U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and six other officials from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo received a hands-on lesson in the art of bonsai from the Tokyo Metropolitan Horticultural High School (Engei High School) Bonsai Club on May 12, 2016. The Ambassador is fascinated with the bonsai tradition and enjoyed working with the tiny maple tree that might live for over 100 years. "Bonsai trees have such a beautiful shape and they encompass the larger nature within themselves, so it’s really like looking back into time as well as into nature,” said the Ambassador at the event.

Ambassador Kennedy's maple tree from the Bonsai Workshop

Ambassador Kennedy planted this tiny maple tree during the bonsai workshop.

Engei High School has been displaying its spectacular bonsai at the Ambassador’s official residence since 2015 when Ambassador Kennedy attended a Friendship Blossoms dogwood planting there. The Ambassador was struck by the beauty of Engei High School’s remarkable collection of bonsai, so the school offered to display some of its trees at her official residence. “I think it’s wonderful that the young people are continuing this very special Japanese tradition,” said the Ambassador. “This takes great focus and dedication and commitment.”

Ambassador Kennedy plants a dogwood tree during a Friendship Blossoms event at Tokyo Metropolitan Engei High School

Ambassador Kennedy plants a dogwood tree during an event at Engei High School.

Engei High School has played an instrumental role in more than 100 years of U.S.-Japan flowering tree diplomacy.  In 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo donated 3,000 cherry trees to the United States as a symbol of the Japan-U.S. lasting friendship. Three years later, 40 dogwood saplings were presented in return, two of which were planted at Engei High School. The school continues to care for the lone survivor of the 1915 dogwoods along with the new sapling that was planted by Ambassador Kennedy in 2015.

During the workshop, young bonsai masters from Engei High School taught the Ambassador how to plant a young maple tree in a ceramic pot and carefully position it using wire and tweezers. After adding the finishing touches to her creation, she held it up and said happily, “My bonsai is now complete!” Everyone who participated in the workshop was thrilled with their tiny bonsai trees.

Students from the bonsai club at Engei High School teach Ambassador Kennedy how to care for her bonsai.

Students from the Bonsai Club at Engei High School teach Ambassador Kennedy how to care for her bonsai.

In addition to giving the Ambassador an opportunity to express appreciation for the bonsai displays provided by the school, the event was an opportunity to emphasize the importance of English language education and highlight opportunities to study English and agriculture in the United States. One of the students who participated in the workshop said, “It was fun to teach them about Japanese culture. I want to teach more people about it in the future.” The Ambassador echoed this sentiment when she said she hopes the students “will come to the United States and teach American students about bonsai.”

Several months later, the Ambassador had the opportunity to visit the bonsai nursery at the Imperial Palace. She was deeply impressed by the beauty of an ancient bonsai tree that is over 600 years old. Ambassador Kennedy’s journey to learn about the timeless art of bonsai continues.

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Check out this video of the event!