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UpdateFebruary 22, 2018
ReleaseFebruary 22, 2018

-A grand landscape on a small tray-

What is Bonsai?

Bonsai is a Japanese traditional art. Derived from “bonkei,” a Chinese original art which was imported to Japan during the Heian period (794-1192), bonsai became popular among warriors during the Edo period (1603-1867). Most people have at one time or another seen bonsai in anime films, dramas on TV, Japanese restaurants and Japanese-style inns (ryokan). Sometimes, it can even be seen in Western movies. Nowadays, the word “bonsai” has taken root overseas and bonsai are often sold at a spacious corner of gardening centers. And some people enjoy bonsai in their homes as an interior decoration.
Bonsai, literally meaning “tray planting,” is an aesthetic miniature representation of nature. If trees are not trained or dwarfed, they grow larger. People appreciate the shape of branches, leaves, the condition of bark and roots, and the whole shape of the tree. Unlike potted plants and Western-style container planting, bonsai lovers cut unnecessary branches around a given branch or a given stem to strengthen them, and reduce flowers and berries to an extreme extent. They use various techniques such as pruning, fixing or bending branches with wires, and grounding roots on rocks to reproduce the landscape of nature on the tray. As keeping bonsai needs time and care, until recently most bonsai-lovers used to be senior citizens who have time, and also it was thought to be a hobby for elderly people. Now, however, bonsai is increasingly recognized as a “cool” hobby among younger people and people abroad.
Trees which are indigenous to Japan and easy to shape, such as pine, sugi (Japanese cedar), shinpaku (juniper), maple, buna (beech), ichii (Japanese yew), ume (Japanese apricot), sakura (Japanese cherry) and himeringo (apple), are popular trees used for bonsai in Japan. However, as bonsai spreads more widely in the world, unusual and previously unimaginable plants are also beginning to be used. Bonsai reproduces quintessential beauty of the surrounding landscape, using plants adapted to the local climate and soil. If the climate is different, the landscape is different and naturally the shape and feeling of the bonsai becomes different. Mr. Tamura of the Nippon Bonsai Association says; “A bonsai work I saw in Kenya reminded me of a landscape where a sole tree stands in a vast savanna. I felt the nature of that country in an interesting way.”

Way of enjoying bonsai

There are no rules on how to enjoy bonsai. Appreciating outstanding works at exhibitions, buying expensive works at several million yen for personal luxurious appreciation, or cultivation with the aim of showing your work at exhibits, etc. – as you please. Enjoying the process of growing trees yourself and watching them develop can be a simple pleasure of everyday life. Just enough fresh air, sunshine, water, and fertilizer are necessary for each individual tree to maintain good health but not promote excessive growth. Meticulous care is necessary everyday, much like caring for a pet.
Even if a tree is in a good shape now, if it is left alone, its shape will change and re-shaping is needed. Bonsai are alive, and there is no final completion. Growing bonsai requires a long-term view. The result of today’s care will be clear as early as several months later, several years later, or sometimes decades or even centuries later. Never-ending change is one of the charms of bonsai.
Points to see
It is said that excellent bonsai remind one of a majestic tree outside; however, there are no absolute rules to appreciate bonsai. Based on several basic rules, you can appreciate your personal favorites and look for fascinating new ones using intuition. Although bonsai is usually said to be a miniature of nature, merely miniaturizing a tree does not produce authentic bonsai. Bonsai models nature but not nature as it is. Even if you plant a tree on the tray in the same proportion as one outside, this in itself cannot create the feeling that the tree is majestic. The proportion of thickness of the root is larger and that of the upper trunk is smaller, compared to natural trees. However, it has to avoid a look of artificiality, which is both a difficulty of bonsai as well as an intriguing point. Balance between a tree and a tray is another important element. A tray for a tree is like clothing for a person. The tray brings out the charm of the tree when they are in good harmony.
In addition, bonsai works are not easily brought to other places. As trees adapted to the local climate are used, they will wither in other places or during the time of transport. As a result, outstanding bonsai works in Japan cannot readily be seen outside the country even though bonsai itself is spreading all over the world. Bonsai represents one large aspect of the beauty of Japan condensed in a small, compact package. If you have a chance, please take the opportunity to see bonsai in Japan.

Let’s go to Bonsai-mura Village

Bonsai town in Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture, is famous for and generally known as Bonsai-mura Village, which is home to six bonsai gardens including Seiko-en, Fuyo-en and Mansei-en. Each garden deals with distinctive styles of bonsai works and some gardens hold bonsai classes. The Grand Bonsai Festival takes place annually from May 3rd through 5th. Why don’t you pay a visit and enjoy this unique village?
Nearest station: about five minutes walk from Omiya-koen Station on the Tobu Noda Line, or about ten minutes walk from Toro Station on the JR Utsunomiya Line.
Bonsai-mura (Saitama Convention & Visitors Bureau)