So What is Forest Bathing, Anyway!?

“When you forest bathe in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, you can sense the extraordinary magic of these tiny trees that have been lovingly tended by so many generations of human hands in Asia, and now here,” she said.

One might be caught off guard when they hear the term “forest bathing.” Someone who participates in forest bathing does indeed cleanse themselves amid trees and plants, but the practice doesn’t require a bathtub. We sat down with certified nature and forest therapy guide and acclaimed author (The Joy of Forest Bathing—Reconnect with Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life), Melanie Choukas-Bradley, who will lead the upcoming Forest Bathing Amongst the Bonsai classes at the Museum (April 18th and May 2nd, October 3rd) to learn more about the the practice and what participants can look forward to.

Melanie leads a class at The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. (Photo By: Ana Ka'ahanui)

Melanie leads a class at The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. (Photo By: Ana Ka'ahanui)

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a therapeutic experience during which one bathes in the forest atmosphere by immersing their senses in the natural world.

Certified nature and forest therapy guide Melanie Choukas-Bradley spent much of her childhood roaming Vermont’s vast woods and fields. So when she first read about forest bathing in a 2014 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, the concept of full sensory immersion in the beauty and wonder of nature immediately resonated with her.

“Forest bathing simply gives a name to an experience I've always valued: quiet time surrounded by natural beauty,” she said.

The article inspired Choukas-Bradley to travel to California and walk with Amos Clifford, the founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. Her time with Clifford led her to train as a forest therapy guide, and she received her certification from ANFT in 2016.

As a naturalist and nature book author, Choukas-Bradley has led nature walks for many years. She said every guide who has led forest bathing walks she participated in, both in North America and in Japan, has bolstered love for nature.

“I'm inspired by everyone who shares their love of nature,” Choukas-Bradley said. “I’m especially inspired by the beauty and wonder of nature itself.”

But forest bathing is more than just a walk in the park, she said. The phenomenon allows one to slow down, turn off your phone, breathe deeply and absorb nature’s beauty.

Choukas-Bradley said the “remarkably enjoyable and restorative” natural therapy can be likened to meditation, tai chi, yoga and other mindfulness practices, but additionally helps one to form a close relationship with nature.

“We are all stressed by the constant barrage of news flowing from our electronic devices and our lengthy personal to do lists,” she said. “This brings joy and well-being.”

A class cups their ears to heighten the sound of the water fountain at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. (Photo By: Ana Ka'ahanui)

A class cups their ears to heighten the sound of the water fountain at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. (Photo By: Ana Ka'ahanui)

Forest bathing has led Choukas-Bradley across the United States, from D.C. to Texas to Colorado. But she said bathing fully revolves around appreciating each moment and taking the time to connect with your surroundings, no matter where you are.

”If you're able to be fully present in nature, you can forest bathe anywhere, including in your own backyard,” she said.

Choukas-Bradley added that offering forest bathing walks among bonsai trees fuses two classic Japanese nature practices: appreciation for bonsai trees themselves, but also shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing.

“When you forest bathe in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, you can sense the extraordinary magic of these tiny trees that have been lovingly tended by so many generations of human hands in Asia, and now here,” she said.

Choukas-Bradley’s forest bathing sessions will be held at the Museum April 18, May 2 and Oct. 3. Click here to buy tickets now for one or more dates.

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 11.19.14 AM.png
Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 11.19.05 AM.png

Museum Appoints Andy Bello as Curation Intern

Andy Bello, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum’s 2019 First Curator’s Apprentice. (Stephen Voss)

Andy Bello, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum’s 2019 First Curator’s Apprentice. (Stephen Voss)

Andy Bello has been selected as the Museum’s 2019 First Curator’s Apprentice.  The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum's First Curator's Apprenticeship  for 2019 is funded by generous grants to the National Bonsai Foundation from Toyota North America and The Hill Foundation.

Bello, a 24-year-old Illinois native, earned a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources Conservation and Management from the University of Arizona in 2016. He then moved to Eugene, Oregon where he designed and built ornamental ponds, propagated pond plants and bred koi and goldfish at a local store.

