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HOME > HISTORY OF BONSAI

bonsaibonsaiHISTORY OF BONSAI


The origin of bonsai

Mural painting of Tang dynastyIt is now widely accepted that the bonsai art originated in the ancient Chinese empire called "Tang-dynasty (618 - 907)". A lady holding up the plants with a colorful flower on top of the vessel can be seen on the mural painting of the royal familyfs tomb in the Tang era. (See right)

bonsai introduced into Japan

ZenDuring the 11th and 12th centuries, there was considerable cultural movement between China and its neighbours, particularly the Japanese who readily adopted much of Chinese art and philosophy. Perhaps the most significant influence was the Chinese Zen religion, whose monks played a leading role in introducing bonsai to the Japanese ruling classes.
Yoshida Kenko Essays in idlenessBonsai rapidly became entrenched in Japanese culture and seems to have been practiced both on a spiritual and aesthetic level. While the Buddhist monks adopted the intellectual, abstract approach, there is considerable evidence that as early as the late 13th century stunted wild trees were collected and trained as bonsai by ordinary citizens. Specialist techniques also began to develop at this time, although, as the poet Yoshida Kenko suggested in his Essays in Idleness, the results were not always successful and tended towards deformity rather than beauty. He regarded bonsai as unnatural and once compared them to beggars with twisted limbs. The same argument continues to rage today, wherever bonsai are grown.


Edo era, the prosperity of bonsai in Japan

ukiyoe of bonsai in Edo eraEntering the Edo era (1603 - 1868), bonsai has become much more popular than ever. Because the force of the merchants increases in Edo, as the conditions of the people's lives are greatly improved, a big gardening boom has occurred. Expensive potted plants and Rai Sanyo and Ikeno Taigaflower pots, such as the rare species have been collected.
Europeans who came to Japan for the plant hunting have left in the record that they were very surprised to see so many kinds of plants in the Edo period. Furthermore, the Edo era has been said to be the time when the influence of Confucianism has become strong in place of the Buddhism.
Hobbyists who love the Chinese calligraphy antique appeared and they were called literati. Such literati including Lai Sanyo and Ikeno Taiga were holding a cultural initiative, they regarded bonsai as art. And bonsai has been more appreciated than before. This epidemic of bonsai can be seen in many works of ukiyo-e painting representing the Edo era.


Meiji era, bonsai as the status symbol of the upper class

photo of bonsai in the Meiji eraIto Hirobumi, the first prrime minister of JapanEntering the Meiji era (1868 - 1912), the world of samurai which lasted more than 670 years suddenly ended, and the whole country of Japan has completely changed new with the rapid westernization.
But the popularity of bonsai still lasted. Famous statesmen of the Meiji government, Ito Hirobumi and Okuma Shigenobu were well-known as bonsai enthusiasts.
Bonsai was traded at a very high price as a status symbol of the rich and success. This trend is widely spread in the royal and noble families, in the business community. Bonsai was very popular as the status symbol of the upper class.


New bonsai as a hobby for the young people

bonsai as a hobby for the young peoplenew bonsai by young peopleAfter the Meiji era, bonsai has been a cool natty hobby. Since it needs much care and maintenance such as positioning, fertilization, cutting, watering etc., the old people who have much enough time to do them have become the main enthusiasts. Therefore, until about 1980's, bonsai has been considered as a hobby for the old people.
However, recently, together with the gardening boom after 1990's, bonsai has been spreading gradually among the young people in Japan. In this way, bonsai is still changing and evolving today, being improved by new sensibility of the young people.

 
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