Bonsai
Overview
 
(lit. plantings in tray, from bon, a tray or low-sided pot and sai, a planting or plantings) is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. Similar practices exist in other cultures, including the Chinese tradition of penjing
Penjing
Penjing , also known as penzai , tray landscape, potted scenery, potted landscape, and miniature trees and rockery is the ancient Chinese art of growing trees and plants, kept small by skilled pruning and formed to create an aesthetic shape and the complex illusion of age...

from which the art originated, and the miniature living landscapes of Vietnamese hòn non bộ
Hòn Non Bô
Hòn Non Bô is the Vietnamese art of making miniature landscapes, imitating the scenery of the islands, mountains and surrounding environment as found in nature...

. The Japanese tradition dates back over a thousand years, and has evolved its own unique aesthetics and terminology.

"Bonsai" is a Japanese pronunciation of the earlier Chinese term penzai (盆栽).
Encyclopedia
(lit. plantings in tray, from bon, a tray or low-sided pot and sai, a planting or plantings) is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. Similar practices exist in other cultures, including the Chinese tradition of penjing
Penjing
Penjing , also known as penzai , tray landscape, potted scenery, potted landscape, and miniature trees and rockery is the ancient Chinese art of growing trees and plants, kept small by skilled pruning and formed to create an aesthetic shape and the complex illusion of age...

from which the art originated, and the miniature living landscapes of Vietnamese hòn non bộ
Hòn Non Bô
Hòn Non Bô is the Vietnamese art of making miniature landscapes, imitating the scenery of the islands, mountains and surrounding environment as found in nature...

. The Japanese tradition dates back over a thousand years, and has evolved its own unique aesthetics and terminology.

"Bonsai" is a Japanese pronunciation of the earlier Chinese term penzai (盆栽). A "bon" is a tray-like pot typically used in bonsai culture. The word bonsai is often used in English as an umbrella term
Umbrella term
An umbrella term is a word that provides a superset or grouping of concepts that all fall under a single common category. Umbrella term is also called a hypernym. For example, cryptology is an umbrella term that encompasses cryptography and cryptanalysis, among other fields...

 for all miniature trees in containers or pots, but this article focuses on bonsai as defined in the Japanese tradition.

The purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation (for the viewer) and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity (for the grower). By contrast with other plant cultivation practices, bonsai is not intended for production of food, for medicine, or for creating yard-size or park-size gardens or landscapes. Instead, bonsai practice focuses on long-term cultivation and shaping of one or more small trees growing in a container.

A bonsai is created beginning with a specimen of source material. This may be a cutting, seedling, or small tree of a species suitable for bonsai development. Bonsai can be created from nearly any perennial woody-stemmed tree or shrub species that produces true branches and can be cultivated to remain small through pot confinement with crown and root pruning. Some species are popular as bonsai material because they have characteristics, such as small leaves or needles, that make them appropriate for the compact visual scope of bonsai.

The source specimen is shaped to be relatively small and to meet the aesthetic standards of bonsai. When the candidate bonsai nears its planned final size it is planted in a display pot, usually one designed for bonsai display in one of a few accepted shapes and proportions. From that point forward, its growth is restricted by the pot environment. Throughout the year, the bonsai is shaped to limit growth, redistribute foliar vigor to areas requiring further development, and meet the artist's detailed design.

The practice of bonsai is sometimes confused with dwarfing
Dwarfing
Dwarfing is a characteristic in plants and animals whereby one or more members of a breed or cultivar are significantly smaller than standard members of their species...

, but dwarfing generally refers to research, discovery, or creation of plant cultivars that are permanent, genetic miniatures of existing species. Bonsai does not require genetically dwarfed trees, but rather depends on growing small trees from regular stock and seeds. Bonsai uses cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation, and grafting to produce small trees that mimic the shape and style of mature, full-size trees.

A concept and early versions

The lineage of bonsai derives from the Chinese penjing
Penjing
Penjing , also known as penzai , tray landscape, potted scenery, potted landscape, and miniature trees and rockery is the ancient Chinese art of growing trees and plants, kept small by skilled pruning and formed to create an aesthetic shape and the complex illusion of age...

. Imperial embassy personnel and Buddhist students from Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 had been returning from mainland China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 with many souvenirs, including occasional container planting, since the 6th century. At least 17 diplomatic mission
Diplomatic mission
A diplomatic mission is a group of people from one state or an international inter-governmental organisation present in another state to represent the sending state/organisation in the receiving state...

s were specifically sent from Japan to the Tang
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 court between the years 603 and 839. From about the year 970 comes the first lengthy work of fiction in Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

, Utsubo Monogatari
Utsubo Monogatari
is a late 10th century Japanese story. It is Japan's oldest full-length narrative.-Composition:The author is unknown. Minamoto no Shitagō is cited as a likely candidate; however, it may have had multiple authors spanning a number of years. The text is referenced in number of later works such as...

(The Tale of the Hollow Tree), which includes this passage: "A tree that is left growing in its natural state is a crude thing. It is only when it is kept close to human beings who fashion it with loving care that its shape and style acquire the ability to move one." The idea, therefore, was already established by this time that natural beauty becomes true beauty only when modified in accordance with a human ideal.

Saigyo Monogatari Emaki was the earliest known scroll
Scroll
A scroll is a roll of parchment, papyrus, or paper, which has been drawn or written upon.Scroll may also refer to:*Scroll , the decoratively curved end of the pegbox of string instruments such as violins...

 to depict dwarfed potted trees in Japan. It dates from the year 1195. Wooden tray and dish-like pots with dwarf landscapes on modern-looking wooden shelf/benches are shown in the 1309 Kasuga-gongen-genki scroll. These novelties show off the owner's wealth and were probably exotics imported from China.

With the extended invasion of the Mongol Empire
Mongol Empire
The Mongol Empire , initially named as Greater Mongol State was a great empire during the 13th and 14th centuries...

 into China, many artists and intellectuals found comfortable life and recognition in Japan where Song dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

 culture was still actively studied. Chinese Chan Buddhist monks came over to teach at monasteries, and one of the monks' activities was to introduce political leaders of the day to the various arts of miniature landscapes as ideal accomplishments for men of taste and learning.

The c.1300 rhymed prose
Rhymed prose
Rhymed prose is a literary form and literary genre, written in unmetrical rhymes. This form has been known in many different cultures. In some cases the rhymed prose is a distinctive, well-defined style of writing...

 essay, Bonseki no Fu (Tribute to Bonseki) written by celebrated priest
Priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

 and master of Chinese poetry
Chinese poetry
Chinese poetry is poetry written, spoken, or chanted in the Chinese language, which includes various versions of Chinese language, including Classical Chinese, Standard Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Yue Chinese, as well as many other historical and vernacular varieties of the Chinese language...

, Kokan Shiren
Kokan Shiren
Kokan Shiren , 1278–1347), Japanese Rinzai Zen patriarch and celebrated poet in Chinese, was the son of an officer of the palace guard and a mother of the aristocratic Minamoto clan. At age eight he was placed in the charge of the Buddhist priest Hōkaku on Mt. Hiei. At age ten he was ordained...

