As a child, I always believed the work of “bonsai” to be the art of imitating natural mountain scenes above timberline. My images were of wind-blown pines standing tall alongside alpine lakes. Growing up partly in Colorado, I spent many days and nights 10k or above traversing the Continental Divide, contemplating the wonder of the crystal clarity in glacial lakes, rushing streams and falls suspended below jagged cliffs. Here are stunning, iridescent meadows interrupted only by the howling wind, or the sweet melody of mountain birds and squeak of pica. The pine trees are shaped and formed into a perfect flowing angle of branches tilted forward to bend but not break, by the powerful, magical hand of the wind. While I’d love to say this is true, it’s not true.
I never imagined it to be an art form which has swept across the Pacific into the creative hands of artists and gardeners across America. As so much of Japanese culture, the art of bonsai can be sourced from China, specifically “penjing”, the art of Chinese landscape. I had the opportunity to see this first hand during many visits to various parts of China. There were featured “penjing” gardens in the areas I visited, of which there seems to be a greater emphasis in the coupling of “penzai” (Chinese bonsai) with uniquely shaped pumice-like stones. The word bonsai does in fact come from the word penzai, both of which are translated to mean tray or pot (bon) and plantings (sai). China doesn’t appear to be as set on miniaturization as does Japan, and it reminds me how so much of Japan’s early ingenuity stems from their unique skills in miniaturizing most all things.
It is likely that “penzai” made its way to the Island of Japan from China somewhere between 600-800 A.D. when Japan initiated a number of Imperial missions to mainland China. However, bonsai first appeared in Japanese paintings in the medieval period (1100-1200, according to Wikipedia).
Here are some nice explorations of bonsai koto jazz style music:
Bonsai as an art form may be of interest to you. You can find additional information about bonsai at the following sites: