Archive for February, 2014

A visit to Shunka-en

The second stop on our garden tour was to Kunio Kobayashi’s bonsai garden, Shunka-en. Located just outside Tokyo (and a fair drive from Kimura’s garden) it was begun by his father some seventy years ago. The garden was the largest I’d seen that day and very impressive. We were greeted by trees before we ever set foot in the garden–they were even on the roof!

Roof garden


Once inside the gate, we were ushered past familiar, famous old junipers and pines to the indoor Tokonoma display area by our guide, whose name I forgot, but has been an apprentice there for two years now and speaks excellent English.

Our guide


The first display featured an Ume, or Japanese flowering plum, one of the first trees to flower in early spring:



The next display featured a Japanese black pine with a cascading branch and the elements of display suggesting water as the black pine grows close to the shores in Japan:

Black pine display


There were also displays set up between the Tokonomas and here was another Ume:



Our guide explained to us this species lives to around ninety years, which surprised me as they seem much older by the appearance of their bark and hollow trunks. What I appreciate most about them, though, is the contrast of the beautiful flowers and the rugged bark and contorted, bare branches. In the next Tokonoma was another Japanese black pine:

Black pine display


The small accent tree on the right of the display is a ‘chojubai’ Japanese quince; these were frequently used in the Kokufu Show as both main trees and accent plantings. Their bright red flowers set against bare branches impart a similar feeling as the Ume does. We were then led into a small room that had a fire pit built into the floor for tea ceremony:

fire pit


I think it’s safe to assume a few nice, already burned coals are used as opposed to a roaring bonfire 😉 Another hallway display featured a cascade style white pine. Sorry about the tight shot as there were eleven of us in the group and we had to keep moving along:

Japanese white pine


This pine was being shown without any training wire, a little unusual for an evergreen but something I saw more of than I expected. In the next Tokonoma was a trident maple root-over-rock twin-trunk style bonsai with a full moon scroll. The moon is often a popular subject for scroll paintings in Japanese display.

Trident maple


I love the level of refinement the branches and twigs have got! And in the next display, a full-size ‘chojubai’ Japanese quince, loaded with blooms; this bonsai was about eighteen or more inches in length.



Our guide went past this display, so I snuck in and got a shot of it anyway. A nice bunjingi style white pine on a stand constructed of bamboo, a rather unusual choice for a stand for a winter display.

White pine


That concluded the inside part of the tour and we were led outside again to gather around what we were told was a three thousand year old juniper, a Juniperus chinensis the Japanese call shimpaku. This tree is massive and sits in a suiban that is easily five feet in diameter.



Next, the very fat black pine behind and to the right of this juniper:

Japanese black pine



Our guide had something to say about this Japanese white pine, which now escapes me. One thing to note about these trees is their size, truly large bonsai. I can appreciate the kind of work that goes into just one tree this size!

White pine


After hearing about these large trees, it was time to have tea with Mr. Kobayashi himself! Here he is personally autographing a gift for each of us to take home; what a gracious man. The book was of an exhibit of azalea bonsai, for which Mr. Kobayashi is well known.

Mr. Kobayashi


Notice the poster for the fourth National Bonsai Exhibition in the U.S. over his right shoulder…I brought a box of chocolates to give as a gift, which he cheerfully accepted and handed off to his wife. There was so much more to see of the garden and the light was fast fading, so I ducked outside again to get a few parting shots.



A large juniper sitting in front of a koi pond; A nice old silverberry or Gumi as it’s called in Japan:



Black pine under construction


Here I found a black pine under construction; the rebar serving as an anchor to bend some large branches. Everywhere you looked there were bonsai…even up the hill:

Bonsai up the hill


Japanese black pine


The fat old black pine in a different light. And the one to the left:

Black pine


I’ve got to include at least one azalea!





And a couple of maples tucked away in the corner by some pots that were for sale. This is such a small sampling of what there was to see, if you haven’t been, I hope you will get to see it for yourself. The Australian tour we were with invited us to join them for dinner back in Tokyo, which was the best meal I had the whole trip. Such great experiences have left me with a ‘yen’ for more…and one last image to leave you with from the Green Club sales area the next day:

Snow in Tokyo


This was the largest single snow event in Tokyo in forty seven years, according to the news. It sure brought bonsai sales to a halt for a day!

More from Japan…



A visit to Omiya Bonsai Village a short distance outside Tokyo on the train was next on the agenda; they were switching out the trees at the Kokufu Exhibit with an entirely new set, so this was an opportunity to visit some famous gardens. We were lucky enough to get on a tour that started off with a nice lunch at the restaurant of Mr. Yoshi Nakamisu, which recently opened and is right across the street from the Bonsai Museum. Again I was impressed with the manhole covers in the little village of Omiya: Omiya Village   There are six bonsai packed in there, a rather fitting design I thought. We had some time before lunch to stroll around the village and chanced upon Saburo Kato’s famous garden, Mansei-en. I was taken by the size of a shimpaku juniper just inside the entrance: Mansei-en   More shimpaku: Shimpaku   A large black pine: Black pine   A nice Japanese maple: Japanese maple   A nice Cork-bark black pine: Cork-bark black pine   The famous Ezo Spruce garden: Ezo spruce   These are very large plantings as you can see next to the garden wall the crowns of some of the trees are the same height as the wall. And a last shot of a  white pine, I believe: White pine   We were very lucky to have such a sunny day for the tour! We trotted off to Mr. Yoshi’s restaurant for lunch and the next stop was the garden of Mr. Masahiko Kimura. You’re never prepared for reality when all you’ve seen are photos; Mr. Kimura’s garden was much smaller than I had imagined and the space between the benches made it challenging for me to get good photos of the trees, so I did the best I could…let’s get started! The Resurrection   The ‘Resurrection’ juniper with a shiny aluminum background…that couldn’t be helped 😦 Another well-known juniper I should have taken on my own before asking someone else to shoot me with it…ah well! At Mr. Kimura's garden   You’ll see a bit of snow here and there, this was just one day before a storm rolled in that dumped the most snow Tokyo had seen in one storm in 47 years! More trees from the garden: Shimpaku   The pot is propped up on the left side to facilitate better drainage. More: Black pine   A black pine with nice bark. Next a white pine: White pine   Black pine   Black pine and a detail shot looking up: Black pine, detail   Nice and licheny! More: Black pine   Maple?   Nice to see some deciduous trees on the benches! Beech   Shimpaku   The juniper foliage was pretty bronze in color, indicating cold, winter weather. They start to green up when they are actively growing later in spring. The color change is a good indicator for re-potting, if they need it. White pine   Shimpaku   Black pine   Black pine ‘work in progress’ shot. A Japanese yew: Yew   Shimpaku   Procumbens?   A needle juniper with Barry from Australia on the left:Barry/J.rigida White pine   This shot of a white pine came out well, I think. I was able to get a little distance from my subject for this one. Black pine   Semi-cascade black pine destined for a good pot one day. Spruce   A spruce. White pine   A white pine, ‘Kyuzu’ variety grown by Mr. Kimura from a seedling. Most impressive! Shimpaku   Another tree ‘in progress’ this time receiving some grafts. It looked to me like the foliage might be in the process of being changed from male to female, which is tighter and more attractive. Red pine?   Japanese maple   Japanese maple. And a very well-known shimpaku: Shimpaku Shimpaku   Another stunning shimpaku. Mr. Yoshi our guide in the background with Mr. Sugi and another guest from Australia. Mr. Kimura was not there the day we visited…it will have to be another trip. Kimura's pond   At the mid-point of our visit, we were escorted to see Mr. Kimura’s pond and his albino fish. Mr. Yoshi was in the lead and you can see beyond his left shoulder was more bonsai in the work area we were not allowed in. I was a little surprised to see so many orange trees laden with fruit–see them stacked atop the stump on the left? Kimura's albino fish   These fish are related to carp but are not koi; they were large, three to five feet in length. We were told this is the largest population of this variety anywhere. Kimura's garden   A shot of the surrounding trees, meticulously groomed by apprentices no doubt. Our next stop was to see Mr. Kimura’s father’s patent prototypes and a wall of all the trees Mr. Kimura has won prizes for. Kimura's studio   Then it was back to see what was in the greenhouse… White pine   A white pine group planting on the outside of the greenhouse. His greenhouse was also smaller than I had imagined. It made me feel a little better about the one I have at home 😉 Wisteria?   I just had to have a shot of myself taken next to one tree engulfing another somewhere in his yard; I think the ‘engulfer’ is a wisteria. Along greenhouse   More trees alongside the greenhouse… Hinoki forest   A well-known Hinoki forest Shimpaku planting   Mr. Kimura’s rock plantings are among my favorites of his creative work. They are quite large–most are around four to five feet tall. I’m sure it takes at least two people to move them! Shimpaku on rock   Unusual rock planting. Detail: Detail   Shimpaku   Here the rock itself looks like it becomes the trunk. Shimpaku   I liked the pot even though it’s new it has interesting feet. The tree isn’t too bad, either. Shimpaku   This planting looks fairly recent. Spruce   Spruce White pine   A white pine with a ‘welcoming’ branch. The Japanese will often train a low pine branch to cross over the top of the garden gate to welcome visitors. Cascade pine   Shimpaku   A ‘bunjingi’ style rock planting Shimpaku   Sorry for the over-exposed shot…my camera was getting tired, I think. Quite a feat of balance represented by this planting!


Shimpaku shohin

Here was a shohin size shimpaku sitting amid towering masterpieces…I felt just like this little guy!


Another angle:


And a parting shot of what Mr. Yoshi said is Mr. Kimura’s new growing field; I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of it in the future!

Mr. Kimura's growing  field

I can honestly say it has taken longer to post this than it did to tour Mr. Kimura’s garden! Next time around a trip to Shunka-en! See you then!

A Jaunt to Japan

It came about almost accidentally, this trip to Japan; I was talking with a friend sometime last fall about my wish to go there and take in the Kokufu Show, the biggest bonsai event of the year held in Tokyo. He said he’d been there once with his wife and thought about returning…as the conversation wore on, it was clear to see we were in accord and plans were made. If you had asked me a year ago if this would be the year I’d be doing this, my answer would have been ‘probably not’ 😉  It turns out this year was a double show; opening week would be one set of trees, which were changed out on the weekend and a completely new set of trees were exhibited during the second week. The general public was not allowed to photograph the exhibit, so no photos of trees from the exhibit will be shown here. There were other opportunities and gardens to visit to get that out of my system…

I had to ask myself if I was crazy walking to get on the train at 5 a.m., Feb 4th…the ground was frozen and the glint of frost was everywhere. I really should be heading to Australia, to go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef! Instead, I’m heading somewhere that promises to be colder than here–brilliant! How ironic then, that the first foreign faces besides our own, happened to be from Australia, on holiday in Japan for–of all things–skiing! Our first spot to hit was the Tsukiji fish market to have sushi for breakfast. And that’s where we saw the Australians and lots of other tourists as well. We missed the big tuna auction there and had to settle for what we could find just walking around. The first image I took was of a manhole cover I thought was interesting in that such a mundane thing was given some careful thought:

manhole cover

My guess is that it’s a cherry blossom or possibly a plum. Next up is a shot of one of the little carts used to haul the fish around; this one has a load of frozen tuna recently pruchased:

tuna cart

These things were everywhere and moving fast! You really had to stay on your toes and I got a kick out of this sign among many warning tourists:

silly sign

Not eveyone was awake ;-):

sleeping on the job

Some colorful octopus for purchase:


Huge scallops!


Thinly sliced fresh tuna:


more tuna

A cooler full of tuna! All this was foreplay for our sushi breakfast, which came next:

eel shshi

This was eel…what he had:

more shsui

After breakfast, it was down to business of what we came for; we thought it might be crowded at the Kokufu show as it was early yet, so we decided to go to the ‘Green Club’ first. This is a sales area run by the Nippon Bonsai Association that runs in conjunction with the Kokufu show and is just off Ueno Park, where the show is held. It’s here the professionals in the show can sell trees and all sorts of things bonsai related to the visiting public. And photographs were allowed. Another manhole cover seen en route to the green club:

manhole cover

I especially liked all the different cobbles surrounding the quiet scene of a cherry tree in spring with petals falling around it. We also could hear and  spotted one of Ueno Park’s colorful crows:

Ueno crow

This guy had a ‘sad’ expression in its eye…no doubt anxious for spring too! A little shrine along the way:



Something about that roof line says I’m in Japan 😉 A yew for sale at the Green Club:



A nice little ‘chojubai’ quince to the left; these were everywhere and in flower too. There are sales areas outside and inside the building three levels for shopping as well. Trees, pots, stands, stones and tools. And books. Lots of ways to get rid of those piles of cash sitting around! So, I stepped inside and found this old quince:

large Chinese quince


I couldn’t imagine what this tree was worth, with a trunk of that  girth, well-positioned branches and fine ramification of twigs. They usually place the more valuable trees towards the back of their booth, if that helps. Next up, a large ‘chojubai’ quince in bloom:



I took a shot of this spruce, which reminded me of my spruce back home. Most were labelled Picea glenhii, which is Latin for the Ezo spruce:



And next, a typical shohin size black pine with price tag of $300–affordable! I only wish we were able to bring in something small like this but understand the reason why not 😦

shohin pine


From the Green Club we went to see the first phase of the Kokufu exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. I spent over three hours there and was not disappointed! There was a massive red pine that that won a prize that really stood out in my mind as well as a beech raft style and on and on. I purchased the album that day and it cost $100! That included shipping to the U.S. in June. That’s all I’ve got time for today, I’ll try to get more up tomorrow. Thanks for dropping by!