 (1278–1346), outlined the aesthetic principles for what would be termed bonsai, bonseki
Bonseki
Bonseki is the ancient Japanese art of creating miniature landscapes on black lacquer trays using white sand, pebbles, and small rocks. Small delicate tools are used in Bonseki such as feathers, small flax brooms, sifters, spoons and wood wedges. The trays are either oval or rectangular, measuring...

 and garden architecture
Landscape architecture
Landscape architecture is the design of outdoor and public spaces to achieve environmental, socio-behavioral, or aesthetic outcomes. It involves the systematic investigation of existing social, ecological, and geological conditions and processes in the landscape, and the design of interventions...

 itself. At first, the Japanese used miniaturized trees grown in containers to decorate their homes and gardens.

Criticism of the interest in curiously twisted specimens of potted plants shows up in one chapter of the 243-chapter compilation Tsurezuregusa
Tsurezuregusa
is a collection of Japanese essays written by the monk Yoshida Kenkō between 1330 and 1332. The work is widely considered a gem of medieval Japanese literature and one of the three representative works of the zuihitsu genre, along with Makura no Sōshi and the Hōjōki.Tsurezuregusa comprises a...

(c.1331). This work would become a sacred teaching handed down from master to student, through a limited chain of poets (some famous), until it was at last widely published in the early 17th century. Before then, the criticism had only a modest influence on dwarf potted tree culture.

In 1351, dwarf trees were displayed on short poles as portrayed in the Boki Ekotoba scroll. Several other scrolls and paintings also included depictions of these kinds of trees. Potted landscape arrangements made during the next hundred years or so included figurines after the Chinese fashion in order to add scale and theme. These miniatures would eventually be considered garnish
Garnish
A garnish is an item or substance used as a decoration or embellishment and often a flavor component on a prepared food dish or drink. In many cases, it may give added or contrasting flavor, some garnishes are selected first to augment the visual impact of the plate, while others are selected...

es decidedly to be excluded by Japanese artists who were simplifying their creations in the spirit of Zen
Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

 Buddhism.

Hachi-no-ki

Around the 14th century, the term for dwarf potted trees was "the bowl's tree" (鉢の木, hachi-no-ki). This denoted the use of a fairly deep pot, as opposed to the shallow pot denoted by the term bonsai.

Hachi-No-Ki (The Potted Trees) is also the title of a Noh
Noh
, or - derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent" - is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh "performance day" lasts all day and...

 play by Zeami Motokiyo
Zeami Motokiyo
Zeami Motokiyo , also called Kanze Motokiyo , was a Japanese aesthetician, actor and playwright.-Acting:...

 (1363–1444), based on a story from c. 1383. It tells of an impoverished samurai
Samurai
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau...

 who sacrifices his three last dwarf potted trees as firewood to provide warmth for a traveling monk on a winter night. The monk is an official in disguise who later rewards the samurai by giving him three lands whose names include the names of the three types of trees the samurai burnt: ume (plum), matsu (pine
Pine
Pines are trees in the genus Pinus ,in the family Pinaceae. They make up the monotypic subfamily Pinoideae. There are about 115 species of pine, although different authorities accept between 105 and 125 species.-Etymology:...

), and sakura (cherry
Cherry
The cherry is the fruit of many plants of the genus Prunus, and is a fleshy stone fruit. The cherry fruits of commerce are usually obtained from a limited number of species, including especially cultivars of the wild cherry, Prunus avium....

). In later centuries, woodblock prints by several artists would depict this popular drama. There was even a fabric design of the same name.

Stories referring to bonsai began to appear more frequently by the 17th century. Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu
Tokugawa Iemitsu
Tokugawa Iemitsu was the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Iemitsu ruled from 1623 to 1651.-Early life :...

 (r. 1623-1651) was a hachi-no-ki enthusiast. A story tells of Okubo Hikozemon (1560–1639), councilor to the shogun, who threw one of Iemitsu's favorite trees away in the garden—in sight of the shogun—in order to dissuade him from spending so much time and attention on these trees. In spite of the servant's efforts, Iemitsu never gave up his beloved art form. Another story from this time tells of a samurai
Samurai
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau...

's gardener who killed himself when his master insulted a hachi-no-ki of which the artisan was especially proud.

Bonsai dating to the 17th century have survived to the present. One of the oldest-known living bonsai trees, considered one of the National Treasures of Japan
National treasures of Japan
National Treasures are the most precious of Japan's Tangible Cultural Properties, as determined and designated by the Agency for Cultural Affairs...

, is in the Tokyo Imperial Palace collection. A five-needle pine (Pinus pentaphylla var. negishi) known as Sandai-Shogun-No Matsu is documented as having been cared for by Tokugawa Iemitsu
Tokugawa Iemitsu
Tokugawa Iemitsu was the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Iemitsu ruled from 1623 to 1651.-Early life :...

. The tree is considered to be at least 500 years old and was first trained as a bonsai by, at latest, the year 1610. The earliest known report by a Westerner of a Japanese dwarf potted tree was made in 1692 by George Meister
George Meister
George Meister was an American professional baseball player. A third baseman, he played part of one season in Major League Baseball for the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association.-External links:...

.

Chinese bonsai containers exported to Japan during the 17th and 18th centuries would become referred to as Kowatari ("old crossing"). These were made between 1465 and about 1800. Many came from Yixing
Yixing
Yixing is a county-level city in Jiangsu province, in eastern China with a population of 1.3 million. It is well-known for its Yixing clay and the pottery -- especially the "zisha"-style teapots -- made from the clay...

 in Jiangsu province—unglazed and usually purplish-brown—and some others from around Canton
Guangzhou
Guangzhou , known historically as Canton or Kwangchow, is the capital and largest city of the Guangdong province in the People's Republic of China. Located in southern China on the Pearl River, about north-northwest of Hong Kong, Guangzhou is a key national transportation hub and trading port...

, in particular, during the Ming dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

. Miniature potted trees were called hachi-ue in a 1681 horticulture book. This book also stated that everyone at the time grew azaleas, even if the poorest people had to use an abalone
Abalone
Abalone , from aulón, are small to very large-sized edible sea snails, marine gastropod molluscs in the family Haliotidae and the genus Haliotis...

 shell as a container. Torii Kiyoharu's use of woodblock printing in Japan
Woodblock printing in Japan
Woodblock printing in Japan is a technique best known for its use in the ukiyo-e artistic genre; however, it was also used very widely for printing books in the same period. Woodblock printing had been used in China for centuries to print books, long before the advent of movable type, but was only...

 depicted the dwarf potted trees from horticultural expert Itō Ihei's nursery.

By the end of the 18th century, bonsai cultivation was quite widespread and had begun to interest the public. In the Tenmei
Tenmei
was a Japanese era name , also known as Temmei, after An'ei and before Kansei. This period spanned the years from April 1781 through January 1789. The reigning emperor was .-Change of era:...

 era (1781–88), an exhibit of traditional dwarf potted pines began to be held every year in Kyoto
Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

. Connoisseurs from five provinces and neighboring areas would bring one or two plants each to the show in order to submit them to visitors for ranking.

