John Naka


National Bonsai & Penjing Museum   Washington, D.C.

John Y. Naka North American Pavilion

“Goshin”  Naka’s masterpiece

translates as protector of the spirit

 Juniperus chinensis ‘Foemina’ | Foemina Juniper 
Donor: John Y. Naka | In Training Since 1953

 

 

John Naka is the godfather of American Bonsai.

John was born on a farm outside Denver Colorado in 1914. When he was 8 years old his family returned to their ancestral home in Japan to take care of his grandparents. John became very close to his grandfather who taught him bonsai and philosophy. John later studied landscape design before returning to farm in Colorado before the outbreak of WWII.

By 1946 John had tired of farming and moved his wife and 3 sons to Los Angles to practice landscaping and specialized in Japanese gardens. It was here where John began to create his own bonsai. Soon after, John and a few friends formed the Southern California Bonsai Club (later to become the Southern California Bonsai Society) and he began teaching, giving demonstrations and eventually wrote two bonsai books that are regarded by many as the definitive English language books on bonsai (later translated into French, German, Italian, and Spanish). John Naka has received numerous awards including The Fifth Class of the Order of the Rising Sun from Emperor Hirohito of Japan.

National Bonsai & Penjing Museum  Washington, D.C.

John Y. Naka North American Pavilion

Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) One of Naka’s first bonsai.

 

 

This Christmas my wife Michelle and daughter Kristin gifted me John Naka’s two books, Bonsai Techniques and Bonsai Techniques II. I devoured these books instantly and will refer to them on a regular basis. I was astonished to find in Techniques II a reference to trunk fusion. Naka writes,  “Several honeysuckle vines were fused together to form this entwined trunk KARAME-MIKI. Multiple trunks growing together and growing as one.” The accompanying photo shows a well-developed honeysuckle bonsai with a gnarly twisted trunk. He describes the technique along with a drawing of the honeysuckle trunk, as winding several vines around an interesting branch, “After several years the branch inside will rot away and eventually the vines will fuse together”. Published in 1982 this is the earliest reference to trunk fusion I have found, predating Doug Philips Trident trunk fusion by 11 years.

We now fuse trunks a little differently, substituting wire frames for interesting branches and use tree seedlings instead of vines, but the technique is still basically the same.

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