The Father of Modern Bonsai in Japan, Part III

This Page Last Updated: January 27, 2013

Early Years
1967 through 1991

       After Kyuzo Murata's death, Isamu took over the job of organizing a group of growers and going to the Palace to care for the Imperial Collection, and also of running Kyuka-en, dealing in bonsai, plant pots, tools, and fertilizer.

       An Internet website was established for Kyuka-en in 1998,  Examining the text and photos in the "Celebrities" section reveals some of the significance of the nursery during the twentieth century.  (Click on the "Celebrities" button and look at the entry for "IWASAKI Koyata" to see what Murata's appearance was in 1938.)
       Also this year, Mainichi Shinbunsha (Mainichi Newspapers) published a collection of photographs of the Imperial Collection of bonsai pots, under the title Koshitu no Bonki.  Isamu categorized the Imperial Collection of pots, naming each pot, and writing comments for this book.

       A posthumous work, Bonsai, Nature in Miniature, was published by Shufunotomo Ltd. and Japan Publications in the year 2000.  Isamu Murata is listed as co-author with Kyuzo Murata of this book, essentially a significantly revised and updated version of the 1964 Bonsai: Miniature Potted Trees.  Many new color and b&w photographs and line drawings are to be found in this step-by-step work.

       In an article on pages 36-39 of the #3 issue of International Bonsai this year -- "Some Thoughts on Displaying Bonsai" (originally published in 1982 and translated by Craig W. Risser), Kyuzo Murata was noted as saying that bonsai need a depth for exhibiting of about 24".  He said that individual spaces in the National Bonsai Exhibition / Kokufuten displays were ~80" (or 2 meters) wide in 1982, but before the war they were ~120" (or 3 meters) wide.  He further noted that in the Kokufuten before it moved to Ueno Art Museum, bonsai on exhibit were primarily cascade or semi-cascade and were placed on tall stands or naturally carved stands.  Immediately after the war, cascade-style bonsai and stands were thought too difficult to transport as well as being difficult to grow.  He thought the interest in the cascade style was re-emerging in 1982.

        (On May 1, 2001, Kita-ku (lit. "North ward" where the Bonsai-mura is) and the rest of Ōmiya city were merged with the neighboring cities of Urawa and Yono to form the city of Saitama.)

        (In October 2002, an 80th anniversary event was held commemorating the establishment of Ōmiya Bonsai Village.)

        (On 1 April, 2003, Saitama city became the 13th city designated by government ordinance, Kita-ku being sectored as well as eight other wards.  Saitama is the prefectural capital located in the southeastern area of Saitama Prefecture.)

        Fumi Murata died in September 2004. 

        (On April 1, 2005, Saitama merged with the city of Iwatsuki to its east, which then became the tenth ward of Saitama City.)

        (As of 1 July, 2006 the population of the 217.49 sq km Saitama City was 1,182,115 persons.)

        To the question "About how many visitors to Kyukaen are there every year, and about what percentage of them are not Japanese?" Yukio sent the following response in July 2007:
        "The number of visitors is very small now.  Probably around 500 a year.  Of them, about 20% are not Japanese.  Saitama city's recent policy to publicize Bonsai Village as a tourist spot results in only increasing the number of visitors who are not at all interested in bonsai.  To keep a quiet atmosphere for real enthusiasts, we have put down the signboard and locked the gate for over 10 years.  But we always open the gate on request regardless of the closing day of Bonsai Village and Kyukaen is the only bonsai garden in Bonsai Village which has never put up a sign 'No shooting photos'."
        In response to a follow-up question, Yukio elaborated in late August:
        "From July 28th to August 27th, we had 73 visitors including 31 from outside Japan.  (This period, the number of foreign visitors was rather large.)"

        Isamu Murata was still alive as of early 2010, "so healthy as to walk his dog everyday."  His wife Rumiko was alive also.  Their son, Yukio, is engaged in garden keeping and small transaction of business, but is not the third generation of Kyuka-en.  He, however, does not deny the future possibility of his involvement.  Isamu told an interviewer "Traditional bonsai is important, but it no longer suits modern homes.  And that's why we handle exotic plants and garden plants, any kind of plant at all.  I'm trying to introduce new ways of enjoying bonsai that mesh with the modern lifestyle."  Although Kyuka-en no longer functions as a typical bonsai nursery, it still opens its doors to visitors and it has many interesting trees. 18

        (As of 1 January, 2009 the population of the 16.91 sq km Kita Ward was 137,205 persons.) 19

See also this on-line article in Italian, "Spirito del Bonsai,"

And episode #3 of Lindsay Farr's World of Bonsai at the 5:05 mark.

