I’m sad to report the passing of bonsai master Saburo Kato this morning in Omiya, Japan. Saburo Kato (May 15, 1915 – February 8, 2008) was the third generation proprietor of Mansei-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya Bonsai Village, Japan. He was very instrumental in the establishment of the Nippon Bonsai Society and also the World Bonsai Friendship Federation and worked hard to promote peace through bonsai.
He held many positions during his long life of growing bonsai and helping to promote bonsai around the world. Mr. Kato was the Chairman of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation for many years as well as the Chairman of the Nippon Bonsai Association. He kept a busy schedule presenting demonstrations all around the world.
Mr, Kato authored many books in both Japanese and English and I was honored to have edited his book on Forest Plantings, Rock Plantings and Ezo Spruce bonsai published by the National Bonsai Foundation. In late 2006 Mr. Kato held a special exhibition to commemorate his 90th birthday at the Ueno Green Club where he displayed many new bonsai creations.
His son Hatsuji and grandson Haruhiko will continue on with Saburo Kato’s legendary work of creating and promoting bonsai. In fact, on Wednesday my bonsai tour visited Mansei-en only to find that one half of the garden was flattened during the construction of a new building. When completed the other half of the garden will be flattened and another building will be constructed, so the Kato Legacy will continue.
I feel very honored to have known Saburo Kato for over 38 years and have watched and learned from this master every time I was in his presence.
It is very odd that he has passed this morning, the day before the 82nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition opens in a few hours. Today was the judging for the National Prizes (Kokufu Sho) and I suspect two of the bonsai he was displaying for clients will win this prestigious award. Also, I believe that Saburo Kato is the only person who has attended every one of the 81 Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions, according to a discussion I had with his son Hatsuji last February.
The bonsai world is greater for the numerous contributions of Saburo Kato and he will be greatly missed. However, his bonsai creations and books will remain with us to remind us of him and will perhaps, stimulate others to walk in his path.
A complete biography of Saburo Kato can be located at http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/JYNBioSK.html