BONSAI BOOK OF DAYS
What Happened On This Date in "Recent" Bonsai History?
2014 -- Thierry Font died after a long battle with cancer. (Born in France 53 years earlier, he was a level 3 demonstrator,
the highest level awarded by the Féderation Française de Bonsai.
Font was a regular contributor to magazines Bonsai Passion (Castilian) and Bonsai France (French), for which he wrote
technical articles and, through his wonderful drawings, managed to convey to the public details of his technique and the reality of
their evolving work. He performed graphic art studies in Montpellier and for two years (1985 and 1986) made a display in the YAMADORI
BONSAI specialist stores of Montpellier belonging to Gilbert Labrid. Font went on to conduct workshops and demonstrations, participated
in exhibitions with his trees in various clubs in France and in countries such as Italy, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and Brazil. He worked
in collaboration with the Mistral Bonsai workshop since 2002 and in 2004 was invited to Japan by Takeo Kawabe to perfect Font's techniques.
He wrote the blog http://thierryfontsakurama.blogspot.com/. He left behind his wife,
Chantal, and their two daughters, Marine and Anouk.)
("Thierry Font; in memoriam,"
"Sad farewell to our friend Thierry Font," Google translation of
http://www.portalbonsai.com/categoria.asp?idcat=676794; "Thierry Font,"
Google translation of http://www.espritsdegoshin.fr/forum-bonsai/topic.html?id=13095&p=1) SEE ALSO: Apr 21
|22||1957 -- Arthur Joura was born in New York City. [He would have an educational background in fine art, studying at
the School of Visual Arts and the Art Student's League in New York City. As a landscape-maintenance tech for the
North Carolina Arboretum, Joura would be running a backhoe and building
hoop houses in the garden's support area when, in 1992, the Arboretum received a donation of a large number of bonsai and
containers from George and Cora Staples of Butner, NC. Joura had no experience with bonsai, but he would sense an opportunity.
Upon acceptance of this initial donation, he would be assigned responsibility for the care and development of the bonsai collection and
an attendant program to support it. He would start his bonsai education in 1993 at
The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in
Washington, DC under the tutelage of Museum Curator Robert "Bonsai Bob" Drechsler. Joura would learn the traditional forms
and the various techniques. He would go to Japan to study the art. In 1995 Joura would continue his studies with
personal instruction from Japanese American bonsai master Yuji Yoshimura, also known
as "The Father of American Bonsai." Later that same year, Joura would begin teaching bonsai at the NC Arboretum conducting educational
classes and workshops as well as providing bonsai lectures and demonstrations across the country. Other donations
to the bonsai collection would follow as longtime enthusiasts in the region recognized the value of the Arboretum's involvement, and
contributed prized specimens from their personal collections. Sustained public support would be a key ingredient
in the success of this dynamic bonsai assemblage which Joura, the curator, would build into one of that institution's
strongest components. Additionally, Joura would introduce to bonsai culture over 50 species native to western
North Carolina and create several tray landscapes depicting well-known regional sites. Perhaps of even greater significance,
the model for the Arboretum's bonsai plantings as Joura styled them would not be the bonsai depicted in books and magazines, but rather
the example of nature as represented by the wild trees of the forests and mountain tops of the Blue Ridge region. Joura would feel
that this was a return to the roots of bonsai as an artistic expression, not of a certain culture, but of an individual's experience
of the natural world around them. For more details on Joura's education, please see
this posting and
this one as well.]
1986 -- The 1st Exhibition of the Korean Bonsai Association (founded Jan. 1985) began and would run through the 17th of May. [Subsequent annual large-scale potted plant exhibitions for growers from all over the country would be called "ceremonies."] (KBA web site, http://www.koreabonsai.com/en/frame.html)
1952 -- Thirty-one year old Yuji Yoshimura, assisted by German agricultural diplomat Alfred Koehn, began the first bonsai
course for foreigners in Tokyo at his Kofu-en nursery. [It was an instant success and within three years over 600
students -- mostly foreign dignitaries, military personnel and businessmen and their wives -- would be taught the
six-lesson course in classical bonsai art.]
A tropical plant expert, Koehn lived and worked in Japan for several years in the early 1930s. He studied Japanese flower arrangement in Kyoto for four years before moving to Peking in 1935 to study Chinese arts and culture. While living in Peking during the Japanese invasion (1937-45) he established his "Ra Shi" kennel for Shih-tzu dogs. (In 1948 he was the only breeder of those dogs in the capital.) Koehn left China to return to Japan in 1951 to open courses the following year in the cultivation of bonsai in collaboration with Yuji Yoshimura. His Notes on Bonsai (1953), with hand-tied wraps, two full color plates and four pages of black and white plates with multiple images, was an early work in English on bonsai.
Koehn's other publications included The Way of Japanese Flower Arrangement (1937), Japanese Tray Landscapes (1937), Mountains and rivers: woodblock prints from paintings by contemporary Chinese artists (1939), Embroidered Wishes (1943), Confucius, His Life and Work (1944), Kindesehrfurcht in China (1943, then the following year in English as Filial Devotion in China and in French as Piete Filiale en Chine), Fragrance from a Chinese Garden (1944, with Wang Hsiang-chan), Royal Favorites (1948), Window flowers: Symbolical silhouettes for the Chinese New Year (1948), Japanese classical flower arrangement (1951), Bonkei: Japanese Tray Landscapes (1952), "Harbingers of Happiness: The Door Gods of China" (in the Monumenta nipponica) (1954), and Japanese floral arts: Flower arrangements, tray landscapes, gardens (1955) -- among others.
"Alfred Koehn, next to Mr. Yoshimura on his left, is explaining rock planting techniques to("Yuji Yoshimura, A Memorial Tribute To A Bonsai Master & Pioneer" by William N. Valavanis, International Bonsai, IBA, 1998/No. 1, pg. 32; "Alfred Koehn," http://tiny.cc/70l6l; "Alfred Koehn," http://tiny.cc/i5l1j; http://www.pem.org/aux/pdf/library/Herbertoffen.pdf; http://tiny.cc/i0x6s; "A Brief History of the Shih-tzu," http://www.bakalo.com/history.htm; "Shih Tzu - The Last Shih Tzu To Leave Peking," http://www.articlealley.com/article_13784_54.html; Yuji Yoshimura's collaborator is not to be confused with the German doctor of the same name who lived 1911-1984) SEE ALSO: Jan 12, Feb 27, Jul 17, Nov 2, Dec 24
Mr. Yoshimura's students in his course in 1952." (Photo by Yuji Yoshimura)
(International Bonsai, 1998/No. 1, pg. 33)
1998 -- After a year in quarantine, seven magnificent bonsai masterpieces
from Japan were unveiled at a gala ceremony in the U.S. National Arboretum's
National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Funds for the donation were underwritten
by the Nippon Bonsai Association (Japan) and the National Bonsai Foundation
(U.S.). The oldest of the seven was a 250 year-old needle juniper
(Juniperus rigida) in training for thirty years and donated by the
Governor of the Saitama Prefecture. Two days following this ceremony
two other additions were made to the Museum: a beautiful California live
oak bonsai and a self-portrait, both created by John Naka. The painting
was done at the request of the NBF and the Arboretum so that it could be
hung in the museum as a lasting reminder of John's many, many contributions
("Arbor Friends," newsletter of the Friends of the National Arboretum, Summer 1998, pg. 1)
2000 -- William "Bill" E. Southworth died. (Born on April
30, 1924 in Fulton, NY, he had read of the collection of Ming trees at
the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in a 1939 [sic] issue of
When he was stationed as a Marine in China and later in Japan in 1946
he was first exposed to bonsai. After retiring from engineering
(after retiring from the Marines), he finally began studying bonsai
under Dick Whidman, John Naka, Harry Hirao, and Ernie Kuo.
Eventually he taught at Cypress College and later began teaching from
home. He helped the Vietnamese community form their own bonsai
club. He loved organizing bonsai exhibits and shows for the
various clubs and organizations and had many a tale to tell of the
successes and pitfalls of each one. Equally as interesting were
his recollections of his years spent in the maze of politics in the
bonsai community. Bill was a most ardent supporter of anyone who
wanted to try his/her hand and luck at training and raising these
beautiful, and at times exasperating, miniature living art forms.)
("In Memory of William 'Bill' E. Southworth,"
accessed July 6, 2001)
1890 -- Heian Tofukuji was born. [Originally he would be a comb maker. When his job was eliminated fairly late in life,
Tofukuji would decide to become a professional bonsai potter. He'd live in Kyoto and use an oven in a Kyotoan
temple or the kilns of friends and fellow potters at first to fire his pots. It would be difficult using a
common kiln, often getting the bad position of having pots at the outer circumference of the fire. However,
Tokufuji would research and correspond with other potters about this unfavorable condition, and from this would
come consistantly excellent vessel forms, foundation soils, and colors of glazes. He would be renowned for
his beautiful handmade bonsai pots in different sizes and the special glazings he'd use for them. He would
become one of Japan's most respected potters. In his long career as a potter Tofukuji would use more than
twenty different rakkans (the maker's signature) and it would therefore not always be easy to distinguish
between a genuine Tofukuji pot and an imitation. Several books would be published about his work. His
son would also be a potter. The senior would die in 1970. As with many artists, his works would begin
to attract attention after his death and subsequently prices for them would begin to soar. As using a common
kiln would have necessitated the firing of smaller pots, only decades after his death these containers would become
valuable when shohin bonsai overtook larger-sized bonsai in popularity.]
Cover of one of the books about Heian Tokufuji
(van der Hoeven, Maarten "Special pots from Japan," Bonsai Focus, 4/2008, July/August, #116, pg. 84; "Heian Tofukuji," Sam & KJ's Suiseki Blog, 30 Aug. 2009, http://samedge.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/heian-tofukuji-%E5%B9%B3%E5%AE%89%E6%9D%B1%E7%A6%8F%E5%AF%BA/; "Glazed Pots by Heian Tofukuji," Japanese Bonsai Pots Blog, May 19, 2011, http://japanesebonsaipots.net/2011/05/19/glazed-pots-by-heian-tofukuji/; "Two Special Tofukuji Pots In Depth," Japanese Bonsai Pots Blog, January 13, 2012, http://japanesebonsaipots.net/2012/01/13/two-special-tofukuji-pots-in-depth/; "Heian-Tokufuji," http://www.yoshoen.com/tuhan/pot/pot_a12.html; a number of Tofukuji's creations are shown in the second, third, and fourth of these resources and also here and here) SEE ALSO: May 20
1967 -- Michael Hagedorn was born. [He would grow up in the mixed forest of Upstate NY. He would then develop an art background ranging from painting and drawing to ceramic sculpture and installation, with a Masters in Ceramics from the New York State College of Ceramics. He would make bonsai containers for nine years in the 1990's in upstate New York and Arizona, sometimes giving talks about what was involved from the clay particles to the kiln-fired pieces. But before all that, he would already be into bonsai; the Sunset book would trigger a passion for bonsai when he was only sixteen. After a second meeting with Boon Manakitivivpart at the 2000 Golden State Convention in Oakland, CA, Michael would study at a "bonsai intensive" hosted by this teacher. Too frequently in those last few years Michael would walk home after making pots in the studio and realize that he'd been thinking about trees all day. He would pack up this incomplete career, squirrel it away in a five-by-ten storage unit, and, at age 36 in December 2003, surrender to a rare opportunity. He would would travel to Obuse, Nagano Prefecture, Japan where he would apprentice for three years under bonsai master Shinji Suzuki. (Boon and Hideo Metaxas would have aided Michael during his introduction to Suzuki.)