The classical bonsai period

In Itami, Hyogo
Itami, Hyogo
is a city located in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan.As of 2008, the city had an estimated population of 194,488 and a population density of 7,790 persons per km². The total area is 24.97 km².The center of Itami became a wealthy town by the middle of Sengoku period...

 (near Osaka
Osaka
is a city in the Kansai region of Japan's main island of Honshu, a designated city under the Local Autonomy Law, the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and also the biggest part of Keihanshin area, which is represented by three major cities of Japan, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe...

), a group of scholars of Chinese arts gathered in the early 19th century to discuss recent styles in the art of miniature trees. Their version of these, which had been previously called "Bunjin Ueki," "Bunjin Hachiue," or other terms, were renamed "bonsai" (the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese term penzai). This term had the connotation of a shallower container in which the Japanese could now more successfully style small trees. The term "bonsai," however, would not become regularly used in describing their dwarf potted trees for nearly a century. Many others terms and compositions adopted by this group were derived from Kai-shi-en Gaden, the Japanese version of Jieziyuan Huazhuan
Jieziyuan Huazhuan
Jieziyuan Huazhuan , sometimes known as Jieziyuan Huapu , is a manual of Chinese painting compiled during the early-Qing Dynasty...

.


In 1829, a significant book that first established classical bonsai art, Somoku Kinyo Shu (A Colorful Collection of Trees and Plants/Collection of tree leaves), was published. It includes the basic criteria for the ideal form of the classical pine bonsai, in detail and with illustrations. That same year, small tako-tsuki (octopus-styled) trees with long, wavy-branches began to be offered by a grower in Asakusa
Asakusa
is a district in Taitō, Tokyo, Japan, most famous for the Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. There are several other temples in Asakusa, as well as various festivals.- History :...

 Park, a north-eastern Edo suburb. Within 20 years that neighborhood became crowded with nurseries selling bonsai. The three-volume Kinsei-Jufu, possibly the first catalog
Catalog
Catalog or catalogue may refer to:In science and technology:*Astronomical catalog, a catalog of astronomical objects**Star catalog, a catalog of stars*Pharmacopoeia, a book containing directions for the preparation of compound medicines...

 of bonsai, tools, and pots, dates from 1833.

Numerous artists of the 19th century depicted dwarf potted trees in woodblock prints, including Yoshishige (who pictured each of the fifty-three classic stations of the Tokaido (road)
Tokaido (road)
The ' was the most important of the Five Routes of the Edo period, connecting Edo to Kyoto in Japan. Unlike the inland and less heavily travelled Nakasendō, the Tōkaidō travelled along the sea coast of eastern Honshū, hence the route's name....

 as miniature landscape) and Kunisada
Kunisada
Utagawa Kunisada was the most popular, prolific and financially successful designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in 19th-century Japan...

 (who included mostly hachi-no-ki in some four dozen prints). The earliest known photograph
Photograph
A photograph is an image created by light falling on a light-sensitive surface, usually photographic film or an electronic imager such as a CCD or a CMOS chip. Most photographs are created using a camera, which uses a lens to focus the scene's visible wavelengths of light into a reproduction of...

 from Japan depicting a dwarf potted tree dates from c. 1861 by Pierre Rossier
Pierre Rossier
Pierre Joseph Rossier was a pioneering Swiss photographer whose albumen photographs, which include stereographs and cartes-de-visite, comprise portraits, cityscapes, and landscapes...

.

On October 13, 1868, the Meiji Emperor moved to his new capital in Tokyo
Tokyo
, ; officially , is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family...

. Bonsai were displayed both inside and outside Meiji Palace, where they have since remained important in affairs of the Palace. Bonsai placed in the grand setting of the Imperial Palace had to be "Giant Bonsai," large enough to fill the grand space. The Meiji Emperor encouraged interest in bonsai. Government officials who did not appreciate bonsai fell out of favor. Soon all members of the ministry had bonsai whether they liked the tradition or not. Prince Itoh was an exception: Any bonsai that the emperor gave him were then passed to Kijoji Itoh. Kijoji Itoh was a statesman of great influence behind the scenes, and a noted bonsai collector who conducted research and experiments on these bonsai.

Bonsai shaping aesthetics and techniques were becoming more sophisticated. By the late 1860s, thick combed and wetted hemp fibers were used to roughly shape the trunk and branches of miniature trees by pulling and tying them. The process was tedious and bothersome, and the final product was unsightly. Tips of branches would only be opened flat. Long, wavy-branched tako (octopus)-style trees were mass-produced
Mass production
Mass production is the production of large amounts of standardized products, including and especially on assembly lines...

 and designed in the [renamed capital] Tokyo for the increasing foreign trade, while the more subtle and delicate bunjin-style trees designed in Kyoto
Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

 and Osaka
Osaka
is a city in the Kansai region of Japan's main island of Honshu, a designated city under the Local Autonomy Law, the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and also the biggest part of Keihanshin area, which is represented by three major cities of Japan, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe...

 were for use in Japan. Tokyo preferred big trunk
Trunk (botany)
In botany, trunk refers to the main wooden axis of a tree that supports the branches and is supported by and directly attached to the roots. The trunk is covered by the bark, which is an important diagnostic feature in tree identification, and which often differs markedly from the bottom of the...

s out of proportion and did not approve of Kyoto's finely-designed slender trunks. (This cultural rivalry would continue for a century.)

Pots exported from China between 1816 and 1911 (especially the late 19th century) were called Nakawatari (middle-crossing) or Chuwatari, shallow rectangular or oval stoneware
Stoneware
Stoneware is a vitreous or semi-vitreous ceramic ware with a fine texture. Stoneware is made from clay that is then fired in a kiln, whether by an artisan to make homeware, or in an industrial kiln for mass-produced or specialty products...

 with carved feet and drainage holes. Unglazed pots of this type were used at ancestral shrine
Shrine
A shrine is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated....

s and treasured by the Chinese. After the mid-century, certain Japanese antiquities
Antiquities
Antiquities, nearly always used in the plural in this sense, is a term for objects from Antiquity, especially the civilizations of the Mediterranean: the Classical antiquity of Greece and Rome, Ancient Egypt and the other Ancient Near Eastern cultures...

 dealers imported them and instant popular approval for this type of container for bonsai created a huge demand. As a consequence, orders came from Japan to Yixing pottery
Pottery
Pottery is the material from which the potteryware is made, of which major types include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. The place where such wares are made is also called a pottery . Pottery also refers to the art or craft of the potter or the manufacture of pottery...

 centers specifically to make bonsai pots.

Through the later 19th century, Japanese participation in various international exhibitions introduced many in the U.S. and Europe to dwarf potted trees. Specimens from the displays went into Western hands following the closing of the fairs. Japanese immigrants to the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii Territory brought plants and cultivation experience with them. Export nurseries, the most notable one being the Yokohama Gardeners Association, provided increasingly good quality dwarf potted trees for Americans and Europeans—even if the buyers did not have enough information or experience to actually keep the trees alive long-term.

