"Ueno and Asakusa make up the historical enclave of Tōkyō. Traditional
architecture and way of life are preserved here at the northeastern reaches of the city."
"The Meiji government turned Ueno Hill into one of the nation's first public parks. It
would serve as the site of trade and industrial expositions; it would have a national museum, a library, a university of
fine arts, and a zoo. The modernization of Ueno still continues, but the park is more than the sum of its museums."
"In the mid-1600s, [Asakusa] became a pleasure quarter in its own right with stalls selling
toys, souvenirs, and sweets; acrobats, jugglers and strolling musicians; and saké shops and teahouses -- where the waitresses
often provided more than tea. Then, in 1841, the Kabuki theaters moved to Asakusa. It was only for a short time,
but that was enough to establish it as the entertainment quarter of the city -- a reputation it held unchallenged until World
War II, when most of the area was destroyed. Though it never fully recovered as an entertainment district, the area
today is home to artisans and small entrepreneurs, children and grandmothers, hipsters, hucksters, and priests."
Per Fodor's Tōkyō, 2nd Edition (NY: Fodor's Travel Publications; 2007), pp. 39, 47-48.
Also, note that in 1829, tako-tsuki (octopus-style-shaped) dwarf potted trees were
being presented by a grower in Asakusa Park, an Edo suburb. (Within 20 years the neighborhood would be crowded with
nurseries selling bonsai.) Per Nozaki, Shinobu Dwarf Trees (Bonsai) (Tokyo: Sanseido Company, Ltd.; 1940),
pg. 23, and O'Connell, Jean "The Art of Bonsai," Science Digest, March 1970, pg. 38.
Nippon Bonsai Association Classic Bonsai of Japan
(Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1989), pg. 172, color plate 31, "In 1955 at the
30th Kokufuten exhibition, a 500 year old tosho (Needle juniper, Juniperus rigida)
made its first appearance and touched off a reappraisal of that type of tree's virtues. It
had been found growing naturally two decades earlier, and its condition is said to have deteriorated
seriously at one period. Fortunately it came into the hands of an expert familiar with the
tosho, thanks to whom it gives great artistic pleasure today. The deadwood projection
at the base of the 36" (90 cm) tall tree conveys an almost terrifying sense of the tree's great age
and makes an exquisite contrast with the brilliant green of the foliage." And, from pg.170,
color plate 9, we learn "in 1978, at the 52nd Kokufuten exhibition one of the trees was an ohamabo
(Hibiscus tiliaceus), with a curved trunk and 130 years old. The 30" (75 cm) tree was
an outstanding specimen from Okinawa which afforded distinguished proof of the high level of bonsai
Bonsai Today, No. 24, pg. 10 states "For each exhibition a program was produced. The majority of the trees in the
first Kokufuten were overwhelmingly in the ishitsuki [root-on-rock] style, as opposed to
those trained in other styles. Among those using rocks, the majority of them were root-over-rock, that is, the roots
wrapped around the stone. There were very few clinging-to-the-rock, that is, with roots on the rock. The
majority of artists and enthusiasts apparently thus used the stone to emphasize the tree, a significant break with tradition."
Pg. 11 then mentions "By the third Kokufu exposition (1935), trees on rocks were now more prevalent than those which
were root-over-rock, and rock styles in general predominated." and "At the eighth Kokufu Exposition in November 1939
[sic], several on-a-rock bonsai were displayed on a suiban
[shallow tray capable of holding water], dispensing with soil except in the
crevices which held the plants. "
"A Talk on Masterpiece Bonsai and Master Artists, No. 16 - Toshiji Yoshimura (1891-1975) - Kofu-en," Kinbon magazine,
October 2011, pp. 44-47, English translation kindly provided to RJB in personal e-mails from William N. Valavanis, 12 and 13 Nov
2011, includes the following lines:
"A Binden-ho style display (style for displays at the lounge for the Imperial family) [was]
exhibited in 1932. The display consists of a group planting of cactus and other plants on a Bizen-ware tray (arranged
by Toshiji Yoshimura)... It was outstanding when it was also exhibited at the 1st Kokufu Bonsai-ten as an accent to Count
Hayashi's cycad bonsai."
"A creative bonkei [using the Ezo spruce rock-planting and keiryu-seki (mountain stream stone) and]
depicting a scene of nature by Yoshimura Kofu [was] exhibited at the 2nd Kokufu Bonsai-ten under the name of [Mr. Saburo] Watanabe."
"Yoshimura's explanation on his work in the 2nd Kokufu Exhibition is covered in a special article titled
'A Talk on Creative Displays in the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition' in the 1935 February issue of the magazine Bonsai. He was one
of the first to start making and displaying creative rock-planting bonsai, and his ideas on these are described well in the article."
"Yoshimura Kofu-en's display [was] shown in the commemorative album of the 3rd Kokufu Bonsai-ten
in 1935. The display consists of a Shinpaku, Goyo matsu with paired trunk, suiseki "Mura-suzume (a flock of sparrows)", and dwarf
"In the early 1930's which was the golden age of bonsai, Kofu-en usually held two or three displays at the
Kokufu Bonsai exhibitions, and at times they held up to four displays. At times, Kofu-en might have made extra displays to fill in
the vacant space, however, in most cases the name of the garden was used by customers because they preferred to use it instead of showing
the name of the owner of the bonsai. According to the records of the Exhibition, there were times that the Yoshimuras, including
his younger brother's garden, Koka-en, held 7 or 8 displays."
Takeyama, Hiroshi "The broom style," Bonsai Today, No. 26, 1993-4, pp. 42-43: "It was only in the period between
World Wars, after the broadening of the aesthetic vision of bonsai masters to a more "natural" concept of styles, that someone
decided to train a zelkova in the broom style and exhibit it in Kokufu."
"Prior to the WWII, Kokufuten included exhibit spaces which were much larger -- the length
of reception room alcoves extending over 9'. The display choices were very interesting
with large cascading bonsai often placed at ends of exhibit space & three or more plants
in the center... or numerous plants appearing to flow in one direction with the wind.
Display is not one thing or static in Japan." Per
posting #8 by Chris Cochrane on 13 Oct 2006 to "Topic: Uhaku Sudo on display options" on the Internet Bonsai Club.
Per Kyuzo Murata's article "Spirit of Bonsai"
(Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 1987, pp. 7, from his 1975 speech before the ABS),
"...A famous zelkova was owned by the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who happened to be
the Chairman [1965-67] of Nippon Bonsai Association at the time.
The zelkova was created by Mr. Ogata, who had severed the main trunk of the zelkova and created
a totally new look.
"When I first saw it at the annual Kokufukai Exhibition, I laughed at it. So did the directors of
national museums who attended the exhibition. Several years later it was exhibited at the 
Toyko Olympics and that time people liked it. Some years later, it was again displayed at the Kokufukai Exhibition, and then
it was recognized as one of the finest bonsai in Japan. It really is a strange-looking tree. You would never find such
an unnatural-looking tree anywhere in the world; yet it looks exactly like a huge zelkova standing alone and strong in the field."
Per "Famous Bonsai Masterpiece Series Yoshida Japanese Grey-Bark Elm" by WABI Magazine (translated by Craig W. Riser from
WABI No. 2, September 2002),
International Bonsai, 2007/No. 4, pp. 32-33, it was about in 1937 that Mr. Kawabe and Kyunosuke Ogata purchased the original
specimen, dug up the zelkova from a thicket [in Saitama prefecture? on a hill behind a farm], sawed it, removed it, and right there cut
off one to two feet of roots, and covered the cutting wound with tree salve. Ogata, an eccentric bonsai master, trained it
vigorously with great passion at his home and cut back the branches countless times forcing new shoots and growth. The
present shape of the crown was developed around 1945. By 1955 Ogata's garden had moved to Omiya Bonsai Village and the branch
was probably removed that same year.
"After that it went from the founder of Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden, Kyuzo Murata to Kenji Fukunaga. It
was presented by Mr. Fukunaga to the Prime Minister. This bonsai with its unconventional yet stately appearance reminded people
[of] the Prime Minister who greatly appreciated its beauty.
