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Japan’s Exceptional Bonsai Culture

August 30th, 2010 by

Considered the Bonsai Mecca in Japan and the rest of the world, Omiya Bonsai Village is home to ten gardens that cultivate Bonsai trees. This hamlet in Saitama City houses hundreds of thousands of these tiny plants, and the community has organized itself around their treasured flora.

Bonsai is the Japanese art of growing miniature trees, using only a small pot and carefully arranged stones. This art form was brought to Japan during the Kamakura period in the 12th century and used to be exclusive to the aristocracy before being introduced to the world in the 19th century during the Meiji Restoration. The Japanese are drawn to the intricately gnarled bark and twisting shape of the trunk, which resemble mythical creatures like the dragon.

Bonsai Trees
Photo courtesy of Rob Shenk


While bonsai growers believe any tree or shrub can be grown from a pot, the popular trees for bonsai are pine, cherry and plum, as well as fruit-bearing varieties such as persimmon. Surprisingly, bonsai trees are not grown from special seeds, but are regular trees that grow small by confinement, wire-binding and trimming. There are three important parts of a bonsai tree. The first part is the root, which if firmly anchored on the soil will give stability and strength to the rest of the plant.

The second part is the trunk, which gains distinction from the way it develops from the roots and the tapering it shows as it rises upwards. The last part is the branches, which will bloom magnificently if proper care is given, although some will reduce the top growth to emphasize the trunk. Wires are also used to direct the growth of branches and are kept in place until the shape becomes permanent. Once a bond develops between the bonsai and caretaker, the latter can tell when fertilizer, water, trimming or sunlight is needed. Bonsai is considered an art without end, where continuous nurturing will result in an ever-transforming tree. Some bonsai are hundreds of years old, and have been passed on within a single family of cultivators.

Flowering Bonsai
Photo courtesy of tsuppie

The gardens in Omiya Village, Saitama City, Greater Tokyo, specialize in different aspects of bonsai cultivation, from the natural bonsai with minimum human interference of Ryuho-en to the specialty tool-selling in Shouto-en. One garden, the House of Four Seasons, also has different rooms dedicated to tea ceremonies, meeting spaces, dance practice and other aspects of Japanese traditional culture. Visitors to Omiya Village can also visit the nearby Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, which exhibits a rotating display of the village’s best trees, masterpiece paintings of bonsai, intricate bonsai pots and documents that depict the history of bonsai culture.

Onsen
Photo courtesy of Noriko Puffy

Bonsai enthusiasts from around the globe can now indulge their senses in the Japan Bonsai Tour from February 4 to 14, 2011. Not only with participants get to visit Omiya Village and other bonsai nurseries and gardens, they will also get to attend Kokufu Bonsai-ten, the largest Bonsai event in the country.

Tokyo Station
Photo courtesy of Eryn Vorn

You can also visit Omiya during the Great Bonsai Festival held every May 3 to 5. Omiya Village is a 27-minute walk from Omiya Ko-en Station, which is itself 50 minutes from Tokyo Station.  While the proprietors welcome bonsai lovers from all over and charge nothing for admission, they prohibit photography in general and speak only limited English.

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