Bonsai Tonight

Taikan Bonsai Museum

Posted in Excursions by Jonas Dupuich on April 12, 2009

The Taikan Bonsai Museum is the ward of Shinji Suzuki, onetime student of Hamano and now one of the better-known practitioners in the field. Located in Obuse, the museum is home to an outstanding collection of bonsai.

Visitors photographing each other

Visitors photographing each other

Benches anyway. The museum is in the process of moving from its original location to a new home across the street. The space is great, punctuated with little – or in this case huge – details that provide character to the garden.

Large stone with moss

Large stone with moss

But where are the trees? Obuse is near Nagano, home to the 1998 Winter Olympics. It gets cold enough to warrant winter storage for bonsai. Suzuki keeps the trees under his care in a series of greenhouses. Not ideal for viewing, but great for keeping trees alive until spring.

Show trees - Taikan Bonsai Museum

Show trees – Taikan Bonsai Museum

At last. And wow! Here are a few that I could see well enough to photograph.









A lot of trees caught my attention in this garden – almost all of them actually. As I walked from one marvel to the next I began to get a sense of Suzuki’s eye for bonsai. Almost any variety commonly grown as bonsai can be found here, and each is worth a closer look.

Posing with an awesome juniper

Posing with an awesome juniper

But there’s something else. I’d visited gardens where all of the trees are pretty. What I had not seen were gardens in which all of the trees were good. Suzuki has a knack for picking up quality trees, regardless of what shape they are in. And based on the trees he’s worked on for some time, it’s clear he can get them into shape.

An example. My face lit up when I recognized this white pine from Bonsai Today (story #31, cover #43).

White pine - previous work by Kimura

White pine – previous work by Kimura

The tree had clearly seen better days. But now, planted in a large wooden box and under Suzuki’s care, it’s on its way again.

Looks like a great place to study bonsai, doesn’t it? Turns out it is. Michael Hagedorn spent his apprenticeship here as Suzuki’s first non-Japanese student (read all about it). Michael’s senpai was a young man named Tachi who is now graduating and starting his own bonsai business. That makes this man the new senior apprentice.

Matt Reel in his element

Matt Reel in his element

Matt Reel of Portland, Oregon, has studied with Suzuki for some time now – and it shows (that’s his work on the black pine above). Matt’s planning to complete a full term apprenticeship with Suzuki. That means in a few more years, we’ll have another very capable professonal available to work on our trees. Outstanding news for anyone who wants to see bonsai in the US improve!

Boon, Matt, Jeff, Jonas and Vlad standing before two red pines formerly of the Imperial Collection

Boon, Matt, Jeff, Jonas and Vlad standing before two red pines formerly of the Imperial Collection.

Clockwise from far left: Tachi, Matt, Omachi, Boon, Yusuke (Matt’s kohai), Maciej ( Poland)

Clockwise from far left: Tachi, Matt, Omachi, Boon, Yusuke (Matt’s kohai), Maciej (student from Poland).

Jigokudani Monkey Park

Jigokudani Monkey Park (click monkey to see more pics from Japan)

One last note: if you get a chance to visit the Taikan Bonsai Museum, see if you can’t head a little further up the road to the Jigokudani Monkey Park where Japanese macaques watch tourists freeze from the comfort of their natural hot springs.

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9 Responses

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  1. crataegus said, on April 13, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Monkey looks like it’s hailing a cab…or deflecting a falling frozen tourist. Maciej, the Polish student, is a dead ringer for the young Obi Wan Kenobi. Was he packing a micro-light-saber ball-cutter?

  2. AlexV said, on April 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Hey Jonas, just wanted to say I really enjoyed the pics and commentary from your trips to Japan. Thanks for posting all this stuff, its great.

  3. Juan said, on April 17, 2009 at 8:38 am

    That 50mm turned out perfect for your japan trip! The pics are just amazing…

  4. kenobi-wannabe said, on April 21, 2009 at 2:16 am

    hello! pictures are just great (as well as the descriptions). also, i’m totally pleased to see myself there.

    Michael: im not jedi yet! no ball-cutters and stuff:)

  5. crataegus said, on April 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm


    you should ask Suzuki about those bonsai light saber tools. I think he was just beginning to carry them. another of the things he hid from clients…
    I really do think the standards in that place are slipping. I mean, take a look at Tachi’s hair…would have never been allowed in my day—
    take care obi-wan, and tell that Matt-san to write me, the bugger! what, has he got yet another girlfriend?

    great photos, Jonas! thanks for sharing them.

  6. thenewgirl said, on April 29, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Jonas – This is great. Thanks from me too. All the cool trees and sights from Japan & even our little classroom exercise!😛

  7. Project trees « Bonsai Tonight said, on August 15, 2009 at 7:23 am

    […] Project trees Posted in Excursions by xwires on August 15, 2009 One thing I noticed while visiting bonsai gardens in Japan – their “project trees” are pretty good. I found these junipers in Shinji Suzuki’s garden. […]

  8. Michelle Dougherty said, on January 19, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Hi Jonas ~ I didn’t even know you took that photo at the beginning of this post, the blond hair looks familiar:-). On this rainy California day I went through and reread all of the posts from the beginning. Thank you for such an amazing year of really wonderful bonsai content! Bonsai Tonight is such a great resource and information powerhouse. Can’t wait to see pics from the show last weekend.

  9. xwires said, on January 19, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks Michelle! I’ll start posting pics from the show as soon as I can get to them.

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