This beautiful bonsai tree is nearly 400 years old, and it’s still growing strong. It was given to the United States in 1976 by bonsai master Masaru Yamaki as a sign of friendship between the two countries, but no one knew its fascinating story until recently.
The white pine is now being kept in the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., and is the oldest specimen in the Japanese Bonsai Collection, having been planted in Japan in 1625.
The Yamaki family lived less than two miles away in Hiroshima from the spot where the United States military dropped an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, ultimately killing more than 200,000 people from the blast and the radiation effects.
The bonsai tree and the Yamakis were indoors when the bomb exploded, and even though all the windows were shattered from the blast, everyone survived the horrific incident without permanent injuries. This fascinating part of the tree’s history was revealed by two of Yamaki’s grandsons in 2001, when they arrived at the museum unannounced and asked where they could see their grandfather’s bonsai tree.
Shigeru and Akira Yamaki were in their early twenties and had never seen the bonsai in person, but they saw old photos and heard stories about it, so it was a very special trip. Volunteers were able to translate for them as they told the story of the family and the bonsai tree to head curator Warren Hill.
The brothers then told the curator that their family “operated a commercial bonsai nursery in Hiroshima for several generations, but now the nursery is a private bonsai collection.” The family still lives in that same house.
According to My Modern Met, assistant curator Kathleen Emerson-Dell said, “There’s some connection with a living being that has survived on this earth through who knows what …” To her it was like being in the presence of history itself.