"The ranks of bonsai apprentices are dwindling, as easier careers proliferate. Mr. Suzuki would remind us to the point of sounding like a broken record that to be a deshi, or apprentice, was to become stronger and grow through our kurou, our struggle, and not to flinch from it. The two words were nearly synonymous: apprentice/struggle. Since apprentices are usually young and mostly lack kurou, it follows that they are in definite need of it. 'You cannot create great bonsai if you don't understand this!' Mr. Suzuki would repeatedly explain... Most enter apprenticeships as teenagers just out of high school and their master's job is not only to teach them a trade, but also to finish raising them.
"New apprentices might arrive eagerly with tools in hand, with the natural assumption that their primary purpose is to study bonsai. They soon learn that this is a counterproductive concept to be burdened with. To masters, apprentices are commodities, and learning the art of bonsai - while important - is secondary. Apprentices enable the livelihood and success of their masters. The art of bonsai is transmitted along the way. Direct teaching is new in bonsai; particularly in past generations, very little formal teaching was done. Some of the younger masters have shouldered the new expectations and sometimes offer explanations for why we do what we do alongside the traditional structure of show and copy. Basic apprenticeship assumptions, however, have remained the same for a long time: the master provides room and board and work for the apprentice, and the apprentice does what the master says to do and commits to a certain term of stay. The agreement that [Michael] had with Mr. Suzuki was verbal.
"Soji, cleaning, is a word a foreign apprentice will learn on the first day. For the most part cleaning is one of the few things an apprentice can do without being overly lectured, and so for those who clean enthusiastically there is some peace to be had. Each morning we swept up fallen leaves under bonsai benches, removed errant soil on top of them, pulled weeds, and scrubbed the studio - this took perhaps an hour if we were focused. We had three large greenhouses, a studio, and a museum across the street to clean.
"Spring through fall, when plants are growing and dropping things, was our busiest time for keeping things tidy... More than once I found myself in muted rages against the fact of entropy itself. I later learned this was miles from the approved apprentice attitude. Attitude is everything. Mr. Suzuki strictly emphasized the tidiness and cleanliness of all areas. He instructs us, 'These carpeted paths are here for a reason - without them, clients will get mud on their expensive shoes. They get it in their car. They won't be back.' He looks at our blank, unenthusiastic faces and grins, saying, 'When I was a first year apprentice, all I DID was clean! You are lucky, working on trees in your first year.'
"It is said that it takes three years to learn to water bonsai properly. I've heard masters admit in rare, transparent moments that they are still learning the finer points of watering. Many masters do not let incoming apprentices water the bonsai because it is such an important and complex job - more experienced apprentices will usually carefully monitor the watering and fertilizing. Watering and fertilizing is work done exclusively by apprentices, as masters are too busy with clients or other work.
"The apprentice learns the tradition of bonsai by default. It was not fancy. We opened no books. I began by cleaning the studio, pulling weeds, and making tea; even lifting trees was initially off limits. I watched. I learned bonsai, and everything tangential to it, literally from the broomstick up. Very soon I was lifting trees, progressively larger ones until I was not much interested in lifting any more. I was allowed to water bonsai, fertilize them, spray for insects, repot, and wire them. Early on Mr. Suzuki might demonstrate on the branch of a bonsai what he wanted me to do with it. After several months I was styling bonsai while he was away for a week. Initially it seemed an odd and partial education. The abbreviated formal teaching we received was infrequent at best. We watched, and copied, and as a byproduct of this mute exercise, learned. Occasionally we might pick up some finer points from an obscure comment, as if it were a head-scratcher from a book of counter-intuitive sayings of Lao Tsu. Often the comments remained obscure, something to puzzle over when taking a tea break. Contemplated while rubbing sore biceps. At face value, this sort of teaching appears ridiculous. But eventually the fruits ripen. We were not taught equations, but how we ourselves relate to the questions. If everything is handed out and explained, little is actually learned, or at least understood in a gut sense. Passively acquired information rarely becomes primary and a guide for us. It's the stuff that we puzzle over and awaken to that remains as a touchstone. It becomes applicable.
