"tray gardening") is the art of aesthetic
miniaturisation of trees and plants in containers.
While mostly associated with the Japanese form,
"bonsai" was originally developed from Chinese
penjing ("tray scenery") .
In Western culture, the word "bonsai" is used as an
umbrella term for Japanese bonsai, Chinese penjing,
and Korean bunjae.
The origins of bonsai are often
attributed to ancient China.
Practiced at least as early as the
Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), it is believed
that the artform is derived from the
practice of transporting medicinal
plants in containers by healers. Its
early focus was on the display of
stylistic trunks in the shape of
animals and mystic figures. A number
of these early works exist today,
and are highly valued.
bonsai is derived from the Chinese
artform, and was introduced to Japan
by imperial embassies in the Chinese
Tang Dynasty. In the
Dynastic periods that
followed penjing came to be drawn in some
picture scrolls and documents and began to develop in various directions in
Japan. Just like a Japanese garden,
it came to assume the artistry of "Wabi-sabi"
centred on the acceptance of
However, the bonsai was still the
enjoyment of people of the chosen
hierarchy in the period. In the Edo
(1603 to 1867), it became possible for many
rulers), samurais, merchants,
townsmen, and others to enjoy the
art of bonsai. In addition, the
bonsai pot became popular among
daimyos, employing the pottery
master who belonged exclusively to
the bonsai pot. It is said that the
name "Bonsai" started being used
around this time.
The Japanese aesthetic is centred
on the principle of "heaven and
earth in one container", as a
cliché has it. Three forces come
together in a good bonsai: shin-zen-bi
(真善美) or truth, essence and beauty.
Traditional subjects for bonsai
flowering cherry, azalea and
larch. The plants are grown
outdoors and brought in to the
tokonoma at special occasions
when they most evoke the current
The Japanese bonsai are meant to
evoke the essential spirit of the
plant being used: in all cases, they
must look natural and never show the
intervention of human hands.
The Chinese aesthetic hopes to
capture the essence and spirit of
nature through contrasts.
Philosophically, the Chinese artist
is influenced by the principle of
Yin and Yang,
conceptualisation of the universe as
governed by two primal opposing but
not limited to nature, but also from
poetry and visual art, of which
factor similar aesthetic
include dragons and the strokes of fortuitious characters. At its
highest level however, the artistic
penjing is on par with that
brush painting and garden art.