Shunka-en Bonsai Museum & Taisho-en Bonsai Garden


Shunka-en Bonsai Museum

The Shunka-en Bonsai Museum of Kunio Kobayashi is always a special treat for our bonsai tours. Located in central Tokyo it is easy to find and visit. Here you can see superb developed masterpiece bonsai as well as many still in training, some in wooden boxes. But, perhaps this is the pinnacle where you can see fine quality bonsai formally displayed. There are about 12 individual alcoves, in formal, semi-formal and informal styles to study as well as displays in corners and an authentic working tea house. Tea masters often teach here because of the quiet atmosphere, beauty and workmanship of the buildings.





One of Mr. Kobayashi’s former apprentice, Osama Fukudate, who now works for him recently won an award for his Sargent juniper bonsai at the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition, limited to professional bonsai artists.




Kunio Kobayashi commonly travels the world sharing his techniques. In fact, he was teaching in China during our visit. His lovely wife and apprentices showed us around and welcomed us to their museum complex.





Each of the three main alcoves were dramatically designed for our visit. A suiseki in the informal style, Japanese flowering apricot, ready to burst into bud in the semi-formal and a Japanese black pine in the formal alcove.



Books, display tables, containers and suiseki were available for purchase, if you could afford them. As we strolled through the beautiful grounds it began to sprinkle, then developed into a steady rain, indicating it was time to head on to our next stop in Shizuoka.









Taisho-en Bonsai Garden

The bullet train took our small group to Shizuoka to visit Taisho-en Bonsai Garden on our way to Kyoto. Nobuichi Urushibata, long time famous and award-winning bonsai artist and professional ballroom dancer (award winning here too- and has a room filled with trophies) is the proprietor of a well-known bonsai garden who opens his doors to foreigners who seriously want to live and study bonsai in Japan for months. He was quite prominent in the shohin bonsai community, but has cut back his activities for health reasons. He is one of the top Japanese bonsai artists. He also is producing mame bonsai in addition to shohin bonsai.








A mame size Trident maple for sale for only $300. Size has nothing to do with the quality or pricing.



His son Taiga Urushibata is a younger bonsai artist who speaks English and travels around the world teaching. He apprenticed with Masahiko Kimura in Omiya for many years. It is common in Japan for a bonsai artist to send his son (have not heard of any daughters) to another professional artist for training, bringing new techniques into the established bonsai garden. Nobuichi Urushibata specializes in mame, shohin and chuhin size bonsai; while his son Taiga prefers larger, more dynamic evergreen bonsai. Well, that’s what his teacher, Mr. Kimura specializes in. It is important to realize that although a bonsai artist might specialize in a specific species or style, they are well experienced, knowledgeable and skilled in all species and bonsai styles.


This unbelievable Japanese red pine trained by Taiga Urushibata recently won the coveted Prime Minister’s Award at the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition, the highest award for professional bonsai artists.



PThere were a tremendous number of old collected juniper bonsai which were being grafted. Junipers with coarse foliage were being changed into cultivars with finer leaves. I found it surprising that even many Needle junipers were being grafted with Sargent juniper foliage. Every bonsai in this garden was beautiful and the love and nurturing of these two bonsai artists was shining in each specimen.



A Visit To Saitama Prefecture



Our first day of touring the Japanese bonsai world included Mr. Morimae, Mr. Kimura, Omiya Bonsai Art Museum and the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.

Seiji Morimae’s S-Cube business and Uchiku-tei Garden

Located about an hour north of Tokyo in Hanyu, Mr. Morimae has the largest collection of bonsai, suiseki, art and bonsai accessories available. His family and staff are most hospitable and always welcome our group of any size, from this tour with 5 participants to our record number of 42 several years ago. We normally get the opportunity to introduce the Japanese bonsai world to about 10-12 people.



As soon as we got off our private mini-van, Mr. Morimae ran up and said, come I want to show you how we pot large size bonsai. We immediately followed him to the back of the nursey where a new fork lift was holding a large 200 year old Miyajima Japanese five-needle pine in the air while two apprentices were working the roots. The garden tree was growing in a pot for over 20 years when he obtained the tree. Now the old field soil was being removed and they were looking for a pot. They had a deep pot, but it was too small, so they searched and found a larger Chinese pot and brought it over in the back of a small truck. That pot was too large, really. So out came the pruning shears and they made the smaller deeper pot work. Very interesting!










