The 392-Year-Old Bonsai That Survived Hiroshima

Cliff via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Cliff via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0 /

Cliff via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0


Hiding in the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. is a compact little piece of Japanese history. In 1976, as a gift from Japan for America’s bicentennial, bonsai master Masaru Yamaki donated a bonsai tree first planted in the 17th century. And it’s still there, housed at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

The Japanese white pine, currently 392 years old, is the oldest tree in the collection. It was planted in 1625, and has probably been "in training"—its growth guided by different bonsai masters—since it was around 3 to 5 years old. Bonsai are delicate trees that require a master’s care, but this one has been through a lot, though the National Bonsai Museum didn't know that when it arrived.

In 2001, Yamaki's son and grandson visited the museum to see their relative's tree, and in the process, revealed its unusual history to the bonsai curator there: When the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, it exploded less than two miles away from the Yamaki home, where the bonsai was kept on a garden bench. The family—and the tree—survived. So did the other bonsai trees that were kept in the garden, placed under a tall wall.

The fortunate Yamaki tree, which is a rare specimen from the island of Miyajima, is not the oldest bonsai in the world, though. Tokyo’s Imperial Palace is home to both a 450-year-old tree and a 550-year-old one.

[h/t My Modern Met]