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WHAT IS BONSAI?

BONSAI - Japanese

BON - shallow tray/pot
SAI - tree

Bonsai, literally translated means "a tree in a pot". The basic principle behind the art is that certain types of trees can be dwarfed by growing them in small flat containers. The process involves years of patience and regularly pruning and shaping them to take on a distinctive miniturised form. Generally Bonsai are trees that have been pruned and trained so that they grow to no more than 1 meter tall. They are grown in pots in such a way that they look their most beautiful. Cultivating Bonsai is therefore very artistic. It is also a good illustration of the gentle respect that the Japanese have for all living things, and is an expression of their perception of beauty.

Bonsai is an ancient art form that was first developed in China more than 1700 years ago, before it was adopted by the Japanese during the Middle Ages. Bonsai can be traced to the T'sun and Tang Dynasties, the golden age of learning. The growing of artistic trees changed from one dynasty to another, and different styles were popular in different areas in the Ching Dynasty. It was the Buddhist monks who had entered Japan from Korea who introduced the practice to Japan. The oldest mention of the word Bonsai is found in a poem written in the mid-fourteenth century, but it did not come into regular use until around three centuries later. Early Bonsai can be seen in picture scrolls dating back to as far as 1309. There is even a painting of a Bonsai type tree in the pyramids of Egypt. Now it is widely practiced throughout the world.

Bonsai is a horticultural art form that takes many years of patience and work. The trees can be evergreen or deciduous, flowering or non-flowering, grouped or planted alone, indoors or outdoors (depending on the species), planted on or over rocks, or even in small scenic displays. Many trees are suitable for Bonsai, especially those with small leaves or needles and short internodes (the distance between the leaf buds).

Many styles exist, but the main three are trunk, branch and root styled trees.
Trunk style features the trunk, which may be straight, curved, slanted or cascaded.
Branch style appear as windswept trees with the branches growing in a single direction.
Root style features the roots of a tree planted on a rock with the roots descending along and clinging to the rock.

In today's impersonal modern life where workplace dissatisfaction is rife, the need for meaningful and worthwhile leisure time is growing. For those who take up Bonsai, the art offers meaningful occupation, pleasure, self-realisation and relief from workday stress.

Last updated 2003.05.04