Profile: Masahiko Kimura
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Author:  Dorothy Schmitz [ Fri Jan 26, 2007 2:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Profile: Masahiko Kimura

Profile: Masahiko Kimura
Masahiko Kimura on stage in Munich 2004
Photograph by Walter Pall

Masahiko Kimura needs no introduction as almost every bonsaist in the world recognizes his name and his bonsai. His work has graced the pages of many major publications, his trees have won such prestigious honors such as the Prime Minister award, and he has given countless demonstrations around the world.

A Japanese native, his teenage years was spent, by the wishes of his mother, as a apprentice under a bonsai master (He wanted to be a rock and roll musician). After working in the horticultural field, his work was featured in Kindai Shuppan, where his incredible skill with carving deadwood quickly made him well known in the bonsai community. While his work was at first highly controversial, his energy and vision soon became as respected as his art.

Dorothy Schmitz, one of our newer editors here at AoB, contacted Henry Robbins,Treasurer of BSF (Bonsai Societies of Florida) and Louise Leister (President BSF) and arranged for them to take a list of interview questions the AoB team had prepared for a Masahiko Kimura profile, with them to the Sacramento convention.

She also contacted Dennis Makishima and Paul de Rose and asked them to assist in getting the interview. Once the questions were in Califonia, they were translated beforehand for Kimura by Ryan Neil (4 Y apprentiship) who did a remarkable job considering many of the questions were theoretical and some beyound the grasp of the language he had.

To our amazement our questions were also read outloud during the Sacramento convention at which a co-founder of AoB, Attila Soos, was in attendance. Attila found out that the interview, amonst many other things, was to be included in a DvD being produced by George Rogers.

Below is a combination of the interview questions as complied by the AoB team as well as questions that Attila Soos, and other convention participants, had asked directly of Kimura the day before. The first part of these are our questions and direct quotations transcribed from the DvD. The second part are questions by Attila Soos (and others), and approximate answers (no recordings are advailable) by Kimura.

The following is an live interview conducted with Masahiko Kimura:

AoB: What was your first encounter with bonsai? Can you recall your first impressions? How did you get involved with it?

Kimura When I was 15, I started working as an apprentice in Omiya bonsai village. My mother was the driving force in this endeavor, she asked me to go and study. I studied for 11 years at my master's place in Omiya. My father died when I was 11.

AoB: Who was your master, or did you study on your own?

Kimura Hamano sensei was the master I studied with.

AoB: How do you think bonsai is going to change in the next decade or so?

Kimura I've traveled in many countries, doing presentations and demonstrations. It is apparent that bonsai is growing in awareness in most of the countries, except may be a few in the Middle East. But it is up to the individual countries to take it upon themselves to improve and get to the next level. The essential thing is to have leaders in these countries: without these leaders, there won't be anybody to carry the torch.

For instance, I went to China two times this year. China is a place where there is a lot of money coming in at the present time from exports. Some people with money are buying bonsai from all around the world, so there are lots of great trees coming in. But the problem is that there are not enough experts who know how to properly maintain them.

Kimura in Munich 2006
Photograph by Walter Pall

AoB: Do you see any new innovations happening in the world of bonsai these days?

Kimura I don't see anything that I find particularly new. In fact, I even see some shrinkage in terms of variety. Bonkei and saikei were much more prevalent in the past then they are today. So, there may be that the art is becoming a little bit narrowed down.

Every country should see bonsai differently, since bonsai is something that can be easily linked to one's own culture. So, I would like to see each country develop its own style and people express their own feelings about nature. It would be exciting to me if I saw something new to look at.

AoB: Do you study other art forms beside bonsai?

Kimura I have hobbies outside bonsai (he draws a lot, and they are pretty good drawings - Ryan's remark), but I don't really study anything but bonsai.

AoB: One of the problems the owner of a bonsai collector faces here in this country is how to pass the trees on to the next generation. What do you recommend as the ideal solution to this problem?

KimuraIn Japan, there are a lot of trees passed down from generation to generation. It is important that there are apprentices who can take care of those trees. So, education is the solution: we need to teach the future generations how to approach and handle those trees that have been passed down to them.

AoB: How do you feel about being called "The Magician"?

Kimura I am very flattered that people look at my trees as the works of a magician. But I don't really care for the title.

AoB: What is your advice to those of us who are far below your level of skills?

