Hey everyone! We had a request at a Q+A recently for Ryan to share some of his recommendations for seeing bonsai (and other must-sees or must dos) in Japan.
I’ve got an abridged version of his recommendations here–we have plans to turn this into a full-scale blog post with pictures and more items at some point, but for now here’s some places to think about!
In the Nagano area
Ryan says that Shinji Suzuki’s garden in Nagano, Taikan Bonsai Museum, is a must-visit. Iuda-san’s garden in Nagano is also great. Iuda-san, an apprentice of Kawabe, specializes in collected shinpaku out of the Japanese mountains and grafting on roots, dividing separating, sandblasting and carving.
There is a link to and sort of a continuity of Kimura’s approach in these gardens, but it’s been manipulated and changed and it’s very interesting. To go see Shinji Suzuki is unexpected, to see Iuda is off the beaten path, and both are very well worth your time and effort if you’re up in the Nagano region.
In the Tokyo area
Shunkaen, Kunio Kobayashi’s garden is always well worth a visit. You get a beautiful concept of the k aesthetic with the different tokonoma displays, and the materials everything is constructed with. It is the highest quality of craftsmanship in Japan, built to the same level as the temples and shrines, without screws or nails. There’s a lot beyond the bonsai, the ceramics, the display space, the handling of it as a museum that’s quite engaging. Shunkaen is on everyone’s radar, but Ryan highly recommends it.
Ryan is not a huge fan of the Omiya Bonsai Village. There’s less to be observed stylistically in Seiko-en and Mansei-en and Toju-en–Ryan says that they are not as great as they used to be. They are mainstays with a ton of trees, but stylistically they are not as exciting. If you want to see style, go to Fuyo-en and look at the deciduous work of Takayama. You’d also get to see Shoten No Ryu, one of the most famous junipers in Japan, which is a really special tree to get to visit.
He does recommend visiting the Omiya Bonsai Museum. He has not been there personally but from pictures says it would probably be a very powerful experience with plenty of excellent architectural spaces.
Many people think of Kyoto when they think of a place to view classical elements of Japanese culture; Ryan agrees but says that Nikko, a world heritage site, is even better. You can get here by taking the Utsonomiya train line to the end, and then the train to Nikko. Nikko was the summer meditation retreat of one of the first shoguns of Japan, Tokugawa. This is a place where you can really get a feeling for why Japanese bonsai takes on the forms that it does, rather than strict nature in miniature.
In the Kansai region
In the Kansai region, there are several spots worth visiting in Kyoto and Osaka. In Kyoto there’s a shohin nursery right off the train line that would be worth visiting–Ryan can’t remember the name but we’ll update this if he thinks of it.
In Shizuoka you’ll find Taisho-en, the garden of the Urushibata family. They’ve created an absolute bonsai mecca. Students from around the world study there. There are shohin, medium, and large trees to see. Taiga was Ryan’s senpai at Mr. Kimura’s; he is an incredible bonsai artist and he and his father are really doing some special things there.
As you continue farther south Ryan recommends stopping in Osaka and going to Kouka-en, where Bjorn’s master Fujikawa has his facility. Ryan hasn’t been there personally, but the quality of Fujikawa-san’s work is very high and the facility is becoming more internationally recognized.
If you wanted to go as far south as Shikoku Island, Takamatsu is a very common place for people to go, often referred to as sort of a “bonsai island.” They grow a tremendous number of field-grown black pine there. The level and quality of bonsai on Takamatsu is, when you talk about higher-end design development and modernized bonsai, is not nearly as high. For the average bonsai practitioner, the sheer overwhelming quantity of pines being grown there is very impressive to see; Ryan says that Takamatsu is not a “must-see” but could be interesting.
There’s a spring show that occurs in the prefecture government building in Saitama called Irodori. It happens in April when the wisteria are blooming; it’s a very interesting show with many high level professionals involved. It celebrates the blooming of spring and the fresh spring flush of growth, which is a nuance to that show.
In September & October in Tokyo, there are several great shows. In September you have the Zuisho-ten exhibition that happens on the top floor of the Green Club, which also occurs hand in hand with the Tokyo-ten exhibition that occurs on the first, second, and third floors. It’s a very interesting combination of exhibitions to be able to view and witness.
November brings the Taikan-ten in Kyoto; it’s an important, significant staple show where the Prime Minister’s award is given to the winning tree. Of course, there’s the Kokofu in February where the Kokofu prize is given to the winning tree.
Don’t miss the Green Club when the Kokofu is happening–you’ll see trees as good in the vendor area as you will in the show itself.
Hope you enjoyed this list and it’s helpful to you - like I said, we’ll be updating this with more information and creating a blog post with images at some point.