HONORING HARUO "PAPA" KANESHIRO
FATHER OF TROPICAL HAWAIIAN BONSAI!

                 How does a quiet gentle man come to be loved and respected well beyond his level of skill and knowledge?  Papa was special!  At a time that bonsai was a secretive past-time of mostly older Japanese men, Haruo shared what he knew with the "young Turks" and set lofty goals that bonsai was to be shared with everyone.  He was encouraging, but also a firm no-nonsense disciplinarian.

               I first met him in the early 1960's when I exhibited at my first bonsai show at Soto Mission on Nuuanu Pali Highway in Honolulu as one of the youngest members of the Honolulu Bonsai Kenkyu Club. I had to work that Saturday so had dropped off my exhibit plants early and visited the exhibit after work.  I had recently completed a club workshop and was invited to show my plants in the "Beginner's Section."   Unfortunately, no other beginners exhibited and my efforts were sandwiched between two of the oldest old-timers. I later learned the old guys argued about who would exhibit next to me as my young bonsai really made theirs look a lot better!

                Haruo sought me out with very encouraging comments and invited me to visit his home.  He also gave me a "no holds barred" critique of the many things that could have improved my exhibit including scrubbing down and polishing the pots, using finely screened coffee grain size granules to dress the surface, and placing bits of moss strategically. It was an honor to exhibit bonsai and every exhibitor had a solemn obligation to do his very best.  Even now over a dozen years after he's passed away,   I can feel the warmth of his spirit, his encouragement, and his wanting to bring out the best in everyone!

                But the best was not necessarily what everyone else did!  He hated people's pre-occupation with naming a tree's "style."  But that was the crux of the Japanese bonsai books that were then appearing in English.  Instead he taught us to carefully make each pruning cut and to observe how the new growth developed.  Each tree should be styled depending upon your interpretation of the essence of the tree. He was meticulous and his trees were always well groomed.  And we disagreed.

                I just didn't have his patience and didn't like trees to be continuously wired and every branch always fine trimmed.   I became more radical in my efforts to depict trees that grew in harsh environments.  He hated the way I trained trees but after I mastered the techniques, he loved the results! We were opposites and liked different kinds of trees.  And though there was a large age difference, we came to be true friends.

                Papa attracted young enthusiasts and Mike Uyeno was often at his home.  Mike was the neatest guy that I've ever met. When the two of us went into the mountains to collect Ironwood trees for bonsai, Mike would emerge neatly combed with his pants still pressed while I was a mess!  Mike's neatness was reflected in his beautiful collection and he excelled in elegantly styled fruiting and flowering bonsai. His wife Marion was also always impeccable and her miniature bonsai collection reflected her!

                Papa was always with the young members and one year he got Mike to agree to be president of the Honolulu Bonsai Kenkyu Club and Mike agreed if I would be the English Secretary.   The vice-president was a Ted Tsukiyama, an up and coming young arbitrating attorney who hardly ever showed up.  The roster also listed horticulturist Dr. Horace Clay in an honorary capacity.

               In the mid-1960's while trimming a tree purchased during a Kenkyu Club tour, I caught the attention of several ladies in the bus and was invited to make a bonsai presentation at the Japanese Women's Society meeting.  Apparently these were the social lions of the community and a reporter covering it produced a full page feature article primarily about my bonsai talk. Shortly after I was asked to be a last minute substitute teacher for a bonsai adult evening education course at Aiea High School. 

              Papa heard about it and insisted that I do it with a lot of advice on the need to introduce bonsai beyond the Japanese community.  Mike lived nearby and he participated.  In those early days, there were no books on tropical bonsai and no suitable plants in garden shops.  Success soared when the school mimeographed our first handbook and Myrtle supplied suitable workshop plants from her backyard nursery.  With a lot of enthusiasm,  the Aloha Bonsai Club was formed at a post bonsai course get-together by the participants at my Kaneohe home.

             Bonsai was just breaking out of the Japanese community and about this time, Ted Tsukiyama tells of attending another evening adult education course led by a Portuguese guy named Raphael Camacho. Ernie Olival had taught bonsai to his friend Walter Haitsuka so Ted, Ernie, and Walter bragged about being members of the most exclusive "Portuguese Bonsai Club" that to join, you either needed to be Portuguese or taught by a Portuguese bonsai instructor.  Over time, Al Marciel and others became interested and soon Hawaiian bonsai reflected the full multiculturalism of Hawaii and Papa was delighted!

              Long on enthusiasm, Mike cranked up the level of activity and he really rocked the boat.  The meetings became contentious and after a lot of heated arguments conducted in Japanese,  Mike and I (who couldn't speak or understand Japanese) were told the decision and directed to continue the meeting!  Ernie Olival was always just outside of the "inner circle" but was always there when something needed to be done.

                In his efforts to represent the "young Turks,"  Papa didn't have a chance to explain the content of the heated discussions until the decisions were made!  We were soon out of office but taking on more committee responsibilities.  One year the president was on a Japan trip and perennial vice-president Ted Tsukiyama was conducting the meeting.   Mike raised the possibility of a major bonsai show at Ala Moana Center and there was a big fuss at how costly it would be.  We resolved it by forming an informal group that shared the costs.  The center allowed us to put out a wooden calabash bowl to accept donations. 

                The show was a huge success with donations that easily covered expenses with a lot left over.  Ted stood firm and felt that the excess funds should be used to promote bonsai and most of us agreed.  Many old-timers wanted to keep the old ways and as a result the non-profit IRS tax-exempt Hawaii Bonsai Association was formed.  Poor Papa was torn between his old and young bonsai friends.  Dr. Clay became president, Ted was secretary, Mike headed the exhibit committee, and I headed education.

