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The Unique History of the Rocky Mountain Bonsai Society

Mr. Harold Sasaki in collaboration with Patrick B. Allen


On February 19, 1942, soon after the beginning of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a presidential executive order which allowed local military commanders to designate “military areas” as “exclusion zones,” from which “any or all persons may be excluded.”  This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Almost 120,000 Japanese Americans and resident Japanese aliens were removed from their homes and sent to one of ten internment camps, officially called “relocation centers”, in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming (Heart Mountain), Colorado (Granada War Relocation Center), and Arkansas. This was a very confusing and regretful moment in our nation’s history.

At the end of the war, some of the Japanese men and their families settled in the Denver area.  The Denver Bonsai Club was organized in 1945 by a group of 8 Japanese men.  All were either born or educated in Japan.  Most immigrated to the U.S. west coast from Japan and had Bonsai collections in California. Known are names of 7;  Mr. George Fukuma, Mr. Shiichi Fukuhara, Mr. Ben Yamakishi, Mr. Sam Naka, Mr. George Inai, Mr. Kai Kawahara and Mr. Mitsutaro Tawara. 

These 8 Americans of Japanese descent started the Denver Bonsai Club.  They all had to leave their bonsai collections when they were relocated from the west coast to Wyoming and Colorado internment camps.  After the war, they settled in the Denver area. 

After the formation of the Denver Bonsai Club, Bonsai interest in Denver grew, having up to 75 members in the club.  Members got together at various members’ homes to learn from each other and from those members who came from California with Bonsai experience.

The club held annual shows at various public places:  the Denver U.S. National Bank, Simpson Methodist Church and the Denver Buddhist Temple.  This 1954 photo of the 10th-anniversary Bonsai show is the oldest known picture.

The declining membership in the 1970s with the passing of many of the older senior and the aging of the rest of the club members. 

DBC 1954.jpg

In 1975 Mr. George Fukuma urged the senior and junior (Rocky Mountain Bonsai Society) clubs to merge to become the Denver Bonsai Club. The merger of the two clubs was a good idea since the Junior Bonsai Club was growing and had around 76 members.

These members worked hard to promote bonsai thru the annual show held at the Denver Botanic Gardens.  The Senior Bonsai Club’s older members had the best show quality trees.  All in all, it was an excellent match. However, the cultures of the two clubs were very different and the merger did not work. The junior club was renamed and chartered to become the Rocky Mountain Bonsai Society.

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