In 1976, bonsai master Masaru Yamaki donated a bonsai tree as part of Japan’s Bicentennial gift to the United States. Today, the bonsai tree is 390 years old. Jack Sustic, the curator of the Bonsai and Penjing Museum, put the dedication to this tree into context.

“One of the things that makes it so special is, if you imagine, somebody has attended to that tree every day since 1625,” Sustic told the Washington Post. “I always like to say bonsai is like a verb. It’s not a noun; it’s doing.”

It’s amazing to think someone dedicated a portion of every day to taking care of this one tree since 1625. And, this isn’t even the improbable part of the tree’s story.

It’s what happened on a terrible day 70 years ago. On August 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m. an atomic bomb exploded over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. About two miles away was the Yamaki family’s compound. The horrific explosion blew out all the glass windows in the Yamaki home, but no one inside the house suffered permanent injuries.

The great old Japanese white pine bonsai donated by Masaru Yamaki sat on benches in a walled nursery right beside the home. This particular bonsai tree and several others also were not harmed by the blast. The tall wall around the nursery is credited with shielding the bonsai trees from much of the blast.

The bonsai tree’s incredible story wasn’t known until two grandsons of the late Masaru Yamaki visited the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in March 2001. The pair had never seen the bonsai tree in-person but knew of it from family stories and photographs.

At the time, museum curator Warren Hill invited Shigeru Yamaki and his brother Akira to lunch. Shigeru and Akira explained the bonsai tree’s incredible journey to the United States.

Did you know?

Bonsai isn’t a type of tree. Anything with a woody trunk can be turned into a bonsai.

Also, you’re probably saying it wrong. Bonsai is pronounced BONE-sigh, not BAHN-sigh.

The oldest bonsai trees are over 1,000 years old. The Ficus Bonsai tree below is more than a thousand years old according to Bonsai Empire.

Ficus bonsai tree

The bonsai tree below is around 800 years old and is displayed at the Shunka-en Bonsai nursery in central Tokyo.

bonsai tree 800 years old

Walk through the incredible nursery in the video below.

Featured image credit: U.S. National Arboretum


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