BONSAI WORLD A series of articles by The Shikoku Shimbun focuses on the attractions of bonsai which encapsulate small universes in containers.

Great predecessors helped establish present-day prosperity of bonsai

February 4, 2009

Kagawa Prefecture ranks top in terms of bonsai cultivation in Japan. When did the people here start to cultivate bonsai and what kinds of development have led to the present-day prosperity?

There were several forerunners in Kagawa Prefecture's bonsai production centers of Kinashi and Kokubunji in Takamatsu who contributed greatly to present-day prosperity.

Hantaro Watanabe had great business sense

Production of bonsai in the Kinashi area started in the 1804-1818 period of the Edo Era, a period known as the Bunka era in Japan.

Sandy and well-drained soil in the Kinashi area is said to be particularly suitable for planting trees and cultivating bonsai.


A monument erected in the grounds of the Kinashi Garden Plants and Bonsai Center says Shusuke Takahashi helped start bonsai production. Takahashi, who was a great grafter, gave technical lessons to villagers.


At the same time, Tasaku Kitayama grew nursery trees of ''shohaku'' and made huge profits.


Jinzaburo Kinashi, who learned from Takahashi, imported apple nursery trees from the United States to plant them in forests and fields. The number of apple growers increased, and the growers received a large number of orders for nursery trees.


A monument inscribed with Hantaro Watanabe's achievements in Takamatsu's Kinashi area
A monument inscribed with Hantaro Watanabe's achievements in Takamatsu's Kinashi area

It was Hantaro Watanabe who paid particular attention to these phenomena. Watanabe had unique techniques that could turn any pine or hinoki (Japanese cypress) trees into masterly bonsai.

In addition, Watanabe had plenty of business sense, put energy to advertising, and sold the products not only at home but also in the Korean Peninsula and the Ryukyus, the present-day Okinawa Prefecture.


Successive generations inherited these people's achievements and continued their own efforts to improve their products, making the Kinashi area Japan's top bonsai production center along with the neighboring Kokubunji district.


Kiichi Suezawa, pioneer of nishikimatsu bonsai

Takamatsu's Kokubunji area is known as the birthplace of nishikimatsu (Japanese brocade pine).

Around 1892, Kiichi Suezawa was shown a masterly nishikimatsu tree that was dug out from a mountain. He paid a lot to buy the tree and cultivated it.


Two years later, Suezawa was successful in grafting the tree, paving the way to mass produce it.


Suezawa would not monopolize the technique, made efforts to spread it, and made it public to those who wanted to acquire it. This led bonsai growers in the Kokubunji area to abandon kuromatsu (Japanese black pine) and quickly turn to nishikimatsu.
Bonsai cultivation in Kagawa Prefecture came to a temporary halt during World War II, but resumed afterward.


In 1963, bark-bursting kyokko nishikimatsu trees came to the center stage and won overwhelming popularity. Bonsai farmers' fields were once filled up only with kyokko nishikimatsu trees.


Currently, kuromatsu and goyomatsu (Japanese white pine) have seized the lions' share in the matsu (pine) bonsai market, while the number of nishikimatsu growers has decreased sharply.


But Suezawa is respected as the pioneer of nishikimatsu bonsai and the greatest contributor in the Kokubunji area's bonsai world. A cenotaph commemorating Suezawa is erected in the grounds of the Bonsai Shrine in Takamatsu.


A cenotaph commemorating Kiichi Suezawa in the Bonsai Shrine in Takamatsu's Kokubunji district (Kiichi Suezawa in circle)
A cenotaph commemorating Kiichi Suezawa in the Bonsai Shrine in Takamatsu's Kokubunji district (Kiichi Suezawa in circle)

 (By Shigeo Hano)

translated by Kyodo News

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