The History of the Bonsai
Art from the East
Bonsai is a well-respected and time-honored art form that originated in the Far East more than one thousand years ago. The art and mystery of the form involves training young trees and plants into miniature, stylized, majestic versions of fully mature specimens. Developed in China by Buddhist monks seeking to bring nature inside their temples, its influence and tradition spread easterly, arriving in Japan by the 12th century.
Bonsai translates literally from both the Chinese and Japanese to "little trees in pots". Alongside the development of bonsai, Chinese ceramics played an integral role in its aesthetic evolution. Container pots are typically shallow trays, chosen to complement the shape and artistry of the tree. In this way, a harmonious, grounded sense of landscape is created for the bonsai.
The challenge for the bonsai designer is to tease each tree or shrub into revealing its innermost essence and fundamental nature. Each artisan works within a set of traditional aesthetic guidelines and proscribed techniques to create the most artistic form possible. The qualities most admired in bonsai cultivation can also be seen as a part of the larger culture's ideals. These embody a reverence for three basic virtues: truth, goodness, and beauty. In addition, the Zen-like quietude of the art form is a reflection of Eastern philosophies regarding harmony between man, spirit, and nature.
For the viewer, the bonsai represents an opportunity to experience moments of quiet, peaceful reflection within the natural world. When one gazes upon a bonsai, a calming sense of timelessness, stability, and peace pervades. And since a bonsai is dependent upon its owner for its life, it has become a symbol of friendship, since relationships need to be tended and nurtured, just like the bonsai.
Over time, bonsai grow more interesting, personal, and valuable. In Japan today, there are beautiful examples of old bonsai that are considered national living treasures. Given proper care, a bonsai can live for hundreds of years, but age is not essential for a bonsai to be deemed worthy of praise and admiration.
The enjoyment of a beautiful bonsai can be surprisingly deep, as each living bonsai is a pure expression of art, skill, patience, strength, and timelessness. With such subtle and profound qualities, imagine what a beautiful, thoughtful gift a bonsai might be for someone you love and admire.