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Bonsai: Japanese Tree Art Essay

Many people in the contemporary society have always expressed their desire to connect with nature especially by cultivating certain plants in their compounds but the urban living conditions cannot allow. These, especially in towns have little space around their houses for growing flowers or trees and this greatly applies to those who live in apartments which are compacted or multistoried (Pilgrim, par 1). Did you know that one can actually grow trees in his or her house? Thanks to a Chinese ancient Art in tree planting where one can afford to have a tree plant in a pot. This art is called Bonsai.

This word is pronounced as ‘bone-sigh’ which if directly translated from Japanese it means ‘tree in pot’ (Kenney, par 1). A bonsai tree is just an ordinary tree which has been sculpted and a healthy one can live for 100 years (Curley, par 1). This essay seeks to trail through the events that have characterized this Art from the time of its inception, the art process, its significance in relation to the society and how it has changed overtime. What Is The History Behind Bonsai Art? China is believed to have been the original home or the birth place of this art which began more than a thousand years ago.

It was originally called Pun-sai and it involved growing trees in small pots and one pot could only have one tree. The Chinese Bonsai had twisted branches which resembled different animals for example birds or even reptiles like snakes and other imaginary creatures like dragons which were associated with some legends and myths. The shape of the Bonsai depended on the artist’s imagination. The Chinese regarded trees as the best way of expressing nature and for them, the growing of these trees was one way of bringing tranquility to ones mind (Pilgrim, par 5).

Later, in the 12th century around a period called Kamakura, the Japanese adopted it. The exact time that this happened cannot be indicated but it is believed to be around 1195 AD. This happened when Zen Buddhism was being spread in Japan and in the process; the Chinese tradition of Bonsai trees was also spread through some monks who established their monasteries in Japan. They are the ones who were actively involved in the Art thus advancing it. Afterwards, the aristocracy picked up the art as a hobby and it became a sign of wealth thus spreading through the upper class (Hubik, par 1).

For the Japanese, they regarded Bonsai as a symbol of honor and prestige and by 14th century, the art was regarded as a highly refined form of art. During those times, the Japanese elite used to have those occasions where they could display their Bonsai trees on special shelves (Hubik, par 1). Originally, many Japanese grew the trees outside their houses but when they decided to throw a party, the trees would be taken inside for people to enjoy the sight (Olsen, par 3). The nobility in Japan perceived Bonsai as peace among three things, that is man, spirit and nature (Curley, par 4).

Later, in the 19th century, after spending more than 230 years in isolation, Japan opened its doors to the rest of the world and thus the outsiders accessed this art. Travelers from European countries could not believe what they saw: mature tree plants in ceramic pots and this seemed something worth to adopt. From then onwards, they spread the gospel to other western nations and in 1900, in Paris world exhibition, the art was introduced to the whole world. This was followed by subsequent exhibitions in London and Vienna (Hubik, par 7). Myths Associated With Bonsai Art

There are various misconceptions about Bonsai trees. Some people have always misconstrued this Bonsai technique as a dwarfing process. Traditional techniques for growing Bonsai should never be termed as dwarfing of trees which employs certain manipulations which are genetic. Genetic manipulation is not involved anywhere in cultivating these trees but natural seeds are used instead. Other techniques are also employed such as grafting, pruning, defoliation, potting and root reduction (Pilgrim, par 3). Some people believe that, the Bonsai trees are kept that short by some cruel techniques. This is actually not true.

In fact, if they are watered well and are exposed to enough air, light and also good nutrition, they can live for long, more than full grown trees belonging to the same species. The techniques are just the same as the ones used on other horticultural plants. Some also hold onto believe that a Bonsai tree is just few centimeters tall which is not true however if compared with their full grown brothers, they are small, ranging between 25 centimeters and 1 meter (Bonsai Site, par. 1). The Process of Bonsai Tree Art Typical plants and trees can make up Bonsai but those which have small leaves are regarded as suitable.