"Unlike the European guild system, the bonsai community in Japan does not have a controlling body. In the study of bonsai in modern Japan the standards are decided by the apprentice's master, not a syndicate of masters. When the term of study is completed, and the bonsai master is satisfied with an apprentice's level of skill, the apprentice is allowed to go to the Nippon Bonsai Association in Tokyo to receive a certificate entitling the new graduate to teach bonsai. There are no tests or masterpieces that need to be offered for review at the Nippon Bonsai Association. It is sort of an honor system that assumes masters will use their best judgment in sending students to pick up a certificate. It is rare in the bonsai community for an apprentice, after completing studies with one master, to then go and study at other places with other masters. The techniques from a bonsai studio are often seen as proprietary knowledge, not to be shared with others. Specialists have developed in bonsai - a master is known for his work on pine trees, for instance, or for deciduous work. They are covetous of their knowledge, and apprentices are often asked to keep secrets. With other apprenticeships this is not the norm. Zen monks, for example, often end their studies as peripatetic journeymen of sorts, moving on to study with other Zen masters. Depending on where the bonsai apprentice trains, the skills learned will be different. The profit margin in the business of bonsai is greater for those who are merchants - buying a bonsai from a client, auction, or estate sale at a low price and selling it for a higher price to another client - than for those who actively create bonsai. In a merchant enterprise, business and social skills are more critical to success than knowledge of bonsai technique. To rework a tree, and perhaps take a few years doing so in order to improve its aesthetics and value, is to be content with a slow financial turnover. Therefore masters often have specialties in this regard too, being either creators or bonsai or sellers of them, and incoming apprentices are often aware of this and may choose to study under a master who has better connections, or who is known to be an especially good artist, according to their interests. Many masters need to do both selling and creating.
"[There was a] vast disparity of skills and quality [apprentices see around themselves]. It was apparent that only a few handfuls of masters actually understand the work of creating bonsai, and the rest either farmed their clients' trees out to these skilled masters to rework, or simply bought and sold them without trying to improve them at all. We could not help wondering about the future of bonsai in Japan... Times have changed in the Japanese bonsai world. Currently there is a dramatic falling-off of the numbers of apprentices entering into bonsai. Old photos from fifty years ago show as many as eight young apprentices at a time clustered around their master. The average now is one or two."
Seven trees that Michael wired would be accepted into the Kokufu Show in Tokyo 2004, 2005, and 2006, two in the Taikan Ten, and one in the Sakufu Ten. Michael would also be honored by Suzuki-san to do the wiring on two trees that went on to win a Kokufu Prize and Prime Minister Award.
On Michael's return from Japan in 2006 he would settle in Portland as a professional bonsai artist, where he'd create, teach, and write about bonsai. Shortly after returning he'd set up the Seasonal program for those willing to travel to study bonsai in Portland. In 2008 he would author an anecdotal book of his apprenticeship, Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk. He would have a couple more books in the works, and would blog weekly (from his long-standing website http://crataegus.com/, which would date from at least January 1998). Michael would be a founding member with Ryan Neil of the Portland Bonsai Village. Michael's efforts there would be focused on promoting excellence, forming a viable professional network and showcase, and inspiring bonsai enthusiasts nationally and internationally. A two-part interview with him would be published in Stone Lantern's blog, Bonsaibark, in early 2009. (See also these still photos and video of his garden here.) He would be involved with Neil Ryan in presenting the Artisan's Cup in September 2015 in Portland, OR. In December 2015, as part of Bonsai Empire's 15-year anniversary celebration, Michael would be one of several international artists and teachers chosen to answer reader-submitted questions. Michael's topic would be "What we learned about Bonsai since John Naka."] ("Bio," Crataegus Bonsai, http://crataegus.com/bio/; Post-Dated, pp. 14-15, 22, quotes from 38-40, 45-46, 53, 175-176, 179-182, and 186-189, 216; "Michael Hagedorn Biography," http://bonsai-bsf.com/?page_id=774) SEE ALSO: MarAlso, Sep 25, Nov 21
1977 -- Mas Kurosumi died of a heart attack at age 53. (Mas was the first importer of bonsai pots into the U.S. to try to understand the needs and tastes of bonsai growers. Other importers had been bringing in the same type of pots for twenty years and were not about to change. Mas would listen to what the retailers were saying and, as a result, the bonsai watering nozzle came into existence. He was a salesman for the Toyo Trading Co. for more than ten years before going into business with another salesman. But having suffered his second heart attack in five years, he dissolved the partnership because of his health. In 1972, however, Mas restarted in the import business on his own under the name of Sanyo Imports. It was at the 1974 joint BCI/ABS Convention in Pasadena, CA that he first attracted attention with his variety of different containers. Appearing at both the BCI Conventions in Miami Beach (1975) and Washington, D.C. (1976), his contacts and friends in the world multiplied.) (Komai, Khan "In Memoriam," Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XVI, No. 6, July/August 1977, pg. 162.)
1995 -- Arch Hawkins, editor of the American Bonsai Society's Bonsai Journal since the summer of 1992, died. (A founding member of the bonsai clubs in Dallas (1965), Austin (1966 but short-lived; reborn in 1972), and Houston (1971), he was named an outstanding bonsai artist by the National Bonsai Foundation in 1987. He was a member of both ABS and Bonsai Clubs International and wrote articles for both organizations' publications.)
2010 -- Author and teacher Jerry Stowell died about a month and a half shy of his 83rd birthday at Hunterdon Care Center, Raritown Township, NJ. ("Jerry Stowell," posting by bonsaistud, 2 May 2010, http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/announcements-f5/jerry-stowell-t2925.htm) SEE ALSO: Jun 9
|27||2001 -- The final 6 winning pots of the First North American Bonsai Pot Competition were announced on this day at the opening of the Asian Arts Festival celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. Sponsored by the National Bonsai Foundation in association with the Takagi Bonsai Museum of Tokyo, the competition had two categories: modern and traditional. Jim Barrett took first prize in the former and Sara Rayner in the latter. [Their wares, along with those of the second and third prize winners in both categories, would be on display at the Museum through July 29.] ("Winners of the First North American Bonsai Pot Competition, http://web.archive.org/web/20040218005323/http://www.bonsai-nbf.org/nbf/potcomp2001/potterywinners.htm.) SEE ALSO: Jan 4, Mar 28.|
1994 -- Beginning today and running through June 5th, the Bonsai Societies
of Florida's First Exhibit of Bonsai occurred at the Walt Disney World's
(Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) near Orlando, Florida.
The bonsai exhibit coincided with the six week Flower and Garden Festival.
(That Spring, a meeting at the WDW Horticulture office to plan for the
first annual Festival was attended by Mrs. Mary Jane McSwain, the Garden
Editor for the Daytona Beach News-Journal newspaper. She contacted
BSF president Tom Zane and proposed that the BSF arrange for the loan of
bonsai. Tom called a planning meeting at Jim Smith's nursery in Vero
Beach. A partnership contract was negotiated between BSF and WDW
for the loan of 16 large (30 inches or taller) show-quality bonsai.
Frank Harris of the Central Florida Bonsai Club acted as the liaison between
BSF and WDW to coordinate the setting up and monitoring of the annual exhibit
(a post he has continued to serve.)
