By David Fukumoto
            This article was submitted and published in the Oct-Dec 2006 issue of BONSAI MAGAZINE, the official publication of Bonsai Clubs International.  For more information about this fine organization, please contact the BCI Business Office. Phone (504) 832-8071;  Email: 


               On June 30 and July 1, 2006,  BIBA celebrated its 25th All-Big Island Bonsai Show with several themes:  "Looking back on the past" and "Passing the torch to the next generation."  The original founders were honored.  The Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation's and Fuku-Bonsai's request to honor Yee-sun Wu was approved along with a major Chinese penjing presentation that included a featured niche and other displays.

Anthony Valadon photo

                The niche included a number of bonsai that were trained utilizing the various Chinese training techniques that Yee-sun Wu had introduced to the Western world. These techniques are especially valuable in training tropical bonsai to produce exciting trees with styling concepts based upon philosophical strategies and a sound knowledge of horticultural principles.

                The display included slow-growing Shimpaku Juniper trained as a plunging penjing,  Hawaiian Wild Olive trained from a seedling with deep trunk furrowing, a Taihu-like rock planting, and three Bird's Tongue Podocarpus.  The Shimpaku was the first tree trained using penjing concepts from about 1964.  The other trees were propagated about 25 years ago when the Big Island Bonsai Association was formed.  The display included photo panels from the series titled:  "Twelve Lessons from a Scholar-Farmer" that will be published in Bonsai Clubs International's magazine next year.


        The show is held annually near the July 4th weekend at the Wailoa Center in Hilo. This unique 12-sided building features ten tokonoma type display niches separated by windows. Additional displays are placed in front of the windows, along the inner railing, and as island displays. 

         This photo shows an overall view with the educational display in the foreground including a number of educational hand-outs for the public.


      Next to the first niche that honored Yee-sun Wu, two Indian Hawthorns (Raphiolepsis indica) were exhibited along with a historical panel that documented the development over the years. These two trees were part of a demonstration given by David Fukumoto in 1980 which introduced reduction-building concepts to the Big Island.

         At that time, the Big Island followed traditional Japanese Bonsai methods and that demonstration led to the forming of the non-profit Big Island Bonsai Association and the most varied bonsai community in the world.

Anthony Valadon photo
        The demonstration began with David thanking Yoshi Ota for his outstanding work throughout the 25 years!  David and Yoshi are the two remaining active founders. When BIBA was established, both were already bonsai professionals who supported and provided resources to help build the bonsai community.

        Yoshi was the first BIBA president and led the award-winning project: "Revitalization of Bonsai on the Big Island."  David was his secretary-treasurer and chairman of the education committee. He later served a term as president. BIBA has a long tradition of continually evolving and changing leaders.

Sam Horiuchi photo
       The morning presentation was by David Fukumoto and Michael Imaino and included a major lecture on the aristocratic form of Chinese Penjing as practiced by the late Hong Kong master Yee-sun Wu.  Michael handled the demonstration portion of a Jaboticaba (Eugenia cauliflora) that has been in training about 25 years. 

       The audience included many off-island visitors including a number from the Kauai Bonsai Club and the Maui Bonsai Club. The afternoon presentation was led by Yoshi Ota assisted by several of the off-island guests. 

Anthony Valadon photo
        Michael Imaino and the tree after being moved to a tall cascade pot. Jaboticaba is a beautiful and ideal tropical outdoor bonsai with very smooth bark that flows over large scars created when large branches are removed.  The tree is also known as Brazilian Grape and attractive purple fruit will develop on woody parts of the trunk.  A future article will detail the development of this bonsai including formal photos as new leaves develop. 

         Michael joined Fuku-Bonsai in 1983 and is the senior plant manager, curator of the bonsai collection, corporate Fuku-Bonsai director, and president of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation.  He will one day vote the largest number of Fuku-Bonsai shares as he leads the next generation.


                 A lot has happened in the 25 years and, although leadership and values have changed, there are exciting new facets. The Big Island of Hawaii was the original center of bonsai in the State of Hawaii. Japanese maritime ships came often as Hilo was their favorite port and the oldest bonsai in Hawaii were left by these ships.

                During  World War Soboku Nishihira of Kaumana collected bonsai that were being destroyed and hid them in the forest reserve above Hilo. After the war, he opened the first major bonsai nursery and was Haruo Kaneshiro's teacher.  Many of the Honolulu bonsai began in Hilo's bonsai nurseries.  So Fuku-Bonsai and the Ota Nursery are just the latest in a long list of bonsai nurseries.

                Because the Big Island is geologically very young, there is relatively shallow soil. Taproots hitting the solid lava produce stout compact growth with heavy trunks that are ideal for collecting for bonsai.  Choice lava rock and porous volcanic pumice are ideal for bonsai.  But the greatest asset are its multi-cultural population that now very openly shares techniques and invites everyone in the community to join them.  The Big Island Bonsai Association played the major role in creating this situation.  The non-profit organization was founded based upon the following principles:


For a report on the Jaboticaba lecture-demonstration by David Fukumoto and Michael Imaino,  go to TROPICAL PENJING LECTURE-DEMONSTRATION HONORING YEE-SUN WU!

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