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 One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs