Lecture – Legacy of John Naka: Father of Bonsai in America, Sept 7

Bonsai John Naka

John Naka: Father of Bonsai in America

Nibei Foundation / Japan Study Club Lecture Series

September 7 (Tuesday), 6:30 PM

Subject: Legacy of John Naka: Father of Bonsai in America

Speakers: Larry Ragle and Nina Ragle

John Y Naka

John Y. Naka was born in Ft. Lupton, Colorado, August 16, 1914.

In 1922, upon the passing of John’s grandmother, his family, all but his eldest brother, returned to the family farm in Kurume, Japan.

It was at his grandfather’s farm that he saw bonsai. His grandfather taught him the principles of bonsai and together they spent hours playing iroha card games featuring proverbs and working on trees.

The seed was planted. He studied garden and landscape design and, in 1935, was accepted to study at a prestigious art school. However, the family sensed impending hostilities, sent Naka, now 21 and of draft age, back to Colorado that year to live with his brother. There, he met and married his wife, Alice.

In 1946, the Nakas, now a family of 5, moved to Los Angeles where John started a business of landscape gardening. There he was re- introduced to bonsai and soon joined together with 4 other enthusiasts to form, what would become, the California Bonsai Society.

Naka has taught bonsai in Australia, Spain, Italy, Mexico, South America, India and the Philippines.

Naka is the author of Bonsai Techniques I, Bonsai Techniques II  (both in print in 6 languages) and co-authored Bonsai Techniques for Satsuki, with Richard Ota and Keko Rokkaku.

Mr. Naka was the recipient of: the Japanese government medal, the Fifth Class of the Order of the Rising Sun; the National Heritage Foundation award, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center ward; and dozens of awards from national and international bonsai organizations.

Naka passed away on May 19, 2004. Alice Naka resides in Los Angeles.

Speakers: Larry Ragle

Larry Regle started his first three bonsai in 1962. The trees are still alive. He studied with John Naka and Harry Hirao. Harry and Larry created KoFu Bonsai Kai in 1976. Mr. Ragle is the president of California Bonsai Society and a member of Nan Pu Bonsai Kai, John Naka’s select club.

In 1983 Larry and Nina Ragle founded California Aiseki Kai, a suiseki-viewing stone club. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Bonsai Foundation. He is a past president of Golden State Bonsai Federation and of KoFu Kai. In 2007 Larry and Nina studied Keido Display in Japan with Uhaku Sudo and were certified to teach tokonoma and table top displays.

Mr. Ragle presented the eulogy and his history at Mr. Naka.

Mr. Ragle is a graduate of U. C. Berkeley in the major of  forensic science. He is the author of Crime Scene, Harper-Collins, 1995- 2nd Ed. 2002.

Speakers: Nina Ragle

Nina Ragle interests are suiseki-viewing stone and formal display. She is the editor of California Aiseki Kai’s award wining newsletter. She is the author of Even Monkeys Fall Out of Trees, John Naka’s Collection of Japanese Proverbs, Nippon Art Forms, 1987

Mrs. Ragle is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in major of Philosophy

Japan Study Club Program: September 7, 2010

Reception and dinner at 6:30 pm followed by presentation at 7:30 pm.

Admission including dinner: $10 per person.

Reservation required for seats and dinner.

RSVP by email japanstudies@nibei.org by Friday, September 3.


The program will be held at Terasaki Foundation Laboratory Building, 11570 Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064.