A Brief History of San Pu kai
By Tom Honda

Bonsai classes were first offered in the North San Diego County when Jerry Hoover, a nursery owner, contacted Tom Honda of the North San Diego County Gardeners Association about having John Naka teach classes at Jerry?s nursery. When Tom brought the matter up with the gardeners, they responded with enthusiasm.

Mike Hisashi Inouye, Sachio Matsubara, William Harada, Toru Hirai, Bill Watanabe, Sam Endow and Tom Honda agreed to take the class if it were offered. Also interested were three ladies, Michiko Honda (Tom?s sister-in-law), Megumi Inada and Keiko Fukada, bringing the total number of students to ten The classes were first offered in 1974 and held once a month at Jerry Hoover?s nursery. Shortly thereafter, Mary Varian (whose husband Dusty later designed the San Pu Kai logo) and Helen Burton joined the class.

As word spread, many others came for lessons. As the classes grew, the students felt a club was needed so the students could practice their craft together and exchange ideas between visits from John Naka. A meeting was held in 1976 at which time Tom Honda was elected President of the organization which was named the North County Bonsai Club. Jerry Hoover was elected Vice President, Mary Varain ? Secretary, Bill Watanabe- Treasurer and Sam Endow, Mike Inouye and Jerry Hoover- Advisors.

In 1977 with the same officers re-elected, committee chairpersons were chosen as follows:

  • Education- Sam Endow assisted by Miki Inouye and Jerry Hoover
  • Publicity- Toru Hirai
  • Show- Jessica Van Dyke assisted by Paul Grigsby and Neil Poppendick
  • Program / Demonstrations- Jerry Hoover
  • Field Trips- Jerry Hoover
  • Telephone- Mary Varain assisted by Helen Burton and George Hasegawa
  • Library- Kathleen Jolly assisted by Hildegarde Stubbs
  • Membership- Bill Watanabe assisted by Victor Hayden

The Club?s first anniversary dinner and installation party was held in the newly completed North San Diego Church (now renamed the Japanese Cultural Center) in Vista. co-chaired by Rinko Ozaki and Mary Varain. Japanese music was provided by Mike Inouye, and Hildegarde Stubbs, Sam Endow and Bill Watanabe donated pots and trees for door prizes. Bonsai were displayed by Sam Endow and Jerry Hoover.

After Jerry sold his nursery, classes were held at the North San Diego Church judo dojo, where the first bonsai exhibition was held (year unknown). The show was held in conjunction with the Hanamatsuri (Flower Festival). Tom Honda and Victor Hayden did bonsai demonstrations during the festival. Subsequent bonsai shows were held yearly in the main hall of the church when Aubrey Pollard, Helen Means, Hue and Margaret Harper, Barney and Eileen Goldman, Gladys Wirth, B.J. Patterson and Ralph Birt joined the Club. Aubrey built the backdrops for the bonsai, Hue built the stands and slabs to display the bonsai and Ralph sold plants to members and discounted prices. The combination of the beautiful hall, excellent backdrops and careful display engineered by B.J. Patterson, show chairman, made for a greatly enhanced appearance of the shows.

Some members suggested that the Club?s name was vague and that it should have a Japanese name. Tom Honda asked John Naka for input and Mr. Naka suggested the name ?San Pu Kai? which in English means ?wind from the mountains?. The club was renamed San Pu Kai and is known by that title to this day. John Naka continued to conduct classes until he reached an age where he found it difficult to drive from Los Angeles to Vista. Reluctantly he stopped giving classes to San Pu Kai in the mid 1980s. The Club secured the services of other notable bonsai artists who came from Orange and Los Angeles counties to give demonstrations at meetings. Because of the cost involved, the Club had only limited exposure to these artists. Fortunately, some of our ?home grown? members had become sufficiently skilled to conduct workshops, as well as the arrival of talented bonsai artists moving to North County to sustain the interest in San Pu Kai.