JOHN YOSHIO NAKA
IN CELEBRATION OF A GRAND MASTER'S LIFE
This Page Last Updated: October 16, 2010
The 11th annual Exhibition of the California Bonsai Society attracted fifty-eight
thousand people in 1968.
The Summer issue of the American Bonsai Society's Bonsai Journal featured a sepia cover photograph by John of a California juniper ( J. californica Carr.) as styled by Frank Nagata.
The following year, b&w photographs by John of "a now famous group planting of needle juniper" [sic] graced the both the cover of the February issue of Bonsai Magazine ( Bonsai Clubs International ) and the Spring issue of Bonsai Journal. John also served as a consultant for the script of the "Mr. Ozaki's Tree" episode of "Family Affair" CBS-TV series, a Don Fedderson Production. (The show would air Jan. 22, 1970). 12
West 1969" was the fifth convention of the Bonsai Clubs Association (which
had been renamed Bonsai Clubs International (BCI) the previous year), again
staged at the Golden Gate Park Hall of Flowers in San Francisco.
The two-day event in February included a morning lecture-demonstration
by local teacher Toshio Saburomaru and one in the afternoon by John Naka
in his first appearance away from Southern California.
From April 10 through 12, 1970, the American Bonsai Society (ABS) Symposium
was held in Dallas, TX and speaker John Naka was so well-received that
he was invited to next year's event in July in Norfolk, VA. A photo-article
"Magic With Naka" in the Spring 1970 issue of the Bonsai Journal
preserved the step-by-step transformation of a nursery-grown juniper; the
Fall 1971 issue had both a cover photograph and illustrated story of "The
Forest That Grew in Norfolk." Nine large nursery-grown junipers were
transformed in the latter demonstration.
In 1971 (and again in 1973), John gave lecture-demonstrations on Channel 23 "Garden Master" TV show. He was a guest of Pensacola, Florida botanist, Dr. William Benette.14
And this year saw the first of the tours John Naka conducted to that land. (Others would be made in 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1992). Upon returning from these trips, John would immediately try out a new technique or two in front of his students at previously scheduled workshops. The new Japanese techniques would then be disseminated further. Other teachers returning from travels similarly shared their knowledge and continue to develop this living artform.
Beginning with the February issue, BCI's Bonsai Magazine included for a while haiku or senryu penned by John and translated into English by Davina Kosh. The 5-7-5 syllable forms of Japanese verse -- haiku traditionally must have a seasonal word and limit itself to real things registered by the senses, while senryu includes intangibles such as a sense of humor, feelings and thoughts directly -- have been penned by John while he continues to study with a recognized Teacher of the forms. John regularly enters his poetry for contests in the Los Angeles Area Japanese publication. A line drawing by Naka-san accompanied each piece in Bonsai Magazine. 15
Early in 1972, John gave a special free
demonstation and lecture for the New York club, which was then followed
by a workshop to put into practice those things learned. For the
Boston area Northeast club, John picked out 10 different plants for
which each member was given a sketch of John's to go by in working up
that style. One photographer was retained to record the Naka
demonstration; and others were not permitted so as to reduce the
interference with John and with the members' view. Slides and colored
prints were made available to all afterward. John also conducted
workshops for the Pennsylvania club in the Philadelphia area.
For the second consecutive year a joint BCI-ABS convention was held, this time in July 1973 in Atlanta, GA. The theme was "Growing Together." John Naka was one of the guest demonstrators for the 503 delegates -- who gave him a standing ovation after Khan Komai's introduction. John worked on a large 200 year old California juniper which had been dug from the side of a mountain two and a half years earlier. He was assisted with this driftwood style by Ben Oki and Frank Goya.
John also gave a lecture-demonstration on Channel 4 KABC "Expressions East/West" for the episode "Bonsai -- Nature's Echo."
Longwood Gardens, near Kennett Square, PA, purchased a Juniperus californica from John for their collection. Found in the mountains of California and severely stunted by the environment, this oldest specimen in their collection was estimated to be about four hundred years old.
John's juniper forest Goshin was increased to eleven trees -- "one for each of my grandchildren" -- in a 32" long container this year. 17
The year also saw the first edition of his excellent work, Bonsai Techniques, which grew out of a much smaller "Bonsai Mimeograph For Beginners Class" pamphlet. It contains five hundred b&w photos and illustrations and sixteen color plates which depict all aspects of the art. While photo reproduction improved in later books, Bonsai Techniques continues to be a treasured resource. Only a bare handful of the books issued before this time have proven their durability, remaining useful additions to an enthusiast's library. Many of the others, especially in the U.S., were "practice" books by devoted amateurs who had only a few years' worth of experience. Pictures of their trees-in-training were not terribly educational, and these books are now of historical value only.
A photograph of a 27"H bonsai styled by John (below) was the first color cover of BCI's Bonsai Magazine in December. Dug in late October 1956 this 7-1/2" diameter trunk beauty was one of John's first collected California junipers.
John Naka was both a demonstrator and the master of ceremonies for the
joint BCI-ABS Convention held in Pasadena, CA in July 1974.
Two forest plantings -- one with 23 Juniper foemina specimens -- were created
by him, in between problem-solving and allowing enthusiasts to see his
personal collection of trees at his home.
"The blackboard shows the possible relation of the principal tree with the second tree."
(Juyne M. Tayson, M.D. (ed), International Bonsai Digest Bonsai Gems, Fall 1974, pg. 89)
In the spring of 1975, John gave a workshop hosted by the Hukyu Bonsai
Society in Tampa, FL. Early April saw him in at the Federal Plant
Introduction Station in Glenn Dale, MD a few days after the arrival of
the fifty-three bonsai from Japan as the bulk of that country's
Bicentennial gift to the U.S. (The previously year both John and
Yuji Yoshimura -- see below -- had expressed their willingness to serve
as advisors and to assist in the training and maintenance of the collection.
This provided additional reassurance to the directors of the Nippon Bonsai Association
that the collection would be properly cared for.) John walked through the collection
with curator Bob Drechsler giving suggestions. John pointed out
that several of the jin (dead branches retained on trees) needed
treatment with the preservative lime-sulfur to intensify their whiteness.
After John left, Bob obtained the lime-sulfur and painted the jin -- which
promptly turned them yellow-orange. Being relatively new at caring for
bonsai, Bob was horrified at the color. But after a few days, the jin
turned snowy white as they should be. Relief!
In May John was awarded the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's Thomas Roland Medal for his untiring and generous efforts for over 25 years to spread the knowledge of bonsai throughout the U.S. and for bringing this field of horticulture to a superior degree of art and refinement. Later John was a demonstrator at the July 2-6 Bonsai Clubs International Convention in Miami Beach, FL where he gave a "chalk talk" in his superb sketches.
The 23-tree all-foemina juniper forest which John created in Pasadena in 1974 was won in a raffle by Art Hellberg of Santa Barbara. John allowed the forest to be raffled on the condition that sensei be allowed to keep it for a year and nurture it. With John's out-of-town commitments of spring and early summer, the forest had grown prodigiously without attention. The master had to spend approximately six hours giving it a "haircut" and rewiring it. (Think how much time that would have taken an amateur...) Also, he said, two of the smaller trees had needed to be replaced. Finally, on September 6, 1975, coinciding with one of John's regular expeditions to the Santa Barbara club for classes, the forest arrived. The local newspaper had sent a photographer to record the event. John had chosen 23 to be the number of trees, commemorating his age when he first met his wife, Alice, who was also there for this long-awaited occasion. Transported to its new home following the afternoon class, the forest -- and site -- received final approval from John.
Then the first Australian National Bonsai Convention and Show was held between October 31 and November 2. The Guests of Honor for that were John Naka and Yuji Yoshimura. The previous year at the BCI Convention in Pasadena, John was invited to come to Sydney by Rita Cromarty, David Rich and Zillah Willmott, all foundation members of the Australian National Bonsai Association. Down Under, John worked extremely hard giving demonstrations and workshops all over Sydney. Waiting at the airport for his departure, John was asked by Zillah for permission to make a portfolio of his sketches that he had done at the workshops. The sensei readily agreed, and when pressed for written permission, he signed his authorization on the only material they could find at that late hour -- the inside of an empty cigarette packet. The resulting 500 copy limited edition of 52 of John's sketches proved very popular.
John was one of twenty-two contributors of articles to the BBG's 1976
Bonsai For Indoors
handbook, which was edited by Constance T. Derderian.
"Pruning Can Make the Difference" (pp. 26-29) includes nine line drawings by Naka.
Between Feb. 10 and 12, 1978 John led the Houston Bonsai Society thru
all phases pertaining to the creation of good bonsai. For the
lecture-demonstration John worked on several different plants,
including Japanese yew (
azalea, holly, and juniper. All of the critiques and workshops
were full, the latter using both collected and nursery stock for their
materials. This was the second year in a row that the Society brought the
to Houston for a workshop.
At the BCI Convention this year from July 19 to 23 "Bonsai Country" in Portland, OR, Toshio Saburomaru and John were the guest artists.
John was elected president of Crane Products, a Pico Rivera, CA importer
of Kaneshin hand-crafted bonsai tools from Japan.
John visited the bonsai nurseries in
in 1981, noting the larger general size of the trees (because of display in
larger gardens, shrines and courtyards), the less defined shapes and styles (due
to a lack of knowledgeable teachers) and the beautiful, well-designed antique pots
"just as I dreamed they would be." On this tour -- which John led -- the group
also stopped in Hong Kong to view the personal collection of Yee-sun Wu, and then
went on to Japan to attend the National Satsuki Exhibition there.