A segment on Kyuku-en, including the above statement by Isamu Murata and close-ups of a few trees, can be found on this Omiya Bonsai video starting at the 3:00 mark.  (The first few minutes show pictures from the earlier days of Ōmiya.)

A series of photos of trees from Kyuku-en can be found on this French site, (, and others on this German site, (


  Murata, Kyuzo  Bonsai: Miniature Potted Trees (Tokyo: Shufunotomo Co., Ltd., 1964), pg. 115; "The Passing Of A Bonsai Master, Kyuzo Murata," International Bonsai, International Bonsai Arboretum, 1991/No. 4, pg. 41; Busch, Noel F., "The Lilliputian World of the Bonsai", The Reader's Digest, September 1967, pg. 184.  (RJB has a special place in his heart for this 6-page article, an original copy of which resides in our files.)  Busch also wrote the 1962 Simon and Schuster book, Two Minutes to Noon, about the 1923 Tokyo earthquake which, among many other things, resulted in the creation of the Bonsai Village at Ōmiya in 1925; Personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 21 Dec 2004 and 22 Apr 2006; "Hikawa Shrine (Saitama)"; "Kita Ward"; "About us: Kyukaen,", accessed 20 Aug 2001 and re-accessed 18 Dec 2004 with revised URL, which gives 1929 as the establishment date for Kyukaen.

  Murata, Kyuzo  "The Early Days of Ezo Spruce Bonsai," International Bonsai, IBA, 1990/No. 2, pp. 14-17, pg. 15 with b&w photo of the group planting; Tayson, Dr. Juyne, "Bonsai Personality -- Kyuzo Murata", International Bonsai Digest Bicentennial Edition (Los Angeles: International Bonsai Digest, 1976), pg. 94; Nozaki, Shinobu  Dwarf Trees (Bonsai) (Tokyo: Sanseido Company, Ltd., 1940), pg. 34; Masakuni Kawasumi's Bonsai with American Trees, pg. 7; Kawasumi's Bonsai Tools and User's Manual (1979, seventh edition, 1989), inside front cover and pg. 5.  How did Murata come to care for the Imperial trees -- was it, perhaps, by way of introduction from Kato-san?  Until the Meiji period quote from "Shiny blades," Bonsai Focus, 132/109, 2/2011 Mar/Apr, pg. 70, originally published in Kinbon magazine and translated by Peter Warren; "The Passing Of A Bonsai Master, Kyuzo Murata," pg. 41; Personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 30 Aug 2007; Per a review by Cheryl Owens of the book The Imperial Bonsai of Japan in the Fall 1977 issue of the Bonsai Journal, American Bonsai Society, pg. 66, in 1926 there were more than 5,000 bonsai in the possession of the Imperial Palace, compared with about 600 in 1976; Japanese horticulture article per Yukio Murata in personal e-mail correspondance to RJB on 07/24/2007, which includes the note "But it is highly probable that there is an [older] article before this."

  "Ōmiya Bonsai Village"; Busch's article, pp. 184-185, which on the former page states "That bonsai growing survived Japan's dark days during World War II must be credited almost entirely to Murata."; Tayson's article, pg. 13, which states that "only Murata San was allowed to continue as a bonsai entrepreneur, because he was the official entrusted to care for the Imperial Bonsai Collection."; Nippon Bonsai Association's Classic Bonsai of Japan (Tokyo: Kodansha International; 1989), pg. 154; Heffelfinger, George  "A Practical Guide to Independent Bonsai Rambling in Japan," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer 1982, pg. 37; Fukumoto, David W. "Saburo Kato: The Gentle Spirit of International Bonsai and Peace," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 22, No. 4, Winter 1988, pg. 6 states that the Katos at their Ōmiya nursery were criticized for taking care of bonsai during the war; Personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 21 Dec 2004; "About us: Kyukaen,", accessed 20 Aug 2001 and re-accessed 18 Dec 2004 with revised URL.

  Busch's article, pp. 185-186.  Where and when was Mercier's article[s] published?  Our researches have not yet tracked it down; Kempinski, Robert  "Trip to Japan," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 2004, pg. 26, which also states that the current Imperial collection contains over 1,000 trees; "About us: Kyukaen,", accessed 20 Aug 2001 and re-accessed 18 Dec 2004 with revised URL; Personal e-mail from Yukio Murata to RJB on 16 Dec 2004.

"Dear sir,

I am a grand son of Kyuzo Murata, the founder of Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden.

I am always deeply impressed at your detailed history on my grandfather.

In your article, I found an episode about Leo R. Ball of the U.S. Navy, who
visited us shortly after World War II.

I attached the image of Mr. Ball's comment on our Visitors' Book.  If you
are interested, please feel free to use it in your web site.

