WBC8 Trip to Saitama, Japan, April 2017

June 22, 2017

On 21 April 2017, 23 South Africans boarded a flight to Tokyo Japan, for the 8th World Bonsai Convention. This is the biggest bonsai group to leave South Africa, ever. The following day, we arrived in Tokyo late in the afternoon. Clearing Customs was easy, except one of the travellers declared his prescribed medicines and was detained. We were not going to leave him behind, so the 22 of us waited,

outside the Customs Office. Of course this drew some attention from the Police. Luckily, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation was there to explain who we were, and that they were there to film us arriving in Japan. We were then elevated to the status of "Super Star".


Makiko, Nippon Bonsai Society's Secretary was also there and guided the group effortlessly to our "limousine Bus" and on to our hotel. WE were greeted with 2 remarkable bonsai displays in the hotel foyer.


The hotels were neat and clean, and to try and figure out how the toilets worked was an education. The seat heated up, you could adjust the sprayed water in every direction and had its flushing mechanism away from the toilet bowl. 


The following day, some of the other South Africans joined us to visit Kimura-san bonsai garden. We were now at 3l. The visit was indeed a privilege and was by invitation only. After a short trip in a bus, we arrived at Kimura's garden. I believe everyone was blown away by the quantity of quality trees. Tables, chairs, snacks and refreshments, were set outor his visitors, from far away.

The demonstration tree, that was prepared for Hannes Fritz, was introduced to him. As always in our hobby, there were 31 opinions of what to do with the 800 year old juniper. The TV news crew were also there to get Hannes' opinion. When Hannes suggested to Kimura what was to be done, Hannes was told that he could not cut one specific branch. This branch is now back in SA, and I have named it the "forbidden branch". It will soon be on display as one of the Bonsai Trophies.

The group then moved on to Omiya Bonsai Museum. Another remarkable place, with jaw dropping bonsai. We were welcomed by the curators of the Museum, but much was prohibited to photograph. The press was there and more interviews, photographs were given.  We then moved on back to our hotel and all went out to traditional Japanese supper. No shoes were worn and we sat on the floor. The beer was good, the food was shared and we all had a good time.    


The following day we went to Tokyo via the train, in peak hour at 7am. The train station reminded me of being in an ant farm. Thousands of people, wearing black and grey suites, going in every direction, with a purpose. Thank heavens that the SA group were wearing our white T-Shirts and stood out against the crowd. If the train was to arrive at 07h03, it was there, and gone by 07h04. The next train would come in 5 minutes. It was quite amazing to see that the Japanese did not wish to catch the next train in 5 minutes and would run, so as not to miss the train. There is little seating space and there are so many people on the train, that we were packed like sardines. No one talks, and all phones are turned to silent mode. Of course when the South Africans boarded, everyone could hear us, and our presence received a mix of frowns to being ignored.


 We then took the bullet train to Kyoto. Just under 500 km took us about 3 hrs, travelling up to speeds of 260km/h. This was a day of walking and walking. We must have walked 15km and with a group of 20, it is a miracle that only 2 got separated from the group. However with such an efficient railway system, we all found our way back. In Kyoto there are many temples and shrines dating back to 700AD. The zen gardens are raked to perfection. The garden are manicured continuously and the gardens of maples and azaleas lush with colour.


We then made our way back to Saitama, arriving late at night. 7 Eleven stores were still open and one could buy some beers here and share one's experience in the hotel rooms.  


The following day we were met by the Mayor of Saitama at Omiya Railway Station. Lots of press were there and many friends from around the world. There was also a bonsai display at the station. WBFF directors and consultants were separated from the SA group, but we all caught the bullet train north to Obuse to visit Shinji Suzuki.


Suzuki's nursery, is a must. Just inside the entrance are two pine trees that have been bonsai for over 800 years. He has many clever gadgets and concepts. There is not one weed and every tree is meticulously trimmed and displayed. We moved on to shrines and gardens, with histories dating back for centuries, while the SA group got treated for lunch by Suzuki-san.  


Denise, Lynne and myself, moved on to Kanazawa, while the SA group, returned to Saitima.  The following two days was sight seeing, with many shrines, temples and manicured gardens.


On Thursday, was the start of the Convention. There was a recorded message from the Prime Minister of Japan, dignitaries from around the world, Government ministers, many Mayors as well as the Emperor and Empress of Japan. The directors of WBFF from around the world were all introduced and also all the demonstrators. After many speeches, Kimura did a demonstration, depicting the Yellow Mountains in China.


We all then went to the opening ceremony where there was the Saki Barrel Ceremony. This involved hitting and opening a barrels of saki, and then toasting from a square wooden cup. There were more speeches and traditional dances. Then the Emperor and Empress joined us. They were very interested in Africa and spent a while talking about Africa. No photos were allowed. One of questions that the Emperor asked from me, was to whether we bonsaied "adonsonia digitata". He had clearly done his homework!


The following day, we were lucky enough to get in early into the Convention, as the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening ceremony was next. Some of us were able to photograph many trees, without the crowds. There were over 300 master pieces on display.


Hannes, Denise and Gary did their demonstration and did Africa proud. They were only given 2 hours, on a tree that needed two days. Hannes gave some facts about how trees grow in Africa, introducing the crowd to some different bonsai styles. When Kimura returned on stage, his first word were IIWOW". Peter Warren, the translator, was not sure whether that was a "good wow" or a "bad wow". After a while, it appeared that he was surprised at the transformation of the tree in only 2 hours. The press continued to interview Hannes for the next hour.




 One of the Japanese projects is "the 100 year plan", which requires children in Elementary School to start a bonsai, and graduate with the same bonsai 12 years later. There were hundreds of mami bonsai on display for the Elementary schools.


WBC8 finally came to an end on Sunday 30 April, with a Grand Finale, with traditional dancing and the venue on the next World Convention. It is being held in Perth Australia 2121. With the 34 odd South Africans who attended, I believe we as a region, are far better educated in looking at the possibility of hosting a World Convention? There were 45 513 attendees from 50 Nations.






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