Almost 70 years ago, on 6 August 1945, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” over Hiroshima. It killed some 200,000 people and caused incalculable long-term damage. Yet, just two miles from the site of the bomb blast, a Japanese white pine bonsai tree that had been tended to every day since 1625 sat against a wall of a nursery—and due to its fortuitous placement, the tree survived even as windows of an adjacent building were blown out. The bonsai was donated without explanation to the National Arboretum in Washington, DC in 1976, only for its story—and astonishing age—to be revealed in 2001.
Now 390 years old, the extraordinary bonsai tree has a trunk that is around a foot and a half in diameter, and a full, healthy mushroom-shaped head of “hair.” Not only is the bonsai notable for its advanced age and the fact it survived an atomic bomb, but it is also significantly beyond the expected life span of a healthy tree. Most other Japanese white pines, if well cared for, survive for around 200 years.
So how on earth did this bonsai end up in Washington, DC? Well, as the Washington Post reports, it was one of a 53-specimen gift given to the United States by a bonsai master named Masaru Yamaki. The gift was in honor of the U.S. bicentennial, and no history of the trees was provided by Yamaki at the time. Yet in 2001, two of Yamaki’s grandchildren showed up at the National Arboretum unannounced; they wanted to check on the well-being of their grandfather’s priceless bonsai.
As the Post explains: “Shigeru Yamaki and his brother, Akira, filled in the blanks for museum officials, though they had never seen the tree before their visit and had only heard about it through family stories. News footage taken at the Yamaki Nursery after the blast shows the pine sitting unscathed in the background.”
Now, a plaque in front of the tree reads “In training since 1625,” wowing tourists with the notion of a tree that has been cared for according to specific bonsai methods every day for 390 years. According to PBS, this means “the tree needs to be watered daily, inspected for insects, rotated twice a week and occasionally repotted.” In winter it is moved to a climate-controlled indoor space, and next year it will grace the newly-renovated Japanese Pavilion at the National Arboretum—the latest chapter in one tree’s very long life.