An Artistic Bonsai Concours was held in Tokyo in 1892 followed by the publication of a three-volume commemorative picture book. This demonstrated a new tendency to see bonsai as an independent art form. In 1903, the Tokyo association Jurakukai held showings of bonsai and ikebana
Ikebana
is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, also known as .-Etymology:"Ikebana" is from the Japanese and . Possible translations include "giving life to flowers" and "arranging flowers".- Approach :...

 at two Japanese-style restaurant
Restaurant
A restaurant is an establishment which prepares and serves food and drink to customers in return for money. Meals are generally served and eaten on premises, but many restaurants also offer take-out and food delivery services...

s. Three years later, Bonsai Gaho (till c.1913), became, it is presumed, the first monthly magazine on the subject. By 1907, "on the outskirts of Tokio [dwarf] tree artists have formed a little colony of from twenty to thirty houses, and from this centre their work finds its way to all parts of the world." "Its secrets are handed down from father to son in a few families, and are guarded with scrupulous care."

Count Okuma (1838–1922) maintained a famed collection of dwarf pines and dwarf plum trees.

In 1910, shaping with wire
Wire
A wire is a single, usually cylindrical, flexible strand or rod of metal. Wires are used to bear mechanical loads and to carry electricity and telecommunications signals. Wire is commonly formed by drawing the metal through a hole in a die or draw plate. Standard sizes are determined by various...

 was described in the Sanyu-en Bonsai-Dan (History of Bonsai in the Sanyu nursery). Zinc-galvanized
Hot-dip galvanizing
Hot-dip galvanizing is a form of galvanization. It is the process of coating iron, steel, or aluminum with a thin zinc layer, by passing the metal through a molten bath of zinc at a temperature of around 860 °F...

 steel
Steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 wire
Wire
A wire is a single, usually cylindrical, flexible strand or rod of metal. Wires are used to bear mechanical loads and to carry electricity and telecommunications signals. Wire is commonly formed by drawing the metal through a hole in a die or draw plate. Standard sizes are determined by various...

 was initially used. Expensive copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 wire was only used for trees that had real potential. Between 1911 and about 1940, mass-produced containers were exported from Yixing, China, and made to the specifications of Japanese dealers. These were called Shinto (new crossing or arrival) or Shin-watare. These were made for increasing numbers of enthusiasts. Some containers, including primitive style ones, were also being made in Formosa
Formosa
Formosa or Ilha Formosa is a Portuguese historical name for Taiwan , literally meaning, "Beautiful Island". The term may also refer to:-Places:* Formosa Strait, another name for the Taiwan Strait...

.

By 1914, "at the N.E. corner of Shiba Park
Shiba Park
is a public park in Minato, Tokyo, Japan built around the temple of Zōjō-ji.The park is located between the Minato municipal offices and Tokyo Tower...

 is a permanent bazaar (the first of its kind established in Tokyo) where hosts of native-made gimcracks can be bought at fixed prices. The exhibits of potted plants and dwarf trees held here from time to time attract lovers of such things." Also this year, the first national annual bonsai show was held (through 1933) in Tokyo's Hibiya Park
Hibiya Park
is a park in Chiyoda City, Tokyo, Japan. It covers an area of 161,636.66m2 between the east gardens of the Imperial Palace to the north, the Shinbashi district to the southeast and the Kasumigaseki government district to the west....

. During this period, the tokonoma
Tokonoma
Tokonoma , also referred to simply as toko, is a Japanese term generally referring to a built-in recessed space in a Japanese style reception room, in which items for artistic appreciation are displayed. In English, tokonoma is usually called alcove. The items usually displayed in a tokonoma are...

 in formal rooms and tea rooms became the main place for bonsai display. The shaped trees now shared space with other items such as scrolls, incense burners, Buddhist statues and tea ceremony
Tea ceremony
A tea ceremony is a ritualised form of making tea. The term generally refers to either chayi Chinese tea ceremony, chado Japanese tea ceremony, tarye Korean tea ceremony. The Japanese tea ceremony is more well known, and was influenced by the Chinese tea ceremony during ancient and medieval times....

 implements.

The first issue of Bonsai magazine was published in 1921 by Norio Kobayashi (1889–1972). This influential periodical would run for 518 consecutive issues. Copper wire was being extensively used by this time. Major changes to a tree's shape could now be accomplished with wiring. Trees could be precisely and aesthetically wired, and then sold immediately. A greater number of both collected and nursery trees could now be trained for bonsai. The number of hobbyists increased due to the increased ability to style with wire, but there was also an increase in damaged or scarred trees.

The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake
1923 Great Kanto earthquake
The struck the Kantō plain on the Japanese main island of Honshū at 11:58:44 am JST on September 1, 1923. Varied accounts hold that the duration of the earthquake was between 4 and 10 minutes...

 and resulting fire devastated Tokyo, and gutted the downtown area where many bonsai were grown. And so, two years later, a group of thirty families of downtown Tokyo professional growers established the Ōmiya Bonsai Village
Omiya Bonsai Village
is the nickname for the bonsai nursery precinct in , Kita-ku, Saitama, Japan.Bonsai Village is located near Ōmiya-kōen Station on the Tobu Noda Line...

, northeast of the capital. The first great annual public exhibition of trees was held at the Asahi Newspaper Hall in Tokyo in 1927. The first of the very prestigious Kokufu-ten exhibitions were held in Tokyo's Ueno Park
Ueno Park
is a spacious public park located in the Ueno section of Taitō, Tokyo, Japan. It occupies the site of the former Kan'ei-ji, a temple closely associated with the Tokugawa shoguns, who had built the temple to guard Edo Castle against the north-east, then considered an unlucky direction...

, beginning in 1934. By the following year, tokonoma
Tokonoma
Tokonoma , also referred to simply as toko, is a Japanese term generally referring to a built-in recessed space in a Japanese style reception room, in which items for artistic appreciation are displayed. In English, tokonoma is usually called alcove. The items usually displayed in a tokonoma are...

 display principles allowed for bonsai to be shown for the tree's individual beauty, not just for its spiritual or symbolic significance.

Toolsmith Masakuni I (1880–1950) helped design and produce the first steel
Steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 tools specifically made for the developing requirements of bonsai styling.

By 1940, there were about 300 bonsai dealers in Tokyo, some 150 species of trees were being cultivated, and thousands of specimens annually were shipped to Europe and America. The first major book on the subject in English was published in the Japanese capital: Dwarf Trees (Bonsai) by Shinobu Nozaki (1895–1968). The first bonsai nurseries and clubs in the Americas were started by first and second-generation Japanese immigrants.

Caretaker of the Imperial bonsai collection, Kyuzo Murata (1902–1991), was one of very few persons allowed to take care of bonsai during the Pacific War. He gathered together and preserved many trees from the other Omiya growers and would water them under the protection of night. Throughout 1945, many old trees were the smallest casualties of the spring and summer napalm
Napalm
Napalm is a thickening/gelling agent generally mixed with gasoline or a similar fuel for use in an incendiary device, primarily as an anti-personnel weapon...

 bombing of Tokyo (esp. March 9/10) and sixty-six other cities. Gardeners protected the Imperial collection trees from fire by pouring water over them after the Palace caught fire when neighboring areas were bombed on May 25/26. Following the surrender of Japan
Surrender of Japan
The surrender of Japan in 1945 brought hostilities of World War II to a close. By the end of July 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy was incapable of conducting operations and an Allied invasion of Japan was imminent...

