FUKU-BONSAI RECORD
& HISTORY - PART I
 
(Updated September 2021)
THE EARLY BONSAI YEARS AND
FUKU-BONSAI AS A SOLE PROPRIETORSHIP
By David W. Fukumoto, president & founder, Fuku-Bonsai

                Much of Hawaii's history is tied to World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  My earliest visual recollection is the house across the street blowing up as anti-aircraft shells came down. Hawaii's Japanese nisei (2nd generation) went to war to prove their loyalty, went to school on the G.I Bill, and came home to make Hawaii the most liberal state with opportunity for all.  After they established their careers, they explored their cultural roots, befriended their former enemies, and partnered with them to form BONSAl; Bridge to International Friendship and Peace!" 

                In Japan, the bonsai recovery and restoration after the devastation of World War II was led by Saburo Kato. Their success was introduced to the world at the 1970 Osaka Expo where Kato met Hawaii's Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro and became close friends, that later included Ted Tsukiyama and the entire Hawaii bonsai community.

                In 1970 we formed the non-profit Hawaii Bonsai Association as an umbrella group to assist all bonsai clubs and to coordinated activities that no one club could handle. A few years later, my family moved from Honolulu to the Big Island of Hawaii where I participated primarily by email contact with Ted Tsukiyama.

                 I got to meet Saburo Kato in the 1977 Japan Bonsai Tour and his later visits to Fuku-Bonsai to select plants for IBC 80 Hawaii and other occassions in Hawaii and Japan.  He has been my primary professional role model as the Hawaii Bonsai leaders are all hobbyists. 

 

 

           

 

           1962  As newlyweds, David and Myrtle Fukumoto begin growing and training a Brassaia houseplant in their apartment to start pioneering True Indoor Bonsai™. We lived on Myrtle's salary as a clerk-steno for the US Army while David's construction painting and other income went into savings. Within a year they purchased a home in Kaneohe and the yard quickly filled with bonsai!
           David was asked to teach an Aiea High School evening adult education bonsai course at a time bonsai was still a secretive cult-like activity of older Japanese men.  They wrote the first Tropical Bonsai Handbook that was mimeographed for the students by the school. When they supplied ideal prepared bonsai stock, student success and enthusiasm soared and the Aloha Bonsai Club was formed.  From our very early days, we demonstrated our commitment to teach by providing ideal prepared bonsai stock and materials, and personal assistance when needed.  Over 50 years later,  these same commitments are available to Fuku-Bonsai customers!

           1969   Co-founded the non-profit Hawaii Bonsai Association; developed their bonsai team-teaching curriculum and lesson plans as education committee chairman and course coordinator. Designed and slip-casted ceramic bonsai pots with original plaster molds.

        1972.  The hobby expanded to completely fill a suburban house lot.  Myrtle became a backyard nurserywoman, propagated seeds and cuttings, and maintained a bonsai collection of over 2,000 trees in training! We participated in developing the Hawaii Certified Export Nursery Program and when California approved it, we began planning to be the first such nursery.
         1973  We sold our Kaneohe home and with the $50,000 profit, purchased a 12-acre former sugar cane field, built a new home, and started building the nursery in the afternoons and on week ends after working as a painter during the day. Our large bonsai collection was cared for by several friends until we could set up the facilities to take care of them in our new home. Then, it was necessary to bare-root all plants, have them inspected, then send them to the Big Island by air freight.  We reduced the collection to about 200 bonsai with the rest offered to the Oahu bonsai community. Most of the collection survived.
         A year later we began sales. Two years later nursery income allowed going full-time and we refinance with the State Farm Loan and expanded rapidly with operational profits and several annual FmHA loans including a modest 2-bedroom employee cottage and Myrtle's parents Rickey and Haruko Kiyabu became our first employees.     
j.Tad74.jpg (44352 bytes)         This 1974 copywrited photo of son Tad was taken when he was four years old with our first HS-1 small and HD-1 desk size Brassaia Lava Plantings.  From the start, Fuku-Bonsai produced only premium branded products that were direct niche-marketed by mail order or sold by widely-scattered area-exclusive Fuku-Bonsai Authorized Retailers with delivery via U.S. Postal Air Priority Mail with a special packing system and with a satisfaction and safe arrival guarantee. 
ABScover1.jpg (12159 bytes)             In 1973 and 1974, David's first two articles were published: "Bonsai in Hawaii" in Bonsai Clubs International's Bonsai Magazine  and "Island Hopping" in the American Bonsai Society's Journal.  The Island Hopping article told of bare rooting and fumigating the bonsai collection to move from Honolulu to the Big Island to meet inter-island plant quarantine requirements.   The article was featured at the American Bonsai Society's booth at the joint Pasadena convention sponsored by the California Bonsai Society, American Bonsai Society, and Bonsai Clubs International. This was the first opportunity to meet Dorothy Young (who later became the editor of ABS Journal), John Naka, Ed Potter, and many of the early national bonsai pioneers. A sequel article "Successful Island Hopping" included the the photo of the dead trunk of one of the few trees that did not survive silhouetted against a sunset which was used as a cover of the Winter 1975 issue. 
JerryMeislikPhoto.jpg (68760 bytes)            1975-79   As a research affiliate of the Harold Lyon Arboretum of the University of Hawaii at Manoa,  David amassed over 200 ficus specie and varieties, ran trials, researched, and published a series of articles in the American Bonsai Society Journal. This is credited with Ficus becoming the most popular American Bonsai. But Ficus requires more light than available in most indoors and we shifted research to TRUE INDOOR BONSAI™.  Jerry Meislik expanded Ficus research and is the author of FICUS, The Exotic Bonsai.
        Haruko Kiyabu was our first "Plant Mama" in charge of the potting house.  Certified "high-velocity pumice ejecta" was delivered in 30 cubic yard truckloads into a concrete pit, shoveled into our mass screening to separate into coarse bottom and body media. The body media was further screened and mixed with organic matter, fertilizer, etc. for our certified potting media.       We produced enough income by selling 10% of production with large quantities going into the "Old Plant Bank" for bonsai training for future sales. 
       Participated in the 1977 Japan Bonsai Tour with the Hawaii Bonsai Association.  Attended IBC 79 New York to give a  presentation promoting IBC 80 Hawaii. Became the first Hawaii State certified nursery to ship to Canada and Europe. Designed a line of plastic bonsai pots and saucers manufactured by Ole Orchard Hill of Michigan and later became a designer for a line of larger fiberglass bonsai pots.  Developed a non-soil media with volcanic pumice with first products utilizing volcanic welded splatter cinder.    
       In preparation for IBC 80 Hawaii, Japan's grand master Saburo Kato and Hawaii's Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro came to select Ficus benjamina for his "Peace Forest" demonstration. He wanted a tree that would flourish to continue to improve into the future. Over 40 trees were selected and pre-trained and root pruned to his specifications.  Kato is a patron role model of a bonsai professional who is also a leader helping to advance the art and culture of bonsai and leads a movement for world peace through bonsai.
         INTERNATIONAL BONSAI CONVENTION 1980 HAWAII.   A lannd-mark convention co-sponsored by the Hawaii Bonsai Association and Bonsai Clubs International with participation by American Bonsai Society and Nippon Bonsai Association at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu. Coordinated and moderated the Hawaii's 3-Ring Demonstration and supplied and led the workshops and other activities.  Included first penjing presentation by Deborah Koreshoff of Australia, Collected Ohia by John Naka, and Peace Forest and "Bonsai no Kokoro" (The Spirit and Philosophy of Bonsai) by Saburo Kato  www.fukubonsai.com/5a2.html
MLP Wu photo.jpg (30568 bytes)
         1981, Co-founded the non-profit Big Island Bonsai Association and led the two-year project: Revitalization of Bonsai on the Big Island.   Participated in a Chinese Bonsai-Penjing Tour organized by Dorothy and Luther Young of Pennsylvania. Visited and later represented Hong Kong's penjing master Yee-su Wu.
        As the only non-professional, David received the top editorial award from the Hawaii County Media Council for his Viewpoint article: "If the tax revolt succeeds, who wins?"
      FUKU-BONSAI IN 1985.  Incorporation began in 1984 to become the catalyst to build an international bonsai center in the developing Kona-Kohala visitor destination area. Everything related to bonsai went into the corporation with professional appraisals of the 12-acres, improvements, bonsai, inventory, etc. with the Fukumotos the sold initial stockholders.  Over nine stock offerings, they were joined by over 200 mostly modest Big Island stockholders and raised over $2 million to fund the 17-acre Kona Fuku-Bonsai Center.

Peace Forest 1985 KatoPapaTedEd.jpg (30313 bytes)

        PEACE FOREST IN 1985 in the care of Haruo Kaneshiro (right) Ed Nishida and Ted Tsukiyama (left).  The 40-tree forest was being trimmed by shearing and Papa struggled to keep it from growing larger and preventing wire marks.  The tree was turned over to Fuku-Bonsai after IBC 90 Hawaii and was then over 6' tall!  Based upon previous discussions with Kato, restyling began to create a tall forest adaptation of Kato's famous Ezo Spruce forests.   
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FUKU-BONSAI EVOLVES INTO A CORPORATION

               1985  Fuku-Bonsai became a corporation to become the catalyst to build and operate an international bonsai visitor attraction and over 200 stockholders supported the effort. 17 acres of the former Tanaka Quarry in upper Keauhou-Kona was purchased and in-house design and construction began, funded with the income from the Kurtistown nursery and a series of stock offerings.  The center featured nine themed bonsai gardens and included extensive educational exhibits.   Co-founded the non-profit Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation to educate and promote, to be the public guardian of the memorial bonsai of the Hawaii State Bonsai Repository and to be the liaison to the community.