- KANSAKO'S PHILOSOPHY
Jackson Kansako was a "thinking man's bonsai man!" Unlike the great
majority who enjoyed bonsai as a casual hobby, Jackson really studied. He was
a stern school principal before he retired and Hilo tour buses with some extra time took a
detour and stopped so visitors could admire his beautiful Japanese garden that
incorporated natural lava formations set off by a well maintained lawn. I first met
him in 1962, shortly after Myrt and I moved into our new Kaneohe home (in a
We had flown over to the Big Island and when Myrt's family learned we were getting
interested in bonsai, they insisted that we meet Jackson. Jackson was a no-nonsense
type. He wasn't very old, but he wasn't willing to do things that took a lot
of years. He could afford to purchase almost any bonsai or bonsai stock offered for
sale and was always looking for the best possible plants. He enjoyed drastically
restyling and improving old bonsai that others already considered "
winners." He had a large collection with many exciting trees in training.
He shared with me the secret of his success.
want to create outstanding large bonsai, start with outstanding large bonsai
stock! Small young boring bonsai stock will take many years to become large and will
likely eventually become old large boring bonsai!"
That made sense!
In those days, our teacher Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro and the Honolulu bonsai
gang were very conservative in their training methods. The day spent with Jackson
started me on a totally different bonsai path. By coincidence, ten years later
when I moved to the Big Island, Jackson moved to Honolulu to live with his son and his
best trees went with him. He joined the Hawaii Bonsai Association, played a large
role in introducing more aggressive bonsai training methods, and was the outstanding
interpreter for Saburo Kato's "Bonsai no Kokoro" address at the Hawaii 1980
International Bonsai Congress.
day, out of the blue, word quickly spread to the top bonsai grower-trainers that
Jackson was dispersing his collection. The prices were a token amount and even less
than the cost of the large beautiful ceramic pots. It was obvious that he wanted to
place his best trees into the collections of those who could maintain them. He passed away
a short time later. The Hawaii State Bonsai Repository includes two of the trees
that were styled by Jackson. One first went to the Haruo Kaneshiro collection.
The second (described and photographed below) went to the Ted Tsukiyama collection and
later donated by Ted in Jackson's memory.
Dwarf Prostrate Juniper (Juniperous squamata 'Prostrata') was introduced into
Hawaii after World War II, probably in the late 1940's and likely by a Hilo bonsai
hobbyist who purchased a plant from an Oregon nursery. It is likely that it enterred
as bareroot rooted cuttings so the oldest are likely to be 45 to 50 years old. I
began training and propagating Dwarf Prostrate Juniper from 1965 and it's one of my
Jackson's bonsai is clearly older than the others in our collection. When the tree
was initially donated, it wasn't in great health as there's a lot of spider mite
problems in dry Honolulu. But when it got back to the Big Island, in a larger
pot and under the skilled care of Fuku-Bonsai Collection Curator and Senior Plant Manager
Michael Imaino, growth exploded!
"KANSAKO KENGAI." The distinctive long lowest
cascading branch especially has developed well and the crown has filled out. The
long-term strategy is to slant the tree to the left and to continue to build up the right
side, including development of transitional growth between the crown and the
dominant cascading branch. (October 1999 photo)
This tree represents the spirit of the
Hawaii State Bonsai Repository. We're the fourth to have the responsibility of
caring for it. It has changed hands quietly and each time, the shape has
improved. It has never been sold for more than a small fraction of its market
value, and that's the reason it survives. There's a general rule amongst the
knowledgeable bonsai community that if bonsai are sold at market value, it's likely
that the trees will not long survive. That's because those who can afford to pay the
highest prices generally have the least amount of skill.
This juniper has Hawaiian historical bonsai significance and Ted Tsukiyama donated it to
keep it in the public domain, to allow future bonsai growers and visitors to study
and enjoy it, and to honor the memory of our friend Jackson Kansako!
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- November 1999; updated January 2001
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