Kimura You must have the original desire to improve yourself. If the desire is not there, I can say whatever I want, it won't make a difference. The desire has to come from within. If you really want to improve, you need to become very serious about practicing it. Action should take precedence before talking. Doing it, is what will make it happen.

AoB: What is the thought process behind creating a tree on a demo like this? How do you decide which way to go?

Kimura When I look at a raw tree, an image of a finished tree comes to my mind fairly quickly. And this original picture is pretty much the one I go for during the design work that follows. But sometimes, I have no clue (says laughingly).

The questions above are an abbreviated version of the list of questions that AoB sent Masahiko Kimura, as not all of the questions were translated and asked of him. Below are a few more questions that were asked of master Kimura at the Sacramento convention. AoB's own Attila Soos tried to capture the message, but there is little chance that the exact words are the same, since these are Attila's recollections without actually recording the master.

Kimura admiring tree of Eliza Mannin in Munich 2004
Photograph by Walter Pall

AoB: How do you feel about using rocks for accessories in a formal display?

A.S. on Kimura Master Kimura expressed his displeasure about seeing rocks as a companion element next to a bonsai tree. He would much prefer using grasses or any other type of live plant instead. The art of displaying rocks is a world to itself, so if we are not experts in that particular art form, we would do much better if we worked with live plants instead. Rock collecting is a nice hobby, but when it comes to bonsai display, we should leave the hobby aside and get serious.

AoB: How do you decide whether or not you would carve new deadwood on a collected tree?

A.S. on Kimura There are trees that display great natural deadwood that was already shaped and carved by nature. When he encounters such a tree with natural deadwood, the goal is to preserve and display its natural beauty with the least intervention possible. In such a case, he would never think about trying to "improve" it with more carving. He used as examples the California junipers. Some of them have remarkable natural deadwood, and we should try to preserve them in their natural state, without getting too fancy.

On the other hand, there are trees that will never make great bonsai without some extensive carving. These are great candidates for the type of carving work that he does.

AoB: Do you approve grafting onto certain species new foliage from another, related species, in order to improve its aesthetic qualities? An example would be, to graft Shimpaku (Juniperus chinensis) foliage onto a collected California juniper or San Jose juniper.

A.S. on Kimura Some people prefer to preserve the original character of the species. But Kimura believes that certain species possess qualities that are far more superior for bonsai than others. Therefore, such a grafting can only improve the result, in his opinion.

AoB: Do you believe that the quality of bonsai exhibits in California has improved since the earliest times that you started coming here?

A.S. on Kimura Although he acknowledges that we can see many great trees on these exhibits, some of them even worthy of the famous Kokufu-Ten exhibit, more attention should be paid to exhibiting only the absolute best trees. In Japan, anything less is embarrassing.

Author:  Walter Pall [ Sat Jan 27, 2007 9:27 am ]
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sure we all can only agree to your statements.

Author:  Peter Evans [ Sat Jan 27, 2007 3:57 pm ]
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I have to totaly agree with Mark, this guy is remarkable.If we could only achieve 50% of his vision, we could all be so much better. Peter.

Author:  Rob Kempinski [ Sun Jan 28, 2007 10:08 am ]
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Congratulations to the Art of Bonsai for this scoop. What a great interview. I particularly related to his comment about bonsai in other countries and the need for them to "take it upon themselves to improve and get to the next level." I also appreciated his comment about leadership.
Good job guys.

Author:  Shaukat Islam [ Tue Jan 30, 2007 1:06 pm ]
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I had always wanted to know more about Kimura. Although his replies were very brief and specific, it was good reading. There's no denying the fact that 'doing it' with seriousness is what it takes to attain maturity and improvement. And of course, it should come from within........
Rob, I agree with you on your comment on international bonsai.
Thanks to the AoB team for the wonderful job.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue Jan 30, 2007 1:15 pm ]
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Thank you guys, I wish that we could have produced an interview twice as long. But you know how it is with people of Kimura's stature: it is not easy to get in his inner circles and get him talk to you about himself. It's almost impossible. But any glimpse we can get is a treat. So, I am glad that we managed to scratch the surface of his genious.

Author:  Mike Page [ Thu Feb 01, 2007 6:26 pm ]
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I found Kimura's statements very interesting, especially the following.

AoB: Do you see any new innovations happening in the world of bonsai these days?
Kimura I don't see anything that I find particularly new. In fact, I even see some shrinkage in terms of variety. Bonkei and saikei were much more prevalent in the past then they are today. So, there may be that the art is becoming a little bit narrowed down.

