The meaning of Bonsai: Tradition and the Japanese Aesthetics

This is a very interesting article by the art curator of the Omiya bonsai art museum that Walter Pall brought to my attention.

The more I learn, the more I am convinced that the only people who are so religiously defensive of “traditional” Japanese bonsai are westerners who have some ill-informed ideas about bonsai and some incomplete understanding of Japanese arts. Take home messages from the article: 1. Japanese bonsai follows traditional Japanese aesthetics but is not traditional as it is quite young (less 200 years) and lacks some of the hallmarks of other traditional Japanese arts. 2. The bonsai exhibition, so important in Japan and copied over to the west, is originally an idea actually copied from the west. 3. The Japanese are not so defensive of their “tradition”, in the words of the Omiya Bonsai Museum curator “If a tradition cannot display the courage and vitality to accept new, external stimuli, constantly adapting in response to this input, then it will not be able to continue as a tradition.”.

Take the time to read it.


Great read thanks for sharing. I really liked that last part too, about how tastes are maybe changing for some the younger generation and how the old guard should respond.


It is the last two paragraphs that are most poignant. I stopped taking Bonsai Focus magazine as it only recognized Japanese bonsai and nothing to do with china was included, I moved over to the French publication Esprit as this was a much more “holistic” view, with Korean and Chinease forms of Bonsai as well as European and Japanease… cheers for the interesting read.


Thanks Rafi. It was very informative, but as mention the last paragraphs leaves the door open for future creativity. After reading, I had a vision of next generation’s American Bonsai for some younger collectors painted candy apple red with chrome trim. Hope we keep it from that extreme.

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Wasn’t that already done at the 2016 US National Show?


Really good read Rafi. I’m not very computer savvy, but this might be a good article to post into the beginners forum as well. Super encouraging.

Don’t know, but I’m sure it was swell!

Not so fast grasshopper! I “could” be called the old guard at my age but am whole heartedly in agreement with the way Ryan does our wonderful native American Bonsai as well as feeling great sympathy for all of the traditional beautiful trunks with green helmet, phony, man made looking, cookie cutter foliage of the traditionalists. They can all be made so much better if someone had the courage to thin and naturalize their foliage and structures after 300-600 years of manhandling/perverting and give them back the natural beauty God meant them to have::wink:.

Article was an interesting read however still feel sorry for their trees and very happy with our new American tradition. Or lack of it:wink:.

:slight_smile: no offense intended to anyone of course. I think there’s plenty of room for multiple aesthetic and engagement choices

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@nmhansen, @WLKeugene, that’s exactly the point of the article.

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I’m 100% positive we can get to “I prefer naturalistic bonsai rather than stylized bonsai” without (1) denigrating stylized bonsai or people who prefer stylized bonsai and (2) dragging religion into it.

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Not really! Natural looking trees infinitely better.