, there began the post-war re-evaluation and reviving of damaged collections of trees—including the Imperial—which would continue for over a decade as Japan was rebuilt. Many of the Omiya growers did not continue their vocation. During the Allied Occupation of Japan (through 1952) U.S. officers and their wives could take courses in bonsai, bonkei
Bonkei
Bonkei is Japanese for "tray landscape". A bonkei is a three-dimensional depiction of a landscape in miniature, portrayed using mainly dry materials like rock, papier-mâché or cement mixtures, and sand in a shallow tray...

, ikebana
Ikebana
is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, also known as .-Etymology:"Ikebana" is from the Japanese and . Possible translations include "giving life to flowers" and "arranging flowers".- Approach :...

, and other traditional arts and crafts as arranged by General MacArthur's headquarters. Many of the older and limited varieties of trees were no longer available, and the bonsai considered in fashion changed partly because of this shortage. Copper wire now largely replaced ordinary iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

 wire for shaping the better trees, but the latter still would be used for mass-produced commercial bonsai.

The rise of modern bonsai

Following World War II, a number of trends made the Japanese tradition of bonsai more and more accessible to Western and world audiences. One key trend was the increase in the number, scope, and prominence of bonsai exhibitions. For example, the Kokufu-ten bonsai displays reappeared in 1947 after a four-year cancellation and became annual affairs. The displays are by invitation only for eight days in February, and continue to this day. In October 1964, a great exhibition was held by the private Kokufu Bonsai Association, reorganized into the Nippon Bonsai Association, in Hibya Park to mark the Tokyo Olympics. A commemorative album Gems of Bonsai and Suiseki was published in Japanese and English. The largest (both in quantity and quality) of exhibitions are held in Japan.

Another key trend was the increase in books on bonsai and related arts, now being published in English and other languages for audiences outside Japan. In 1952, Yuji Yoshimura
Yuji Yoshimura
Yuji Yoshimura was a second-generation distinguished bonsai master who taught traditional Japanese techniques and aesthetics to enthusiasts in the West.-Early life and early career:...

, son of a leader in the Japanese bonsai community, collaborated with German diplomat and author Alfred Koehn to give demonstrations and the first formal bonsai courses opened to the public and outsiders in Tokyo. Koehn had been an enthusiast before the war, and his 1937 book Japanese Tray Landscapes had been published in English in Peking
Beijing
Beijing , also known as Peking , is the capital of the People's Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of 19,612,368 as of 2010. The city is the country's political, cultural, and educational center, and home to the headquarters for most of China's...

. Yoshimura's 1957 book The Art of Bonsai, written in English with his student Giovanna M. Halford, addressed both cultivation and aesthetic aspects of bonsai growing and went on to be called the “classic Japanese bonsai bible for westerners” with over thirty printings. The related art of saikei
Saikei
literally translates as "planted landscape". It is the art of creating tray landscapes that combine miniature living trees with soil, rocks, water, and related vegetation in a single tray or similar container...

 was presented to English-speaking audiences in 1963 in Kawamoto and Kurihara's Bonsai-Saikei. This book described tray landscapes made with younger material than was traditionally used in bonsai, providing an alternative to the use of large, older plants, few of which had escaped war damage.

Other works in Japanese and English had been published by this time, and afterward a tremendous number of books saw print. Translations and original volumes in over two dozen languages were published in the next few decades. The number of clubs outside of Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 increased once Japanese was no longer the sole language of bonsai, and interaction increased between members of all levels of experience.

A third trend was the increasing availability of expert bonsai training, at first only in Japan and then more widely. In 1967 the first group of Westerners studied at an Ōmiya nursery. Returning to the U.S., these people established the American Bonsai Society. Other groups and individuals from outside Asia then visited and studied at the various Japanese nurseries, occasionally even apprenticing under the masters. These visitors brought back to their local clubs the latest techniques and styles, which were then further disseminated. Japanese teachers also traveled widely, bringing hands-on bonsai expertise to all six continents.

By the beginning of the 1970s, these trends were beginning to merge. A large display of bonsai and suiseki was held as part of Expo '70
Expo '70
was a World's Fair held in Suita, Osaka, Japan between March 15 and September 13, 1970. The theme of the Expo was "Progress and Harmony for Mankind." In Japanese Expo '70 is often referred to as Ōsaka Banpaku...

, and formal discussion was made of an international association of enthusiasts. Three monthly magazines were started this year: Bonsai Sekai, Satsuki Kenkyu, and Shizen to Bonsai. In 1975, first Gafu-ten (Elegant-Style Exhibit) of shohin bonsai (13-25 cm (9.84 in) (5–10 in) tall) was held. So was the first Sakufu-ten (Creative Bonsai Exhibit), the only event in which professional bonsai growers exhibit traditional trees under their own names rather than under the name of the owner. It was organized by Hideo Kato (1918–2001) at Daimaru Department Store in Tokyo.

The First World Bonsai Convention was held in Osaka during the World Bonsai and Suiseki Exhibition in 1980. Nine years later, the first World Bonsai Convention was held in Omiya and the World Bonsai Friendship Federation (WBFF) was inaugurated. These conventions attracted several hundreds of participants from dozens of countries and have since been held every four years at different locations around the globe: 1993, Orlando, Florida
Orlando, Florida
Orlando is a city in the central region of the U.S. state of Florida. It is the county seat of Orange County, and the center of the Greater Orlando metropolitan area. According to the 2010 US Census, the city had a population of 238,300, making Orlando the 79th largest city in the United States...

; 1997, Seoul, Korea; 2001, Munich, Germany; 2005, Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

; 2009, San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan , officially Municipio de la Ciudad Capital San Juan Bautista , is the capital and most populous municipality in Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 395,326 making it the 46th-largest city under the jurisdiction of...

.

The final trend supporting world involvement in bonsai is the widening availability of specialized bonsai plant stock, soil components, tools, pots, and other accessory items. Bonsai nurseries in Japan advertise and ship specimen bonsai world-wide. Most countries have local nurseries providing plant stock as well, although finding specimen bonsai is more difficult outside Japan and bonsai enthusiasts will often start with local trees that have not been pre-shaped into candidate bonsai. Japanese bonsai soil components, such as Akadama
Akadama
is a naturally occurring, granular clay like mineral that is used as soil for bonsai trees and other container-grown plants. It is surface mined, immediately sifted and bagged, and supplied in various grades: the deeper mined grade being somewhat harder and more useful in horticulture than the more...

 clay, are available worldwide, and local suppliers also provide similar materials in many locations. Specialized bonsai tools are widely available from Japanese and Chinese sources. Potters around the globe provide material to hobbyists and specialists in many countries.

