The Natal Banyan (Ficus natalensis) Tropical Penjing donated by Fuku-Bonsai began as a cutting rooted in 1976, the same year that the at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum was established. Fourteen years later in 1990 the cutting had become an innovative exposed roots penjing and was requested to be the youngest tree of the initial American Collection! Besides being the youngest, there’s a interesting way it was requested for donation and an extraordinary story of how the tree has evolved since it was donated in 1990 to 2017 with the change of curators at the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection.
It was featured on the cover of the American Bonsai Society Journal in the Winter 1995 issue, five hears after it was donated while still in its original styling and in the donated Akiji Kataoka pot. Note the major changes since!
FUKU-BONSAI TROPICAL PENJING
AT THE NATIONAL BONSAI
& PENJING MUSEUM
By David W. Fukumoto, Fuku-Bonsai president & founder (July 2017)
The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum in Washington DC began with a 1976 Bi-centennial Bonsai Gift from Japan. The generous gift was a symbolic appreciative celebration of Japan’s economic recovery and specifically the recovery of their bonsai community following the successful long-running All-Japan Bonsai Exhibit that featured a continually changing exhibit throughout the year-long 1970 Osaka World’s Fair. It was the first major Japanese international bonsai exhibit following World War II and the Nippon Bonsai Association made many friends including many who visited the fair from Hawaii.
A special friendship developed between Japan’s Saburo Kato and Hawaii’s Haruo “Papa” Kaneshiro. Both were leaders of their home bonsai communities and this began a special relationship between the Japanese and Hawaiian bonsai communities that resulted in the development of “International Bonsai.” The special relationship enlarged to include Ted Tsukiyama, then the secretary of the Hawaii Bonsai Association and Horace Clay, its president. As a co-founder of Hawaii Bonsai Association with Ted, Horace, and Mike Uyeno, and as the major Hawaii bonsai professional with strong international professional contacts, I was deeply involved behind-the-scenes as a rapid series of bonsai events took place:
1. The 1976 Japan bonsai bi-centennial gift to the United States forms the nucleus of the national collection that has grown to include Chinese Penjing (1986) and American Bonsai (1990). A “Haruo Kaneshiro Tropical Conservatory” was added in 1993 and the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum is increasingly the national bonsai focus. Extensive information is at: www.bonsai-nbf.org
2. At the World Bonsai Congress in 1979 in Osaka, Japan planted the seeds for an international bonsai organization. Hawaii played a strong planning and supporting role and followed with a landmark international convention a year later.
3. The 1980 International Bonsai Congress in Hawaii hosted by the Hawaii Bonsai Association with co-sponsorship by Bonsai Clubs International and American Bonsai Society and was the first international participation by Nippon Bonsai Association. The four headlining presentations included a Hawaii 3-Ring Bonsai Presentation, "Collected “Nature’s Bonsai” by John Naka of California, “Chinese Penjing” by Deborah Koreshoff of Australia, and the “Spirit and Philosophy of Bonsai” address and the creation of “Peace Forest” by Japan’s Saburo Kato. (Also see "Bonsai no Kokoro; The Spirit and Philosophy of Bonsai" and a profile of Saburo Kato at www.fukubonsai.com/5a2.html , "Honoring Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro at www.fukubonsai.com/5a29.html ,and also "A Tribute to John Yoshio Naka at www.fukubonsaI.com/5a20.html )
4. As part of the Dorothy and Luther Young’s first China bonsai/penjing tour in 1981, I brought back the offer of penjing from Hong Kong’s Yee-Sun Wu, transferred the offer to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, and aided the importation and quarantine of the collection that first went on display in 1986. (Also see "Yee-sun Wu; The Spirit of Man Lung Penjing" at www.fukubonsai.com/5a16.html (with additional FB.com links)
5. The 1989 World Bonsai Convention in Omiya, Japan hosted by Nippon Bonsai Association included the formation of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation made up of regional bonsai organizations. Hawaii’s Ted Tsukiyama was the English and legal counsel that did much of the organizational documentation. I assisted behind the scenes by leading one workshop and creating the organizational document of the Latin American Bonsai Federation. (Also see "Honoring Ted Tsukiyama" at www.fukubonsai.com/5a21.html (with additional FB.com links).
6. Hawaii again followed a year later in hosting the 1990 International Bonsai Convention that included Hawaii, John Naka, Shingi Ogasawara, and Saburo Kato. Fuku-Bonsai International Honor Roll plaques were presented to Saburo Kato, John Naka, Haruo Kaneshiro, Yee-Sun Wu, Akiji Kataoka and Ted Tsukiyama to honor the special World War II bonsai generation that led the creation of “International Bonsai” and the theme: “Bonsai; Bridge to International Friendship and Peace!”
DONATION OF THE FUKU-BONSAI NATAL BANYAN PENJING
We had incorporated in 1985 as the catalyst to build the Fuku-Bonsai Center as a major visitor attraction on 17-acres at a former rock quarry in upper Keauhou-Kona in the then-developing Kona-Kohala visitor destination area. While visiting Honolulu bonsai collections, the national collection selection committee saw a Fuku-Bonsai Center promotional booklet that included an uncommon ficus natalensis trained in an “exposed root” tropical penjing styling.
When the selection committee first requested it, I resisted as it was so young and there were many older superior trees at Fuku-Bonsai. Although the committee never came to the Big Island to actually see it, on the strength of the photo and unique story, they insisted that they wanted it to illustrate the evolution of bonsai in the United States. So I sent it and assisted in packing the selected Honolulu bonsai.
When the American Pavilion opened in 1990, the penjing was featured in the opening program pamphlet citing it was an uncommon African ficus, that the styling utilized Chinese penjing concepts, that it was in a unique pot by an innovative Japanese master potter, was the youngest tree in the collection that it was trained in tropical Hawaii, the newest state and the bridge between East and West. It was featured on the cover of the American Bonsai Society Journal in their Winter 1995 issue, 5 years after donation, while yet in the original styling in the original pot.
EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN BONSAI PHILOSOPHY
Shortly after, there emerged a burst of American bonsai enthusiasm and a strange shift toward traditional Japanese “single apex – tier branched styling” in all things bonsai! Japanese bonsai tends to systematically codify various bonsai factors into an orderly manner. The earliest Japanese bonsai developed spontaneously in many forms. As part of a post-war surge to teach bonsai, great emphasis was placed on bonsai styles and the popularization and development of “rules” that placed greatest value on “pine-tree” styling. It did not matter that the most distinctive “nature’s bonsai” did not conform. In Japanese books and many American classes elms, maples, azaleas, and even banyans were trained into “pine tree” shapes.
The Fuku-Bonsai Natal Banyan fell victim to America’s then dominant “Japanese single apex – tier branched pine-tree” mentality. Collection curators tried to fix and improve the tree and excess nutrients thickened roots. The tree moved through a succession of ugly inappropriate pots. I objected but was never successful in influencing the initial collection curators.
The discussion intensified as the increasing flow of photos showed re-training in progress and a sequence of replacement pots. I tried to teach that “multiple apex – arched branched structures” were more appropriate for tropical trees. It was impossible to teach more complex penjing design principles.
In 2013, it was a pleasant surprise when ficus bonsai authority Jerry Meislik reported efforts by the then collections curator Jack Sustic to restore and restyle the tree by air-layering to remove the “pine-tree” crown. The tree had also been moved into a better but still inappropriate pot.
More recent reports increasingly showed that Jack Sustic was
executing his gameplan and it was great when Ted Tsukiyama visited
the collection in 2016 and a photo showed him with the Fuku-Bonsai
Natal Banyan penjing that was moving back toward the original
styling, but still with some single apex – tier branch crown. Most notable was a new pot that seems to have been
inspired by the original Kataoka pot, but as an Americanized version
of what is currently deemed to be acceptable and appropriate for
exotic styling. There was a lot of movement in the right direction
and it shows that while the American bonsai and penjing philosophy
is broadening, it still retains vestiges of Japanese bonsai
principles even when applied to tropical penjing.
Another set of photos received
from nephew Duane Fukumoto in November 2016 shows the crown of the
tree enlarging and filling out. A rock has been added. National Bonsai and Penjing
Museum curator Jack Sustic has done a commendable task to restore
and restyle the tree toward the original donation before he retired
and I send him congratulations and appreciation for his many
accomplishments and contributions.
In 1990 when it was donated, the penjing was just 14 years since it was propagated from a rooted cutting. It currently is 27 years old and so almost half of its life has been at the National Collection. Soon a new curator will be selected and given the responsibility and authority to maintain the trees and make changes. I look forward to following the continuing development of this tree.
THE DEVELOPMENT & CHALLENGES OF PUBLIC BONSAI COLLECTIONS
It is a romantic fantasy that Japanese bonsai are handed down through family generations and some are. But as Japanese increasingly move to the cities for career opportunities, the finest bonsai in Japan are moving from personal collections to regional public bonsai collections. Americans have taken the lead in creating public bonsai collections and old public collections like those at Arnold Arboretum and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens include some of the original Japanese bonsai first imported into the United States.
The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington D.C. has a larger national focus and is becoming an increasingly role model for public bonsai collections being formed throughout the country and internationally. Most American public bonsai collections include a non-profit supporting organization. In some cases the trees are donated to the non-profit organization for tax purposes, but also to keep the trees in the public domain.
Private collections that are part of bonsai businesses are also open to the public. Both public and private collections are becoming more than just repositories. They are increasingly becoming regional bonsai centers with gift shops that feature bonsai classes and sell bonsai books, tools, pots and even bonsai starter stock. This is becoming a part of the evolution of American and International Bonsai!
The Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center & Hawaii State Bonsai Repository is a partnership of Fuku-Bonsai Inc. and the 501(3)(c) Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation first established in 1986 as one of the early private/public bonsai collections.