and has been named “The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine.”


It was originally a small bonsai and the 11thTokugawa Shogun, Ienari (1773-1841), presented the bonsai to the 9thLord of the Matsudaira clan, Yorihiro (1798-1842.) The family treasured this bonsai but were afraid they will kill it, so they planted it in their garden for preservation. And it did thrive!


The exposed roots of the tree form the focal point for the garden tree. This is not the common Japanese five-needle pine, because it was grafted. I’m not certain of the exact cultivar of this tree, but it has short blue-green needles, similar to the cultivar ‘Miyajima.’ The graft union can still be distinctively seen. In modern times Japanese five-needle pine are commonly grafted onto Japanese black pine. However, Yuji Yoshimura told me he thought the tree was grafted onto Japanese red pine during that period of time.

I’ve been admiring that beautiful trained garden tree since I first saw it in 1970. In fact, that tree is the front piece of my second book, Encyclopedia of Classical Bonsai Art: Japanese Five-needle Pine: Nature, Gardens, Bonsai & Taxonomy.I wrote the book in 1976 and the cover price was $9.95. Currently out of print, sometimes it becomes available for around $600.


September 2017

Today, November 19, 2018 my tour visited Ritsurin Park and I noticed several entire branches with brown needles which have died. The remaining branches are healthy, and the tree has been well cared for. Many of the long heavy branches are supported with wooden posts. I look forward to admiring this unique historical bonsai for many more decades.


By the way, the Matsudaira clan was founded in the 14thCentury and ruled until 1873. It was a large important clad which has a connection to bonsai. Count Morinaga Matsudaira (1874-1944), was a political figure and was a President of the House of Peers. He was a noted collector of bonsai and was fascinated with their small size. He wanted to see how small a tree could be created and commissioned ceramic artists to make small bonsai containers. Count Matsudaira was also the President of the Kokufu Bonsai Association and started the present day Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in 1934. He was closely associated with Norio Kobayashihi and together are credited with the founding of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. The 93rdexhibition will be held on February 9-12 and 14-17, 2019.


Count Matsudaira and his wife, Countess Akiko, were instrumental in establishing shohin bonsai and created a collection of over 1,000 small size bonsai. It was unheard of for women to cultivate bonsai at that time, and is still rare in Japan today. When traveling they often brought several of their shohin bonsai in baskets with them. Perhaps they even brought some of their shohin bonsai to Ritsurin Garden, their ancestral home. Countess Akiko Masuhara continued to care for their collection after the Count died in 1944 with great enthusiasm. About 200 shohin bonsai survived World War II, and she cared for them in Atami with the assistance of the Yoshimura family.


The Nippon Bonsai Association published a commemorative album on the Matsudaira Bonsai Collection in 1975. She died in the late 1970s and the Matsudaira Shohin Bonsai Collection was scattered throughout Japan, and one made it to the United States. I was fortunate to add a distinctive Japanese maple bonsai from the Matsudaira Shohin Bonsai Collection to my collection in 1985. This famous bonsai has been displayed in at least two Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions.



An Autumn Visit To Omiya Bonsai Village



Today we spent a pleasant 68F sunny day in Omiya, Japan. Our small group of only six people afforded us the opportunity to get around easily and have plenty of time to absorb the beauty of beautiful Japanese bonsai.


Our first stop was the bonsai garden of Masahiko Kimura, The Magician. I immediately noticed the increased number of tall rock plantings he created after carving and painting the stones. He is “playing” with bonsai… I’ll explain later.


There are always new bonsai creations in Mr. Kimura’s garden to view and study. There was a stunning Japanese black pine which was truly spectacular, but I did not photograph it, yet. It is destined for the Nippon Bonsai Taikan.


Exhibition which will be held next week in Kyoto. I can get a better photo then. Perhaps it will win one of the top awards, as his bonsai are usually winners, but it all depends on the judges…


Next, I noticed there were several empty “monkey poles” where several of his finest masterpieces are kept. They are now on display at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, which was our next stop. In spring the museum began a new “one man showing” of Contemporary Bonsai Masters. The first artist to be featured was Hiroshi Takeyama who specializes in deciduous, unusual and forest bonsai. The second featured artist is Masahiko Kimura and exhibition is titled: “Playing With Bonsai, The Origin Of His Works.” Photographs and signage in both Japanese and English explain his life with bonsai from an early age to the present. This special exhibit runs from October 26 to November 21, 2018. It includes approximately 20 to 30 of his finest masterpieces. The exhibition was changed several times during the exhibition. These Contemporary Bonsai Master series are in addition to the beautiful collection the museum displays daily. He also presented a demonstration on October 28th.

The 28 page exhibition guide full of Mr. Kimura’s masterpieces is in both Japanese and English with great photos and interesting information and his philosophy and thoughts on creation. According to Mr. Kimura, play is different from work, and the sources of creativity in the creation of bonsai. Through play he is able to create bonsai based on how bonsai should be using his sense of feeling and inspiration. He was greatly impressed with the tall Huangshan Mountains, Wulingyuan area and Sanxia Valley in China. Through play, which he sees as the opposite side of professional work, he has been able to make use of his strong sense of inspiration in creating bonsai.

Check out “Kimura’s Home Bonsai” youtube series which describes many of his interesting creative works, including how to sculpt rocks at:



In his garden, he has a huge Japanese yew which is estimated to be 1,000 years in age. I saw it in February this year, and in fact, included a photo of it in my blog from February 2018, look it up. This bonsai has not been in training too long. The exhibition guide said, in English, that it was collected from Hokkaido in April 2018. Now remember I already saw and photographed it in February. Perhaps the tree was trained since April, not collected in April. Now it is growing in a wooden box and it was first displayed in his exhibition a few weeks earlier. It already has been featured in Kinbon Magazinein a beautiful ceramic bonsai container which was added with Photoshop. According to Mr. Kimura this tree is a rare world-class material. The final form of this bonsai is yet to come, and I look forward to watching and learning from the tree.



I noticed a cascade style Ezo spruce bonsai in Mr. Kimura’s garden which looked familiar. Well, it should because it is featured in Mr. Kimura’s article in the upcoming issue of International BONSAI. This issue will soon be in the mail. If you are not a subscriber, you can easily subscribe to the first and only professional bonsai magazine published in the United States here:


Now, what I found particularly interesting is that I mentioned to one of Mr. Kimura’s long time apprentices, Andrei Bessonov, from Russia, that his photo is included in Mr. Kimura’s article about shaping the Ezo spruce bonsai. He responded that this bonsai was accepted to be displayed in the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition, which is the professional Creation Exhibition next month under HIS name as an apprentice’s creation. Congratulations to Andrei!

Details are important in the creation and appreciation of bonsai. Look at the base of this large size Japanese five-needle pine bonsai….



I also saw an interesting Sargent juniper bonsai with roots being added to the bottom left side of the trunk. It is potted in a deep wooden training box to promote healthy fast vigorous growth.


The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum featured Mr. Kimura’s magnificent bonsai masterpieces which could not be photographed. But I was able to shoot a short video from the second floor balcony.



Walking through the Omiya Bonsai Village I noticed an “Old Friend” sitting outside Mr. Kato’s Mansei-en Bonsai Garden. The last time I saw this tree was in Mr. Iwasaki’s Takasago-an garden in Niihama, Shikoku Island, Japan. Its a truly magnificent Needle juniper garden tree.

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Hiroshi Takeyama’s Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden is one of my favorite bonsai destinations in Japan. The warm weather in Japan has slightly delayed the beautiful color of the bonsai in his garden. But, if you want to see brilliant color in a bonsai garden take a look at this image of my garden and check out my last blog.