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4 min read

Japan is a beautiful place with a culture very different to our own. There are many reasons why I love visiting Japan, other than bonsai. Since a young age I have also been interested in Japanese garden design and quite honestly no better examples can be found in such close proximity than in Kyoto. 

To add to the allure, if one visits Kyoto around November you will find the many maple trees at the peak of their autumn foliage. One cannot describe the beauty which is so fleeting but yet so incredibly intense. Most people won't believe your photos have not been altered in some way, the colours are that intense.

The Taiken-ten is also hosted at the same time in Kyoto and is supported by enthusiast and professional bonsai growers from all over Japan. It is a rather unique exhibition in that sense, as you may have a display of Master Kimura's right next to an enthusiast with only a couple years experience. Although not just anyone can enter a tree, there is a vetting process but it is nothing like the Kokufu entry process.

Enjoy the following photos of a visit Christelle, my wife, and I did a couple years back. What a wonderful opportunity it was to travel to Japan and share it with my wife, not by myself as is usually the case.

beautiful gardens of kyoto

Image caption. Believe it or not, one's eyes actually do tire eventually from all the intense colours and the fact that everywhere you go or look is just an explosion of autumn colours.

beautiful maple leaves

Image caption. I think my camera struggles to capture the intense colours. This image was not altered in any way.

granite and maple leaves

Image caption. There is a lot of natural granite in the area so the material is relatively accessible for use in gardens especially the dry gravel gardens, however it is also used in bonsai growing mediums.

stone marker

Image caption. A simple stone marker with jute rope marks a path which is closed and may not be taken. No distracting signs are used in these gardens of tranquility.

temple night illumination

Image caption. Many of the temples are illuminated at night and look completely different to what they do in the daytime. Here a carpet of Gingko leaves lays thick on the ground.

traditional wear

Image caption. Japanese people are encouraged to wear traditional clothing which of course adds much to the local character and charm, especially for us foreigners. In return people wearing kimono are allowed free travel on any of the many choices of public transport.

short Japanese people

Image caption. There has always been this perhaps historical idea that Japanese people are short. Here I am standing next to a senior citizen and suddenly I do feel very tall! However the younger generation are just as tall as us in the West in my opinion.

designer shoes

Image caption. As you are not allowed to wear shoes in the temples you must remove yours at the door. However many of the temples allow you to wear shoes in the gardens. So you are provide with some fashionable numbers!

Shisendo garden

Image caption. A small section of my favourite garden in Kyoto. Shisendo is a place where you can spend many hours meditating over life....and all the pines at home which need needle plucking! :)

wrapping cycads

Image caption. In true Japanese style even the cycads are clothed in beautiful temporary clothing to protect them during the coming winter.

amazing food

Image caption. You will have many amazing meals in Japan. Each one is not only a culinary experience but each one deserves to be photographed it's so beautifully presented.

fake buns

Image caption. Even the fake food looks delicious in Japan. These are plastic replicas of what this store sells, and it would be a mistake to pick one and bite into it!

shohin on sale

Image caption. You will never have enough money if you visit Japan's amazing bonsai exhibitions, or more specifically the sales areas adjacent to them. Here an amazing little juniper awaits a new owner, with deep pockets.

japanese black pines

Image caption. The Japanese black pine remains an incredibly popular species in Japan and is an important tree for what it stands for in Japanese culture.

chinese maple shohin

Image caption. An exquisite Chinese or Trident maple shohin sized tree.

japanese maple bonsai trees

Image caption. Here a Japanese maple at the peak of its autumn foliage leaves the viewer speechless.

Chinese maple root over rock

Image caption. A wonderful Chinese maple root over rock. Quite a well known tree in Japan in fact, with a lot of history.


Image caption. Although Azalea are primarily grown for their flowers when they have incredible trunks and ramification such as this, then they will also be displayed at other times of the year.

root on rock

Image caption. This creative planting must require tremendous care from its owner. One has to appreciate not only the beauty of the planting itself but also the dedication.

persimmon trees

Image caption. Anyone for some fruit? These bright orange persimmons contrast beautifully against the stark remainder of the tree.

another shohin trident maple

Image caption. Amazing ramification on this little Chinese maple. The result of good technique and commitment.

terry at taiken ten

Image caption. Just to prove I was there, the obligatory photo of myself. Some trees such as the one in the background receives pride of place due to some historical value. Perhaps it was/is one of the Imperial trees or something, not sure.

Well that's all for this post. Nothing to learn perhaps but sometimes we should take time to appreciate the beauty which God has created and also in the bonsai achievements of others.

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8 Responses


February 28, 2016

John T, Kyoto definitely is a wonderful place to visit. Make sure you go during the time of the autumn leaf season and when Taiken-ten is running. It is very busy at that time of the year though so you should definitely consider booking fairly long in advance or you might find accommodation very difficult to find and certainly a lot more expensive. Hope you get to tick it off your bucket list though! I will be leaving again for Japan shortly and I am particularly excited about this trip – reasons to be shared soon :)

John T
John T

February 28, 2016

Fabulous story. Thanks for sharing both the trees and the cultural components of Kyoto. Kyoto is definitely on top of my places to see and enjoy wish list.


November 21, 2015

Graham, I have not actually considered this yet. However it would be possible for me to arrange something like that as I know several people on the organizing committee and my sister’s job is to make group travel bookings for corporate clients for the large travel firm she works for. So yes, I could. Just not sure of the responsibilities I would have to assume or how many people would be interested. Its to be held in Saitama prefecture, near to Omiya and I have been there many times. Perhaps what I should do is send out a mail and ask if people are interested and go from there.


November 20, 2015

I will also rather save up for 2017. Terry do you have any group travel offerings for the event you may be considering?


November 20, 2015

Carl, I am not really excited about bonsai in India although when the Indian contingent were here at the recent convention they did introduce the delegates to the event and it did look nice. For myself, I will rather save up to attend the WBFF convention to be held in Saitama, Japan in 2017. Perhaps you could contact SABA and ask Willem if there might be a group going to India next year?


November 20, 2015

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.


November 20, 2015

Beautiful, thank you for sharing.


November 20, 2015

Your article nade me think. We are interested in going to the convention next year in India. What are the changes of organising a group to attend the convention in India? If enough people from S.A. are interested of course.

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