In Japan, trees like pine, bamboo and plum have been used. Seeds and cuttings from these trees can be used to develop Bonsai trees and also stunted trees which occur naturally that can be grown in containers. One may ask how they come to be that small. Well, these trees are trained to be small by the process of pruning whereby their branches and roots are trimmed. Other methods include repotting which is done periodically, new growth can also be pinched and if one desires the plant to grow in a particular shape, then one will be required to wire the tree into the desired shape (Bonsai site, par 3).

The tree has to have a trunk which is well tapered and should also have branches all over; this is to give it a visual depth (Black, par. 5). The container in which the Bonsai tree is grown is independent from the earth. The tree should not be at the centre of the container. It was always believed that in that container, heaven and earth are one and in the centre is where they meet thus nothing is allowed to occupy that space and that’s why the tree is not supposed to be planted at the centre. Triangular pattern is so much encouraged to add to the beauty.

Truth, beauty and goodness are three virtues which are believed to be necessary for the creation of a Bonsai tree (Bonsai Site, par 4). These containers are primarily kept outside excluding those ones for trees which are trained to grow indoors. There are no rules regarding the development of Bonsai because they are personalized by individuals and more so if it is for one’s enjoyment. It doesn’t require so much but ones patience and endurance. A person’s commitment will also force him to dedicate much of his time and skill to the Bonsai tree (Bonsai Site, par 7)

Watering of Bonsai is considered the most important factor in the process and it is also a skill to be learnt because watering varies with different Bonsai trees, types of soil used and pots. Always ensure that the trees do not dry out and to check this, one can insert a tooth pick in the soil to see if there is any moisture (Squidoo, par. 2). As mentioned earlier, pruning is also involved but it is usually not done on young Bonsai trees but those ones which have grown a bit. Pruning just involves trimming the tree into a desired shape and thus there is no guideline on how to prune correctly.

One should also ensure that the tree is exposed to enough light, if not so artificial light should be provided to compensate for the sunlight which is not available for the plant. Fertilization also depends with the type of Bonsai thus it is not a major requirement in the art. One recommendation is that one is not required to fertilize unhealthy dry Bonsai (Squidoo, par. 7). Repotting is another major caring technique for a Bonsai plant. It is usually done after two years which also depends on the pots size and the growth of the plant.

Repotting helps the plant to develop good rooting system and also supplying it with fresh soil (Squidoo, par 7). Bonsai wiring is another technique which is required in this process to shape them. It involves wrapping tree branches and trunks with the wire until the tree is in a position to maintain the shape and that is when the wire can be removed. All these tools which are used in this process can be supplied by anyone who specializes in Bonsai tools. One can use plain silver wire, copper or brown Bonsai wires and if one cannot access these, any other can do so long as it is bendable and can be easily removed.

Thicker wires are the most appropriate in Bonsai and if one cannot get these ones, he or she must involve double wrapping (Squidoo, par. 12-13). To sum up, there are no specific guidelines which can apply to all Bonsai trees hence different species of Bonsai need to be treated differently, In Japan, the process is considered to have no end as long as the plant is alive. One is supposed to treat the plant with respect and love and the act of caring for the tree is in itself a meditation (Black, par. 6). What is the Significance of Bonsai Art in Relation to the Society?

To the Japanese, they associated the plant with their faith in Zen Buddhism where man and nature are one and are thus joined through meditation and expression. In the modern world however, this process is more of a hobby. This is important as it helps to understand nature and being part of it and also enhancing the beauty of the gardens (Bonsai Site, par 1-2). Bonsai trees have also been regarded as symbols of harmony among three things; that is man, nature and soul while the monks associate them with prestige and honor (Curley, par. 4). The act of shaping the tree and viewing it was understood to be one way of uniting nature and spirit.

It also signified the Japanese philosophy and refinement in that, by pruning; the unwanted and unnecessary parts were done away with thus refining the tree. This view is still held in Japan and that is why during every New Year, families in Japan display their Bonsai trees which have been decorated. The ornamentation of the Bonsai to decorate it is referred to as Tokoma (Bonsai site, par 10). Once it was associated with the elite but nowadays, it is observed by all; this is because, the art symbolizes their culture and ideals (Curley, par. 4). How Has The Art Changed Overtime?

