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Popular Around the World! The Artistic World of Bonsai

The traditional Japanese art form of "bonsai" is now popular around the world. What, then, is bonsai? Delve into the tiny world of bonsai that is bursting with charm.


What is Bonsai?

Bonsai is a form of art where you grow plants in a pot and enjoy its beauty. While potted plants are a common way to enjoy the beautiful aroma and colors of flowers and leaves, bonsai can be a means of expressing natural landscapes in miniature forms. It is an art form through which the elegance of mountains and fields, the harshness of cliffs, the emptiness of the wilderness, and the beauty of things that decay can be expressed in the manner in which branches and trunks are altered. The world that is expressed by cutting out a part of nature, and making omissions and exaggerations, is a world in which one can feel the Japanese aesthetic of seeing beauty in quiet simplicity.

History of Bonsai

The history of bonsai goes back approximately 2,500 years. It is said that it was called "Bonkei", and was practiced by the aristocracy in ancient China. It came to Japan between the Heian Period (794 - 1185) and Kamakura Period (1185 - 1333). Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Edo Shogunate, was an avid connoisseur, and the Omichi Park in the Imperial Palace still has a 600-year-old pine tree bonsai that he grew.
During the Edo Period (1603 - 1867), the bonsai culture spread from the aristocracy to the warrior class, and even up to the general public. Up until that time, bonsai were distinguished by how unique their forms were, but from the Meiji Period (1868 - 1912), "shizen bonsai" (natural bonsai) that emphasized natural landscapes became mainstream, and a unique sense of aesthetic was born.

Types of Trees

A variety of plants are incorporated in bonsai. The most common are conifers, such as Japanese black pine, red pine, and white pine. In addition, foliage plants, such as Japanese zelkova and maple, flowering trees like cherry and plum, and plants like fern and fruit trees are also used. Even imported plants such as cacti and succulents can be used! There are different forms and designs depending on the type of plant, but any plant can be enjoyed as bonsai.

Bonsai Forms

It is important to create forms based on a good understanding of the characteristics of the plant. Bonsai is an expression of nature, so it is frowned upon to, for example, force Japanese cedar that grows straight to bend, or to make a pine tree grow in a straight line. In the bonsai world, people try to form trees and shrubs like as if they were formed by the natural environment, such as wind direction and topography.
There are different names to the forms based on their characteristics. For example, there is the "chokkan", which applies to trees that grow straight because they grow without any wind. The "shakan", in which the trunk is slanted, refers to trees that grow with wind from one direction. The "kengai", which droops, expresses plants growing on cliffs of high mountains or along the coast. There are many more forms to explore!

How to Casually Enjoy Bonsai

If you are interested in trying bonsai, but are worried it will be difficult, the "shohin bonsai" that is about 20cm high at its tallest is recommended. Larger bonsai may take up a lot of time and space, but shohin bonsai can be grown in a short period of time with little space. All you need to start is the seedling, a pot that matches it, and some soil. Sturdy evergreens are the easiest to grow. "Kokedama bonsai", wherein soil with plants and flowers are made into a sphere and covered with moss, is also popular. Even if it is small, you can grow it into a beautiful bonsai by trimming the leaves and branches.

Bonsai is a way to recreate the form of plants that grow in nature, as well as enjoy their beauty. Just looking at them can bring you joy, but if you're interested, try growing them yourself!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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Writer: nomura

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