At the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington, D.C., is a piece of Japan’s history that dates back to the 17th century.
It’s a bonsai tree, gifted by master Masaru Yamaki to America on its bicentennial. The 392-year-old white pine is the oldest tree in the collection – it was planted in 1625, cultivated and personally cared for over the years by one master or another, and was living only 2 miles from where the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
The Yamaki family – Masaru’s son and grandson – revealed that the tree was sitting on a garden bench at their home when the bomb went off. It survived (and so did all of the other trees in their garden, along with their family).
Though the tree’s history is amazing (it’s a rare specimen that hails from the island of Miyajima), it’s not the oldest bonsai in the world – that title belongs to a 550-year-old tree at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.
They have one that’s 450 years old, too, though no word on how close either of those were to a bomb that stunned the world with its destructive power.
The gift of the tree was a nice gesture, but you have to wonder how it feels about residing in the country who dropped an atomic bomb so close to its home – and if plants had memories, whether it would ever be able to forget the devastation it must have witnessed that day, and in the years that followed.