Club History

A history of Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai


Dr. Rick Wagner, President
Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai
Copyright 2002 by Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai, all rights reserved.

This history documents the South Bay's bonsai club, Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai (DIBK). The club's name means "number one bonsai club." In 1985 a small group of bonsai enthusiasts got together to form a new club to serve the South Bay area in Los Angeles County. Their purpose was to start a club in which both experienced bonsaists and novices could come together to learn about, share knowledge of, and promote the art of bonsai. The Ken Nakaoka Community Center in the city of Gardena was chosen as the location for club meetings and other events such as the annual bonsai show and Christmas dinner party. Gardena is centrally located to serve the South Bay (southern Santa Monica Bay) area. The Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai annual spring show, "Serenity through Bonsai," has come to be regarded as one of the best local club bonsai shows.

The club has been an important influence in the promotion of the art of bonsai in the South Bay area and has assisted many members over the years in improving their appreciation and practice of the art of bonsai. The author, at the time of this writing (September 2002) is the current President of DIBK, and has been a club member for many years. This history is arranged in chronological order. The key events and highlights for each year are included.


DIBK schedules its first club meeting. An announcement appeared in the December 25, 1985 Daily Breeze, page B6:

Bonsai Club
A group of Bonsai enthusiasts is organizing a new South Bay club and meets at 7 p.m. on the first Friday of each month starting Jan. 3 at the Ken Nakaoka Memorial Center, 1700 W. 162nd St., Gardena. For further information, call the Gardena Recreation Department at 327-0220 Ext. 340.


The first issue of the Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai newsletter (Volume 1, Issue 1) was a single page, dated February 1986, described the first meeting, and was mailed to members on January 30, 1986. The President was Jim Tatsukawa. The other officers of the club were divided into cabinet members and chairs.

Cabinet members were:

Chairs were:

Leila Kusumi performed a demonstration on a twisted procumbens nana, the finished bonsai was donated to the raffle, and was won by Mr. and Mrs. Hisayasu.

At the February meeting, the tradition of keeping the losing tickets for a "last chance" drawing was started. Sam Nakano and Kaz Yoneda demonstrated a bunjin style California juniper. The planned juniper dig in the Tehachapi mountains was canceled due to bad weather. The roads through the canyon were impassible.

The March demonstrator was John Yoshio Naka. John worked on a prostrata juniper, and it featured many jin and shari. John autographed his books, Bonsai Techniques I and Bonsai Techniques II. Those books remain the fundamental volumes. The April 1986 newsletter had the Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai logo that we use today. The logo was commissioned from Joni Sugimoto, an art major at CSULB, and daughter of the treasurer, in December 1985. Joni was paid for her work in late 1987. The newsletter was two sheets for the first time. Jim Tatsukawa's bonsai class at Hamilton Adult Center was announced for the beginning of a new semester Tuesday, April 1: the author began attending Jim's classes that semester. Jim handed out flyers for Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai the first night of class, along with introductory bonsai material. Being a relative novice at bonsai, the author didn't feel he was ready for a bonsai club at that time, so he joined Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai the following year.

Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai's first juniper dig was held jointly with Kofu Kai, Saturday, May 3, in Mohave.

DIBK's revenue was received from dues, raffles, donations, sales. When it was formed, the club was seeded with two donations of $1,000 by two donors who preferred to remain anonymous.

Club name tags were ordered in December 1986. The Christmas party was a tremendous success featuring Santa Claus.


The January meeting featured the free "second chance" raffle. Leila Kusumi demonstrated with a kengai style juniper. Bobbi Lotrick won the tree.

Planning for the first annual bonsai show in May 16 and 17 was underway. "Serenity through Bonsai" was the theme. At the May meeting, members were asked to take the beautiful show flyers, designed by Reiko Amano, and place them to advertise the upcoming exhibit.

Exhibitors in the first annual Serenity through Bonsai exhibit included Frank Goya, Harry Hirao, Mel Ikeda, Masaru Ishii, Bob Kinoshita, Ernie Kuo, Shig Miya, Mas Moriguchi, John Naka, Jeff Rohlen, Bill Southworth, Melba Tucker, and Kaz Yoneda.

