He took one look at it and knew what it was supposed to be. Carl was one of several bonsai hobbyists and experts taking a class this weekend from Mitsuya, an internationally acclaimed bonsai master from Japan.
Mitsuya included a three-day stop in Oakland while in the United States to join the distinguished list of Honorary Directors of National Bonsai Federation in Washington, D.C. This title is reserved for the very few recognized for their exceptional contribution to the art of bonsai, said Kathy Shaner, curator of Oakland s Bonsai Garden and the first woman certified as a bonsai master outside of Japan. Bonsai is the Japanese art of capturing nature in miniature by pruning and training what would normally grow to be full-sized plants and trees -- even redwood trees -- to grow in pots.
Alex Loughry of Mountain View said his father first sparked his interest in bonsai, but now he says he finds it is a wonderful way to relax his mind after his high-stress computer tech job. Bonsai requires concentration that tends to crowd out other thoughts.
"It s a nice diversion from computer science, Loughry said. "It s very different. Lake Merritt s Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt opened in 1999, and its collection has now grown to include more than 150 trees. Including Shaner, there are six or seven assistant curators, and numerous volunteers. Shaner, 63, studied under Mitsuya in Japan for five years and she is the first non-eastern bonsai master and in 1994 became the first woman to become a certified bonsai master. Shaner now has many students of her own and travels the country to give classes.
Mitsuya said Saturday that he is proud of his student. The master has been the United States several times, and visited the Oakland garden when it first opened. He said he was impressed by how far the garden had come, and the many volunteers.
"By making a comparison, it has improved a lot. I'm impressed by the many volunteers", Mitsuya said through translator Nobuaki Momoi. "Now (I would grade it) 70 percent out of 100 percent. Mitsuya also said he was "very glad to see so many people in the United States interested in bonsai and Japanese tradition.
One thing that Mitsuya had not seen in his previous visits to Oakland Bonsai Garden was a Daimyo oak that was given by the Japanese as a gift to President Lincoln s Chinese Ambassador Anson Burlingame in 1867. The oak had four different owners before it was donated to the Oakland garden.
Mitsuya smiled when he heard of the tree s history. "In Japanese culture we use the leaves of this tree to cover rice cakes for boys on May 5, a holiday for children, Mitsuya explained. (Inside BayArea)