One of the Japanese traditional culture and symbol which is well known in the world is Bonsai.
The root of Bonsai is from China called Bonkei. It is said that Bonkei appeared in Tang dynasty (China: 618-907).
Landscape painted by two dimension is Shan shui (landscape painting), Landscape created by three dimension is garden and landscape planted into tray is Bonkei. Those Bonkei was transferred to Japan at Heian era (794~1185) by China merchant.
In Kamakura era(1185 ~ 1321), Bonsai had mainly become popular among Japanese Zen priests. Because they had strong power to influence culture in Japan, Bonsai had grown up in both religious aspect and that of pure entertainment.
In Edo era (1600~1867), Bonsai had become very popular in rich common people and they had gathered high quality and rare Bonsai, potted plants and pots with high price.
In this way, Bonsai has gradually become an elegant art which can be seen by many people recently.
Even Bonsai originally was imported from China named Bonkei, current technology of Bonsai planting in Japan has been originally developed and transferred by Japanese craftsmanship skill.
I visited Omiya Bonsai museum which is one of the most famous Bonsai museum in Japan located in Saitama prefecture.
Following is the summary of my findings.
1.There are two types of Bonsai display circumstances. One is Bonsai Display in traditional Japanese Rooms called Zashiki-kazari.
During Edo era, these traditional Japanese rooms have took important roles to entertain guests as hospitality with setting Bonsai on an alcove and various items such as Suiseki-stone and incense burning sets on decorative shelves.
The other is Bonsai Display in garden called Bonsai garden. Various types of Bonsai are displayed in a garden considering the harmony between each Bonsai and the garden itself including the actual trees in background.
Actual Bonsai observation: Attached photos are the representative ones seen in the museum which are allowed to be photo taken.
a) This type is called Shohaku Bonsai which is conifers of pines with their growth of deep green foliage. This type of Bonsai is the most popular in Japan.
You can see the trunk bearing up to the tree which is one of the aspect of the Bonsai view. The part of the trunk from the root base to the first branch is called “Tachi-agari”. The tree has spread up and out from the point and those growing up figure show as if a big full-size tree is actually existing here.
You can see the branch partially die with white color through the passage of time.
This is called “Shari”. This kind of white “Shari” create beautiful contrast with green leaves.
b) This type is called “ Zoki Bonsai “ which display a variety of changes according to season progress. This tree is maple with red leaves now in November of autumn.
You can see the root spreading on the tray ground. This spreading root show the powerful vitality of the tree with holding the soil strongly and swelled through many years. Also, the tree has spread up and out from the root and those growing up figure show as if a big full-size tree is actually existing here. Please try to look up at the tree with squatting. Then, you can see the landscape as if a big full-size tree is actually existing here.
3. Craftsmanship skill of breeding Bonsai:
a) Watering: Primary important task of nurturing Bonsai tree is the daily work of watering. The watering need to be well controlled considering how the tree is health or weakened. The too much watering to weakened tree might cause accelerating the root rot.
b) Pruning: By pruning the unnecessary and overgrown branches, the tree can be shaped well. The pruning need to be carefully executed with imaging the shape cut because if once branches is cut, the shape will never be restored.
c) Wiring: Wiring is applied to create the desired shape of the branches. This is one of the craftsmanship skill well transferred from ancient period.
d) Repotting: Bonsai need to be removed from the pot periodically to keep the soil well and to prevent the root be grown longer to be congested.
After I observed the Bonsai, I felt very impressive of the traditional skill of them and atmosphere of nature given by these Bonsai. You will be surprised that one of famous Bonsai has grown up and survived for more than 1,000 year and others are for 400 ~ 500 years. Those ancient people had started to breed the Bonsai that has survived up to now. We people usually have a animal pet. This Bonsai seem to be a plant pet, however the life of the pet is much longer than that of human owner. If you have a chance to visit Japan as private tour, please once observe the Bonsai.
By Hideo Kashima