Have you visited the US Arboretum in Washington, D.C.? There’s a particular ‘old fella’ there that you might want to see.
Contrary to popular belief, the art of bonsai – which literally translates to “planted in a container” – wasn’t originated in Japan. It was derived from an art form introduced by the Chinese from over 2000 years ago when they began creating miniature landscapes.
This horticultural practice was remodeled and adapted by the Japanese during the Kamakura period (700 years ago) under the influence of Zen Buddhism. From that moment on, a distinct Japanese style emerged and these small “trees” became what we know as bonsai today.
This particular bonsai, however, is not an ordinary one. Believe it or not, this white pine is 394 years old!
Planted in 1625, this bonsai would probably have a lot to say if only it could speak. Currently kept in the US Arboretum in Washington, D.C., it was donated by bonsai master Masaru Yamaki to be part of the 53 bonsais gifted by the Nippon Bonsai Association to the United States in 1976. At the time, Yamaki didn’t utter a word about its special secret.
The white pine’s astonishing connection to the Hiroshima bombings was revealed in 2001, when Yamaki’s grandsons paid a visit to the museum to see the collection. Although the Arboretum doesn’t advertise this portion of the bonsai’s history, preferring to emphasize its role as a symbolism of friendship between two nations, it has recently added this information to its website.
On August 6, 1945, Yamaki was inside his home together with his family when the U.S. B-29 bomber named the “Enola Gay” dropped the world’s first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. This site was located just two miles from their house.
The bomb killed 80,000 Japanese instantly and contributed to the death of 100,000 more. It also wiped out 90% of the city. But miraculously, Yamaki and his family survived the blast, only suffering from minor glass-related injuries. Their treasured bonsai trees, which were protected by a tall wall surrounding the outdoor nursery, also endured the bombings.
In 2003, Takako Yamaki Tatsuzaki, Yamaki’s daughter, also visited the museum hoping to see her father’s historic tree.
Because of these visits, the US arboretum and the Yamaki family were able to maintain a friendly relationship. And it is also through these encounters that curators truly comprehend the precious value of the Yamaki Pine.
“After going through what the family had gone through, to even donate one was pretty special and to donate this one was even more special,” Jack Sustic, curator of the Bonsai and Penjing Museum, said.
Apparently, the bonsai had been in the family’s possession for at least six generations.
“There’s some connection with a living being that has survived on this earth through who knows what,” said Kathleen Emerson-Dell, assistant curator at the museum. “I’m in its presence, and it was in the presence of other people from long ago. It’s like touching history.”
Watch the video below to see the beautiful Yamaki Pine up close.
Indeed, it is an incredible feeling to be in the presence of something that has lived through such a rich history. We hope that the Yamaki Pine survives for another hundred years or even more!