How A 390-Year-Old Bonsai Tree Survived The Hiroshima Atomic Bomb


Bonsai trees are magnificent to behold. The craftsmanship and skill to nurture and tend such a plant speaks of the discipline and careful attention of the owner.

One bonsai tree though has definitely proved its timeless beauty and its resilience in surviving one of the most horrific acts to all forms of life in human history.

A Japanese white pine bonsai in the National Arboretum in Northeast Washington is able to capture the attention of people visiting the area with its impressively thick tree trunk and its rich spindly leaves. But the truly captivating fact about this bonsai is that it is about 390 years old and survived the atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima, Japan during World War II.

The bonsai was donated in 1976 and is part of the Arboretum's National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. The bonsai was owned by bonsai master Masaru Yamaki and was part of a 53-specimen gift for the 1976 United States bicentennial.

In March 8, 2001 two Japanese brothers, Shigeru and Akira Yamaki flew to the US to visit the museum and to check on their grandfather's bonsai. The brothers then shared more information regarding the tree with the museum officials even though the brothers have never seen the bonsai before and had only heard about it through their family.

On Aug. 6, 1945, an atomic bomb exploded in the city of Hiroshima. The nursery that belonged to the Yamaki family was less than two miles from the bomb blast site, which was just a far enough distance for the bonsai to survive.

Museum visitors who see the regal bonsai cannot help but marvel at its enduring spirit. As one student from Georgetown said, "For one, it's amazing to think that something could have survived an atomic blast." 

This Thursday is the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, and visitors can head over to the museum to see the bonsai in all its splendid beauty. The museum officials will be transferring the 390-year-old bonsai to the Japanese Pavilion in 2016.

The bonsai will still have the same placard that says, "In training since 1625," which continues to spark the curiosity of people who see it.

"One of the things that make 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," said Jack Sustic, the curator of the Bonsai and Penjing Museum.

The word bonsai refers to the manner in which a tree is cared for. Caring for a bonsai entails that the caregiver waters the plant daily, inspects it for insects and any infestations, ensures that it is sunned twice a week, and repotted if needed.

The 390-year-old Japanese white pine bonsai currently sits in the museum courtyard for passersby to admire and behold.

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