Translated by Hilary Keyes
Complex But Simple Trees: The Green Art Of Bonsai
Bonsai is a delicate art, one wherein the final product may not even be accomplished in a single lifetime. The raising and care of these miniature trees is an aesthetic art that the Japanese have perfected, and one which is becoming popular around the wo
Written by Sayuri Kamitaka
Have you heard of bonsai before?
Bonsai is the term for the art of caring for and maintaining a potted tree or plant for dozens if not hundreds of years, by paying the utmost attention and care to the growth, shaping and nurturing of the same plant. It is a type of green art, somewhat similar to ikebana. Until quite recently, bonsai were not very popular with younger people, but it is increasingly gaining attention and now there are many people of all ages that take care of these living works of art.
What is a Bonsai?
But what is a bonsai in the first place?
With the passage of the seasons, plants go through their own unique changes in form and growth. For bonsai, they go through these changes while being raised in a pot. This makes it possible for their artists to not only admire the aesthetic sense of the plant itself but to also appreciate its natural state.
The subtle charm of the curved trunk and branches and the balance of the leaves and their attachment to the plant define the bonsai as a work of impeccable art.
Bonsai Have Gained International Recognition!
Do you have an Instagram account? Try searching for #盆栽 (the characters for bonsai in Japanese) or #bonsai (in English). You are sure to find many different bonsai pictures from all around the world.
Surprisingly, you get more result by searching in English for #bonsai than for #盆栽. This just goes to show that bonsai are becoming more and more popular on an international level.
Anyone Can Start Growing Their Own Bonsai
These are the bonsai the author has been growing.
Goyoumatsu, Japanese white pine
Choju bai, Mauls quince, (white flowers bloom on this tree)
Choju bai, Mauls quince, (this one has red flowers)
Small bonsai such as these can be purchased online for about 2000 yen per plant. The author purchased their bonsai from Bonsaimiyo, a Japanese site that also provides excellent follow-up service. Bonsaimiyo also has an English page, BONSAI 101, wherein they give advice on how to take care of a bonsai yourself.
What is the Appeal of Bonsai?
This is the author’s father’s bonsai, which he spent about 40 years taking care of.
This bonsai has a very beautiful balance between the branch, trunk and leaves.
Regardless of how many years you spend growing it or how much you love it, a bonsai will not form into the shape that you have imagined for it. In order to raise a bonsai into the image that you desire, you must have the necessary knowledge, experience, skills, and patience to achieve that goal.
It has often been said that growing a bonsai properly is very similar to raising a child. As long as the plant is alive, it can form many different shapes; there is no such thing as completion when it comes to bonsai.
I think that plants are quite similar to humans in this regard. As we grow, we are formed and shaped by our own experiences, limitations and needs - that isn't something that only humans experience, bonsai grow in the same manner. Rather, wouldn't it be better to say that all living things have this point in common?
Although they may look simple at first, bonsai are a very deep and profound art. A complex, yet simple, living thing that you can only truly appreciate by becoming more acquainted with it.
It might seem a bit extravagant initially, but anyone can live with and grow a bonsai. Those coming to Japan, those in Japan, and those that have returned to their home country, wouldn't you like to have a living part of Japan to keep with you?