“Listen to the tree and where it wants to go.” – John Naka
Building Community Through the Art of Bonsai
In 1983, Bob Kato, a local nurseryman, along with 18 other bonsai collectors founded Sei Boku Bonsai Kai in San Mateo, California with the motto “The Club That Cares”. Since that beginning, we have grown now to over 70 members from all over the Bay Area. Since its inception, Sei Boku has been dedicated to educating our members and the public about the joys of the Japanese art of bonsai (pronounced “bone sigh”).
Bonsai translated to “tray planting” is a Japanese version of the original traditional Chinese art of penjing or penzai. Unlike penjing, which utilizes traditional techniques to produce entire natural sceneries, the Japanese version followed by Sei Boku attempts to produce small trees that mimic the shape of real-life trees.
Bonsai has become for many an escape from the rigors of life and technology overload, with many dedicating themselves to this art of training small and medium size trees into beautiful artful miniature replicas of full-grown trees in nature.
The Green Tree Bonsai Club
Our club name and motto say it all: Sei Boku Bonsai Kai means the Green Tree Bonsai Club, and we are “The Club That Cares.” In 1983 a group of eighteen people were organized into Sei Boku by the late Bob M. Kato. Bob owned the Kato Garden Center, co-founded Hillsborough Bonsai Society and San Francisco Bonsai Club, was instructor and speaker/demonstrator for numerous clubs, and was board member of the Golden State Bonsai Federation for four years among other accomplishments. Bob’s legacy of teaching and community involvement are carried on through Sei Boku. Our club meetings are currently held on Zoom, but will be held the fourth Wednesday of the month, excluding December, at the San Mateo Garden Center, 605 Parkside Way in San Mateo when we can meet in person again. Meetings start at 7:30 pm, doors open at 7 pm. Board meetings are held on the Wednesday following the club meeting at 7 pm in the Redwood Hall of the Center. We have a First Tuesday Workshop open to all members every month from 7 to 10 pm in the Rose Room. A monthly newsletter, The Snippet, announces our club programs, provides a calendar of bonsai events, and keeps us up on bonsai advice.
Every year we put on a show of our club members’ trees at the San Mateo Garden Center. Our very first show was at the old Tanforan Shopping Center in San Bruno in August, 1983. Our shows always include a beautiful exhibit of fine trees, demonstrations of how to make a bonsai, member and vendor sales of trees, pots and other bonsai related items, and the ever popular Dr. Bonsai table to help our visitors with their trees. In years past we put on annual exhibits at Filoli for their “Flowers at Filoli” event, and at the San Mateo County Fair in August. Both of these events required a lot of time and effort from our club members.
But we do more than just show our trees. Once a year we have a “Green Elephant” auction to help our members redistribute their trees, tools, pots, etc. Throughout the year we try to go on field-trips to gardens, home collections, nurseries, shows, or whatever turns up. The annual tour of members’ gardens followed by our potluck/barbecue party in the Fall is very popular. In December we have a holiday dinner party featuring our decorated trees. Our annual Novice Bonsai Classes are valuable to both the beginners and those who just want to brush up on their skills. Every first Tuesday of the month, we have a workshop that gives us a chance to get advice on that difficult tree or just watch others at work. At just about every club meeting, we put on a mini-show of members’ trees. These aren’t always prize specimens, but something we want to share or have a story to tell about.
At our monthly meetings, Sei Boku has demonstrations, guest lectures, slide programs, and group workshops. We have a club librarian in charge of an extensive collection of books, magazines, videos, tools and wire kept at the Garden Center. Our club logo is a famous Japanese tree called “Michishiba,” which is more than 100 years old. It has had several owners over the years, but is now under the professional care of Mr. Masahiko Kimura. For more of the story about our logo tree, volume 35 of the magazine, Bonsai Today has an article about our logo tree’s history.
We’re proud that our club founder, Bob Kato was the designer of the GSBF logo of a double trunk bonsai. Following his motto for Sei Boku Bonsai Kai as “The Club That Cares,” you will always find our members in the thick of California bonsai.