The year was 1953. John Naka was going to perform his first demonstration for his first class. The first style he presented to his students was formal upright and the first piece of material he worked on was a small foemina juniper. On that day, John Naka began not only his teaching career but also what became the most famous American forest planting with this small but significant tree. Other foemina junipers soon joined this one on the bonsai bench. A twin-trunk tree with both trees of equal girth and height was manipulated until there was significant difference in the size of each tree. And because of a slight bend in a massive tree, the owner of Del Amo Home Garden Nursery was willing to part with it. Now John had three distinctly different foemina juniper trees in three different pots.

But this collection of trees in individual pots was taking up too much space on the bench. So in 1963, John had the brilliant idea of putting them in one pot to make more space on his bench for other trees. He'd fondly remembered a cryptomeria forest near a shrine in Japan and wanted to emulate the feeling of those majestic trees in his new creation. His friend Mas Imai had many foemina junipers and offered him three more so he could make a seven-tree group planting. But soon the number-six tree died. Its replacement also died, as did several more replacements. So John carefully examined the pot and noticed that the number-six tree was too far from the drainage hole. He chipped and then drilled on the pot to create life-giving drainage just below number six. Now the seven-tree forest planting was the picture of health.

Goshin, 7-tree version
Goshin, 7-tree version     Larger version

John was quite proud of his forest planting. George Yamaguchi, Richard Ota, and several other friends encouraged him to name it. John thought of the qualities of the forest near the shrine that had inspired him to create the group – venerable, holy, solemn, and sublime. And the perfect name that came to mind for this special bonsai was Goshin, Japanese for "protector of the spirit." The initial planting had only seven trees, and at the time John had only seven grandchildren. He was as proud of his grandchildren as he was his forest. One day John's oldest grandchild asked "Which tree is me?" John replied, "You may not be happy because the oldest one is the smallest one." But his grandchild was quite content, because John had always said to him that the two most important trees in the forest are the smallest and the largest. By 1976, John had four more grandchildren, so Goshin grew to be an eleven-tree forest planting.

Goshin, 11-tree version
Goshin, 11-tree version     Larger version

Goshin made its debut at the Descanso Gardens during the dedication of Van de Kamp hall. It was twice displayed at the Philadelphia flower show. And in 1984, Goshin became the centerpiece of the John Naka North American Pavilion of Bonsai at the Arboretum in Washington, D.C. John made many annual trips to the Arboretum to visit his old friend. Crowds always gathered to see him work on his masterpiece: a bonsai that can be traced back to the very beginning of John's professional bonsai career.

Goshin, 2003 Naka at National Arboretum
John Naka and Goshin, May 2003.
Details and larger version
John at the National Arboretum.
Details and larger version

This is a revised and expanded version of an article that originally appeared in the NBF Bulletin.
© 2006 Cheryl Manning. All rights reserved.

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