At the June meeting the practice of fining members 25 cents for not wearing their nametags was begun. Board members' fines were double.

The DIBK library was formed in September. Kay Ujimori was the club librarian. In October, Reiko Amano's position was split into two: Recording Secretary and Corresponding Secretary.


Leila Kusumi was elected the new President for 1988. The new President and the past President jointly performed a demonstration on two trees that were subsequently included as prizes in the raffle.

The second annual "Serenity through Bonsai" show was a big success with approximately 140 attending the open house. In the June newsletter, Leila Kusumi, President, put a special thanks to Harry Hirao, whom she called the "father of our club", and also thanks to his assistants Mel Ikeda, Bob Kinoshita, and Kaz Murai.

The first DIBK auction was held in June of 1988. Twenty percent of sale price went to the club. Checks were accepted. Bill Voss was the auctioneer.

In September 1988 Larry Burke resigned as First Vice President due to other committments. Ted Oka stepped into the position.

In November it was felt that the club should raise more money. Annual dues were raised from $10 to $15 for individuals and from $15 to $25 for families. Raffle tickets were priced at one dollar per ticket (up to nine tickets) or fifteen tickets for ten dollars.


Leila Kusumi continued as President. A bonsai workshop (instead of a demonstration) was held in January. Participants were asked to contribute $5 each. Jim Tatsukawa and Leila Kusumi were the instructors.

DIBK and South Coast Bonsai joined forces to go on a juniper dig with Harry Hirao on February 5.

The third annual show was a success. John Naka and Mas Moriguchi demonstrated gratis. DIBK was becoming famous for good food at its reception and Christmas party.


Jim Tatsukawa was President again.

Club officers:


Board meetings were held separately from the regular monthly meetings the preceeding Friday.

DIBK organized a juniper dig with Harry Hirao on February 10, 1990. The cost was $10 per member. The dig spanned two days (10th and 11th) and was in Jawbone Canyon in the Tehachapi Mountains (near the town of Mojave).

1990 brought a change in the benefit drawing: donations were no longer required to be bonsai related.

The annual May bonsai show featured a novice section for the first time. Novices and intermediates were encouraged to show their trees. DIBK logo and motto (Serenity through Bonsai) T-shirts and aprons were offered for sale. The members' plant sale was added to the show. The club retained 20% of the sale price.

August featured a car pool field trip to John Naka's house. The $15 charge per member helped to cover a gift for Alice and John and a Japanese brunch afterwards at Sambi's. In September of 1990 the club voted to move their meetings to the third Friday of every month in order to avoid the teen dances. Board meetings were still held the preceeding Friday.

The 1990 Christmas party was attended by over 100 bonsai enthusiasts. Entertainment was provided by the Kinnara Taiko group.


The club sponsored a bonsai dig with Harry Hirao March 16, 1991. Ten DIBK members brought back trees to add to their collections.

The 5th annual Serenity Through Bonsai show was a big success with a demonstration appearance by Harry Hirao. There were hapi coats (royal purple with gold logo, $40) and motto T-shirts ($5) available.

For the first time the club held a July picnic instead of a meeting. The picnic was Sunday, July 14, in El Nido Park in Torrance. A workshop was held at 9:00 AM. Lunch was at 12:30. DIBK supplied hamburgers, hotdogs, condiments, and sodas. Volunteers brought salads and desserts. Bingo was played for prizes after lunch. Over 40 adults attended. The July picnic became a club tradition.

In September 1991 the club had 87 dues paying members. The Christmas party featured Polynesian entertainment. Outgoing President Jim Tatsukawa was presented with a signed and stamped bonsai pot and with a plaque inscribed "In appreciation to your selfless devotion and enthusiasm in presenting and teaching the art and experience of Bonsai to your students, friends, and our club. Domo Arigato!"


