National Bonsai, Part 2: Ezo Spruce

Since I’ve been spending so much time around the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum I figured it would be nice to continue the National Bonsai series of posts again this month.

In the first installment I talked about Goshin, a very famous and very well documented bonsai, through all phases of its life.  This month I’ve chosen to showcase a bonsai that is quite the opposite.  Not so famous and not so well documented, and until recently, somewhat of a mystery bonsai, but still a very fine bonsai in its own right.

Back in 1976 the Nippon Bonsai Association presented the United States with a gift of 53 bonsai in celebration of our Bi-Centennial year.  In this first group of bonsai from Japan was an old Ezo Spruce with an interesting, but somewhat strange shape and multi-trunk movement.  Very little info was given about this bonsai, but it has continued to be an important part of the collection and has matured quite nicely over the last few decades.

Summer 2015. After maintenance work.

Summer 2015. After maintenance work.

There are a few things that have always been known about this tree and a few educated guesses that have been made, based on what we know.  According to the info provided when this tree was donated, it was originally collected from Kunashiri Island in Hokkaido Japan.  It was donated by a man named Tokuei Tanaka and at the time of donation, was estimated to be about 170 years old.  While talking to Mr. Sustic (museum curator) about this tree, he informed me that he suspected the trees origins to be Manseien Bonsai nursery.  This guess was made based on the fact that the name Mr.Tokuei Tanaka was not known as the name of any bonsai professional at the time.  Which could lead us to believe that the tree was likely donated by a collector who worked closely with a bonsai professional in Japan.  Additionally, Mr. Saburo Kato was very much involved with gathering this Bi-Centenial gift.  Mr. Kato, from Mansaien was also very famous for his work with this particular species, Ezo Matsu.  All of that being said, it seems like a very reasonable guess that this tree could have very likely originally been a Mansaien tree that was under the ownership of Mr.Tokuei Tanaka, who could have later been approached by Mr.Kato in an effort to get this tree as a donation.

Original Import Card from 1974.

Original Import Card from 1974.

Just out of curiosity, I asked my girlfriend to see if she could dig up any info in Japanese about Mr.Tokuei Tanaka.  An internet search came back with some promising discoveries.  Apparently there is record of a business man with this name who has a very old and well established miso company.  Miso as in the main ingredient of miso soup.  Additionally this same man used to run a traditional Japanese style hotel in Niigata Japan.  This hotel would often times hold small exhibitions and display the bonsai collection of Mr.Tokuei Tanaka.  Hey, that’s a good lead, we might be on to something!  Maybe it’s the same guy?  To dig a little bit deeper I sent all of the findings to my master, Mr.Junichiro Tanaka of Aichien bonsai nursery.  He was able to confirm that this man who runs the miso and hotel business was the very same man who donated the Ezo Matsu Bonsai back in 1976.  Additionally, he mentioned that this man was a family member of Mr.Saburo Kato, though exact relationship is still unknown.  According to the info found on the internet, Mr.Tokuei Tanaka passed away in 2008

So with these new findings, we can really start to have a clear picture about this trees possible history and come even closer to confirming Mr.Sustic’s theory of how and why this tree found its way into the Bi-Centennial bonsai gift from Japan.  Exciting stuff!

From here forward I’ll share a few photos in chronological order.  I also have a few photos from a recent styling & maintenance session.  This session took place in May 2015 and was led by Mr.Ken Fujiwara during his recent visit to the United States.  Mr.Fujiwara has been a great Senpai and mentor to me.  He was kind enough to have me assist him during the session.  We had a lot of fun and the end result was a step in the right direction.  Lets get to the photos!

Old photo, printed in Japanese and English.  Likely taken before this tree came to the United States.

Old photo, printed in Japanese and English. Likely taken before this tree came to the United States.

Polaroid from 1981

Polaroid from 1981

Formal photo. 1986

Formal photo. 1986

Sketch from a book showcasing trees of the National Collection.  Likely early 80's

Sketch from a book showcasing trees of the National Collection. Likely based on the previous photo from 1986.

Unfortunately, there is a massive gap in the photos of this bonsai from 1986 until the following photo from 2006.

2006.

2006.

Clearly the tree bulked up quite a bit during this gap in photo history.  Though it is still very recognizable as the same tree.

 

2010

2010

After this photo from 2010, there is not much on record until 2015 when Mr.Fujiwara and myself spent a day giving this tree a little TLC.  The goal was to get the foliage to a good balancing point, clear out some un-necessary branches and set things in place to start developing a more refined look with many small foliage pads.  We also wanted to respect the trees original style and the path it has been on since it came to the United States.

Mr.Fujiwara and the Ezo, before work.

Mr.Fujiwara and the Ezo, before work.

getting into it.

getting into it.

Inspecting

Inspecting

 

branch removal.

branch removal.

Finished. With a view of the foliage removed during work.

Finished. With a view of the foliage removed during work.

EzoSummer2015

And a shot of the tree on display in the museum about 3 months after work.  I think ultimately it would be nice to remove more from the lower right side in an effort to tighten things up even more.

If you ever happen to be at the museum, hopefully you’ll remember this bonsai and give it a good long look.  At over 200 years of age and thriving despite being so far from its original home, it is well worth the respect and attention.  As are so many other trees in the museum.

Well that’s all for this article.  Thank you for reading, we’ll do this again next month!

Until next time…

Danny