"The Prime Minister displayed this tree at the 30th National Bonsai Exhibition (Kokufu Bonsai Ten) in 1956,
where it was well received... It was displayed after the Prime Minister's death in 1968 as "The Prime Minister's beloved Japanese
grey-bark elm" at the 42nd National Bonsai Exhibition. Incidentally the present owner of the bonsai is Kenji Fukunaga's son,
"The late Kyuzo Murata of Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden characterized this bonsai as follows: 'Despite the fact
that it has a very unnatural style as a Japanese grey-bark elm bonsai which normally conforms to natural styles it is seen as a
large natural tree and deeply moves people. It is a large tree which seems even more natural than a natural tree.'"
The article includes photos of the tree in 1955, 1968, and 2002 (color, with a few small grasses allowed
to grow at the base of the tree), plus a b&w of Prime Minister Yoshida at Kyuka-en.
"Just beyond the central fountain [of Ueno Park] I spotted the [Metropolitan Art] Museum. As the
entrance came into view beyond the trees, I was amazed to see a line 200 yards long and 5-6 people wide. Was it possible
that all those people could be waiting to see a bonsai show? ...
"The scene was almost beyond belief. The spectators, who were predominantly men, were packed 3-4
deep, heel-to-toe, along the first display area. The line moved in slow motion past the trees, the first of which was a
250-year-old Shimpaku Juniper of remarkable splendor. The people were remarkably quiet. Perhaps, like me, their eyes
were so busy communicating the beauty of these treasures to the soul that talking was quite impossible. Too impatient to go
the heel-to-toe route, I moved slowly along the periphery of the throng.
"Along the second wall were four bonsai displayed before large, plain gold screens. They were
masterpieces from the Imperial family's collection...
"By mid-afternoon, the crowd had thinned down considerably and it was possible to make a circuit to study
the trees in more detail. One of the four Imperial family trees was especially interesting -- a Zelkova variety whose bark
was broken into distinct platelets instead of the relative smoothness one would expect. Conifers dominated the show but
there was also a good representation of deciduous trees including several group plantings. In all, there were 200 entries,
of which several were groups of mame.
"...it is true that the containers of the Ueno Park [No. 48] show were of subdued colors -- dark brown or
'mouse gray' (a new color to me and, as I learned, also a fairly new color on the Japanese scene) and soft off-whites for the
single deciduous and group plantings..." Per Hinds, John "A Greenhorn's View of the Japanese Bonsai World," Bonsai
Magazine, BCI, Vol. XIII, No. 4, May 1974, pg. 12. And, per Part II, June 1974, pg. 22, "...Last year more than 40,000
visited the exhibition, and this year's attendance was judged even higher."
"Twelve judges, each a master bonsai artist, view the bonsai as it travels
down a long ramp. Among the judges for the 1978 [No. 52] exhibition were Kyuzo Murata, Saburo Kato,
Nobukichi Koide, Fusazo Takeyama, Yasuji Matsuda, Motosuke Hamano, Hideo Chugun, Yoshitaro Ogawa,
Tsuneichi Nakajima, Akira Kato and Hideo Kato. Each judge was allocated 5 points to award to each
specimen, therefore, a perfect score would be 60 points... Each judge is given a pad of paper with
his name printed on each sheet of paper, on which he writes his score. As the bonsai is moved down
the ramp in front of each judge, an envelope is passed from judge to judge. At the end of the
line the envelope is opened and scores tabulated on a large wall chart..." Per "About the Cover,"
International Bonsai, Winter/79, pg. 24. Note that a thirteenth judge was added sometime by the 2006 [No. 80] show.
"On judging at the Tokyo show for top awards, it is not only the tree that is judged, but the stand,
accent plant, how the pot fits the tree, etc.
1. They look at the tree, is it true to its species. Then
the rootage that is showing, trunk, foliage masses and moss. Is it an old tree, etc.
2. The pot. Is it a good pot, does it suit the tree? Is the tree
placement in the pot correct? Soil or moss well done?
3. The stand. Does the style match the tree and the pot?
4. Accent plant. Does it suit the main tree, have a correct stand,
is it well done?
5. The overall display. Is the tree, stand and accent piece in
the correct place? The overall effect.
"Don't look for answers in the Tokyo show book. The pictures are taken ahead of time, and many trees
are on different stands. Who wants to haul all the stands and trees twice, remembering that there is a pre-judging of these
trees for entry into the show. Many trees are shown without accent plants in the book..."
"A few general notes on this:
"Almost all accent plants were evenly spaced. The same amount of space
at either side of the display area. (Stand of main tree and accent plant were the same distance from either end.) Accent
plant was almost always even with or just forward of the main tree stand. Rarely very far forward or middle to back of the
display. The display area is evenly utilized."
Per the 1991 (No. 65 show) observations of Kathy Shaner, "Diary From Japan," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 26, No. 3, Fall 1992, pg. 11.
"The biggest and most important show of the year is the national bonsai show in Tokyo, called
the Kokufu show. Hobbyists own the bonsai shown at this exhibition. Practically all of these bonsai,
however, are worked on by professionals who are employed by the hobbyists to refine them and get them into this show.
Membership in the professional organization the Kumiai is necessary to enter trees in the Kokufu. Lifetime membership
fees are so steep, however - many thousands of dollars - that newly graduated apprentices sometimes have difficulty affording
it. Without the ability to get client trees into these big shows their careers are limited. One year I was present
during the judging of the Kokufu show, which takes place two weeks before it opens to the public.
"As the morning passed during judging day at the Kokufu show, the scores are posted on a
chalkboard. This is a big day for professionals who have come to try to get their client's bonsai into the show,
and there was a fair amount of tension while they waited, and a lot of smoking. There was tea and coffee too, so
the whole room was full of stimulants. It did not appear that stimulants were needed - guys leaning against the
wall in back, trying to look nonchalant but radiating the opposite, their alert eyes panning across the numbers being
"The scores ranged from the low twenties to the low fifties. There was one young man in
dark glasses, a grandson of Hamano (Hamano was Mr. Suzuki's teacher [MH's teacher was Suzuki]), who had prepared an old,
well-known flowering quince for a client and was hoping to get it into the show. When the score was finally posted,
it was very high, a forty-eight, and he flung up his arms with a loud whoop and then just melted. He walked around
the room limply, with a dazed happy smile, and profusely thanked the judges, who with amused stiffness tried to brush
off his fawning gratitude. Having clients' bonsai accepted into the Kokufu is essential to building the reputation
of Japanese professionals, and this young man was on his way."
Hagedorn, Michael "Post-Dated, The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk," Portland, OR: Crataegus Books; 2008, pp. 105-106.
His work appeared in the Kokufu show in Tokyo in 2004, 2005, and 2006, and Mr. Suzuki honored him with the opportunity
to wire two trees that went on to win a Kokufu Prize and a Prime Minister Award. Per author bio, pg. 216.
"Yes, selecting the container for bonsai depends primarily on taste and tradition, there are no 'rules,'
(except for outside of Japan by people who believe they know more than the Japanese do).
"It is important to know when the bonsai will be displayed and enjoyed. For example for this Kokufu
Bonsai Exhibit, which is now held in winter (did you see the snow!) the structure of the Satsuki will be displayed. So, they
are planted in unglazed, antique Chinese containers, to avoid drawing attention from the design of the bonsai.
"When the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition began in 1934 it was held twice a year (Spring and Autumn) until about
1948 when they began to hold the exhibition in Winter (December-February). Probably many of the deciduous species used glazed
containers to highlight the autumn changing of the foliage colors.
"Another important fact to remember is that this is a 'bonsai' exhibition. Until about 20 years ago
Satsuki azaleas were not considered bonsai, but rather as 'Satsuki' and they had their own exhibitions held in late spring so they
could show off their beautiful colorings. The important display item here was flowers, not form, so the design was compromised
to show off the flowers. There were some strange shapes then because they needed to design plants which had room to display
the flowers properly. Those exhibitions were to introduce new Satsuki azalea cultivars so people would buy them at high
prices. When the market was saturated with a new cultivar, they hybridized new cultivars to make money. Remember, here
[in Japan] bonsai is business (used to be big) and primarily not a hobby."
"Apparently some trees are forced to bloom for this show, primarily the Japanese flowering quince and
this Kurume Azalea. The owner of the Kurume Azalea lives north of Tokyo where it is colder than here now. It's funny,
80% of the evergreens show their 'winter' coloring, while about 20% are protected to show off their bright green coloring..."
