What is Bonsai

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, there will be bonsai demonstrations at one of the mini stages on the show floor at Japan Fair.  Since I often write about tea ceremony and ikebana in this blog, let me mention about bonsai today, for a change.

What does bonsai “盆栽” really mean?

Bon (盆) means a tray or a flat container. Sai (栽) means a plant.  So literally it means a plant in a flat container.  The origin of bonsai is said to date back to over 2500 years ago in China. It is not certain when bonsai was introduced to Japan, but the first document that described bonsai dates back to 12th century.

A bonsai tree like pine is meticulously formed in an exquisite shape by human being, rather than growing naturally. It takes at least 10 to 20 years to transform the bonsai tree to a desirable shape.  Some of bonsai trees are over 100 years.  In the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, there is a site for bonsai works called the Omichi Teien Garden.

The About 600 bonsai pieces representing some 90 species of plants are cultivated there. Among them are many hundreds-of-year-old trees.

Outstanding among them is a goyomatsu (Japanese white pine) bonsai, titled ”Third Shogun,” which is called the masterpiece of masterpieces. It is a historic item which is believed to have been treasured by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651), the third shogun (tycoon) of the Tokugawa shogunate government. Its stable form, powerful trunks and good balance with the container carry a sense of history and nature. It is a large bonsai. There are no rivals for the ancient-looking tree.

Kyodo News

Bonsai has become quite popular among people in Europe and in the United States.  Here in Northwest there is a fabulous museum dedicated to bonsai, Pacific Bonsai Museum.  If you haven’t been there, I would recommend you visit once.  There are so many wonderful bonsai trees in exhibit.

Even if it’s hard for you to drive all the way to Pacific Bonsai Museum, you will get to learn things like how to wire and shape the branches, and what tools are to be used, from the experts at the demonstrations at Japan Fair.  You will also have an opportunity to see several beautiful bonsai trees displayed at the Puget Sound Bonsai Association booth during the event.

Interested in bonsai?  Don’t miss this opportunity!

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