[This cooperative venture would take place every year since. Annually, a request would go out to the BSF membership to submit photographs of bonsai which they would like to have considered for inclusion in the exhibit. BSF and WDW would then make the final selection. The trees and their owners generally would arrive at WDW the day before the exhibit is to be mounted. Along with a highly professional staff of gardeners and laborers, they would meet at the Japan pavilion and place each tree securely on its display stand. Bonsai are displayed at the torii along the shore of the World Showcase Lagoon and at the "Meadow" behind the Pagoda, as well as on the porch of one of the restaurants. During the Flower and Garden Festival the WDW staff would water the trees twice a day and perform periodic inspections to insure that no tree is in stress or is being attacked by insects or fungus. Several times a week one or more members of the Central Florida Bonsai Club would also check on the condition of the bonsai. The result is a win-win situation for everyone, including all of those park visitors.] ("BSF Exhibit of Bonsai at EPCOT" by Thomas L. Zane, http://www.bonsai-bsf.com/epcot_process.htm ; personal e-mail from Tom Zane to RJB, May 30, 2002) SEE ALSO: Sep 9, Sep 15
|30||1998 -- Asteroid 1998 HE43 was discovered by the Spacewatch Project at Kitt Peak Observatory, Arizona. This minor planet, the 12515th one identified, would be given the name "Suiseki" (lit. "water stone"). (Schmadel, Lutz D. Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (Springer, 2003, fifth edition), pg. 784.) SEE ALSO: Dec 14|
Also this month,
1948 -- Kunio Kobayashi was born. [He would grow up in a family that was involved in the potted plant business, providing cyclamen and other plants for market and wholesale, and had attended a gardening high school in eastern Tokyo, which has traditionally been a horticultural area serving the capital city. One winter morning Kobayashi would take the day off from work and go visit the Daimaru Museum. There he would have a revelation when he saw his first true bonsai on display at the Sakafu Ten, the Japanese Professional Bonsai exhibition, near Tokyo Station. He would then start working as a bonsai artist in 1976 when he was 28. At the time there would be a boom in interest in bonsai which he would be able to tap into, developing thousands of cuttings that would sell very quickly. The money he'd make would then be invested in much older trees. In 1983 he would take the first prize himself at Sakufu Ten. In 1999 he would have won the grand prize, the Prime Minister's Award, an unprecedented three times. And in October of the following year he would beat his own record with a fourth award. He would be a celebrated artist in Japan and throughout the world. In 2002 he would open the Shunka-en Museum in Eastern Tokyo's Edogawa City with "the ambition to spread Japanese culture, especially bonsai, in a new way to the rest of the world." Designed in a very Japanese style, the museum would have sixteen individual rooms of tatami mat floors and bonsai displayed in tokonoma. Three tea-ceremony rooms would have hearths and look out over the gravel garden and bonsai creations. Apprentices would train there, and over the years thousands of strolling visitors would gain a greater understanding and wonder for a cultural heritage that would become synonymous with Japan. A report of a 2016 visit to Shunka-En can be found here.] ("Mr. Kunio Kobayashi Collection," http://www.j-bonsai.com/koba_colle.html; Shizuka, Saeki "Bonsai Universe," Culture Feature, Look Japan, January 2001, accessed 09/28/01, http://www.lookjapan.com/LBsc/01JanCul.htm; Ryall, Julian "Bonsai Branching Out," http://www3.gov-online.go.jp/pdf/hlj_ar/vol_0021e/28-30.pdf )
1985 -- Although already in the hands of subscribers, the Autumn issue of Bonsai Down Under current this month contained an article written by then-editor David Rich. (This quarterly Australian magazine ran from 1977 through 1989.) The article purportedly told the tale of the world's oldest living bonsai which was found recently by archaeologists, dating back at least 3,600 years. The potted pine was found in Central China, standing vigil over the tombs of the fourth emperor of the Shang dynasty and his queen. The 41 cm (16.14") high tree stood in a solid gold pot, which was itself set on a solid gold pedestal some 75 cm (29.5") high. A fine dripper arrangement had been built allowing a single drop of water to fall onto the tree every single minute. The article went on to say that all the soil had washed away leaving only the drainage layer of diamonds! The tree was chalk white, having lost all its chlorophyll, the dense roots were as white as the pine needles. One season after its discovery the tree apparently died, having survived without repotting for milleniums.