"But now, the training techniques have vastly improved and there are beautiful Satsuki azaleas displayed
at Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition without flowers so unglazed expensive containers are used. In fact, if you were to visit Kunio
Kobayshi (Shunka-en Bonsai Garden in Tokyo) in December and January he had a tremendous number of antique Chinese containers
available for rent. The bonsai would be transplanted into the new containers so they would be accepted at the judging,
held in January, for the exhibition held now.
"Ryan Neil traveled to Japan in January to help his teacher, Masahiko Kimura transplant all the bonsai he
was showing for his clients into their 'exhibition containers.' Even the most beautiful bonsai in the world would not be
accepted into this exhibition if it were in an inexpensive pot. After the exhibition the bonsai are transplanted into their
normal containers. Sometimes they owners like the new pots and eventually purchase them which makes Kobayashi very happy.
"Doug Paul, Kennett Collection in Pennsylvania, last year displayed his Japanese hemlock at the Kofufu
Bonsai Exhibition. He loves American and European containers and most of his bonsai collection are in beautiful quality
containers made by Westerners. He wanted to send an American pot to Japan for his bonsai last year. He was told that
if his bonsai was in an American pot it would not be accepted at the judging.
"Sometimes if a flowering bonsai has a good design and can be enjoyed all year around it might be shown
in an unglazed container which is good all the time. If the flowering bonsai is only enjoyed when in blossom, it is often
planted in a glazed container which looks good when in the tree is in color, but not at other times of the year.
"There are no 'rules' for bonsai in Japan, and the selection of containers is a deep subject which depends
on taste, season, exhibition and of course your pocketbook."
WNV posting to Internet Bonsai Forum, 15 Feb 2011,
Correction in italics posted the following day by Bill. This posting and the following one are reprinted here because
of the important details presented in them.
"The Japanese plant old respected bonsai in old antique pots. A younger bonsai might be planted in
a 'new' or contemporary pot, while the masterpieces are always planted in appropriate containers. The American containers
have no 'history' or are new. Age is highly respected and selecting the appropriate quality container is equally important
as to selecting the suitable shape, size and color.
"Respect for the bonsai is most important in Japan. Only the highest quality containers are utilized
in the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition which have antiquity and patina. I've never seen a brand new Japanese container used in this
show, it would not be appropriate.
"If the American (or Western) container were over 150 years old and showed patina, even with a few chips,
sometimes filled with gold, it might be accepted."
WNV posting to Internet Bonsai Forum, 15 Feb 2011,
"Attendance down, quality of bonsai were not as in the past when the exhibition was at the art gallery. But
still beautiful masterpieces!"
"There were four bonsai displayed with suiseki. (don't listen to those who tell you the Japanese don't
display stones with their bonsai)
"It was very interesting to see nearly every small and medium size cascade bonsai tied down to the tables
with fishing line and push pins because of the threat of earthquakes. I'm sure the fishing line will keep the pots on the
tables IF an earthquake comes..."
"Doug Paul, The Kennett Collection in PA had a beautiful Shimpaku on display. The one he had on
display last year, unfortunately washed away in the Tusnami [sic]."
"Sales area at the nearby Ueno Green Club was deserted! There were actually more vendors attending
tables than customers, but it did get busier later on."
WNV posting to Internet Bonsai Forum, 9 Feb 2012,
Please see Walter Pall's comments
about the changing styles of Japanese bonsai as revealed in the Kokufu Ten albums over the years.
See also this article by Julian R. Adams,
"Bonsai Study on Tour,"
reprinted from International Bonsai, 2005/No. 3, pp. 18-21.
This is a video
from the outdoors Feb. 2008 Green Club, and this is from the indoors one.
This video is of a small indoor sales
area at the 2010 Green Club. Stills from the 2011 Show are here. The
Kokufu Market from 2012 is seen in a series of
eleven videos here,
plus the second-floor Green Club. The 2013 Green Club is
here and here.
And, finally, here
is a clandestine 6-second view of Kokufu Ten from some years back. But then from 2013 we have some longer views:
at the 0:31 to 0:56 marks and then a close-up of a pine from 2:38 to 2:51.
This same longer view footage is also found between the 0:08 and 0:28 marks of this video.