What is Bonsai?

Simplistically, bonsai are trees or shrubs that grow in a pot and, as a result, are stunted. Their small stature amplifies their elegance and beauty,  Through careful pruning and wiring, a lot of patience, these miniature trees and shrubs are shaped over the years, and coaxed to grow into tiny representatives of one of the world’s largest living things. They are works of art, tended to and envisioned by humans, made of nature. It is during this process, of grower tendering, tree growing, that a bond is forged, a bond that lasts a lifetime, and in many cases, that bond is passed on for another lifetime.

The first major publication on the subject in english, "Dwarf Trees" by  Shinobu Nozaki, came out in the 1930s, and not long after the Japanese art of bonsai started drawing serious international attention. 

The earliest known record of Bonsai trees appears in ancient Chinese horticulture practices. Around 700 A.D., the Chinese began the art of pun-sai, or the cultivation of dwarf trees. In China, this art was an elite practice as very few individuals had the time and money to grow miniature trees.

The art of growing Bonsai was brought into Japan about 1200 years ago, where it flourished. The Japanese word "Bon" means shallow container, and the word "Sai" means a tree planted in a vessel. The Japanese refined the techniques of the Chinese and experimented with a greater variety of Bonsai trees. The Bonsai was particularly honored and venerated in Japanese Zen Buddhism for its symbolism.

In western society, records and observations of the Bonsai tree begin as early as the 1600’s, but the art gained prominence only from the 19th century onwards.

It goes without saying that bonsai trees don’t take shape themselves. A work of bonsai must begin by planting a specimen in a small container, from then on, it demands daily attention in not just the proper amounts of water and sunlight but also careful pruning and trimming, wiring to style, and everything else in the bonsai cultivator’s large suite of tools.

No bonsai even attains a state of completeness, they are always growing, always changing, never a finished artwork.   In National Geographic‘s “American Shokunin”  the title  "bonsai cultivator" (shokunin has a meaning similar to “craftsman” or “artisan”).  

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