John Naka

JOHN YOSHIO NAKA was born August 16 1914 in Ft. Lupton Colorado. When he was eight years old his parents decided to return to Japan to look after his father's elderly parents. John became very close to his grandfather and it was through him that John learned about bonsai. Of course being just a boy, he did only the things that he was told to do, such as watering the trees and weeding until he was older.

john-naka-olive-stylingJohn was educated in Japan and stayed there until he was 21. In 1935 he returned to his birthplace in Colorado where he took up farming. Towards the end of 1946 he moved to Los Angeles with his wife Alice and their three sons, Eugene, Robert and Richard. From 1946 to 1968 he practiced the art of landscape gardening.

He began his collection of bonsai (now numbering some 300) again soon after he arrived in Los Angeles. The first display of his trees was at the Fannie E Morrison Horticulture Centre, Pasadena in 1950. It was also in 1950 that he and four friends founded the Southern California Bonsai Club which is now known as The California Bonsai Society Inc. He has served as president of this society every year except 1959 and 1960.

John was coaxed for years, and finally persuaded to start teaching the art of bonsai first to his friends and then to others. Some of his students have become accredited teachers of bonsai.

In 1958 the Southern California Bonsai Society started their annual bonsai shows at the California Museum of Science and Industry. John as the President, has worked with his staff to see that both the trees and the daily demonstrations are of the highest quality.

John has since travelled widely in America teaching and conducting workshops, lecture sand demonstrations to the many bonsai students throughout the United States. He has travelled to many other countries, in all of which he has been well liked and respected as a Bonsai Master.

He received an honorary citation in 1960, and a medal and citation in 1967 from the Japanese Government. The County of Los Angeles made an award to John in 1973. John recently received the award of The Fifth Class of the Order of the Rising Sun, the highest level that can be awarded to a civilian, from the Emperor Hirohito of Japan.

John was chosen for this award in recognition of his contribution to extending the scope of the art of Bonsai to the Western World.

John donated his famous Goshin to the American National Arboretum, and also donated one of his best trees to West Germany.

john-nakaWe in South Africa got to know John when he was invited out in 1980 and again in 1982 and 1984. He came down to Cape Town and of course toured the country visiting other clubs, on two occasions.

When John came here to lecture and give demonstrations it was truly the event of the Century for Bonsai. All of us who could, took advantage of his visit and attended all his lectures and workshops. Most of the lectures were held up at University in the Robert Leslie Auditorium which was an ideal venue. There were also one or two workshops out at Gail's place at Hout Bay which were memorable occasions for the members of the Kai and to those members of the Bonsai Society who took advantage of our invitation.

John had a profound impact on Bonsai in South Africa which is still being felt.

John has made many friends in South Africa, and there are very many bonsai trees which have grown and matured after his expert training and advice. It would be interesting to see an exhibition of those trees styled by John, which would by now have grown and matured.

View photos from one of John's visits

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Fearlessly he moulds and

guides the elm tree

to a greater masterpiece

Random Bonsai Tip

When creating a cascade the root-ground level must be on a horizontal plane. This imparts the stability to the whole style. Do not tilt the tree, bend the trunk.