Bonsai has now definitively reached a world-wide audience. There are over twelve hundred books on bonsai and the related arts in at least twenty-six languages available in over ninety countries and territories. A few dozen magazines in over thirteen languages are in print. Several score of club newsletters are available on-line, and there are at least that many discussion forums and blogs. Educational videos and just the appearance of dwarf potted trees in films and on television reach a wide audience. There are at least a hundred thousand enthusiasts in some fifteen hundred clubs and associations worldwide, as well as over five million unassociated hobbyists. Plant material from every location is being trained into bonsai and displayed at local, regional, national, and international conventions and exhibitions for enthusiasts and the general public.

Cultivation and care

Bonsai cultivation and care requires techniques and tools that are specialized to support the growth and long-term maintenance of trees in small containers.

Sources of bonsai material

All bonsai start with a specimen of source material, a plant that the grower wishes to train into bonsai form. Bonsai practice is an unusual form of plant cultivation in that growth from seeds is rarely used to obtain source material. To display the characteristic aged appearance of a bonsai within a reasonable time, the source plant is often mature or at least partially grown when the bonsai creator begins work. Sources of bonsai material include:
  • Propagation from a source tree through cuttings or layering
    Layering
    Layering is a means of plant propagation in which a portion of an aerial stem grows roots while still attached to the parent plant and then detaches as an independent plant. Layering has evolved as a common means of vegetative propagation of numerous species in natural environments...

    .
  • Nursery stock directly from a nursery, or from a garden centre
    Garden centre
    A garden centre is a retail firm that sells plants and products related to gardens as its primary business. It is open to the public, with facilities to care for and display plants.- UK :...

     or similar resale establishment.
  • Commercial bonsai growers, which, in general, sell mature specimens that display bonsai aesthetic qualities
    Bonsai aesthetics
    Bonsai aesthetics are the aesthetic goals and characteristics of the Japanese tradition in the art of growing a miniature tree in a container. Many Japanese cultural characteristics, particularly the influence of Zen Buddhism and the expression of wabi or sabi, inform the bonsai tradition in that...

     already.
  • Collecting suitable bonsai material in its original wild situation, successfully moving it, and replanting it in a container for development as bonsai. These trees are called Yamadori and are often the most expensive and prized of all Bonsai.

Techniques

The practice of bonsai development incorporates a number of techniques either unique to bonsai or, if used in other forms of cultivation, applied in unusual ways that are particularly suitable to the bonsai domain. These techniques include:
  • Leaf trimming, the selective removal of leaves (for most varieties of deciduous tree) or needles (for coniferous trees and some others) from a bonsai's trunk and branches.
  • Pruning the trunk, branches, and roots of the candidate tree.
  • Wiring branches and trunks allows the bonsai designer to create the desired general form and make detailed branch and leaf placements.
  • Clamping using mechanical devices for shaping trunks and branches.
  • Grafting new growing material (typically a bud, branch, or root) into a prepared area on the trunk or under the bark of the tree.
  • Defoliation, which can provide short-term dwarfing of foliage for certain deciduous species.
  • Deadwood bonsai techniques called jin and shari simulate age and maturity in a bonsai.

Care

Small trees grown in containers, like bonsai, require specialized care. Unlike houseplants and other subjects of container gardening, tree species in the wild
Tree
A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to...

, in general, grow roots up to several meters long and root structures encompassing several thousand liters of soil. In contrast, a typical bonsai container is under 25 centimeters in its largest dimension and 2 to 10 liters in volume. Branch and leaf (or needle) growth in trees is also large-scale in nature. Wild trees typically grow 5 meters or taller when mature, whereas the largest bonsai rarely exceed 1 meter and most specimens are significantly smaller. These size differences affect maturation, transpiration, nutrition, pest resistance, and many other aspects of tree biology. Maintaining the long-term health of a tree in a container requires some specialized care techniques:
  • Watering must be regular and must relate to the bonsai species' requirement for dry, moist, or wet soil.
  • Repotting must occur at intervals dictated by the vigour and age of each tree.
  • Tools have been developed for the specialized requirements of maintaining bonsai.
  • Soil composition and fertilization must be specialized to the needs of each bonsai tree, although bonsai soil is almost always a loose, fast-draining mix of components.
  • Location and overwintering are also species-dependent, and it is important to note that few of the traditional bonsai species can survive inside a typical house.

Aesthetics

Bonsai aesthetics are the aesthetic goals characterizing the Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese tradition of growing an artistically-shaped miniature tree in a container. Many Japanese cultural characteristics, in particular the influence of Zen Buddhism and the expression of Wabi-sabi
Wabi-sabi
represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"...

, inform the bonsai tradition in Japan. Established art forms that share some aesthetic principles with bonsai include penjing
Penjing
Penjing , also known as penzai , tray landscape, potted scenery, potted landscape, and miniature trees and rockery is the ancient Chinese art of growing trees and plants, kept small by skilled pruning and formed to create an aesthetic shape and the complex illusion of age...

 and saikei
Saikei
literally translates as "planted landscape". It is the art of creating tray landscapes that combine miniature living trees with soil, rocks, water, and related vegetation in a single tray or similar container...

. A number of other cultures around the globe have adopted the Japanese aesthetic approach to bonsai, and, while some variations have begun to appear, most hew closely to the rules and design philosophies of the Japanese tradition.

Over centuries of practice, the Japanese bonsai aesthetic has encoded some important techniques and design guidelines. Like the aesthetic rules that govern, for example, Western common practice period music, bonsai's guidelines help practitioners work within an established tradition with some assurance of success. Simply following the guidelines alone will not guarantee a successful result. Nevertheless, these design rules can rarely be broken without reducing the impact of the bonsai specimen. Some key principles in bonsai aesthetics include:
  • Miniaturization: By definition, a bonsai is a tree kept small enough to be container-grown while otherwise fostered to have a mature appearance.

  • Proportion among elements: The most prized proportions mimic those of a full-grown tree as closely as possible. Small trees with large leaves or needles are out of proportion and are avoided, as is a thin trunk with thick branches.

  • Asymmetry: Bonsai aesthetics discourage strict radial or bilateral symmetry in branch and root placement.

  • No trace of the artist: The designer's touch must not be apparent to the viewer. If a branch is removed in shaping the tree, the scar will be concealed. Likewise, wiring should be removed or at least concealed when the bonsai is shown, and must leave no permanent marks on the branch or bark.

  • Poignancy: Many of the formal rules of bonsai help the grower create a tree that expresses Wabi-sabi
    Wabi-sabi
    represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"...

    , or portrays an aspect of mono no aware
    Mono no aware
    , literally "the pathos of things", also translated as "an empathy toward things", or "a sensitivity to ephemera", is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of , or the transience of things, and a gentle sadness at their passing.-Origins:...

    .

Display

A bonsai display presents one or more bonsai specimens in a way that allows a viewer to see all the important features of the bonsai from the most advantageous position. That position emphasizes the bonsai's defined "front", which is designed into all bonsai. It places the bonsai at a height that allows the viewer to imagine the bonsai as a full-size tree seen from a distance, siting the bonsai neither so low that the viewer appears to be hovering in the sky above it nor so high that the viewer appears to be looking up at the tree from beneath the ground. Peter Adams recommends that bonsai be shown as if "in an art gallery: at the right height; in isolation; against a plain background, devoid of all redundancies such as labels and vulgar little accessories."