Mr. Morimae proceeded to show us around and told us about a recent auction he had on January 4th where he sold over 300 bonsai. All the professional bonsai artists were there including Mr. Kimura who purchased several trees. A Tsuyama Hinoki forest on a piece of wood was the most interesting and I’m sure he will create a masterpiece with it in the future. He mentioned that he was going to deliver them to Mr. Kimura at 2pm. We were going directly to Mr. Kimura’s after this visit and offered to take the tree to him, but there were too many to fit into our private mini-van.


A special display for the New Year season was designed by Mr. Morimae. Everyone seemed to buy suiseki, tables and containers because of their high quality and great pricing.



Mr. Morimae then brought out the February issue of Bonsai Sekai magazine (Bonsai World) which included a two-page cartoon of my November lecture on Yuji Yoshimura at the museum. I can’t read any of it, but the drawings are cute, despite of the subject. Trying to get it translated.





Masahiko Kimura

We then traveled to Mr. Kimura’s garden where we saw his masterpiece bonsai, all manicured.


The February issue of Kinbon magazine featured Mr. Kimura working a Japanese yew bonsai from a two meter size tree he was training in the ground. He removed the bark and hollowed the wood so he could coil the six-foot long trunk and fit it into a small pot. End result was almost two feet tall with a huge piece of dead wood. I asked to see it and he said it’s out back where visitors are not allowed. Suddenly he said, come with me, and we walked back through a larger section of his nursery where trees in training are worked on, out of the public eye. He has a huge poly house filled with masterpiece evergreens being prepared for the upcoming Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition next month. He must have had nearly 80 trees, all large size. In the rear of his poly house he had another small poly tent set up with the new Japanese yew where it is misted several times daily for intensive care.



Last year I saw a really large Japanese yew he was working on, and I think I showed a photo of it in my blog when it took up an entire skid. The trunk was at least 3 feet in diameter. Kinbon did an article on the tree and it was featured in his one-man show at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum. Truly an impressive work of art. I asked to see it, but was too late, as it was already in China.






Omiya Bonsai Art Museum

It is always a treat to see such fine quality bonsai formally displayed in special lighted boxes as well as in three different styles of alcove displays, plus in the stroll garden as well. Last November I had the honor to lecture here when the museum had a special exhibit featuring Yuji Yoshimura, who I studied with for 30 years. The exhibition album was just published a few weeks ago. The 40-page album is filled with historical photos of Mr. Yoshimura, some over 60 years old from my library. The English translation album will be published in March. It was wonderful to see the Japanese bonsai community finally realize the important life-long contribution Mr. Yoshimura made to expand bonsai around the world, now 60 years later.











Omiya Bonsai Village

We next took a nice leisurely walk through the famous bonsai village stopping at Mansei-en, Seiko-en, Kyuka-en and finally at Fuyo-en where our private mini-van picked us up. During our stroll, it began to sprinkle and out driver found us and brought us each an umbrella, which I never opened, but used as a cane to avoid slipping on the wet rocks. My first of eight foot breaks was in Mansei-en over a decade ago.  All the trees were beautiful, especially the Japanese flowering apricot bonsai full of plump flower buds ready to burst, just in time for next month’s Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. Our driver was especially friendly and even made an unexpected stop to buy some Beard Pappa cream puffs for the ride back to our hotel in Tokyo. I bought 15 cream puffs, but they did not all make it back to the hotel. I just finished the last three with my Japanese sweet ice tea writing and editing the photos for this blog at 1 am.
















We all had a wonderful day and look forward to another week of bonsai and garden visits plus two major exhibitions.

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:




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.

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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.






2019 39th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition – Part 3

This year there are five special displays in the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition.


Funayama Display

Mr. Funayama lives in the northern area of Japan and has large powerful evergreen bonsai. Mr. Morimae is his bonsai consultant.






Tanaka Display

This was the largest display in the exhibition presented in two parts, one on each side of the formal entrance to the show. Mr. Tanaka lives in Kyoto and has a large significant collection of bonsai named “Bonsai Keiunan.” The main theme of his display is to recognize bonsai from the past five eras of Japan: Meiji (1886), Taisho (1912), Showa (1926), Heisei (1989) and Reiwa (2019.) He is now building a bonsai museum in Kyoto scheduled to open in 2022. Guiding him and caring for his collection are Seiji Morimae and Shinji Suzuki.

