Bonsai – The Ancient Japanese Art

Ever wondered how a tree would look small? Ever wondered how beautiful a jungle would look if it is miniaturized? It’s possible….the creation of Bonsai.

What is Bonsai?

Bonsai is a Japanese word composed of two syllables Bon which means “tray or pot” and sai means “tree or plant”. So Bonsai means “a tree in a shallow tray or container”. It is a tree or shrub trained and pruned in such a way as to resemble a full-size tree. It possesses the natural beauty of a full-grown tree. A bonsai if planted in the ground will become a full-size tree. It is artistically created to achieve a total aesthetic impact. But why does a person make bonsai? It is a hobby like gardening but a specialized field which requires artistic skills as well as horticultural skills.

“Bonsai is a unique art form because it is a blend of art and horticulture. Unlike other works of art that once completed retain a final form; bonsai design naturally alters with the seasons and with age (Harry Tomlinson)”. Like in landscape paintings, the scene or a tree or group of trees are depicted in small size but keeping track of proportion, Bonsai is same as depicting trees in nature. But painting once completed is framed and finished, while Bonsai continues to become more and more mature as the time progresses if the tree is kept alive and it is never finished. This is the reason it is called living art as the work is done on living material and the tree matures with time.

Bonsai – By AndySerrano

To some artists Bonsai is a fine art, to others it is of more interest as a specialized form of horticultural.  It could be said that an outstanding bonsai is 90% art and 10% horticulture. But not be discouraged as artistic ability alone cannot be hundred percent effective, because a degree of horticulture skill is necessary to keep the tree alive.


But the question arises from where this living art of trees come from. It originated in China over 2000 years ago and then was established and refined in Japan. The Japanese classified the art of Bonsai into various styles and the Japanese are considered the pioneers of Bonsai. In the 17th and 18th century, this art reached its peak and were regarded very highly. In the mid 19th century, the art of Bonsai spread to other parts of the world from travelers who visited Japan. Further exhibitions inLondon,Vienna andParis in the later part of century spread this art to the whole world.

Tang Dynasty PenzaiThe earliest illustration of a bonsai (penjing) is found in the Qianling Mausoleum murals at the Tang Dynasty tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai, dating to 706. (Source: Wikipedia)

It hit Europe and U.S.A and was refined more and according to the trees found there. According to their tastes, some more new styles were developed. So from Japan to Europe to South Africa and then to Pakistan, this art came to us in an established and refined form. This art is being practiced in Pakistan for more than fifteen years.  Many enthusiasts have worked on it and are working on it and many have passed their work to their generations. It came to us in form of hobby and art and not as part of religious activity like it was once in Japan and China.

The Art of Bonsai was refined and organized by the Japanese people. During the Heian period (794 – 1191A.D), the Buddhist monks brought the Bonsai to Japan. In the beginning, the art of Bonsai was limited only to the wealthy people and it was considered as an Elite Art form. In the 17th century, this trend changed and the it reached to the public and commoners. In 1896, Japan opened itself to the rest of the world and the art of Bonsai was spread and the Japanese became famous for the Art of Bonsai.

Ōmiya Bonsai Art Museum in SaitamaThe building and grounds of the opened Ōmiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama. Source: Ōmiya Bonsai Art Museum, Saitama

Today, in Japan and other places of the world, Bonsai is considered as a hobby and various Museums, Art Galleries and places are dedicated to keep and spread this unique piece of living Art. In Japan, it has even become an integral part of the culture. Bonsai has now evolved to reflect changing tastes and times – with a great variety of countries, cultures, and conditions in which it is now practiced. In Japan today, bonsai are highly regarded as a symbol of their culture and ideals.

Read about Bonsai Myths

Find out about Bonsai Styles here

Abubaker Siddiq Shekhani

Abubaker Shekhani is an IT Entrepreneur and Full Stack Developer. He is the co-founder and the Developer behind Mytabeeb, a health care solution. He has worked for 5 years in Microsoft Dynamics AX space with Techno-functional role and glad to be one of few Microsoft Dynamics AX developers/consultants in Pakistan. He is TEDx speaker and likes to speak in public. He is an Amateur Astronomer and Astrophotographer. He is the founding member of Karachi Astronomers Society. He can be reached at

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