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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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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Return to the Okinawan Contribution to Hawaii Bonsai!
*** Go to a tribute to
Masako "Mama" Kaneshiro
- FUKU-BONSAI CULTURAL CENTER &
HAWAII STATE BONSAI REPOSITORY
- PO Box 6000 (Olaa Road),
Kurtistown, Hawaii 96760
- Phone (808) 982-9880;
FAX (808) 982-9883