Hoichi Kurisu has a very compelling reason to be drawn to nature: it saved his life. Kurisu was living in Hiroshima, Japan, when the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. Luckily, a mountain separated his family’s home from the bombing site. “That mountain saved our lives,” he says. He was six years old at the time.
More than 70 years later, Kurisu – a world-renowned Japanese garden designer – has designed the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum’s renovated Japanese Pavilion, which will open later this year. One of the featured trees is the nearly 400-year-old Yamaki pine that also survived Hiroshima. This fact is not lost on Kurisu. “We were both victims – and here we are!” he says.
“Unlike painting or sculpture, bonsai is a pure and living art form,” the designer says. “My challenge is to express that beauty and dignity, as well as the timelessness of the trees.
Some bonsai are hundreds of years old, yet they have never been healthier, he adds. That is because they have been tended to on a daily basis. “If visitors focus on that,” he says, “they may forget what’s happening in their day-to-day lives.”
“That is because bonsai bring the focus back to the present,” he adds. “It gives viewers a sense of spirituality and a feeling of oneness. In turn, I hope that leads to a sense of joy and peace.”
Kurisu marvels that he went from living in a small town in Japan to having the opportunity to work on this country’s national collection, and that, because of the Museum’s prominent location in the nation’s capital, the collection is seen by thousands of visitors from around the world. What response does he hope to get from visitors to the newly renovated Pavilion? “Wow!” he says, with a laugh. “That’s because the collection is ‘wow.’ ”
National Bonsai Foundation President Felix Laughlin calls Kurisu “a brilliant and creative expert in Japanese landscape design.” His work is on display at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Florida; the Anderson Japanese Garden in Illinois; the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Michigan; and the Japanese Garden in Washington Park in Portland, Oregon, where Kurisu lives.
Both Laughlin and Kurisu see the new Pavilion as a therapeutic answer to the fast pace and stress so many people face today.
“We need peaceful moments in our lives,” says Kurisu. “I think 99 percent of people in this country are missing that. “To understand nature is to understand the universe,” he adds.