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A large Sargent juniper flanks the left side of part 1, with the poetic name of Hagoromo.




This is one of the most famous suiseki in Japan and has numerous owners. The name Hagoromo is the name of an old Noh play because the overall shape of the stone reminds the viewer of a dancer with an arm outstretched. While this suiseki is a figure stone, it is also a chrysanthemum stone. The kimono cloth covering the dancer is covered with small chrysanthemum flowers similar to fine quality brocade. Note the small, simple daiza presenting humility to the presentation.


The last bonsai on the right of part 1 of the display is a powerful Japanese black pine. The extremely rough bark is named “Gan Seki Sho,” or irregular rock like. This bonsai is considered to be approximately 300 years old and General Okuma once owned the masterpiece. This past February I saw Mr. Morimae sell this bonsai at the Ueno Green Club during the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition for US $750,000.





Across the entrance was part 2 of Mr. Tanaka’s display. This Japanese five-needle pine was once owned by Daizo Iwasaki, a noted bonsai lover and bonsai promoter who worked hard for several decades to expand bonsai. He was an officer of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation and created the most famous bonsai and garden collection of Japan. The poetic name of this bonsai is “Takasago” which was also the name of his garden. Toshinori Suzuki, the father of Toru Suzuki named this bonsai. Does that make him the “God father?


Next on display in a poor-quality photograph, but significantly interesting is a series of three famous bonsai which were all past Kokufu Prize winning masterpieces. Toru Suzuki’s grandfather Saichi Suzuki, a pioneer of pine bonsai and the introducer of Zuisho Japanese five-needle pine worked on all three of these bonsai. Each one of these bonsai once grew and were displayed in this famous antique 400 year old Chinese container.


Next is a display of three bronze water basins made by Houn Harada. They represent his early, mid and late period of casting bronze. Yuji Yoshimura’s father, Toshiji Yoshimura, a leader of the bonsai and suiseki communities designed and commissioned many of these beautiful bronze water basins which are highly prized, and priced as well.


A collection of old famous Tofukuji bonsai containers considered to be one of the finest bonsai potters of old time and lived and worked in Kyoto. It is rare to see a collection like this. However, Mr. Morimae had a display of 50 Tofukuji containers in his S-Cube Bonsai Gallery sales area, but you are too late. The entire 50 piece collection was sold on the first day. More details in next blog.


Shigeru Yoshida was a Prime Minister who also loved bonsai and had a large collection. He was the first President of the Nippon Bonsai Association in the 1960’s. This magnificent chrysanthemum suiseki one belonged in his collection.


A large Japanese five-needle pine named “Dainagon” is considered to be 350 years old. The needle and bark characteristics are excellent, as well as the shape of the tree.


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Honde Display

Mr. Honde’s display featured two cascade Japanese five-needle pine bonsai and three suiseki. Note how both bonsai are pointing towards the center of the display.

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Teauchi Display

Mr. Teauchi’s display featured two Japanese flowering apricot bonsai and several suiseki. Although a beautiful display it seemed to me that the scrolls were more significant than the bonsai.




Saito Display

Akihisa Saito, a director of the Nippon Bonsai Association and his wife Harue have one of the finest and largest private bonsai collections in Japan. They have between 300 to 400 bonsai at their home in Okayama. Award winning bonsai artist Kenji Oshima, son of Mikio Oshima, from Okayama, is the curator of their collection.



Each year they have a special large special display at the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition. The theme changes yearly and features masterpiece bonsai from their collection. It also has beautiful and colorful framed contemporary Japanese paper cuts figures between the bonsai. In the past their special display each featured several masterpiece Hinoki cypress, Korean hornbeam, Japanese maple, Trident maple, Shishigashira maple, Twisted pomegranates and Rough bark Japanese maples last year.

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This time Mr. Saito is sharing the beauty of four of his Japanese maple masterpieces. The weather here in Kyoto and Okayama has been quite warm and the colorful display of Japanese maple leaves has been delayed. They should be in peak color in a couple of weeks. Note that the leaves were not burned which is common with maple leaves during this time of the year.


Mr. and Mrs. Saito were joined by three lovely ladies who often travel together and make annual appearances at the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition.