An address by Saburo Kato of Japan at the 1980 International Bonsai Convention in Hawaii


               All of you here with an interest in bonsai have been "chosen by bonsai." We are united in the brotherhood of bonsai. It's wonderful to gather together. In Japan bonsai has an ancient history borne of nature. Bonsai is enlightenment and brings peace. It is well known and appreciated. It's the duty of all of us that love bonsai to keep alive this "torch of peace."

                People who love bonsai appreciate the beauty of nature and plant trees in small containers. In doing so, they learn from nature and learn a philosophy of life. Even a person who doesn't understand bonsai can appreciate and be moved by its beauty. The power of bonsai is in its ability to portray the utmost beauty of nature. This is the goal for all who grow bonsai. There are three important things to consider:

               First, the roots.  When looking at an old tree, the roots form the foundation and gives strength. This is impressive and inspiring. Strong roots of large tree protect other smaller trees in a flood or a storm. These firmly rooted trees give us a feeling of stability and security. In the case of a bonsai, this should also be true.

               Second, the trunk and the way it's formed. In the case of a solitary tree, its especially important as to how the trunk emerges from the roots and the rising taper that it develops. After many years the aged characteristics and bark appear and you can sense the added character and personality of each tree.

               Third, the branches. These face the sky and are balanced and must have sunlight to flourish. Because branches and leaves are growing strongly, beautiful flowers can bloom. Even though growing vigorously and flowers are blooming, you must not be complacent and must be very diligent in the care of your plants. This care is important.

                Everyone here has gathered together from distant places. In each of your countries you have mountains, rivers, woods and forests. These are beautiful scenes to inspire you. Choose the most beautiful examples for your bonsai. Do not just copy anything. Rather, make your bonsai like the best parts of nature.

                To raise bonsai it is very important to learn the strong and weak points of each plant. Raising bonsai is like raising children. Be a teacher and a guide but with patience and loving care. Treat your plants as you do your family. I'm sure that each of you will also be able to create and grow beautiful bonsai.

                Bonsai is a living thing in the roots and even in the leaves. Every day that you are attending your bonsai, although the plant cannot speak to you, you'll sense that the plant is trying to tell you something. You'll one day know a plant is asking for water or fertilizer. When you come to that stage, you'll have developed a close bond. Bonsai responds to your love and becomes like honest friends with no human falsehood or betrayals.

                Bonsai are loyal if you water and fertilize regularly with loving care. Life is more meaningful when we attend these little plants. We learn the essence and dignity of life! Even the life of a bonsai is older than us. So bonsai must be passed on to the next generation to preserve the life in the tray. This is important.

                Bonsai is a god-given gift to man. This form of nature is closest to man and portrays the drama of life. Bonsai is nature without and end. So those who grow bonsai have a responsibility to be diligent and a duty to continue to carry on. In conclusion, I hope that the art of bonsai will never die and will keep the torch of peace burning throughout the world. I hope closer and deeper friendships will tie us together.


                The above essay was translated and edited from a presentation by Saburo Kato of Japan presented at the International Bonsai Congress at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii on July 6, 1980 and co-sponsored by Hawaii Bonsai Association and Bonsai Clubs International. He was the headliner and representative of the Nippon Bonsai Association in their first international participation outside of Japan. After he gave the address, he created "Peace Forest" from plants provided by Fuku-Bonsai. The arrangement now lives at the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center & Hawaii State Bonsai Repository.

                Translation and editing of Mr. Kato's address by David Fukumoto with the assistance of Haruko Kiyabu with the aid of the first translation of Ted Tsukiyama. The editing omitted portions to Anglicize the translation, omit opening and closing courtesy remarks and a few other areas thought not to be important to the purpose and theme of the address. Translation and publication approved by Saburo Kato. First published and copyrighted in 1983 by Fuku-Bonsai in the FUKU-BONSAI REVIEW; Fall 1983 issue and since published in a number of bonsai publications.



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The Gentle Spirit of International Bonsai and Peace

               Saburo Kato emerged from the destruction of postwar Japan as the staunchest "keeper of the bonsai flame." In 1980 at the International Bonsai Convention in Hawaii, he spoke of the "spirit and philosophy of bonsai." He led the Japanese and International bonsai world until his passing.

               Born May 15, 1915, Saburo Kato lived through and influenced the modern history of bonsai. As the oldest son of bonsai master Tomekichi Kato, he helped to clear the forest and build Omiya Bonsai Village. In the 1930's he began collecting Ezo Spruce (Picea glehnii) and developed the primary techniques for their successful establishment and cultivation as bonsai. And, at the death of his father in 1946, he became the third generation owner of Mansei-en bonsai garden.

                World War II was tragic for the entire world. In Japan, everything was mobilized for the war effort. It was necessary to remove the bonsai from their pots, plant them in the ground and water them late at night. Even then, the Katos were criticized. By the end of the war, only parts of decimated bonsai nurseries in Omiya were barely surviving. The post-war years were difficult as very few could afford to purchase bonsai.

                But Americans were interested in bonsai. General MacArthur's headquarters arranged classes and Mr. Kato is grateful that members of the Amerian occupational forces adopted the Japanese custom of purchasing potted pine, bamboo, and flowering plum arrangements for New Year gifts. He acknowledges the help and kindness he received and credits the successful revitalization of bonsai to postwar bonsai interest by Americans. This interest strengthened the faith of the few remaining growers and they resolved to continue and rebuild the culture. Consequently, there was a rebirth of bonsai first in Omiya, and later throughout Japan.

                As the country began recovering, Saburo Kato's ability to unify people proved a key to organizing the Bonsai Growers Cooperative Association and the Nippon Bonsai Association. He participated in the committees responsible for the annual Kokufu bonsai exhibitions, the bonsai exhibit at Expo '70 in Osaka; the bi-centennial gift of bonsai to the United States in 1976, and he co-authored the Master's Book of Bonsai.

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                  At Japan Expo 70, he met Hawaii's Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro and they became close friends. Haruo taught him about the Western world and after meeting Ted Tsukiyama and others in the Hawaiian and international bonsai community, Kato led the "Internationalization of Bonsai." In September of 1979, Haruo Kaneshiro and Saburo Kato visited Fuku-Bonsai and selected a number of Weeping Banyans (Ficus benjamina) to be used in the landmark 1980 International Bonsai Congress held in Hawaii. The theme of IBC 80 Hawaii was:  "Bonsai; Bridge to International Friendship!"

                  Japan's first international participation outside of Japan was at IBC 80 Hawaii, followed by other international conventions.  The crowning event was the creation of of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation which was formally formed at the World Bonsai Convention in Omiya, Japan in 1989. He has demonstrated in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and in several parts of the United States. In 1985, he was awarded the Japanese Medal of Honor by the prime minister. Currently he is the executive director of Nippon Bonsai Association and the chairman of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation.

                In 1986, Kodasha Publishing Company (Tokyo) published The Beauty of Bonsai by Saburo Kato. It is a magnificent large format book with an extensive number of color plates. Most of the Japanese captions and a summary of the text are also in English at Kato's request. The Beauty of Bonsai is a classic bi-lingual international bonsai book.

                Saburo Kato is one of six honorees in the Fuku-Bonsai International Honor Roll. Kato set the theme that bonsai must be a vehicle for world peace. He recognized that everyone admired and enjoyed bonsai. By building on this common fact, diverse individuals could become friends, organizations could work with other organizations, and when there are enough bonds and friendships between the people of two countries, politicians no longer would be allow the two countries to go to war!

                Saburo Kato has mastered various bonsai techniques and developed many of his own. His bonsai have an elegant simplicity derived from meticulous planning, attention to detail, and an intimate understanding of nature. Kato is especially known for his achievements with Ezo Spruce and for his group plantings. It is rare to find such diverse and immense talents in such a humble person. He is a philosopher and an international leader with unlimited energy. Clearly, Saburo Kato is the gentle spirit behind the international bonsai movement for world peace through bonsai.


                The Saburo Kato profile by David Fukumoto was submitted and first published in the Winter 1988 issue of Bonsai: Journal of the American Bonsai Society and has been re-edited with additions and updated.

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