Nagahama Bonbaiten – an Exhibition of Bonsai Plums

On Friday Mori-san and Shiroyama sensei took me on an outing…

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… to Nagahama in Shiga Prefecture to see the Nagahama Bonbaiten, an annual exhibition of bonbai, or potted plum trees. The exhibition takes place at the historic Keiunkan, which was originally built as a temporary rest house for the Meiji Emperor. Created by the 7th pioneer of modern landscape gardening, Ogawa Jihei, Keiunkan’s garden is very beautiful and has been designated as a special place of scenic beauty. Not that you can see it beneath all this snow…

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The bonbaiten runs for around two months each year during the New Year season and is heralded as a ‘national best bonsai exhibit’ so it was a real treat to go to visit it. The Bonbaiten’s history begins in 1952, when Shichizo Weng collected native plum trees from the Hubei Mountains, bringing them back to Nagahama where he painstakingly trained them into beautiful bonsai forms.

The bonbai are displayed in a traditional Japanese style zashiki parlour. Around 300 potted plums feature during the exhibition, although only 90 are on show at any one time as each tree is replaced as its blossoms fade. Many of the bonbai displayed are very old or surprisingly large – over 400 years old and up to 3 metres high in some cases. Yet there is as much beauty to be found in the old, gnarled trunks and branches as there is in the pretty pink and white flowers.

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Currently my knowledge and understanding of bonsai is very scant, but in late March Phil and I will receive a week’s training with one of Japan’s bonsai masters, so I should be able to tell you more about the process then. For now it was just interesting to study the different forms and shapes and the way the trees are displayed, to admire the skill and artistry of the training technique, and to marvel at the age of some of the bonbai on show. Oh, and to coo over the beautiful blossoms of course…

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Many of the bonbai are given names, the meanings of which are reflected in the way the trees are trained. I am currently trying to find out the meanings of the names below so I can better understand the bonbai.

Jingu –

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Shoyu –

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Furo –

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Hoki –

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Shoryubai –

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Hanasudare –

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Sazareiwai –

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Takayama –

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Momochidori –

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Mutsumi –

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Also at the Keiunkan was an exhibition of Hyotan – a bottle gourd from the plant Lagenaria siceraria. In Japan the fruits are dried, decorated and used as lucky charms to promote good health. The beautiful Hyotan in this exhibition are the work of Hisayoshi Shimizu, Japan’s premier Hyotan master.

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After the bonbai we had time for a spot of lunch…

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…and a wander around Daitsū-ji temple – a Jodo-Shin-sect temple on the outskirts of the Kurokabe Square.

 

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There was limited information available about the temple but I was amazed by the gorgeous brushwork screens housed within the main hall. These are some of the most beautiful pieces of artistry I have yet seen in Japan…

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7 (1) 7 (2) 7 (3) 7 (4) 7 (5) 7 (6) 7 (7) 7 (8) 7 (9) 7 (10) 7 (11)  

 

I had hoped to share some beautiful views of Lake Biwa with you from the journey back from Nagahama to Kyoto, but this wintery spell has other ideas so instead I have yet more snow scenes for you. Have I mentioned that I like snow?…

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