Club officers:


The refreshments committee chair had been open for some time, so I February 1992 a new system was announced in which the winner of the grand prize at a club meeting would be responsible for coordinating the refreshments for the next meeting. If the prize winner failed to coordinate the refreshments, the club would take back the prize. This threat was largely in jest, was unworkable, and was never carried out. The club welcomes non-members and guests to attend our monthly meetings and making a non-member prize-winner responsible for refreshements for the next meeting was infeasible. Somehow, the refreshments always showed up and we muddled through the "refreshment committee crisis."

The club sponsored a juniper dig in March with Harry Hirao.

The planned May show, "Serenity through Bonsai," did not occur in 1992 due to the "civil unrest" that arose after the acquittal of the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating. The city of Gardena canceled all activities to be held at their facilities for that particular weekend.

The annual July picnic was held at El Nido Park in Torrance. Unseasonable rain showers occurred, making the event more "exciting and unusual." The park building had been reserved, so the workshop and barbecue were held in the rain and lunch was eaten indoors.


A juniper dig planned for March was postponed due to bad weather.

The free bonsai workshop was instituted at the annual show. Jim Tatsukawa, Leila Kusumi, Ted Oka, and Mel Ikeda demonstrated at the show.

On May 16, the club sponsored a field trip to Fuji Bonsai Nursery in Sylmar via chartered bus.

Harry Hirao demonstrated with a California juniper at the June meeting.

The July picnic was held in El Nido Park in Torrance, attended by over 50 adults and many youngsters.

October 1993 brough DIBK's first auction. Members were urged to donate trees and other items and if a member wanted to sell an item for his own profit there would be a $1 per item charge plus a 10% auction fee.


The club political paradigm no longer distinguished between officers and committee chairmen:

Club officers:

Jim Tatsukawa, DIBK cofounder and former President, suffered a stroke in January. Milton Louie, the current President, stepped in to teach Jim's class starting January 25 at Hamilton Adult School, so for a while, the author was Milton's student.

Normally a club meeting was not held in May due to the annual show, but 1994 featured Harry Hirao demonstrating with a California juniper at the May meeting.

The July picnic was once again held in El Nido Park in Torrance.

In August, Leila Kusumi started a shohin club with membership limited to 12.

The October auction became an annual event.

The Christmas pot luck party featured entertainment by a disk jockey.


Club officers:

March featured a juniper dig jointly with Kofu Kai and Harry Hirao.

At the March board meeting the board voted unanimously to bestow upon Jim and Kaye Tatsukawa the first Honorary Life Membership to Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai.

As of March 1995, DIBK had 45 paid memberships (some of them family memberships).

The annual show was held in April, 1995, and featured bonsai from 35 exhibitors.

The May newsletter announced that members bringing a new member to a meeting will both receive $10 worth of raffle tickets for the drawing.

The annual auction was held in October as usual.

Leila Kusumi's shohin club, Unique Shohin, with membership limited to 12 members, had two openings. The club met on the first Thursday of the month at Leila's house.


Bill Johnson was elected president to start the second decade of DIBK. The January meeting featured the "President's Demo," which had become a tradition with DIBK. Bill presented a slide show of his photographs of some bristlecone pines from the high Sierra mountains. Bill also demonstrated on a Hirao-collected California juniper that he had maintained for three years. Ed Walters won the demo tree.

The DIBK Web site was established by the author on January 26, 1996. With the club President's permission, a homepage for DIBK was established at Geocities, a free homepages Web service. At the time, not only was it the first bonsai club Web site, it was the first bonsai Web site of any kind. A few weeks after it was established, a search using Yahoo! on the keyword "bonsai" found only the DIBK homepage.

DIBK went on a juniper dig with Kofu Kai and Harry Hirao on Saturday, March 16, 1996.

Ed Partis was show chairman and he instituted black plastic name plates with the tree exhibitor's name in white letters. This was the first year the author showed a bonsai, a cork oak forest of 13 trees. The annual show was in late April, with 21 members and 14 guests exhibiting bonsai. Demonstrators included Mel Ikeda, Harry Hirao, Bill Johnson, Allan Sugimura, Patti Theaker, and Hank Osterhaudt.