His fascination with bonsai catalyzed after he stumbled across Peter Chan’s “Bonsai: The Art of Growing and Keeping Miniature Trees” in 2016.

“I took this book home, and the second I opened it I could not put it down,” Bello said. “Everything from the history of the art, the horticulture aspects, and the design techniques amazed and intrigued me deeply.”

His readings prompted him to join the Eugene Bonsai Society, a group of Oregon bonsai enthusiasts. Bello said he felt welcome in the society, but after spending a year in the group he wanted to delve deeper into the bonsai realm and craved hands-on experience.

His big break occurred on a trip to the Oregon Coast, when he inadvertently stopped at Driftwood Nursery in Bandon, Oregon. Bello befriended nursery owner Tom Roberts and soon began a monthly apprenticeship at Driftwood, where he learned basic bonsai skills and developed his passion for the trees.

Bello said he and his girlfriend soon began to discuss moving east to solidify their careers and settle down close to family. In preparation, he explored available permaculture and organic farming jobs on the East Coast – eventually discovering the Museum’s curator apprenticeship – and immediately sent in his application.

In his newly-appointed position, Bello aims to deepen his understanding of different species’ needs in all seasons, and looks forward to improving his horticulture skills and bonsai designs.

His year-long internship will consist of performing various bonsai care-taking duties, from repotting and wiring to pruning, and spreading the joy and wonder of bonsai to Museum visitors.

“I am extremely excited to be part of a new community of fellow bonsai artists and create new connections from all different parts of the world,” he said. “I hope to learn and grow as much as possible in the world of bonsai.”

The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum's First Curator's Apprenticeship for 2019 is funded by generous grants to the National Bonsai Foundation from Toyota North America and The Hill Foundation. If you’d like to help fund these types of programs, please consider becoming a member of the National Bonsai Foundation. More information here.

Landscape Architect Returns to Museum for Second Cherry Blossom Exhibit

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 9.16.44 AM.png

Eight years after his first trip to Japan, Ron Henderson’s exhibit documenting Japanese horticulture and history is back for a second showing at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

Henderson first traveled to Japan as an architectural graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, then frequented the country during his tenure as a landscape architecture professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

He later submitted a proposal for his trip to a Japan-U.S. commission that facilitates a three or four-month artistic fellowship in Japan. After his proposal was selected, he departed for his two-month journey and started to sketch the blossoming sakura orihon.  

But the idea to share his drawings at the Museum was not set in motion until after a preliminary talk about his proposal’s findings at the International House of Japan, where he received “substantial encouragement” to display his sketchbooks.

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 11.28.23 AM.png

Henderson says the most difficult part of designing the sakura orihon exhibit was defining the facets of his journey. His exhibit focuses on three narratives: cherry blossom culture, notable Japanese cherry trees and unique Japanese horticulture techniques.

While horticulture practices in the United States have normalized using discreet cables or hidden devices for trees’ structural support, Henderson says Japanese trees are supported with elegant – but visible – braces, crutches and ropes, as evidence of a reverence for sustaining life.

“Trees are living history around which cultures are viewed,” Henderson says. “The sometimes-extreme lengths taken to revitalize plant specimens that, in many cultures, would be removed, is a reminder of the tenacious spirit in all living things and the responsibility of humankind to steward these life forces.”

Henderson’s current exhibit is on display through April 7, but he hopes the sakura orihon story will return to the Museum for as long as the public demands.

Kathleen Emerson-Dell, the exhibition’s curator, says Henderson’s themes resonate with the U.S. National Arboretum audience and advance the Arboretum’s mission to preserve plants from around the world.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has introduced flowering cherry cultivars and species, from Japan and elsewhere, to American gardens since the beginning of the 20th century. About 50 varieties of flowering cherry trees are planted across the 446-acre Arboretum, and the collection’s diversity permits a much longer flowering display than that of the Tidal Basin.

“Ron’s exhibit adds to our understanding of the genetic sources for ornamental cherry trees from Japan,” Emerson-Dell says.