                The Kaneshiros traveled widely and their trips brought Hawaii bonsai into the international bonsai world.  During their visit to Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan,  they met and became good friends with Japan grand master Saburo Kato.  Through Papa we learned how bonsai almost died in Japan during World War II  .  .  .  how Kato watered the family's prized bonsai that had been removed from the pots and ground-planted. It was done late at night with grey water but even that was officially rationed  .  .  .  how Kato rallied the Japanese bonsai community after the war and assisted in bringing back the Imperial Collection and revitalized the Nippon Bonsai Association.

                In 1973 the Fukumotos moved to the Big Island of Hawaii to form Fuku-Bonsai. My bonsai collection was divided amongst several friends while we got established.  To bring them over to the Big Island required complete bare-rooting and fumigation of some trees.  I wrote an article titled:  "Island Hopping" and sent it to the American Bonsai Society (ABS) that included Papa holding my best Japanese Black Pine bonsai in front of the open mouth of the fumigation chamber. 

               In 1974, I participated in the HBA Pasadena bonsai tour that included our first national convention co-sponsored by California Bonsai Society, Bonsai Clubs International, and American Bonsai Society.  Besides narrating an evening slide show on Hawaiian bonsai, I was quickly well known as my article "Island Hopping" was featured in the ABS booth.  It was a great convention and we were totally impressed with John Naka and enjoyed the hospitality of the California bonsai community.  I also got to meet the Kaneshiro daughters Deanna and Shirley (who was my age) who lived in California.

               In 1976,  Nippon Bonsai Association led by Saburo Kato gifted a major bonsai collection to celebrate the American Bi-centennial and this was the start of the National Bonsai & Penjing Collection at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C.  

                As one of the original co-founders of the Hawaii Bonsai Association and actively participating from the Big Island, we participated in the 1977 Japan Bonsai Tour, I got to meet the Katos and recognized the greatness of his mission to spread bonsai internationally. Ted Tsukiyama visited whenever he had a Big Island arbitration hearing and I tagged along on his visits to Big Island bonsai growers that he had gotten to know over the years.  Dr. Clay was also a frequent Big Island visitor who sometimes stayed with us and I got a detailed briefing of the 1979 World Bonsai Convention in Osaka, Japan that he attended as HBA's representative. 

               I got to meet the Katos again a few months later when they came with the Kaneshiros in search of trees for his demonstration at the 1980 International Bonsai Convention in Hawaii.  It was a big deal for us but all of a sudden things seemed to fall apart and I was asked to attend an "emergency" meeting in Honolulu so I flew over.  Apparently, Kato wanted to cancel his acceptance that had been as an individual and instead requested that HBA officially invite the Nippon Bonsai Association (NBA) to participate with them designating a person demonstrating as a representative of their association. 

               I argued against it as we really wanted Kato and didn't know the others in NBA.  But it seemed important to Kato who promised to participate and demonstrate as an individual if NBA refused. So we agreed,  NBA accepted and named Kato as their representative, and IBC 80 Hawaii went on to become a landmark convention with Hawaii creating a three ring presentation with Papa in the featured center ring and all of us involved.  John Naka did a great demonstration on collected Hawaiian Ohia-Lehua, Deborah Koreshoff of Australia made the first major penjing presentation, and Kato made his major "Bonsai no Kokoro (The Spirit and Philosophy of Bonsai)" address and created a multiple tree "Peace Forest."

                Between IBC 80 Hawaii and IBC 90 Hawaii, there was a flurry of international bonsai activities  and I got caught up because of my international professional bonsai associates as well in my role as a member of the Hawaii Bonsai Association. Fuku-Bonsai incorporated in 1985 to be the catalyst to own and operate both the 12-acre Kurtistown certified nursery and the 17-acre Kona Fuku-Bonsai Center. Many in the Hawaii bonsai community became stockholders and all was very hectic.

               Saburo Kato quietly visited Hawaii numerous times as he treasured his friendship with especially the Haruo Kaneshiros and Ted Tsukiyama.  It all came together with the formation of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation in Omiya in 1989 and a few of us were drafted to assist in various English-speaking and cultural roles.  For Japan, it was an ambitious undertaking and we tried to assist wherever needed. We were delighted that Haruo Kaneshiro received public honors.

                 At IBC 90 Hawaii,  Fuku-Bonsai International Honor Roll placques were presented to Saburo Kato (Japan), John Yoshio Naka (California), Haruo Kaneshiro (Hawaii), Yee-sun Wu (Hong Kong), Ted Tsukiyama (Hawaii) and Akiji Kataoka (Japan) to recognize them as representatives of a unique bonsai generation who were once wartime enemies who came together and established bonsai as a bridge to international friendships and peace!

                 That same year in 1990,  the American Bonsai Pavillion was added to the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection including two trees from the Haruo Kaneshiro collection and several other Hawaii bonsai growers including Fuku-Bonsai.  Ted Tsukiyama led the fundraising effort and the "Haruo Papa Kaneshiro Tropical Bonsai Conservatory" was added to aid plants needing winter protection.                                

                 The Fuku-Bonsai Center in Keauhou-Kona had a soft opening in 1990 and a Grand Opening Celebration in September of 1992.  Papa's family attended but a few days later, papa passed away to end a major Hawaiian bonsai era.  He truly was our inspiration, friend and mentor and richly deserved to be known as the Father of Tropical Hawaiian Bonsai!

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