With best regards.

Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden


The date "Showa 20.11.24" works out to be Saturday, Nov. 24, 1945, per NengoCalc.  This was 101 days after the surrender of Japan.

  Personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 21 Dec 2004; Murata, Four Seasons, dustjacket notes; "Yuji Yoshimura: A Memorial Tribute To A Bonsai Master & Pioneer" by William N. Valavanis, International Bonsai, IBA, 1998/No. 1, pg. 31; Murata, Bonsai, pg. 115; "Shiny blades," pg. 70; "Ōmiya Bonsai Village"; Scholtz, Elizabeth  "Japanese Beginnings at Brooklyn Botanic Garden," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 13, No. 1, Spring 1979, pp. 5-7. "In consultation with George S. Avery"; "About us: Kyukaen,", accessed 20 Aug 2001 and re-accessed 18 Dec 2004 with revised URL. 

  Personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 21 Dec 2004 and 30 Aug 2007; Perry, Lynn   Bonsai, front biographical information; Bonsai Journal, ABS, Spring 1987, pg. 7; "History of Bonsai East" by Dorothy S. Young, International Bonsai Digest presents Bonsai Gems (Los Angeles: International Bonsai Digest, 1974), pp. 92; Per "The Catalyst" by Dorothy S. Young (Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer 1974, pg. 40), Perry was introduced by Kaname Kato to Kyuzo Murata.  Kaname Kato, "a quiet Japanese gentleman, a scholar, and horticulturist," was also the one who introduced Dr. John L. Creech to bonsai  in 1955 during one of the latter's plant exploration travels to Asia.  Creech, later as Director of the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., subsequently worked to establish the National Bonsai Collection there, with Kato-san serving as an intermediary between Dr. Creech and the Japan Bonsai Society.  Per personal e-mail correspondance between Dr. Creech and RJB on 26 Nov 1999, Kaname Kato is not related to Tomikichi (and Saburo, Hideo, et al) Kato.

  Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1967, pp. 3-5 and Summer 1987, pg. 6; Stowell, Jerald  "People, Place, Plants, Revisted," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 23, No. 3, Fall 1989, pg. 10; Stowell, Jerald  "The 30th Anniversary of ABS," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring 1997, pp. 4-7, b&w photo from pg. 4; Hurd, Jill  "Interview with a Legend, Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 31, No. 4, Winter 1997, pp. 145-147; "Maxson, Bob  "Japan Visited," Bonsai, BCI, Vol. VII, No. 4, May 1968, pp. 10-11; Lucas, Becky  "A Summer in Japan," Bonsai, BCI, Vol. VII, No. 3, March 1968, pp. 8-9; Today Ōmiya quote from Busch, pg. 186.

  Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 2, No. 2, pg. 19.

  O'Connell, Jean  "The Art of Bonsai," Science Digest, March 1970, pp. 36-37; Avery, George S. "'Fudo' Comes to America," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1971, pp. 3-5.  In the quote, "as if" has emphasis added by RJB because of personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 30 Aug 2007, Kyuzo and Fumi "didn't have a single child".  The cover of that ABS issue is a b&w photo of the tree.  The b&w photo by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, reproduced here, is from pg. 3; Color photographs courtesy of Yukio Murata in personal e-mail correspondance to RJB on 24 Jul 2007; Keibun Tanaka apparently was a renowned numismatist, per pg. 142 of and pg. 8 of  Was Tanaka the fearful oil magnate?  If not, then there was another transaction with Fudo which was not recorded in the source article.  See also Tanaka photo at

10    "Old Juniper," New Yorker, November 7, 1970, pp. 37-38; shows the lower foliage quote per Tayson's article, pg. 13; She departed quote per Kyuzo Murata in Bonsai Journal, ABS, Summer 1987, pg. 7; Color photographs courtesy of Yukio Murata in personal e-mail correspondance to RJB on 24 Jul 2007; "Fudo -- Dead But Living," Bonsai, BCI, Oct 1976, Vol. XV, No. 8, pg. 254; memorial ceremony per

11    Murata, "The Early Days" article, introduction, which also states Murata authored several Japanese texts and was "the advisor to several organizations and the Imperial Bonsai Collection."  The latter seems to imply that he no longer was directly caring for those marvelous trees -- who was and what sort of apprenticeship program and/or "resumé" was required for that position?; personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 24 Dec 2004.

