Naka Fund


John Y. Naka (1914-2004) was born in Colorado, but went to live in Japan with his family at the age of 8. Here he worked with his grandfather, Sadahei, who had bonsai, and it was through this relationship that John was first exposed to the art. He returned to the United States at the age of 21, married Alice Toshiko Mizunaga and then worked on the family farm for 10 years before moving to Southern California where he developed a landscaping business and started his own bonsai collection.

As a founding member of the Southern California Bonsai Society he exhibited his trees at shows in California and his reputation as a bonsai artist spread. At the same time his talents as a teacher became evident and he began lecturing and giving workshops, which led to travel throughout the United States and eventually the world.

In 1973 he published, Bonsai Techniques I, which has been in print continuously up to the present time, as well as translated into other languages. This was followed by Bonsai Techniques II in 1982. Both books contain numerous illustrative photographs and drawings by him and are widely used internationally. After his death the National Bonsai Foundation published The John Naka Sketch Book, which contains a selection of his drawings of bonsai trees done for his students.


Photo: Museum Staff

In 1984 John bestowed upon the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum his bonsai, Goshin or “Guardian of the Spirit”.

This forest planting, with eleven trees, representing each of his grand-children, is the iconic plant of the Museum and has place of honor in the John Y. Naka North American Pavilion, which was dedicated in 1990.

John received many awards for his work and his conviction that “the art of bonsai belongs to the whole world.” In 1985 the Emperor of Japan bestowed upon him the “Fifth Class Order of the Rising Sun’, which is the highest recognition that the Empire of Japan can confer on a person who is not a citizen of that country. In 1992 he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts and in 2004 the Japanese American National Museum named him the institution’s first Cultural Ambassador for his work in sharing bonsai with the world.

Contributions to The John Y. Naka Fund are dedicated to improving Museum collections and maintaining and enhancing the facilities of the John Y. Naka North American Pavilion.


Photo: Museum Staff