For outdoor displays, there are few aesthetic rules. Many outdoor displays are semi-permanent, with the bonsai trees in place for weeks or months at a time. To avoid damaging the trees, therefore, an outdoor display must not impede the amount of sunlight needed for the trees on display, must support watering, and may also have to block excessive wind or precipitation. As a result of these practical constraints, outdoor displays are often rustic in style, with simple wood or stone components. A common design is the bench, sometimes with sections at different heights to suit different sizes of bonsai, along which bonsai are placed in a line. Where space allows, outdoor bonsai specimens are spaced far enough apart that the viewer can concentrate on one at a time. When the trees are too close to each other, aesthetic discord between adjacent trees of different sizes or styles can confuse the viewer, a problem addressed by exhibition displays.

Exhibition displays allow a large number of bonsai to be displayed in a temporary exhibition format, typically indoors, as would be seen in a bonsai design competition. To allow many trees to be located close together, exhibition displays often use a sequence of small alcoves, each containing one pot and its bonsai contents. The walls or dividers between the alcoves make it easier to view only one bonsai at a time. The back of the alcove is a neutral color and pattern to avoid distracting the viewer's eye. The bonsai pot is almost always placed on a formal stand, of a size and design selected to complement the bonsai and its pot.

Indoors, a formal bonsai display is arranged to represent a landscape, and traditionally consists of the featured bonsai tree in an appropriate pot atop a wooden stand, along with a shitakusa (companion plant) representing the foreground, and a hanging scroll representing the background. These three elements are chosen to complement each other and evoke a particular season, and are composed asymmetrically to mimic nature. When displayed inside a traditional Japanese home, a formal bonsai display will often be placed within the home's tokonoma
Tokonoma
Tokonoma , also referred to simply as toko, is a Japanese term generally referring to a built-in recessed space in a Japanese style reception room, in which items for artistic appreciation are displayed. In English, tokonoma is usually called alcove. The items usually displayed in a tokonoma are...

 or formal display alcove. An indoor display is usually very temporary, lasting a day or two, as most bonsai are intolerant of indoor conditions and lose vigor rapidly within the house.

Containers

A variety of informal containers may house the bonsai during its development, and even trees that have been formally planted in a bonsai pot may be returned to growing boxes from time to time. A large growing box can house several bonsai and provide a great volume of soil per tree to encourage root growth. A training box will have a single specimen, and a smaller volume of soil that helps condition the bonsai to the eventual size and shape of the formal bonsai container. There are no aesthetic guidelines for these development containers, and they may be of any material, size, and shape that suit the grower.

Completed trees are grown in formal bonsai containers. These containers are usually ceramic pots, which come in a variety of shapes and colors and may be glazed or unglazed. Unlike many common plant containers, bonsai pots have drainage holes in the bottom surface to complement fast-draining bonsai soil, allowing excess water to escape the pot. Growers cover the holes with a screening to prevent soil from falling out and to hinder pests from entering the pots from below. Pots usually have vertical sides, so that the tree's root mass can easily be removed for inspection, pruning, and replanting, although this is a practical consideration and other container shapes are acceptable.

There are alternatives to the conventional ceramic pot. Multi-tree bonsai may be created atop a fairly flat slab of rock, with the soil mounded above the rock surface and the trees planted within the raised soil. In recent times, bonsai creators have also begun to fabricate rock-like slabs from raw materials including concrete
Concrete
Concrete is a composite construction material, composed of cement and other cementitious materials such as fly ash and slag cement, aggregate , water and chemical admixtures.The word concrete comes from the Latin word...

 and glass-reinforced plastic
Glass-reinforced plastic
Fiberglass , is a fiber reinforced polymer made of a plastic matrix reinforced by fine fibers of glass. It is also known as GFK ....

. Such constructed surfaces can be made much lighter than solid rock, can include depressions or pockets for additional soil, and can be designed for drainage of water, all characteristics difficult to achieve with solid rock slabs. Other unconventional containers can also be used, but in formal bonsai display and competitions in Japan, the ceramic bonsai pot is the most common container.

For bonsai being shown formally in their completed state, pot shape, color, and size are chosen to complement the tree as a picture frame is chosen to complement a painting. In general, containers with straight sides and sharp corners are used for formally-shaped plants, while oval or round containers are used for plants with informal designs. Many aesthetic guidelines affect the selection of pot finish and color. For example, evergreen
Evergreen
In botany, an evergreen plant is a plant that has leaves in all seasons. This contrasts with deciduous plants, which completely lose their foliage during the winter or dry season.There are many different kinds of evergreen plants, both trees and shrubs...

 bonsai are often placed in unglazed pots, while deciduous
Deciduous
Deciduous means "falling off at maturity" or "tending to fall off", and is typically used in reference to trees or shrubs that lose their leaves seasonally, and to the shedding of other plant structures such as petals after flowering or fruit when ripe...

 trees usually appear in glazed pots. Pots are also distinguished by their size. The overall design of the bonsai tree, the thickness of its trunk, and its height are considered when determining the size of a suitable pot.

Some pots are highly collectible, like ancient Chinese or Japanese pots made in regions with experienced pot makers such as Tokoname, Japan
Tokoname, Aichi
is a city located in Aichi, Japan.As of 2006, the city has an estimated population of 52,301 and the density of 1,023.56 persons per km². The total area is 48.59 km².The city was founded on April 1, 1954....

 or Yixing, China. Today many potters worldwide produce pots for bonsai.

Bonsai styles

The Japanese tradition describes bonsai tree designs using a set of commonly-understood, named styles. The most common styles include formal upright, informal upright, slanting, semi-cascade, cascade, raft, literati, and group/forest. Less common forms include windswept, weeping, split-trunk, and driftwood styles. These terms are not mutually exclusive, and a single bonsai specimen can exhibit more than one style characteristic. When a bonsai specimen falls into multiple style categories, the common practice is to describe it by the dominant or most striking characteristic.

A frequently used set of styles describe the orientation of the bonsai tree's main trunk. Different terms are used for a tree with its apex directly over the center of the trunk's entry into the soil, slightly to the side of that center, deeply inclined to one side, and inclined below the point at which the trunk of the bonsai enters the soil.
  • Formal upright or chokkan style trees are characterized by a straight, upright, tapering trunk. Branches progress regularly from the thickest and broadest at the bottom to the finest and shortest at the top.

  • Informal upright or moyogi trees incorporate visible curves in trunk and branches, but the apex of the informal upright is located directly above the trunk's entry into the soil line.

  • Slant-style or shakan bonsai possess straight trunks like those of bonsai grown in the formal upright style. However, the slant style trunk emerges from the soil at an angle, and the apex of the bonsai will be located to the left or right of the root base.