In the modern world, the art has taken an interesting twist in that; most people have taken it up as a profession (Bonsai Site, par. 3). The art has really developed to new forms where the pot and the tree complement each other in various aspects such as shape, texture and also color. The tree has to be shaped and not left to grow the way it would naturally. These changes have been experienced since the art began in China. The Chinese Bonsai still maintains its ancient styles and shapes which are traditional and sometimes these are usually perceived by the Europeans as crude.

The Japanese one is much more natural and pleasing to the eyes because they are well taken care off and refined (Sinonewa, par. 4). They are the ones who perfected this art. Nowadays, Bonsai has taken different styles and shapes. Bonsai which can grow indoors are trained in classical styles which include windswept, slanted trunk among others. The Art which was originally by the Japanese and the Chinese is now practiced around the world and thus it is regarded as a way through which the spirit of nature is imitated (Black, par. 9).

Lastly, artists started to incorporate other cultural elements into their plantings such as rocks and even small buildings thus displaying diverse possibilities in styles and thus the Art has evolved reflecting changes in time and tastes. Due to demand of this Art all over the world, artists have resulted to grow young plants, training them to appear the same as the Bonsai. Japanese decided to concentrate on this art and they opened nurseries to grow bonsai trees mainly for export. The range of plants used in this art also increased to suit different world climates and thus countries and cultures can pick up the art without any problem.

(Bonsai Site, par. 8). Two modern artists who are involved with this art are Morten Albek and Artists from Austin Bonsai society. Source: Oriental Decor Source: Oriental Decor Work Cited Austin Bonsai Society. Modern Bonsai Artists, 21 March, 2010. Web. 1 May, 2010, <http://www. main. org/bonsai/>. Black, Frank. Japanese Bonsai. China Town Connection, 2005. Web May 1, 2010, <http://www. chinatownconnection. com/japanese-bonsai. htm>. Black, Frank. The Art of Bonsai Tree. Ezine Articles, 6 June 2006. Web. 1 May, 2010 <http://ezinearticles. com/? The-Art-of-Japanese-Bonsai&id=214169>. Oriental Decor. Japanese Bonsai Trees. 2010.

Web. 1 May, 2010 <http://oriental-decor. com/japanese_bonsai_trees. php>. Curley. Karen. The Bonsai in Japanese Culture. EHow, 2010. Web. 1 May, 2010, <http://www. ehow. com/about_6376609_bonsai-japanese-culture. html>. Hubik, Dan. A Detailed History of Bonsai. Bonsai Site, 2010. Web. 1 May, 2010, <http://www. bonsaisite. com/history1. html>. Kenney, Kim. Definition of Bonsai. eHow, 2010. Web. 1 May, 2010 <http://www. ehow. com/facts_5611901_definition-bonsai. html>. Mortein, Albek. Modern Bonsai Artist. The Knowledge of Bonsai. Web. May 1 2010 <http://blogs. knowledgeofbonsai. org/morten_albek/>. Olsen, Eric. Bonsai Tree Meaning.

Bonsai Gardener, 2008. Web 1 May, 2010, <http://www. bonsaigardener. org/bonsai-tree-meaning. html>. Pilgrim, Gray. Bonsai Tree History. Hub Pages, 2 March 2010. Web. 1 May 2010 <http://hubpages. com/hub/Bonsai-Tree–History–Culture–Background>. Sanunewa . Bonsai: Tree, History, Culture, Background. Hub Pages, 2010. Web. 1 May, 2010 <http://hubpages. com/hub/Bonsai-Tree–History–Culture–Background>. Site Bonsai. An introduction to Bonsai, 2010. Web. 1 May, 2010, <http://www. bonsaisite. com/intro1. html>. Squidoo. The art of Bonsai: the Bonsai tree care, 2010. Web 1 May, 2010 <http://www. squidoo. com/art-of-bonsai>.

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