A small juniper started Boon Manakitivipart on his bonsai journey. That tree – a present for his 28th birthday – has had a huge impact on his life. From there he joined the Bonsai Society of San Francisco, where he took his first beginner class in the spring of 1989. Anxious to learn as much as possible about bonsai, he studied with as many teachers as he could find in California.
His bonsai skills advanced when he hosted bonsai master Akio Kondo, who was Kihachiro Kamiya’s first apprentice. Later, Boon worked and studied at Kihachi-En (a famous bonsai nursery in Japan) and was an apprentice to Kihachiro Kamiya, a great bonsai master with multiple national awards.
In April 2000, he won the Grand Prize in the Kindai Bonsai Styling Contest in Japan. He was the only non-Japanese entrant in the contest. He has since won numerous other awards and recognition for his work, both nationally and internationally.
In 1998, Boon – who was born in Thailand – founded and became the sensei (or primary teacher) of Bay Island Bonsai, and started his business, Bonsai Boon, near Oakland, California. Bay Island Bonsai’s annual exhibition is considered among the best in the country. In addition, the Bonsai Boon Web site offers monthly tips on bonsai care.
Boon likes a challenge and, he says, growing a tree in a pot is challenging. He says the greatest challenge of all is caring for the trees “so they live a long, long time.” Which is why he is in awe of the trees in the collection of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, some of which have been in training for hundreds of years.
The Museum “is an inspiration,” he says. It’s a free, public place where visitors can admire an old tree with a rich history.” He mentions, for example, the Yamaki pine, which survived the atomic bombing at Hirsohima. “It speaks to growing strong,” he says. “In spite of what it’s been through, it’s still living. It’s still beautiful.”