  • Cascade-style or kengai specimens are modeled after trees that grow over water or down the sides of mountains. The apex (tip of the tree) in the semi-cascade-style or han kengai bonsai extend just at or beneath the lip of the bonsai pot; the apex of a (full) cascade style falls below the base of the pot.


A number of styles describe the trunk shape and bark finish. For example, the deadwood bonsai styles identify trees with prominent dead branches or trunk scarring.
  • Shari or sharimiki style involves portraying a tree in its struggle to live while a significant part of its trunk is bare of bark.


Although most bonsai trees are planted directly into the soil, there are styles describing trees planted on rock.
  • Root-over-rock or sekijoju is a style in which the roots of the tree are wrapped around a rock, entering the soil at the base of the rock.

  • Growing-in-a-rock or ishizuke style means the roots of the tree are growing in soil contained within the cracks and holes of the rock.


While the majority of bonsai specimens feature a single tree, there are well-established style categories for specimens with multiple trunks.
  • Forest (or group) or yose ue style comprises a planting of several or many trees of one species, typically an odd number, in a bonsai pot.

  • Multi-trunk or ikadabuki style has all the trunks growing out of one spot with one root system, and is actually a single tree.

  • Raft-style or netsuranari bonsai mimic a natural phenomenon that occurs when a tree topples onto its side, for example, from erosion or another natural force. Branches along the top side of the trunk continue to grow as a group of new trunks.

Other styles

A few styles do not fit into the preceding categories. These include:
  • Literati or bunjin-gi style is characterized by a generally bare trunk line, with branches reduced to a minimum, and foliage placed toward the top of a long, often contorted trunk.

  • Broom or hokidachi style is employed for trees with fine branching, like elms. The trunk is straight and branches out in all directions about 1/3 of the way up the entire height of the tree. The branches and leaves form a ball-shaped crown.

  • Windswept or fukinagashi style describes a tree that appears to be affected by strong winds blowing continuously from one direction, as might shape a tree atop a mountain ridge or on an exposed shoreline.

Size classifications

Not all sources agree on the exact sizes or names for these ranges, but the concept of the ranges is well-established and useful to both the cultivation and the aesthetic understanding of the trees. A photograph of a bonsai may not give the viewer an accurate impression of the tree's real size, and so exhibition catalogs and commercial bonsai offerings may complement a photograph by describing the bonsai's general size class (see table below). The size class implies the height and weight of the tree in its container.

In the very largest size range, a recognized Japanese practice is to name the trees "two-handed", "four-handed", and so on, based on the number of men required to move the tree and pot. These trees will have dozens of branches and can closely simulate a full-size tree. The very largest size, called "imperial", is named after the enormous potted trees of Japan's Imperial Palace.

At the other end of the size spectrum, there are a number of specific techniques and styles associated solely with the smallest common sizes, shohin and shito. These techniques take advantage of the bonsai's minute dimensions and compensate for the limited number of branches and leaves that can appear on a tree this small.
Common names for bonsai size classes
Large bonsai
Common name Size class Dimensions
Imperial bonsai Eight-handed 60–80 in (152.4–203.2 cm)
Hachi-uye Six-handed 40–60 in (101.6–152.4 cm)
Dai Four-handed 30–48 in (76.2–121.9 cm)
Omono Four-handed 30–48 in (76.2–121.9 cm)
Medium-size bonsai
Common name Size class Dimensions
Chiu Two-handed 16–36 in (40.6–91.4 cm)
Chumono Two-handed 16–36 in (40.6–91.4 cm)
Katade-mochi One-handed 10–18 in (25.4–45.7 cm)
Miniature bonsai
Common name Size class Dimensions
Komono One-handed 6–10 in (15.2–25.4 cm)
Mame One-handed 5–8 in (12.7–20.3 cm)
Shohin Palm size 2–6 in (5.1–15.2 cm)
Shito Fingertip size 2–4 in (5.1–10.2 cm)
Keshitsubo Poppy-seed size 1–3 in (2.5–7.6 cm)

Indoor bonsai

Indoor bonsai are bonsai which are cultivated for the indoor environment. Traditionally, bonsai are temperate
Temperate
In geography, temperate or tepid latitudes of the globe lie between the tropics and the polar circles. The changes in these regions between summer and winter are generally relatively moderate, rather than extreme hot or cold...

 climate trees grown outdoors in containers. Kept in the artificial environment of a home, these trees weaken and die. But a number of tropical and sub-tropical tree species will survive and grow indoors. Some of these are suited to bonsai aesthetics and can be shaped much as traditional outdoor bonsai are.

See also

  • Bonsai aesthetics
    Bonsai aesthetics
    Bonsai aesthetics are the aesthetic goals and characteristics of the Japanese tradition in the art of growing a miniature tree in a container. Many Japanese cultural characteristics, particularly the influence of Zen Buddhism and the expression of wabi or sabi, inform the bonsai tradition in that...

     – aesthetics of Japanese tradition in bonsai
  • Bonsai styles
    Bonsai styles
    Bonsai is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. Similar practices exist in other cultures, including the Chinese tradition of penjing from which the art originated, and the miniature living landscapes of Vietnamese hòn non bộ, but this article describes the Japanese...

     – conventional styles in the Japanese tradition
  • Bonsai cultivation and care
    Bonsai cultivation and care
    Bonsai and similar practices like saikei, penjing and hòn non bộ involve the long-term cultivation of small trees in containers. Trees are difficult to cultivate in containers, which restrict root growth, nutrition uptake, and resources for transpiration...

     – cultivation and care of small, container-grown trees
  • Deadwood bonsai techniques – description of deadwood techniques and effects in small trees
  • Penjing
    Penjing
    Penjing , also known as penzai , tray landscape, potted scenery, potted landscape, and miniature trees and rockery is the ancient Chinese art of growing trees and plants, kept small by skilled pruning and formed to create an aesthetic shape and the complex illusion of age...

     – Chinese precursor to bonsai
  • Saikei
    Saikei
    literally translates as "planted landscape". It is the art of creating tray landscapes that combine miniature living trees with soil, rocks, water, and related vegetation in a single tray or similar container...

     – tray gardens using bonsai
  • Bonkei
    Bonkei
    Bonkei is Japanese for "tray landscape". A bonkei is a three-dimensional depiction of a landscape in miniature, portrayed using mainly dry materials like rock, papier-mâché or cement mixtures, and sand in a shallow tray...

     – Japanese dry tray landscapes
  • Mambonsai
    Mambonsai
    A mambonsai, , is a pop culture twist on the traditional Japanese art of bonsai. Miniature plant scenes are supplemented with fanciful or kitschy art. Coined by Japanese mambo artist Paradise Yamamoto, the word is a portmanteau word combining mambo and bonsai....

     – pop culture twist on bonsai
  • Indoor bonsai
    Indoor bonsai
    Indoor bonsai are bonsai which are cultivated for the indoor environment. Traditionally, bonsai are temperate climate trees grown outdoors in containers. Kept in the artificial environment of a home, these trees weaken and die. But a number of tropical and sub-tropical tree species will survive and...

     – cultivation and care of trees grown indoors in containers
  • List of species used in bonsai
  • List of bonsai on stamps

External links

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