Sakura Orihon exhibit runs until April 7th. Learn more here and plan your visit today.

Devoted Bonsai Luminary Passes at 98

Ted Tsukiyama (left) at the 2005 World Bonsai Convention in Washington D.C. next to (left to right) Felix Laughlin, Saburo Kato, Yaoi Kato, Fuku Tsukiyama, Daizo Iwasaki and Naemi Iwasaki.

Ted Tsukiyama (left) at the 2005 World Bonsai Convention in Washington D.C. next to (left to right) Felix Laughlin, Saburo Kato, Yaoi Kato, Fuku Tsukiyama, Daizo Iwasaki and Naemi Iwasaki.

We are saddened to hear that Ted Tsukiyama, a World War II veteran and dedicated bonsai devotee, passed away earlier this month.

Tsukiyama’s daughter, Sandy Tsukiyama, said her father suffered a stroke on Martin Luther King Day and had been receiving hospice care at home. She said Tsukiyama, 98, passed at ease and was surrounded by family.

“Everything was taken care of and we couldn’t have asked for better support," she said. “It couldn’t have been more peaceful.”

Tsukiyama, 98, devoted many years of his life to the art of bonsai, personifying the tenet of “bonsai no kokoro,” or “peace through bonsai.” He was a co-founder of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation, and served for many years on the National Bonsai Foundation Board of Directors as well as an honorary director.  

Tsukiyama was a graduate of Yale Law School who practiced as an esteemed labor lawyer in Hawaii. Tsukiyama’s autobiography, "My Life's Journey: A Memoir,” was published in 2017.

“Ted was a gentleman in every sense of that word and he will be dearly missed by all who were enriched by his friendship,” NBF Executive Director Dr. Johann Klodzen said.

Our Official Valentine's Day Gift Guide for Bonsai Lovers

Check out these bonsai-related gifts for your special someone.

Looking for more than a box of chocolate on Valentine's Day this year? Get your bonsai-loving love something you know they'll love! Read National Bonsai Foundation’s Official Valentine's Day Gift Guide for Bonsai Lovers and get gifting!

1.) Didn’t win a copy of Ann McClellan’s book last week in our quiz?
Get your copy now! It’s the perfect coffee table book for the bonsai lover in your life!

2.) Show love for the little ones in your life and get them hooked on bonsai early with Sandra Moore and Kazumi Wilds’ The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: A Little Bonsai with a Big Story.

3.) Was your couple’s 2019 resolution to be more active? Sign yourself and your partner up for a yoga session amongst the bonsai! Learn more and register here.

4.) John Naka’s Sketchbook is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift: each of this Dean of American bonsai’s 100 sketches is as unique as your loved one!

5.) Give the gift of a unique and memorable experience. Register you and your Valentine for Forest Bathing Amongst the Bonsai, with Melanie Choukas Bradley. Awaken your senses! Learn more and register here.

INSIDE THE MUSEUM : History of Our Entrance Gates & Gardens

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 3.51.48 PM.png

Thousands of visitors filter through the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum entrance gates and gardens every year, but few know the significance behind the design.

Jack Sustic, who served as the Museum curator for 13 years, says before the Museum first opened in 1976, the entrance was only an open area with no gates or gardens.  

Today, visitors are welcomed into the Museum through the Ellen Gordon Allen Garden. In 1956, Ellen Gordon Allen created Ikebana International, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and spreading the art of ikebana, or Japanese flower arrangement. Allen established the organization’s first U.S. chapter in D.C.

“She’s quite important in the history of ikebana, especially in the United States,” says Sustic.

The design of the garden, engendered by Thomas Wirth at the Susuki Association in Massachusetts, was named in honor of Allen’s contributions to ikebana. The garden was officially dedicated to Allen in 1982.

Constructed by Shimizu Landscape Corporation, based in Maryland, the garden melds the Western style of a national art garden with the traditional traits of an Eastern bonsai museum.

Its large straight walkway represents a Western approach, which complements the Eastern-inspired sculpted tines within the garden.