I don't see near the interest in saikei and other types of landscape plantings that there used to be. I don't know why this is, and I think it's a shame that so many bonsaiists are missing out on an important and pleasurable facet of the art.

Years ago, I had the good fortune to be able to take workshops from practiioners of the art such as Melba Tucker and Tom Yamamoto. I still very much value the teaching and influence of these two masters.

They are gone, but certainly not forgotten.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:32 pm ]
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I agree with you, Mike about the disappearance of ladscape plantings.
I suspect that the reason is this: there is a prevailing trend in today's bonsai that I would call the "abstractisation" of bonsai.

This trend may be new, but the concept is age-old. It perfectly fits the taste of minimalistic representation of literati bonsai, and zen art (wabi-sabi) in general.

So, the result is that realistic representations are met with suspicion, and sometimes accused of creating Kitsch. Abstract art is always "safe". Realism, or romanticism creates a shaky ground for the artist, so he/she usually prefers to stay away from it.

Therefore, landscapes, with tiny mountains, rocks, valleys, and lakes are increasingly becoming taboo...except when done with an extreme level of skills, such as the case of the Chinese master Zhao.

In other cases, such as with Walter Pall, his neo-realistic trees are called outrageous. He can get away with it, but not the rest of us.
So, playing "safe" is the name of the game. And this leads to the "narrowing down" of the art that Kimura talks about.

(I forgot to mention Nick Lenz, he is the other guy who doesn't need to play safe)

Author:  Shaukat Islam [ Sun Feb 04, 2007 5:21 am ]
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Attila, I don't know why Walter's neo-realistic trees were termed 'outrageous' by some. Looking at his works, I find them to be very interesting indeed. And he can get away with it not because he is Walter Pall but because the trees he had designed looks good and are balanced from an aesthetic point of view.

I don't know why do we have to play 'safe'. Bonsai is an art form, and every artist can have his own particular style, not necessarily always conforming to set standards.

Looking at the Kokufu-ten albums, I came across many trees classified as masterpieces which do not fit into the typical classical style. All I can say is if the tree one designs has a nice movement and overall balance, it does not matter who says what but a natural artist would never like to play 'safe' while creating bonsai.


Author:  Attila Soos [ Mon Feb 05, 2007 11:50 am ]
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Hi Shaukat,
I agree with you on all points, and I hope that more and more people in the bonsai world share your views.

Author:  Mike Page [ Mon Feb 05, 2007 1:57 pm ]
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Shaukat Islam wrote:
I don't know why do we have to play 'safe'. Bonsai is an art form, and every artist can have his own particular style, not necessarily always conforming to set standards.

Shaukat, you take the viewpoint of a reasonable man, and I for one appreciate that. There's too often a querulous tone to internet discourse, which doesn't honor the art.
In the House of Art there are many, many rooms.

Author:  Will Heath [ Tue Nov 27, 2007 7:47 am ]
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It is interesting that Kimura feels that the art is somewhat "shrinking" as compared to the past.

Author:  Mark Arpag [ Tue Nov 27, 2007 11:33 am ]
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What are your thoughts reagarding Kimura's statements ?
I believe that he mentioned Bonkei and Saikei specifically because those versions of Bonsai are more rare today. I also sensed disapointment that there are few looking to new creative options or forms of Bonsai such as his unique slope composition. One of things I love about Kimura is that he does not abandon good design just because he is creating unique works of Art.
I take his words as a gentle challenge to try new things with Bonsai.

Author:  Will Heath [ Tue Nov 27, 2007 4:35 pm ]
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Hi Mark,
When asked directly if he sees any new innovations happening in the world of bonsai these days, Kimura answered that he doesn't see anything particularly new, he went on to say that in fact he notices some shrinkage in terms of variety. He then goes on to mention that Bonkei and saikei were much more prevalent in the past then they are today.

From my view, I see many innovations taking place in our age, from the naturalistic stylings, to the punk bonsai movement, to new species being used, to the escape from the confinements of a single front view, right up to a slight change from the common traditional minimalism and impressionism toward new abstract and modernistic forms.

However, I agree with you that his words may well be a gentle nudge designed to create innovation.


Author:  Will Heath [ Mon Jun 15, 2009 11:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Profile: Masahiko Kimura

I just re-read this interview and found myself finding thoughts I didn't see before, this man is truly an artist.


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