Here is a play on words; Bonsai cannot be created and maintained by Bonsai. Bonsai has two meanings in Japanese: one is the traditional Japanese art of potted miniature trees; the other is a mediocre person. In the former Bonsai, trees in the wild are grown in a small container, by which people are trying to express the beauty of nature. Bonsai is a very artistic pastime because many unique techniques are involved in creating and maintaining the beauty. This is why people say that Bonsai cannot be developed by Bonsai, or a mediocre person who has just ordinary talent, ability and patience.
Various methods and techniques are involved in Bonsai to achieve the desired shapes of trees. Bonsai lovers put wires around tree trunks and branches and cut roots habitually to control the growth. Trimming and pruning branches are done regularly. On the other hand, there are people who do not like such techniques being put on trees. But please look at Bonsai like the following; if a Bonsai tree in front of you looks like a tree which does not live harmoniously in nature, it cannot be recognized a Bonsai tree. Bonsai lovers do not want to change nature but would rather copy it. Looking at a Bonsai tree, they like to imagine themselves in front of a natural tree in a natural setting.
Where can you enjoy Bonsai in or around Tokyo? There are several suggested placed. One is Happo-en Garden, a few minute walk from Shiroganedai Station of the Namboku Subway Line. They display many magnificent Bonsai trees, of which some are living over centuries. The oldest one which I observed is 520 years old. Another recommended place is the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum which is located in several minute walk from JR Toro Station (25-minute train ride from Ueno Station). The museum boasts the large collection of masterpieces of Bonsai trees as well as facilities by which you can learn the history of Bonsai and how Bonsai has been associated with other Japanese art and culture. The museum is located in the Omiya Bonsai Village in which many Bonsai farmers are cultivating Bonsai. You may want to look into some of them to see how Bonsai tress are cultivated or buy one at for a reasonable price.
Talking about its history, Bonsai dates back to the Kamakura period, or the 13th century. Bonsai got popularity among Samurai warriors. In the Edo period (17~19th century), the cultivation of Bonsai was popular as a sideline of the samurai, and bonsai and gardening boomed and they were depicted in many Ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
Looking into Oxford dictionary, I’ve found the word of Bonsai! It is apparent that Bonsai has got popularity among westerners.
By Jin Shibata
Access to Omiya Bonsai Art Museum