I remember it clearly – the first time I saw really good bonsai was at Bai ten, the bonsai sales area in Ueno Park set up to accommodate bonsai shoppers visiting the Kokufu ten. I had been in bonsai for six years and had seen many California exhibits, but never had I seen trees so refined, so old, or so beautiful. The place fascinated me and validated my interest in bonsai in a way that was new to me.
Green Club – outdoor vendors
Bai ten is a mostly uncovered lot with bonsai vendors of every stripe that is centered around a three-story building called the “Green Club.” As vendors pay a little more for exhibit space inside the Green Club, it is typically filled with higher-quality wares.
Green club – 1st floor
Bai ten is one of the highlights of a bonsai tour to Japan. Not only are there hundreds of great trees, pots, tools and other bonsai paraphernalia on site, but they are all for sale. This charges the atmosphere a bit more than what you find in gardens or exhibits because every last item you walk by is available for the right price.
What is the right price?
Large Japanese black pine, styling by Akio Kondo: $10,000
Shohin Japanese black pine: $3,000
Pretty reasonable, I believe, but beside the point as it is impressively difficult to bring trees from Japan into the United States. Despite the many temptations to buy, seeing walls of trees that would all look good on my benches only makes me think of one thing – pots!
Shohin bonsai on the 3rd floor
Fortunately, there are many vendors selling containers for bonsai at Bai ten. One of my favorites is the proud father of Tachi, a recent graduate of bonsai study with Shinji Suzuki. Tachi’s father has been selling antique bonsai pots in the Green Club for many years. As I examined his pots I thought hard of my trees back home in hopes of justifying each purchase. The secondary hope was that my trees were as nice as the pots.
A selection of antique pots
Tachi’s father and friend with mysterious connection to the midwest
Across from the antique pots was a great selection of suiseki. Like pots, suiseki can get through customs without incident – and in most cases, without breaking in checked bags.
Suiseki – many of the better stones come with their own boxes
More than just for shopping, Bai ten is also great for catching up with old friends and making new ones. Below is one former and one current student of Shinji Suzuki’s – Tachi and Yusuke. As Kokufu was closing down for the season on this particular day, the pair were taking a break from work in Obuse to load trucks with unsold trees from Bai ten and show trees from Kokufu ten.
Tachi and Yusuke
Although I don’t yet know when I’ll be back, I’m already saving for my next visit. And next time I’m bringing even more bubble-wrap and cardboard.