Harry Hirao demonstrated on a California Juniper at the May meeting.

The annual picnic was held Sunday, July 14, in El Nido Park in Torrance.

The annual auction was held in October.

The Christmas party was held Sunday, December 1st.


Club officers:

The annual show was held May 3 and 4, as usual, in the Ken Nakaoka Community Center. Ed Partis was the show chairman.

The annual picnic was held Sunday, July 13th in Lomita Park, the first time it was not held in El Nido Park in Torrance.

The annual auction was held in October, as usual.

The November meeeting featured a critique of member trees by John Naka.

The annual Christmas party was held Sunday, December 7th. A first-ever December workshop was held. Members brought in trees for the Winter Silouette Show or for fine tuning for the DIBK annual May show.


Club officers:

New President Patti Theaker started the tradition of a monthly "President's Message" in the newsletter.

The board requested member input on the idea of having an informal workshop an hour before each meeting.

In February, Mas Ishii of Chekugo En Bonsai Nursery (18110 S. Western Avenue, near 182nd Street) demonstrated with a 13 year old grafted shimpaku juniper, with 40 members attending. Mas was an early member and has been a regular supporter of DIBK and demonstrator at DIBK meetings.

The March demonstrator was Cheryl Manning with emphasis on potting techniques.

Instead of the usual show tree preparation workshop in April, Show Chairman Ed Partis gave a slide show presentation of his photographs of the 40th Anniversary Show of the California Bonsai Society. The annual show, held May 2 and 3, had nearly 50 exhibits with over half of them being shown by club members (the rest by invited guest exhibitors). The reception entertainment featured a Gong (talent) show put on by members.

Melba Tucker displayed one of her oldest saikei in our annual show and then donated $2,000 to the club.

During the setup for the annual show, there was a policy disagreement between one of the founding members and the show chairman. Some of the invited guest exhibitors had not submitted entry forms and the table space for display had been fully allocated. Additional tables were added to the show display area and no one who wanted to show a bonsai was turned away.

The June demonstrator was Harry Hirao.

Ben Oki demonstrated on July 17. The newsletter editor, Bob Lawlor had four years' experience now and was able to include monochrome photographs of a tour of Ted OKa's yard and bonsai collection in the July newsletter.

Over 50 people attended the July picnic, held at Lomita Park.

In September, the author's son, Tommy Wagner, received a Golden State Bonsai Federation Plant a Seed Program award of $100, sponsored by the President of DIBK, Patti Theaker. Tommy and his two sisters, Malia and Becky, had all shown trees in the novice section of the 1998 May show.

The annual auction was held in October, with Joe James as the auctioneer.

Ted Matson, who studied under Melba Tucker, among others, demonstrated in November.


The annual show featured 34 exhibits.

Harry Hirao demonstrated at the June meeting.

In July the club organized a trip up to see the bristlecone pines near Bishop.

Club officers:

In July the board amended the club bylaws. In August, the President, Patti Theaker addressed a letter to the membership asking them to review the amended bylaws and ratify them at the August meeting, which they did.

The annual auction was held in October as usual. The club organized a tour of the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys on October 23rd.

The Christmas party was held December 5 and featured an appearance by Santa Claus, as usual.


Patti Theaker agreed to serve an unprecedented third year as President.

Club officers:

Ted Matson performed a demonstration at the February meeting.

The club President was unable to attend the annual May show, so the newsletter editor wrote the thanks to the club members and invited guests. Frank Goya demonstrated at the monthly meeting May 19, 2000. A tour of the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys was organized for Saturday, April 22, 2000.

Harry Hirao demonstrated at the June meeting.

August featured an "interactive bonsai night," in which members bring tools and the club supplies several trees. Completed trees were put in the benefit drawing.

Lindsay Shiba demonstrated in September.

The annual auction was held in October. This year (and following years) all auction items were donations to the club.

The Christmas party featured a magician for entertainment.

John Naka, Harry Hirao, and Leila Kusumi were awarded a lifetime honorary memberships in Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai. These awards were proposed by outgoing President Patti Theaker, approved by the board, and ratified by the membership.


The author was elected President.

Club officers:

After six years as Newsletter Editor, Bob Lawlor stepped into line for the Presidency as First Vice President. Chuck Pine took over as newsletter editor.

January featured the President's Demo with a San Jose Juniper, won by Patty Peters. The January newsletter included an article by the President on wiring bonsai which showed that any tree can be fully wired without any crossed wires. This was the first time that a mathematical proof of the "wiring theorem" had been published.

Ted oka demonstrated with a black pine at the February meeting, with John Luhnow winning the demo tree.

March featured a juniper dig with Harry Hirao in Jawbone Canyon. Frank Goya demonstrated with a California juniper at the March meeting.

The April meeting featured a lecture on show display by Kay Komai and Marybel Balenconck.

The annual show reception featured a new idea, "Crazy Hat Night," in which members wearing a funny hat received two free raffle tickets. The Dixie Disciples provided musical entertainment. The President started an annual President's Award, the 2001 award going to John Luhnow, a wooden plaque inscribed with "For Outstanding Service" for John's essential role in helping the club produce new wooden stands for the show backdrops.

Harry Hirao was the demonstrator for the May meeting.

The July picnic was held in El Nido Park in Torrance.

Ben Oki demonstrated in September on a California juniper. Ben is known as the fastest at wiring.

The annual auction was held in October with Joe James as auctioneer.


The author continued as President.

Club officers:

Jim Barret demonstrated in January on a Japanese black pine.

Mas Ishii and his son Gary demonstrated grafting techniques in February.

Jim Tatsukawa, our club's cofounder, passed away in February. Many DIBK members and members of other bosnai organizations attended his funeral.

The President's demo was performed in March on a Hollywood juniper.

Our joint fundraising chairmen Peggy Bravick and Leah Calhoun obtained T-shirts in the club color (Purple) with the club logo for sale for $15 each, in a variety of sizes. They also looked into having pins with the club logo made, but the board considered the cost of the pins to be excessive.

A planned juniper dig in March with Harry Hirao was canceled due to drought. It was felt that the survival rate of collected California junipers would be very low.

Jim and Dawn Peerson jointly won the President's Award for outstanding service, presented at the annual show reception, where an Okinowan folk dance troupe performed for the evening's entertainment.

Tomohiro Masumi from Japan demonstrated in May.

Harry Hirao demonstrated in June. Harry's annual demo at DIBK has long been a tradition and is the highlight of the year. Harry's strong and steadfast support of our club is appreciated by all.

Chuck Pine, the Newsletter Editor, passed away suddenly in June of a heart attack. Several board members attended his funeral. Chuck had been improving the newsletter, which he had renamed the Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai Gazette, with the goal of winning an award for best newsletter from the Golden State Bonsai Federation (GSBF, of which DIBK has always been a member club). Chuck had been very innovative with his layout and content and had introduced color photographs of club events. Andrea Wagner assumed Chuck's duties as interim editor.

Recording Secretary Rachel Osborn left for Texas in June. The President assumed her duties until a replacement could be found.

The annual picnic was held in July at Recreation Park, El Segundo. Chuck Pine had reserved the picnic area, and it was a big success. The bonsai workshop was held in the morning, hamburgers and hot dogs were barbecued for lunch, and bingo was played for bonsai-related and other prizes in the afternoon. Other games played included tennis, frisbee, and chess.

The annual auction was held in September to avoid conflict with the GSBF convention in Sacramento in October.


I wish to thank founding member Penny Jensen for lending me her nearly complete collection of newsletters. Member Bobbi Lotrick also assisted with her newsletter collection. My wife and Publicity Chairman (and acting Newsletter Publisher) Andrea Wagner proofread the first draft, making many useful suggestions. I also thank all those who have read and commented on earlier drafts, including especially Dawn Peerson.

Email: Richard dot J dot Wagner at gmail dot com

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Last updated October 26, 2010, by Rick Wagner. Copyright © 2002-2010, all rights reserved.