R I P Harry Hirao   3 comments

Harry Hirao, aka, The Goat, Mr California Juniper


It is with great sadness to announce the passing of Harry Hirao. I have known this man a long time and his contributions to bonsai will be missed.

On March 12, 1917, Bonsai Master Harry Hirao was born. At the age of 6, Harry left his hometown of Lafayette, Colorado with his parents, to live in Japan with his grandparents because they were getting old. At age 16, Harry came back to the U.S. to live with his relatives on the farm.

Harry married Chiyoko Alyce Yamamoto on September 27, 1941. They lived a simple life as farmers growing vegetables on their farm and raised four beautiful children, two boys and two girls.  

Harry and his family left Colorado for California on March of 1957. With the help of relatives, they started a landscape gardening business. Several years later, Harry heard of an old friend, John Naka, teaching bonsai. Harry joined the class in the early 60’s and was a devoted student for 15 years before becoming a bonsai teacher himself.  

With his long time friend, Larry Ragle, they formed Kofu Bonsai Kai in 1977. Harry was fortunate enough to be able to obtain permission to dig California Junipers on a property in Tehachapi for Bonsai. To this day, many of his students and friends are able to acquire California Junipers from this site. Harry’s favorite plant for bonsai is the California Juniper and is also an avid collector of Suiseki.

Harry Hirao and Larry Ragle, Co-founders of Kofu Kai



A perfect day for Harry is in the mountains of Tehachapi California searching for just the right juniper to dig. The day would start like this.







Harry would go on to style many trees for GSBF. Large trees dug by his long time friend Ray Thieme here in Fresno.

This tree donated by Ray sits in front of GSBF Collection North. Harry styled this tree with friends in Fresno at GSBF Convention Fresno, 2003.



Here are a couple shots of Harry and the tree. In the wide shot with Harry on the ladder being steadied by Kaz Mori, Mas Imazumi stands off to the side. Mas would die a few months later. Yours truly with the tree, much thinner.




During the GSBF convention Modesto in 2008, Harry and friends would style this monster California juniper for the entrance of GSBF Collection South, again donated by Ray Thieme. During the repotting from grow box to bonsai pot, the tree died.







l to r, Sam Adina, Ray Thieme, Charles Nelson, Harry Hirao, and Peter Macasieb.




Harry has a tree it seems at every convention. Here are some of his trees over the years





Harry’s love of collecting stones, Suiseki, is also legendary. His daughters graduated from Humboldt University and his trips there to visit always included some camping and collecting on the Eel River. This is Harry’s permanent collection at the GSBF Collection South


This stone on display at a GSBF Convention is cold black and from the Kern River in Bakersfield.



Harry loves the Convention experience. This is his time and it makes him feel good to walk around and just people watch and talk with those that appreciate bonsai. Here Harry relaxes with my wife.


Harry would pace the aisles just watching the bonsai scene unfold. Anyone who has attended a GSBF convention will appreciate this view of Harry, it is one that I have followed numerous times on my way to the vendor room, exhibit room or a workshop.

Harry, you will be missed, say “Hi” to your ole friend John for me.






Posted July 24, 2015 by California Bonsai Art in Spotlight on Artists

Tagged with

3 responses to “R I P Harry Hirao

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I’m so sorry to have missed the memorial for Harry Hirao. Evidently, it wasn’t listed in the usual papers
    or in the Rafu Shimpo.
    I started taking lessons with Harry about 35 years ago when he was teaching at Fountain Valley High
    night school. It was my “mom’s night out” to learn something cultural, but it soon became the “calling” for
    my husband. We enjoyed Harry’s lessons, trips to the desert for juniper, and suiseki rock hunting and learned
    the beauty of his specialty, the California Juniper. Now we have a yard full of landscape trees cut in the bonsai
    style as well as a collection of potted trees.

    We are so thankful To Harry for helping us learn about this graceful art.
    Gary and Frances Okura

    Gary and Frances Okura
    • Thanks for your personal story. Harry was a special man. I volunteered to teach some beginner bonsai classes at a GSBF convention. I had twelve students whose parents basicly dropped off for me to baby sit. The front desk asked if two more could come in. I muddled through trying to keep up everyones attention but I was failing miserably. Just about then in walks Harry and asks if I need help? Boy did I, he stepped up along with Kaz Mori and David Nguy and we managed to give those students one hell of a teaching opportunity.

  2. Nice write up. Thanks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: