After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, tens of thousands of people lost their lives. However, one bonsai tree, and the family that tended to it, survived the catastrophic bombing. The ornamental specimen was later donated to the U.S., but its history remained untold.
Almost 30 years after Japan’s most devastating period, bonsai master Masaru Yamaki, from Hiroshima, donated his prized bonsai tree to America’s National Arboretum in 1976, as a symbol of friendship. The history of the miniature tree however, was not revealed until decades later.
The White Japanese Pine, dubbed the Yamaki Pine, is nearly 400 years old now. Its history was finally revealed in 2001, when Yamaki’s grandsons showed up at the arboretum unannounced, to ask if they could look at the tree.
The curator of the museum invited them for lunch, and that is when the grandsons said that for many generations, their family had been running a commercial bonsai nursery in Hiroshima.
When the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, it shattered the windows in the nursery, but the delicate tree survived. Despite a few minor cuts from glass fragments that went flying due to the blast, the family was also unharmed, as they lived two miles from the bomb’s hypocenter.
Though it is unclear why the elder Yamaki did not reveal the history of the prized tree when he donated it, Jack Sustic, curator at the museum, said that the tree might have survived because a wall had shielded it, The Telegraph reported.
“After going through what the family had gone through, to even donate one was pretty special and to donate this one was even more special,” said Sustic. “One of the things that makes it so special is, if you imagine, somebody has attended to that tree every day since 1625. I always like to say bonsai is like a verb. It’s not a noun; it’s doing,” Sustic said.
Felix Laughlin, President of the National Bonsai Foundation, was amazed that Yamaki donated the tree. “I find it amazing that Masaru Yamaki could give a priceless bonsai basically to his enemy and not say a word about it. I get emotional just talking about it,” he said.