12    Itinerary Brochure for this trip.  In the spring of 1970, the first Japanese edition of the Japan Bonsai Society's Nippon Bonsai Taikan (Grand View of Japanese Bonsai and Nature in Four Seasons) was published.  The ninety page English book, translated by Yuji Yoshimura and Samuel H. Beach and published in August 1972, included a small b&w photo of each original color one in the 352 page Japanese edition, along with a rendering of most of the text.  On page 324 of the Japanese (pg. 81 of the English) can be found a picture of Kyuka-en.  The conical thatched roof of the workshop behind the many orderly rows of bonsai catches one's eye.  The edge of the roof is visible in the upper right corner of the first picture in Busch's article (reproduced above); Personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 30 Aug 2007; Catalog per

13    Stowell, Guide, pg. 83, and Murata's Foreword to on pg. 7; NY Times quote per "Kyuzo Murata in U.S.," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 9, No. 3, Fall 1975, pg. 64; Banting, Vaughn "A Photographic Essay: The Trials And Tribulations Of A Juniper Cascade," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 28, No. 3, Fall 1994, pg. 87; Murata's address to ABS was reprinted as "Spirit of Bonsai," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 1987, pp. 6-7; a similar version of his talk was published as "Spirit of Bonsai," Bonsai Magazine, BCI, October 1975, pp. 243-245, with the additional note "From Jim Barrett, President of BCI, Translated by Mike M. Miyano."  Other convention details are on pp. 256-257.  Color photo from inside back cover of dust jacket of Kawasumi's Bonsai with American Trees.

14    Murata, "The Early Days" article, pg. 17 with b&w photo; Photo of signatures courtesy of Alan Walker, 11 May 2007; "Tokyo -- Oct. '77," ABStracts, ABS, Vol. 6, No. 1, February 1978, pg. 2; Hurd, "Interview" article, pg. 147; Tsukiyama, Ted T.  "An Odyssey to Our Bonsai Roots," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 13, No. 3, Fall 1979, pg. 64; Reed, William  "Japan -- Day One, The ABS Tour to Japan," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 12, No. 4, Winter 1979, pg. 85; Cunningham, Leo  "My Impressions of Japan, Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 12, No.2, Summer 1978, pg. 39.

15    Heffelfinger, pp. 34, 36, 37; Snyder, Janet  "Tree twister: Master gives key to bonsai," Arizona Republic, Feb. 22, 1987, page not noted; Murata, Four Seasons in Bonsai (Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd.), dustjacket notes.

16    Photographs courtesy of Yukio Murata in personal e-mail correspondance to RJB on 05 Jan 2005, which included these lines: "As for my father [Isamu], he has a strong belief that a grower should be a hidden existence.  He often describes himself not as an artist, not as an artisan, but a "watering hand".  He thinks what should appear in the world is trees, not the grower, so his photographs seldom appear in the magazines or books even in Japan." ; "The Passing Of A Bonsai Master, Kyuzo Murata," pg. 41; Bonsai Journal, ABS, Spring 1992, pg. 28; Snyder's article states that the garden is 38,000 square-feet in size, only about 58% of what one-and-a-half acres would be (65,340 square-feet).  Does the acre-and-a-half include the house and other not-strictly-garden constructions?

17    "The Trees - Kate Bowditch" in "Books" by Max Braverman and Kate Bowditch, Bonsai Journal, ABS, Spring 1992, pg. 28.  A review of Four Seasons in Bonsai, which also includes "The Pots - Max Braverman."

18    Personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 21 Dec 2004, who also stated that Kyuzo was not related to the prolific bonsai authors and editors Keiji and Kenji Murata.  ("Murata is a common family name."); Personal e-mail correspondance between Yukio Murata and RJB on 24 Dec 2004 and 22 Apr 2006; "Kita-ku, Saitama"; "Ōmiya, Saitama"; "Saitama, Saitama"; "Profile of Saitama City"; "Saitama, Saitama"; Murata, Bonsai, Nature in Miniature, dustjacket notes, which give the date of Kyuzo Murata's death as 1993; Per conversation RJB had with Jerry Stowell during the International Scholarly Symposium on Bonsai and Viewing Stones, 18 May 2002, Washington, D.C., this son was an adopted apprentice.  (This latest book was first seen by RJB in Feb. 2002 and no mention of Isamu had been seen prior to this.); Chris Cochrane in posting to the Internet Bonsai Club, Aug. 7, 2003 ; "About us: Kyukaen,", accessed 20 Aug 2001 and re-accessed 18 Dec 2004 with revised URL; Per Yukio Murata in personal e-mail correspondance to RJB on 24 Jul 2007 and 30 Aug 2007; "Bonsai Blog," Aug. 15, 2012,

19    "Kita Ward"

A Portuguese translation of this biography from April 2012 with additional photos was discovered in September by us at   It lists footnote numbers but without the actual notes.

Early Years
1967 through 1991

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