Grafting Master Masaru Ishii 3/16/13

I just spent over an hour digging around the internet looking for at least one really good photo of a masterpiece bonsai by Mr Masaru Ishii. The results are this photo of a grafted Shimpaku in training (from New England Bonsai Gardens) and the photo immediately below. This one is a quality photo, but far from one of the masterpieces that I remember seeing at Mr Ishii’s nursery. The one below is a little closer to a masterpiece, but the photo isn’t so good. Oh well…

Sadly, Masaru Ishii, grafting master, bonsai artist, teacher, nurseryman, husband, father and much more died recently. Here’s a quote from Teddi Scobi of New England Bonsai, who, like many of us enjoyed both personal and professional contact with Mas Ishii. “Mr. Masaru Ishii passed away a few days ago. Mr. Ishii was a master of bonsai, especially grafting Kishu shimpaku junipers. He was originally from Fukuoka, and lived in the LA area for many years where he and his wife and family operated Chikugo-en Bonsai Nursery. He was a true pioneer of bonsai culture, never compromising his high standards. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. He taught us well. And he will be much missed.”

Mr. Ishii lived a long rich life and many of us had the good fortune to study with him and, if we were really lucky, to enjoy a bit of his playful, understated sense of humor. Though the passing of such a seminal figure in American bonsai leaves a big hole in our community, fortunately his grafting skills and his nursery survive him. The grafting skills now reside in the hands of  Mr Ishii’s son Gary. The nursery, Chikugo-en is also in Gary’s (and his family’s) capable hands.


This well-known Shimpaku that Mr Ishii grafted onto a Prostrata juniper serves as the Bonsai Society of San Francisco’s logo tree. You can read about it at the Golden State Bonsai Collection.

The well-worn hands of Mas Ishii, bonsai grafting master. From Bonsai Today issue 75.


Mas Ishii. This photo was taken in 2004 at a Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai demonstration.


Find the graft if you can. Here what the administrator on Bonsai Nut says about Mas and Gary Ishii’s grafts. “There is nothing to see of the grafts. Even the Ishii’s themselves have trouble sometimes finding the grafts  They just know that 100% of their kishu that come from a certain group are San Jose grafts. The Ishii’s are the kings of grafting. Even their white pine grafts on black pine stock are extremely good – and these are in my opinion the hardest grafts to pull off convincingly.”


I don’t know who the artist is, but this unidentified Shimpaku reminds me of some of the tree’s that I saw at Mr Ishii’s nursery many years ago. The photo was taken at a Golden State Bonsai Federation show. The caption says that it is “a very large and very old Shimpaku juniper from one of the big names in the hobby.” It’s posted here by Bonsai Nut (I don’t think it’s the same person as the Bonsai Nut administrator above).

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4 thoughts on “Grafting Master Masaru Ishii

  1. Sad to hear of the old man’s passing. I had some time to spend at Chikugo-En a few years back and was absolutely stricken by some shohin Catlin elms that were prized by Mas. Very artistic, beautiful little trees. Grafting isn’t the only trick the man had up his sleeves. My condolences to Gary and all of the family.

  2. My sincerest condolences to Sensai Ishii’s family. His name, and his works are among the best known in the Bonsai world. He will be missed !

  3. My most sincere respects and condolences to the family. Your work will be with us. Here in Argentina and around the world, he is known and respected and always will be.

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