[The story would be reprinted in Bonsai Penjing, Jardin botanique de Montréal by Dorothy-Ann Donovan and Marc Lord with David Easterbrook (Montréal: Editions Marcel Broquet, Quebec; 1985) and in Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XXIV, No. 6 (Nov/Dec 1985), pg. 17, which would keep the wondrous tale alive and spread. What wouldn't be widely reprinted was this from a subsequent article by its original author, David Rich: "When in a madly inspirational instant I conceived, created and committed to paper the story of the now (in)famous entombed bonsai, I never expected it would be so widely believed. For a mere five -- well... maybe ten, minutes work the results far exceeded my wildest expectations of mass credulity." The tale's history would be brought up again eleven years later in an early Internet bonsai forum.]
(And we reprint it here as a tribute to a multi-faceted HOAX which sheds a little light on what we do. There are questions about who was the fourth Shang emperor, see here and here. While gold jewelry and other artefacts was known from the time and place, bronze was held in much higher esteem and would have been used in a royal burial. Even if the tree could possibly have survived so long genetically, the bronze container reacting to the dripping water could easily have poisoned the plant within the first few centuries. Physiologically speaking, the oldest known pines are bristlecones, which are not found in China. The oldest native Chinese pine apparently is one of the Guest Welcoming pines, over 500 years old, on Mt. Tai. We haven't yet been able to determine the ages of the more famous pines on Huangshan. And even the slowest growing tree with over, say, two hundred years' of growth per inch would have had to increase its trunk width by at least 18 inches (45 cm), severely throwing the composition out of proportion. Repotting of the most ancient bonsai pines is usually done at least once a decade, so we really can't be surprised by a tree which missed over 300 repottings... The incredible survival of an evergreen without exposure to sunlight for the necessary process of photosynthesis cannot be explained away without recourse to equally improbable arrangements such as an unblocked opening to direct sunlight exposure over that length of time, employment of mirrors, or even some unknown source of bioluminescence which was of the minimum wavelengths to keep the tree alive. The total loss of cholorophyll in a still-living tree would definitely call into play some form of magic -- yes, we are aware of the irony of that with this website's secondary name. Plus, as pines have symbiotic relationships with mycorrhiza in their roots, necessary substinence for the fungi would be required. THAT was, according to the story, long ago washed away by the continuous drip of water, a roughly estimated 1.893 billion drops (approx. 25K gallons or just under 95K liters at 20 drops per milliliter) of distilled water -- so as not to clog the "fine dripper arrangement" (made of nonreacting gold?) which operated uninterrupted for over three and a half millenium in a land frequented by earthquakes and duststorms. (It can be debated whether or not the ancient Shang peoples had a time measurement system which included the unit of a minute.) Where did that much water go to after being used by the tree? Even if there was some form of recycling system, the tomb would have been unbearably damp with various forms of mold and mildew flourishing and degrading artefacts. The golden pot itself -- not a bit eroded away by the "Chinese water torture"? -- with a diamond drainage layer is a definite indication of later Chinese or contemporary Western-civilization values. Bronze with a jade layer would have been truer to the Chinese setting. Finally, there is the subtle tie-in to the "sins of technology" which interrupted and destroyed the perfect balance of the Yin and Yang energies through the ages which kept the tree alive until modern archeologists disturbed "the Force." The Yin-Yang concept wouldn't be articulated for at least twelve hundred years after this tomb was set-up, although it might be argued that the idea could have been put into such wonder-filled practice before then... If only such compositions were even able to have been made that long, long ago. All-in-all, however, a tale of a truly magical miniature landscape!) (Internet postings to email@example.com (hard copies kept by RJB) by Ron Andersen, 28 Apr 1996 referencing David J. Cushing and 13 May 1996 referencing Jim Lewis; John Scarpelli, 30 Apr 1996 referencing James Lewis; Deadwood Pottery, 12 May 1996; Andy Walsh, 12 May 1996; and Scott Rae, 13 May 1996 referencing Vance Hanna; thanks to son Andrew for some feedback and additional input)