Hands at work under a father’s watch

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Junkoh Harui a few months before his death. One subject that came up time after time was his father, Zenhichi.

It seemed that much of what Junkoh created with Bainbridge Gardens was done with his father in mind (the photo to the left shows Zenhichi and his family, with Junkoh at the center wearing a bow tie).

“He came from a farm. He didn’t speak English. He was a man who was uneducated, but he had these two beautiful tools,” Junkoh said, holding up his own 75-year-old hands.

With little more than his hands, Zenhichi came to Bainbridge in 1908. He labored in the sawmills and scraping together enough money to buy 20 acres on Miller Road. While raising five children, he cleared the land, planted crops and eventually built Island Center’s community hub, with a gas station, general store and nursery. He also created an immaculately-groomed landscape of sunken ponds and sculpted Japanese plants. It must have been striking and surreal to the island’s pioneers.

Junkoh put his own hands to work rebuilding what his father had lost after the family was forced off the island during World War II. While it is today one of the island’s most treasured places, Junkoh said his revival of Bainbridge Gardens never could match the beauty and grandeur Zenhichi created. Still, Junkoh thought his father, and his mother Shiki, would be proud of what he’d accomplished.

“I’ve been under the weather now with this situation with cancer,” Junkoh said in July. “But it gives me courage that I have enjoyed life and rebuilt Bainbridge Gardens. I’ve kept it going because I know I’ll see mom and dad in the big sky.

“I think they will be happy to see me, with what I’ve done here, and that I carried it on as far as I could go.”

Below is a column Junkoh wrote in 1986 for his nursery’s newsletter.

In my more naive days I sometimes used to wonder about my father’s motives. After a long hard day at work, my father would often sit on a hard wooden stool in front of a crude bench, wearing his dime-store spectacles, and work for hours…clipping, shaping, pruning, caressing, manicuring and even talking to a group of what seemed strange and odd-shaped plants. He seemed mesmerized by their stature.

Then one day he invited me to sit in on one of these sessions. He spoke nary a word and so neither did I.

It was then that I realized that he had entered a different world. He was practicing the art of Bonsai, and when he was working on these plants he entered the miniature kingdom of trees and shrubs. It was his fantasy, but it was a fantasy of realism, with true meaning and feeling.

He lost himself in the dense woods in the forest, he was in closest contact with nature. He felt the exhilaration of the sight of a giant, graceful tree, appreciating the beauty of its bark, foliage, buds and fruit. He strolled in the meadow of moss at the foot of this lovely tree. And he captured all of this feeling within a space not more than 12 inches square on this crude working bench.

Today we are quick to pop pills and tranquilizers…my father needed only his Bonsai for his peace of mind. The art of Bonsai taught him infinite patience. It taught him that age and beauty have a direct relationship. How often have you noted that time adds to beauty?

The art of Bonsai also gives the opportunity for complete expression. My father transferred his heart, soul and mind into his Bonsai plants. The end product was a creation and reflection of his inner being.

What more can man do as a caring guardian of nature?
-Junkoh Harui