What Does A Bonsai Tree Symbolize?

bonsai representation


What A Bonsai Tree Symbolizes

Bonsai originated in China as the art of penjing and moved to Japan to become the art form we know today. Bonsai is the art of scaling trees down in size. Techniques are used to mimic the look of trees as they are found in nature. These techniques are used to reflect looks of simplicity, harmony, balance, and age in the bonsai tree. If you are unfamiliar with bonsai traditions, the symbolism in the tree can be undetectable. Understanding the meanings of these symbols can help you appreciate the bonsai on a deeper level.



Simplicity is not only found in bonsai traditions, but in Japanese culture as well. In Japanese culture, simplicity is evident in their art, homes, offices, gardens, and in the way they live their lives. Simplicity also symbolizes their respect for nature.

In bonsai, simplicity is not only evident in the trees themselves, but in the pots in which they live as well. The containers in which they live are neutral toned, which represents simplicity in nature. Bonsai are not meant to be over the top art pieces. They are meant to be styled as natural as possible, without unnecessary ornamentation. No matter how simple or intricate the bonsai is, there is a sense of simplicity within.



Harmony is another highly valued and common aspect of Japanese culture that is also present in bonsai tradition. The unity in textures and shapes represents harmony found in nature. Co-existence with elements can be seen in the bark’s curves and the lines in the branches. Jagged edges and crooked corners can be seen on the bonsai represent life’s most difficult times.

In Japanese culture, harmony can be seen in many aspects of their lives. The emphasis in trying to have a conflict free environment is seen in the Japanese laws, customs, rules, and manners. People generally try to prioritize harmony in groups and in where they live. This is followed by much of the country, as the crime rate is one of the lowest in the world. It is rare to see anger expressed between people. the different aspects of the bonsai tree is said to represent different people’s opinions.



When looking at a bonsai tree, you will immediately notice the balance in the tree. This aspect is very crucial in the bonsai tradition. The shape of a triangle is used in the design, representing stability and strength. In this tradition, the isosceles triangle is used, rather than the equilateral triangle popularly used in Western cultures. This creates a look of deliberate imperfection commonly used in Japanese art forms. These triangles create a sense of movement in the tree.



Specific things can be done to bonsai trees to display the appearance of age. manipulation of the trunk, branches, and roots can be used to show the different stages of life.

Exposed roots are used to give the look of age and erosion. Another display of age is trunks breaking surface at some sort of angle and continuing to grow in circles. This also symbolizes overcoming elements of nature. A smooth trunk with no blemishes gives off a youthful look, while a scarred trunk symbolizes age. One aspect that can represent the evolution of the tree is to place a dead trunk within the tree. Branches facing upwards symbolize youthfulness, while branches facing down symbolize age. Fully, luscious growth represents youthfulness, while sparse growth represents characteristics like those of an aged tree.

The elderly in Japan are treated with more respect than those in other countries. There are more people over 65 years old that in an other age group. The homes of the Japanese are often very diverse in age, having multiple generations under the same roof.  This is seen in the bonsai trees with a mixture of youthful and older traits.


The aspects of bonsai represent many different things, including but not limited to simplicity, harmony, balance, and age. All of these aspects are common in Japanese culture and in the bonsai tradition. The main goal of the bonsai is to display the qualities of the tree as it is seen in nature. Every bonsai tree represents something different, depending on the grower and the viewers perspectives.

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