Indoor Bonsai Tree Travels through Time

The indoor bonsai tree has a long and fascinating history ranging from monks and the aristocracy to the general population. Let’s travel with the bonsai tree so that we can gain an understanding and appreciation for this unique art form. Keep in mind that the term bonsai refers to any tree or shrub in miniature that is kept in a pot.

Bonsai Tree Born in China

We are born not it Japan,Indoor Bonsai Tree Travels through Time Articles as people might think from watching Karate Kid, but in China somewhere around 700 A.D. At this time our name is not actually bonsai, but rather Penjing. Penjing is translated from the character “Pen” which means tray and “Jing” which means scenery. The first documented proof of our existance is in the tomb of Prince Zhang Huai who died in 706 A.D. On the walls of the tomb there is a picture of a servant carrying a miniature landscape, and in another a servant is carrying a plant in a pot. The Chinese were fascinated with us, with miniaturization in general, believing that miniaturization concentrated the mystical and magical powers of the tree. It is not clear whether we were kept indoors or outside at this time. In China we are are characterized by sparse foliage and thick trunks which often resemble birds, dragons and other animals.

The Indoor Bonsai Tree Travels to Japan

Our next destination is Japan. Experts argue just when we made the trip, but it is agreed that we traveled somewhere between the Heian period (794 – 1191A.D.) and the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). We are now called Bonsai, from the character “Bon” meaning tray and “Sai” meaning plant. Though we have a new name in this new country, it is really very similar. In fact the Chinese character for “Pen” and the Japanese symbol for “Bon” are identical. There is a Japanese scroll attributed to the year 1195 that seems to refer to bonsai. In the beginning bonsai in general, and indoor bonsai trees in particular, were limited to Buddhist monks who were looking to bring some nature and life into their drab quarters. Over time, our keeping and care expanded to the aristocracy, and was seen as a sign of honor and prestige. In the 1300’s we made our way to the general population. It was now that great strides in the techniques for training bonsai occurred. This is probably why much of the general population believes that we were born here. For the Japanese, we represent theĀ harmony between man, the soul and nature. Japanese indoor bonsai trees are usually trained to closely resemble their larger counterparts.

Across the Ocean to the United States

At the end of World War II, we traveled across the ocean to the United States with soldiers returning from war. Unfortunately, many of us died from the trip, and from inadequate care when we arrived. However interest was sparked, and Americans wanted to learn how to train and properly care for us. Fortunately for us there were many Japanese Americans willing to help, and it wasn’t long before we not only survived but thrived in our new country. Modern American bonsai represent a combination and blurring of both Chinese and Japanese techniques and practices.

From China to Japan to the US, we have now completed our travels with the indoor bonsai tree. Of course the bonsai is know know and has gained acceptance and popularity all over the world. We have traveled through time, across the globe, and have broken economic barriers to arrive where we are today as a hobby and art form that is enjoyed the world over. Hopefully our trip had increased your knowledge of the vast history of the bonsai, and increased your appreciation for the art form.