Saburo Kato, the Yamaki Pine, Green Legacy Hiroshima and the G-7 Meeting
“I hope that the art of bonsai…will keep the torch of peace burning throughout the world.”Master Saburo Kato
World Bonsai Day will be held on May 13 this year. Saburo Kato, Haruo Kaneshiro, John Naka, and Ted Tsukiyama founded the World Bonsai Friendship Federation (WBFF) in 1989. The WBFF exists to “bring peace and camaraderie to the world” though bonsai (1). It is an extension of Kato’s philosophy of “bonsai no kokoro” or “the spirit of bonsai”. Kato passed away at age 93 in 2008, and in 2010 the WBFF established “World Bonsai Day” to honor Kato and his goal of spreading peace though bonsai. World Bonsai Day is now celebrated on the second Saturday of May each year, “to coincide with Kato’s birthday” (1). Felix Laughlin and Solita Rosade were instrumental in establishing World Bonsai Day in the United States through their work with the WBFF.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence that, on the weekend before World Bonsai Day, when I happened to be attending the Potomac Bonsai Association’s Spring Festival held at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, the New York Times ran a piece titled, “The Trees that Survived Hiroshima” (2). The author was Will Matsuda. His grandmother’s family (she lived in Honolulu) were living in Hiroshima at the hypocenter, the neighborhood directly under the bomb’s trajectory, when it detonated on Monday morning, August 6, 1945. They died instantly as temperatures reached an estimated 3000-4000 degrees Celsius.
Earlier that day I had revisited the museum’s famous Miyajima white pine that had also survived the atomic bombing in 1945. It was donated by Masaru Yamaki in honor of the US bicentennial in 1976, therefore some call it the Yamaki pine (3, 4) It is also known as the Peace Pine or Peace Tree. The Yamaki family had a nursery and lived 2 or so miles away from the hypocenter. The tree and the home may have been protected by a large wall. None in the Yamaki family were killed, although several were injured by flying glass.
I read Matsuda’a article with added interest that day and learned that he had been seeking a connection with his long-gone family members, hoping to find “an heirloom, a letter, a bracelet”. (2) What he found were trees, specifically Gingko trees. Some of those trees also survived the blast and still live today. He explained that human survivors of the atomic bomb are called hibakusha in Japanese. The surviving trees are called hibakujumoko. Quoting from the article:
Hideko Tamura Snider, a hibakusha from Hiroshima, was 10 years old when the bomb killed her mother, her best friend and many of her relatives. In 2003 she moved to Oregon, and in 2017 she partnered with Green Legacy Hiroshima — an organization that cares for the hibakujumoku — to bring seeds of the surviving ginkgo trees to the United States. Ms. Snider planted the seeds, 51 in total, and called them “Hiroshima peace trees.”
In a 2019 interview with NBC’s Klamath Falls station, Ms. Snider reflected: “I can’t grow my mother. I can’t grow my cousin. But the tree, I could.” (2)
In his New York Times article, Matsuda goes on to explain that he has visited the “peace trees” in Oregon, “watering them and feeling their notched leaves. I thank them for being here and let them know that I am here too”. (2)
Green Legacy Hiroshima (GLH), a global volunteer campaign, was “established to safeguard and spread worldwide the seeds and saplings of Hiroshima A-Bomb survivor trees”.(5) Created in 2011 by two friends, Nassrine Azimi and Tomoko Watanabe, “GLH shares worldwide the double message of caution and hope that the survivor trees represent…recalling on the one hand the dangers of arms of mass destruction and nuclear weapons in particular, and on the other hand the sacred character of mankind and the resilience of nature”. As a small non-profit, GLH sends seeds to institutional (not individual) partners, such as universities or botanical gardens where the long-term care of the trees can be assured. GLH has compiled a list of 62 still surviving trees that have been documented to have survived the blast. The list includes a wide variety of species, not simply Gingko or Pine trees. The entire list and information about them can be accessed below in references. (6)
A final note regarding efforts to promote peace. The 49th meeting of the G-7 group of industrialized nations is taking place at the end of May in Hiroshima, Japan. While seen by many as a group with mainly financial concerns (often drawing “anti-globalization” protesters to its previous meetings), the G-7 nations “share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and human rights”. (7) G-7 member Japan is hosting this year’s meeting and the choice of Hiroshima was intentional and significant..
Prime Minister Kishida states that as the world is facing an unprecedented crisis by aggression against Ukraine and the growing risk of use of weapons of mass destruction, at the G7 Hiroshima Summit in 2023, Japan would like to demonstrate G7’s strong determination to categorically deny military aggressions, any threats of nuclear weapons, as well as attempts to overthrow the international order with historical significance. From such viewpoints, the Government of Japan decided to host the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, considering Hiroshima as the most fitting location to express its commitment to peace.
At the occasion of the G7 Hiroshima Summit, the leaders of the G7 will get acquainted with the realities of the nuclear weapon use and share their desire for peace. Japan hopes that it will solidify steps toward achieving a world without nuclear weapons. Furthermore, by showing the world the strength of Hiroshima’s recovery from the atomic bombing, Japan can once again emphasize preciousness of peace.From the G-7 website (7)
May you keep the “spirit of bonsai”, bonsai no kokoro, in your heart always.
Happy World Bonsai Day 2023!
- World Bonsai Friendship Federation website, accessed 5/12/2023 http://www.wbffbonsai.com/
- New York Times website, accessed 5/12/2023 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/05/opinion/hiroshima-japan-trees.html
- Repotting the World Famous Yamaki Pine – National Bonsai Foundation https://www.bonsai-nbf.org/blog-archive/2020/4/2/repotting-the-world-famous-yamaki-pine
- The Bonsai Tree that Survived the Bombing of Hiroshima Smithsonian Magazine https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/390-year-old-tree-survived-bombing-hiroshima-180956157/
- Green Legacy Hiroshima https://glh.unitar.org
- Detailed list of Hiroshima Survivor Trees https://glh.unitar.org/en/trees-in-hiroshima/.
- G-7 Meeting Hiroshima website acceded 5/12/2023 https://www.g7hiroshima.go.jp/en/summit/about/
Copyright 2023, Walter J. Scott MD