On the 1st of November 2023, Scott Saddler AM, Executive Branch Manager of the National Arboretum Canberra and Leigh Taafe, Curator at the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia (NBPCA) travelled to Japan to mark a significant moment in the history of bonsai art. A new collaboration with the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum (OBAM) in Saitama Japan, was formalised by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which the Japanese affectionately refer to as a “Sister Museum Agreement”
The formal ceremony for the signing of the MoU Scott Saddler and Saitama Mayor, Mr Hayato Shimizu, was witnessed by an audience of influential bonsai community members from both Japan and Australia, including Australian Ambassador to Japan, Justin Hayhurst.
The ceremony was held in front of the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum’s most famous bonsai, the Japanese white pine named ‘Higurashi’. This bonsai was taken from the mountains (also known as yamadori) and placed into a pot over 90 years ago.
The OBAM is considered the most respected and influential public collection of bonsai in the world. The OBAM has similarities with the NBPCA in that both are publicly run bonsai collections staffed by government employees. Both collections strive to educate visitors through the representation of the art of bonsai as they exist in each respective country. One of the differences between our collections is that OBAM is a museum in the true sense of the word, with history and artefacts on display for public viewing, whereas the NBPCA is simply a living collection of bonsai and penjing grown in Australia.
The OBAM has an outdoor display of bonsai set amongst a beautiful garden, indoor displays of bonsai and other items, and a large reception area and shop.
Following the ceremony, Scott had an opportunity to deliver a presentation about the NAC and NBPCA. This was also a good time to exchange gifts. Scott and Leigh were honoured to receive a beautiful artwork, gifted to the NBPCA. A lovely Suiseki (viewing stone) was gifted to Mayor Shimizu on behalf of the NBPCA, a World Bonsai Friendship Federation Cooperation Centre. This danseki (plateau stone) was collected from the Mary River, which is a major river system in the South East and Wide Bay–Burnett regions of Queensland, Australia. The river was traditionally named Moocooboola by the indigenous Kabi people, and hence the stones from this area are referred to as Moocooboola stones. The suiseki was collected by Mr Lindsay Bebb, Chairman Emeritus of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation. He also carved the daiza (stand) from Tasmanian Myrtle, an Australian timber.
The essence of this agreement is one that emphasises collaboration and the exchange of knowledge between two renowned bonsai institutions. Our Curators at the National Bonsai & Penjing Collection anticipate the invaluable learning experiences that await them. The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, a beacon of excellence in the world of public bonsai collections, is poised to become a rich source of inspiration and insight for our Curators.
Our Japanese colleagues are equally enthusiastic about the collaboration. Their anticipation extends not only to the exchange of knowledge but also to the cultural and ecological enrichment that Australia has to offer. One of their keen interests lies in exploring the art of Australian bonsai, with a particular focus on the unique native Australian tree species. They are also excited about immersing themselves in Australian culture and embracing the breathtaking landscapes that Australia is known for. The cross-cultural sharing of perspectives promises to be a rich and exciting exchange of art, culture, and knowledge.
On subsequent days after the official ceremony, staff and Australian delegates had the opportunity to visit a number of influential bonsai artists and their gardens around the Saitama Prefecture, expertly guided by Mr Yoshihiro Nakamizu from Bonsai Network Japan, who also kindly hosted a reception at the Bonsai Restaurant in Omiya Bonsai Village.
All-in-all, the Japan trip should be considered a great success for the future of Australian bonsai, the NBPCA and the NAC. This agreement will assist in forging very strong international relationships in the world of bonsai along with forming a very special relationship with the City of Saitama, Japan.