Metro Weekly

Aki Matsuri at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

The Arboretum celebrates its "secret" collection of miniature trees

Arboretum Bonsai — Photo: Todd Franson

“It’s a little hidden secret here in D.C. It’s really a nice place to come with a friend.”

Michael James is talking about the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, for which he serves as an assistant curator. And a great day to visit the museum, which is part of the National Arboretum, is Saturday, Nov. 4, for Aki Matsuri. The traditional Japanese celebration kicks off an annual week-long fall foliage exhibit, where, says James, “we take the best examples of bonsai and put them in our special exhibits gallery.”

The highlight of Aki Matsuri is the after-hours Otsukimi, or “moon-viewing event,” beginning at 6 p.m. “All the bonsai trees will be under light. They look really good under artificial light, under the full moon.” The evening also offers sake tasting, a bento meal, music, and a haiku reading.

Tours will be given during regular museum hours, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., when there will also be book signings, displays of Japanese Taiko drumming and Kagura dancing, a kimono fashion show, and vendors selling food, drink and “pre-bonsai material.” There will be demonstrations in Japanese flower arranging, or ikebana, and in the time-honored Asian art form of bonsai — growing plants in miniature containers.

James initially tried his hand making traditional Western art, until he discovered bonsai. “It’s not a three-dimensional sculpture — it’s more than that, incorporating time, and change over time. That’s what makes it really interesting.”

Aki Matsuri is Saturday, Nov. 4, while the Autumn Bonsai Exhibit is on display through Nov. 12, at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, 3501 New York Ave. NE. Entry is free to the museum. The Otsukimi evening event is $25 and requires registration. Call 202-396-3510 or visit for more details and a full schedule of activities.

Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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