The Kusamura Bonsai Club is one of the oldest English-speaking bonsai clubs in northern California. It sponsors lectures and instruction in the technique of growing bonsai for beginners and advanced students.
Kusamura Bonsai Club arose out of an initial organization named “Hokubei Kusamura Mujin-ko” with its earliest recorded formal meeting in 1956. It became known as the Northern California Kusamura Mutual Association a few years later. It began meeting in member’s homes and was led by Keiseki Hirotsu who only spoke Japanese.
A few years earlier Yuji Yoshimura started teaching bonsai to non-Japanese citizens after WWII. His father was Toshiji Yoshimura, an important person in Japanese bonsai at that time. He owned Kofu-En (Tokyo) nursery and a founder of the prestigious Nippon Bonsai Society. In April 1952, the 31-year-old Yuji Yoshimura, assisted by German agricultural diplomat Alfred Koehn, began the first bonsai course for foreigners in Tokyo at his Kofu-en nursery. Yoshimura refused to believe the prevailing wisdom that Westerners could not understand, appreciate, or technically master bonsai. The class was an instant success, and within three years over 600 students—mostly foreign dignitaries, military personnel and businessmen and their wives—took the six-lesson course in classical bonsai art.
In 1954 he traveled around Northern California teaching. Some of the initial group of 12 people in his class helped found Kusamura Bonsai Club. One of the people in this group was Toshio Saburomaru who became the club's first sensei or teacher.
In 1959 Pete Sugawara joins Kusamura and encourages the club to welcome non-Japanese speakers. Jim Ransohoff is the first to join. The first constitution and by-laws of Kusamura Bonsai Club were approved by the membership on June 12, 1960 with Toshio Saburomaru serving as President for the fractional year of 1960.
Traditionally bonsai clubs had followed a model where there is one teacher, the sensei, but Toshio thought it better for people to hear from other teachers as they came thru the area. Tosh, as he was known to his friends, became a well known teacher and traveled around the U.S. and the world teaching bonsai.
In 1960, the first class taught by Yoshimura, assisted by Tosh, had 35 people. The club’s first bonsai show was held at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple on October, 7, 1961.
In the first 10 years the club had many extraordinary people who took the leadership: Toshio Saburomaru, Peter Sugawara, Robert DiVita, Seiji Yanari, Ken Nakashima, Thomas Refvem, Robert Hillbun, John Planting, and Mrs. Francis (Clara) Howard.
In 1961, a few San Jose members left to form Midori Bonsai Club . Then in 1962-63 many of the Japanese-speaking members formed Akebono Bonsai Club at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple. A few years later, in 1970, members of that club formed San Jose Betsuin Bonsai Club.
In 1962, Jim Ransohoff and Connie and Horace Hinds helped create the Bonsai Club Association (now known as Bonsai Clubs International or BCI) and began creating conventions and shows in the Bay Area. By 1963, Marin, East Bay, San Francisco, Kusamura, Midori, Tri-County, and American Bonsai Club had been formed. Interest in Bonsai increased in the United States.
In 1964, Yuji Yoshimura presented his last lecture to Kusamura members at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto with the sponsorship of The American Bonsai Association, created in 1958, and the Sacramento Bonsai Club.
In 1965, the Kusamura Bonsai Club show at Stanford University featured over “over 100 examples of Japanese dwarfed trees (bonsai).” Names such as Planting, Refvem, Ransohoff, and Poggensee, are now 50 years later considered household names to club members. The club had begun conducting tree gathering trips to the Pygmy Forest near Ft. Bragg, Toiyabe National Forest, Mohave, and the Red Lake Lodge near the Grand Canyon. Shows and special exhibitions were frequently being held at events like the Japanese Doll Exhibit, San Francisco Hall of Flowers, Art and Bonsai Exhibit at Foothill College, and the Marin Art and Garden show.
In the late-1960s and early-1970s, John Naka, Fay Kramer (another student of Yuji Yoshimura/Zeko Nakamura), Kyuzo Murata, Morihiko Tomita, Masao Komatsu, and Kawasumi Masakuni began doing workshops for Kusamura. In the mid-1970s, a popular demonstration was by Carl Young, of Seiju-en Nursery located in Lodi, on the use of Chrysanthemums as bonsai. The 1980s saw presenters such as William Valavanis (publisher of International Bonsai), John Naka, Hiroshi Suzuki, Dan Robinson, Mike Page, Katsumi Kinoshita, and Melba Tucker (First Lady of Bonsai).
In the 1990s, visitors and shows continued with speakers like Bill Sullivan, Denis Makishima, Yasuo Mitsuya, Kathy Shaner, and Tatemori Gondo. Shows and events were held at Filoli Gardens and Estate, Horticultural Show in Palo Alto, Mountain View Buddhist Temple and others.
In 1992, Kusamura Bonsai Club officially filled for 501 (c)(3) status with the IRS under President Bill Scott. In the early ’90s, many members of Kusamura participated in the creation of the GSBF Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt , in Oakland, CA. Among these was landscape architect Jim Ransohoff, who drew up the design of the garden.
Since 2000, the club has continued its tradition of teaching and hosting speakers and demonstrators. Workshops have been held by Yasuo Mitsuya, Kathy Shaner, Marco Invernizzi, Peter Warren, Ted Matson, Jim Gremel, Gordon Deeg, Peter Tea, Ryan Nichols, Valerie Monroe, John Thompson and many others.
The original club logo, a three-trunk Japanese White Pine raft, was taken from a pamphlet showing photos of the trees in a Crown Prince’s (Akihito) Exhibit in Japan sometime in the 1950s. In 2010 we switched to a photo of a tree created by club member Tom Refvem. That tree is now in the GSBF Collection at Lake Merritt (Oakland).
"Wire Every Little Branch"
Tosh's favorite saying
Something we still teach