In 1976, bonsai master Masaru Yamaki donated a small white pine bonsai tree to the United States National Arboretum in Washington D.C. as one of 53 bonsai trees given by the Nippon Bonsai Association to the U.S. for its bicentennial celebration.
For 25 years the tree sat by the entrance of the arboretum’s National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, hardly gathering any notice. But like so many things we pass by without knowing anything about, this tree has a history … and a really remarkable one at that.
In 2001, two of Yamaki’s grandsons showed up at the Arboretum in search of the tree that had been in their family. Through a Japanese translator, the grandsons recounted the story of when the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped just two miles from their grandfather’s home. The windows were blown out, Yamaki was injured by flying glass. Ninety percent of the city was decimated, some 180,000 people were killed all told. But Yamaki’s beloved bonsais were protected by a tall wall surrounding his nursery, and miraculously, survived. The tree had been in the family for at least six generations.
“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,” says Jack Sustic, curator of the Bonsai and Penjing museum.
When the new Japanese Pavilion opened at the museum, the Yamaki Pine took its familiar place near the entrance. And more than seven decades after the bombing of Hiroshima, the tree continues to serve as a reminder of the importance of peace and the beauty of resilience.