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Bonsai tree in front of fence.

The Story of the Bonsai that Survived Hiroshima


A 390-year-old white pine bonsai tells the most beautiful story a veteran can tell.

Exactly 15 minutes after 8 in the morning of August 6, 1945, at the moment the atomic bomb glazed on Hiroshima, the master of bonsai Masaru Yamaki was in his glass greenhouse. Shards of glass cut his face, more than 100,000 people died around him, but he and his family, who lived a few kilometers from the site, survived. Or rather, he, his family and an ancient white pine bonsai.

That bonsai was already more than 300 years old before HIroshima, and had been passed down from generation to generation in the Yamaki family––It was already an unlikely survivor and witness of world history. During 25 years it stood quietly among the rest of the bonsai collection of the Penjing Museum in Washington D.C., with its bright green leaves and a trunk measuring more than 18” wide. When in 1976 Yamaki donated it to the museum as part of the collection passed on by the Japanese Association to the arboretum, the only thing that was really known was that the tree was 390 years old and that the donor had looked after it.

Bonsai tree in garden.

The secret was kept until 2001, when two of Yamaki’s grandchildren visited in the museum in search of a bonsai of which they had heard about their whole lives. They met with the museum curator and told him the story. Since then, the miniature pine has been called “the tree of peace,” and is considered a symbol of the friendly relationship that emerged between the two countries during the years following the Second World War.

Much is said about the patience of bonsai masters, who have to perform meticulous care on trees and wait years to see the designs manifest, but seldom one hears about the patience of the bonsai itself. We don’t know how many things the “Yamaki Pine” witnessed besides the first atomic bomb in history, but we know it is clearly a product of a strength and patience that we can’t even glimpse at as human beings.

Hiroshima removed so many imaginations, left so much emptiness, so many unfinished and silenced stories that once the Yamaki pine indirectly told its story, it became a compensation. There are many ways to tell a story, there are many tiny stories within History ––among them one about an ancient yet little tree that survived submission to man and war and was later a gift of peace for the enemies.

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