News / USA

400-Year-Old Bonsai Survived Hiroshima Bombing

Bonsai tree in U.S. National Arboretum
Bonsai tree in U.S. National Arboretum

Sixty five years ago, during World War II, a B-29 bomber known as the "Enola Gay" dropped the first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Among the survivors was a small tree, a Bonsai, which ended up in the United States as part of a national gift from Japan. The Bonsai, now 400 years old, is still alive, and forms part of one of the most striking collections in the U.S. capital.

If this tree could talk, it would have a lot to say.  In its nearly 400 years of life it has seen more than one war.

"It is a survivor.  It was actually in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped," said Jack Sustic, the Curator at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington.  He says the tree came to the U.S. in 1976, to celebrate the U.S. bi-centennial, as a gift of 53 bonsai from Japan,

"This is a Japanese white pine; it was part of the original donation.  It was in one family, the Yamaki family for 6 generations before they donated it.  It was started as a Bonsai in 1625," Sustic said pointing to the tree.

Sustic says the Yamaki family had a Bonsai nursery and this was one of their signature trees.  Six generations of the family took care of the tree in Japan and so far four curators in the U.S. have cared for it.

"Mr. Yamaki the original donator, came 4 or 5 years after they donated it.  It's an interesting story because he was here looking at the tree and he began con cry and the curator at the time got a little uneasy and a little nervous so he asked the translator to make sure everything was O.K., so the translator asked him, is everything O.K.? and he said yes the tree is happy here, that's why I am crying," he said.

Sustic says taking care of the trees is an honor and a joy - but also a great responsibility.   What would he do if something happened to them? "I don't even want to think about it.  But I have a suitcase at home that is packed.  If anything ever happens to this I don't think anybody would be able to find me," he said.

The bonsai donation started this collection, the largest in North America, at the U.S. National Arboretum. The collection now has almost 300 trees, divided among three pavilions for the Japanese, Chinese and American bonsai.  

"Bonsai literally means tree in a pot.   But you can look around in the collection and see that is much more than just sticking a tree in a pot.  It's an art also, is a living art," Sustic said.

One of the most famous bonsai of the collection is this 57-year-old Juniper forest created by John Naka, considered the father of North American Bonsai. He planted one tree for every one of his grandchildren. "The work on the tree never ends because it is a living art.  It's the pruning technique that keeps it small," Sustic said.

The art of the Bonsai demands great care and patience, carried out here by a small staff and 15 volunteers.  The trees continue growing, so they have to be trimmed once or twice a year, and  re-potted every couple of years.  Some of the trees are particularly sensitive, like this one.

"It doesn't like the oil from your fingers and it doesn't like to be rubbed or anything like that, so whenever that happen, the tips turn brown, so I have to go in and remove the brown," Sustic said.

The Bonsai collection is priceless.  Every tree is unique and the average age is around 100-years-old - which means several generations have cared for them.   Bonsai trees bloom, give fruits and change colors in the fall.  Sustic says he and his family eat apples from one of his 30 bonsai at home.

"One interesting aspect is that fruit and flowers will not reduce in size," Sustic said.

From its beginnings in China more than 1,000 years ago, the art of the Bonsai was only a pastime of the elite for many centuries  In the U.S., it has grown in popularity mostly due to the support of the National Bonsai Foundation.  Johann Klodsen is the foundation's director, and like others close to the collection, she says there is more to the bonsai than simply what one sees. "Standing like in any work of art before a great piece of art, it becomes a conversation between the work of art and the individual and that conversation takes on a spiritual dimension," she said.

"If you do Bonsai, it begins to change you as a person I believe.  It makes you a better person.  It teaches you patience and reverence.  It certainly has made me a better person," she said.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs