Bonsais are tree plants grown in pots or trays with special techniques such that they appear in their very best beauty—even prettier than plants grown commonly. Growing bonsai, however, is an artistic craft. It’s also a great illustration of the placid respect Japanese have for green life and a display of their love for beauty and glow. It goes far beyond growing flowers in pots and entails serious skill and dedication—emotionally and physically.
What is Bonsai?
The word bonsai was first used in an old Chinese poem in the mid-fourteenth century and was not mentioned again until three centuries later before people began using it regularly. Early bonsai were first cultivated as far back as 1309.
In early times most bonsai lovers were usually elites—priests, aristocrats, and other high-ranked people—not until the seventeenth century, when commoners too delighted the art and began practicing it. Bonsai became popular, and a genre of art after Japan ended her three centuries of isolation in 1868 and availed itself to western countries. Since then growing bonsai is not just done for fun but also as an artistic pursuit. Lots of scholarly books on growing bonsai techniques have been published, and large scale bonsai exhibitions staged.
Growing bonsai is no longer an art practiced by only the Japanese. The Bonsai art has gained popularity in thirty-two different countries with over 1200 attendants present in the World Bonsai Convention first held in Omiya city, Saitama Prefecture, 1989. The convention launched the World Bonsai Friendship Federation, which was a shooting star for the art and also helped spread the Bonsai-growing skills globally. The association organizes international conferences once every four years and has successfully held several meetings since the first gathering in Omiya.
Today, growing bonsai continues to be a hobby enjoyed by members of the general public. It’s also regarded as an essential part of Japan’s cultural and artistic tradition, nurtured over the years by the nation’s climate and people’s love of nature
The Philosophy and Spirit of Bonsai
The love and interest of Bonsai is a call to the love of nature and green life. The philosophy and spirit of this great art are illustrated in the speech of the famous Saburo Kato of Japan at the 1980 International Bonsai Convention in Hawaii. The address reads as follows:
All of you here with interest in bonsai have been “chosen by bonsai.” We are united in the brotherhood of bonsai. Gathering together is wonderful. In Japan bonsai has an ancient history borne of nature. Bonsai is enlightenment and brings peace. It is well known and appreciated. It’s the duty of all of us that love bonsai to keep alive this “torch of peace.”
People who love bonsai appreciate the beauty of nature and plant trees in small containers. In doing so, they learn from nature and learn a philosophy of life. Even a person who doesn’t understand bonsai can appreciate and be moved by its beauty. The power of Bonsai is in its ability to portray the absolute beauty of nature. This is the goal for all who grow bonsai. There are three essential things to consider:
First, the roots
When looking at an old tree, the roots form the foundation and gives strength. This is impressive and inspiring. Strong roots of large a tree protect other smaller trees in a flood or a storm. These firmly rooted trees give us a feeling of stability and security. In the case of a Bonsai, this should also be true.
Second, the trunk and the way it’s formed
In the case of a solitary tree, it’s especially important as to how the trunk emerges from the roots and the rising taper that it develops. After many years the aged characteristics and bark appear, and you can sense the added character and personality of each tree.
Third, the branches
These face the sky and are balanced and must have sunlight to flourish. Because branches and leaves are growing actively, beautiful flowers can bloom. Even though growing vigorously and flowers are blooming, you must not be complacent and must be very diligent in the care of your plants. This care is important.
Everyone here has gathered together from distant places. In each of your countries, you have mountains, rivers, woods, and forests. These are beautiful scenes to inspire you. Choose the most beautiful examples for your Bonsai. Do not just copy anything. Instead, make your Bonsai like the best parts of nature.
To raise Bonsai, it is vital to learn the strong and weak points of each plant. Growing Bonsai is like raising children. Be a teacher and a guide but with patience and loving care. Treat your plants as you do your family. I’m sure that each of you will also be able to create and grow beautiful Bonsai.
Bonsai is a living thing in the roots and even in the leaves. Every day that you are attending your bonsai, although the plant cannot speak to you, you’ll sense that the plant is trying to tell you something. You’ll one day know a plant is asking for water or fertilizer. When you come to that stage, you’ll have developed a close bond. Bonsai responds to your love and becomes like honest friends with no human falsehood or betrayals.
Bonsai are loyal if you water and fertilize regularly with loving care. Life is more meaningful when we attend to these little plants. We learn the essence and dignity of life! Even the life of a Bonsai is older than us. So Bonsai must be passed on to the next generation to preserve the life in the tray. This is important.
Bonsai is a God-given gift to man. This form of nature is closest to man and portrays the drama of life. Bonsai is nature without an end. So those who grow bonsai have a responsibility to be diligent and a duty to continue to carry on. In conclusion, I hope that the art of bonsai will never die and will keep the torch of peace burning throughout the world. I expect closer and deeper friendships will tie us together.
The philosophy of bonsai is Peace, and its spirit is togetherness. The love of green life and act of care towards nature is what the Bonsai art teaches and what its disciples practice. When we learn to care for our environment and everything in around us, we unite with nature and embrace the spirit of togetherness.
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