“The designer was trying to create a buffer or transition between the two kind of philosophies, the two styles of gardening,” says Sustic. “The styles are so different and the approach to gardening is very different between the two.”

Sustic added that the entrance gate’s shingle roof and bamboo emulate a unique Japanese style not seen other places in the Arboretum. Sustic says visitors often appreciate the dedication and work incorporated into both cultures in the design.

The Museum’s Cryptomeria Walk

The Museum’s Cryptomeria Walk

Enhancements to the entry gardens and gates have been minimal since the original design, enduring only a transition in plantings or an added lantern to improve the look.

Visitors’ last steps to the Museum are taken on a walkway lined with cryptomerias, a Japanese cedar tree, believed to have a cleansing effect, which often surrounds Japanese temples and shrines.

Sustic says this design is intentional and meant to transition visitors into a more meditative state of mind.

“We would always tell people to leave all their earthly concerns at the door and welcome to the world of bonsai.”


The National Bonsai Foundation is thrilled to announce that our new and improved, mobile-friendly website is live! Check out this preview below and then scroll through the site to see for yourself.

Want to win a copy of Anne McClellans’s Bonsai & Penjing: Ambassadors of Peace and Beauty? Be entered to win by taking this short quiz that tests what you’ve learned from our new site!

And, as you’re scrolling through, if you catch a broken link or typo, please let us know! You can email us directly at

If you’re looking for archives of our blog, we’ll be transferring it over soon. Check back often, and don’t forget to sign up for our e-newsletter and follow us on social media here.


My summer apprenticeship has certainly been keeping me busy, leaving very little time for these blog posts! As the waning heat of the summer transitions into the coolness of the upcoming autumn season, watering requirements begin to lessen there is a bit more time for pruning, wiring and other tree work. Here are some of my favorite trees from my recent work:

Eurya (Eurya emarginata) Continuous Tightening

This eurya from the Japanese Collection is one of my favorite bonsai on display in the museum. It has a very stout trunk that almost resembles the “sumo” style that seems to be currently in vogue within the bonsai community. I have to admit that I, too, enjoy this style and the power that it presents within the confines of these tiny trees. E. emarginata have small, glossy leaves when reduced, but they can grow to be quite large if the trees are allowed to run and gain vigor. Therefore, consistent pruning is required to maintain the tight shape and tiny leaves that we enjoy about this bonsai. I’ve now pruned and wired this tree a few times over the summer and have been typically following up a pruning with a pinching shortly after to prevent the energy from redirecting fully into the remaining buds and blowing the new shoots out of proportion. I’ve found that this gives quite dense and even growth throughout the developed pads.

Eurya before pruning work to tighten pads

Ezo Spruce (Picea glehnni) Post-Growth Season Pruning


After growing and extending all season, spruces can be cut back to shape. With these, we must be very careful to cut back to new buds to allow the cut tips to continue to grow in next years’ extension. I could locate good buds to cut back to across the entire canopy for the tree, so all the tips should continue to remain healthy while maintaining the crisp presentation intended in this tree between now and the next growth season.

I’m now in the final week of my apprenticeship. It’s been an incredibly busy summer full of new experiences, fun travels, and a ton of new learning. I’m very grateful to National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the US National Arboretum for the opportunity to work on and develop my skills using some of the best and most prominent bonsai in the country, and I’m very appreciative of the support that Toyota has offered to the National Bonsai Foundation in supporting with funding for this wonderful apprenticeship.

Following the completion of my apprenticeship, I’ll be moving to a new home in San Antonio, TX, where I’ll begin delving into my own personal bonsai garden space while continuing my journey with bonsai. The climate in Texas will be entirely new to me and will present many new challenges to manage watering and sun exposure in the extreme heat of the summer, but compensates for those with a longer growing season to develop and refine material and a far milder winter season. I intend to continue sharing my work on social media and various online platforms, so please do not hesitate to send me requests if you’re interested in seeing how I progress and where I travel throughout my journey.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me up to this point.