As a young boy growing up in Japan, Yukiyazu "Yuki" Kato helped his father by watering his 150 bonsai trees.
"My father knew trees, and he liked trees better than flowers for his bonsai,” recalls Yuki. “I had the chore of taking care of them because, at that time, it was the man's job to learn this. The containers were quite shallow, so the trees needed watering twice a day, which was my responsibility, especially in the summer when the temperatures were very hot."
Yuki Kato is Victoria's Bonsai expert and sensei (teacher) of the Sogetsu style of Ikebana.
Over a thousand years ago, it was the Chinese who first began the art of "punsai," the practice of growing single miniature trees with sparse foliage and naturally gnarled trunks in small pots. These trees were especially valued if their twisted trunks and roots stirred the imagination to see dragons, serpents or birds.
When the Zen Buddhism movement spread rapidly across Asia, the punsai was adopted by the Japanese Buddhist monks as "bonsai" possibly around 1195 A.D. Later, as a symbol of prestige and honour, wealthy Japanese male aristocrats learned and practiced this horticultural art.
Yuki explains the different styles in two junipers: "This 20-year-old juniper is a very traditional Japanese-style bonsai. I used a shallow container and allow the roots to spread wide and low below the soil line, filling this entire space. It shows more tree. I changed the container once three years ago."
Pointing to another 20-year-old bonsai, where the thick main roots from the trunk are exposed above the ground, Yuki continues. "This style has a big gnarled or twisted trunk with a few larger roots showing above the soil line, but the smaller roots spread out sideways below." The miniature juniper looks as if it had been buffeted by nature's wind.
All bonsai plants and trees require watering and trimming to stay alive and keep their shape. "These are man-made plants because they are clipped and trained to grow a certain way,” says Yuki. “If these trees are planted back in the ground without clipping and trimming, they will eventually become a normal tree again."
No matter which direction the bonsai is turned, Yuki's impressive collection of bonsai trees are balanced and pleasing to the eye.
"Watering and trimming is very important, but you must also change the soil every two years, occasionally adding some nitrogen-rich supplement. The container must not be too big or too shallow for the size and shape of the bonsai. You want just enough space all around so the tree doesn't look crowded," advises the bonsai expert.
Showing his 92-year old bonsai tree, Yuki says, "Not only do the trees need maintenance and water, but they need to be cherished. Often a prized bonsai will be passed from one generation of a family to the next or to a close friend."
Bonsai, Ikebana and even Zen gardens share similar concepts. Each has a placement of a large, medium and small shape set in a specific arrangement. If the centre points were joined, it would form an irregular triangular shape.
"It is not necessary to have this pattern, but it is a traditional Japanese arrangement because the design is simple,” says Yuki. “The way you place your flower or rock makes it pleasing to the eye."
Both bonsai and Ikebana mimic nature as seen in the tiny trees, maintained as miniatures of their full-grown counterparts.
Ikebana is an artistic form of floral arrangement using minimal flowers or foliage. It allows the artist to be creative with a deceptively simple composition of a few blooms, stems and leaves in a container that decides the form and shape of the Ikebana. It was the Buddhist monks, more than 13 centuries ago, who initially created simple arrangements for their altars. Later, it was the male aristocracy, Samurai warriors and warlords who practiced Ikebana with more elaborate arrangements. It wasn't until 1868 that women were allowed to learn Ikebana as part of their education.
Yuki first learned Ikebana from his mother who was an expert in the 400-year-old style of Ikenobo. "At first, it was a hobby because I wanted to do something artistic using flowers."
The simplicity of Ikebana incorporates the use of space in the composition. Yuki explains. "In traditional Japan, space is used as part of our surroundings, whereas in Western thinking, space is filled with a picture or some other object. Canadians seem to think the Japanese focus on space is different and special, but it's not. It's just our traditional way of looking at it."
Yuki is a certified instructor of Sogetsu Ikebana. His style is an 85-year-old Japanese contemporary style of floral design.
"I give Sogetsu Ikebana lessons using our West Coast plants and flowers. This method teaches anyone to create an Ikebana arrangement anywhere using whatever is available to them," says Yuki.
Away from his bonsai trees and Ikebana, Yuki enjoys family time and watching baseball, which is the favourite national sport in Japan. "I also like watching tennis and car races. Being an Olympic year, I'm going to follow as many events as I can!" he laughs.
For more information and classes on Sogetsu Ikebana, visit www.zenfloralstudio.com Yuki Kato can be reached at 250-727-0056 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
OCTOBER 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
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