Japanese-American Ben Oki was born in Sacramento, California, in 1927. At age six, he moved to Japan, where he learned Japanese landscape and stone techniques. In 1950, Ben returned to the United States after graduating from Matsu Moto Business School, and has managed his entrepreneurship in landscape gardening ever since.
Ben is admired and is in high demand worldwide as a Japanese Garden designer, especially for his use of stones in his compositions. Ben’s design work includes the garden of screen star Cybil Shepard in Tennessee, and others in the Pacific Islands and South America. Ben is a curator of the Bonsai Collections at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California.
Ben studied bonsai under world master John Naka, and has assisted him with demonstrations and meetings. Ben has become one of the internationally known bonsai masters, and takes a key role at conventions by conducting workshops, demonstrations, and critique sessions.
Ben has been growing and teaching bonsai since 1958, specializing in California juniper. He shares his hands-on experience and expertise in his article, Collecting California Junipers, published in a British magazine. He is well known for his rugged, freeform style, fine detail work, fast wiring, and skillful tree-splitting techniques.
The Satsuki Society in Los Angeles has awarded Ben “Best in Show” in their bonsai competition for four consecutive years. In 1989, Los Angeles Consul General of Japan Seki Hiromoto honored Ben with a prestigious recognition of his RYU NO MA!, “Dancing Dragon,” a collected California juniper. In 1991, the tree became a part of the North American Collection at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. Ben’s 35-year-old hackberry is displayed as a part of the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection of the Weyerhaeuser in Tacoma, Washington.
In Indiana, Cheryl and Charles Owens honored Ben with both the Ben Old International Design Award and the Ben Old National Design Award-the awards for excellence in bonsai design quality sponsored by Bonsai Clubs International (BCI) and the American Bonsai Society, respectively. Since 1984, Ben has been leading “Ben Oki’s Japan Bonsai Tour” to visit gardens, nurseries, and pottery shops. Ben escorted the “Bonsai and Suiseki Exhibit and an Extended Tour of Japan” at the 10th BCI World Bonsai Convention tour in 1989.
Ben is a former vice president of the California Bonsai Society, and a program chairman of the Satsuki Society. Ben is also an active member of other bonsai organizations, including the American Bonsai Society, the BCI, the Nampu Kal, and the Southern California Chapter of the Japanese Satsuki Society.