John Naka

(1914-2004) Nisei Bonsai master in the United States

Philosophical beauty in the art of bonsai Avoiding the Japanese military Bonsai and oil painting Writing books on bonsai You can't change the weather Challenging Bonsai techniques

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John Yoshio Naka was born on August 16, 1914 in Brighton, Colorado, to Issei parents. His childhood was spent on his father’s farm in Fort Lupton, Colorado. When he was eight, the Naka family moved to Japan where he formed a close bond with his paternal grandfather who introduced him to the art of bonsai and he developed his artistic talents.

In 1935, at age 21, Naka returned to Colorado and joined his older brother. There he met and married his wife, Alice, and went on to raise three sons. He and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1946, where he had a successful landscaping business with a special emphasis on Japanese gardens until 1968. In November 1950, he and four others founded the Southern California Bonsai Club, one of the first bonsai organizations in post-war America. He also taught the art of bonsai first locally within the Japanese American community, then nationally, and even internationally. He traveled all over the United States, Canada, Australia, South America, South Africa, and Europe to teach eager bonsai enthusiasts. Naka was instrumental in spreading the art of bonsai throughout the western world.

Naka wrote two books Bonsai Techniques and Bonsai Techniques II, which were published in several languages. He was the recipient of numerous awards including the Fifth Class Order of the Rising Sun in 1985 from the Emperor of Japan and the National Heritage Fellowship Award from National Endowment for the Arts in 1992. The John Naka Pavilion at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum was named in his honor.

He died on May 19, 2004. (October 4, 2006)

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