Bonsai (盆栽) is the art of cultivating small trees in a container while keeping the shape of a full-grown tree. Bonsai cultivation takes a lot of time, and require special tools to keep the tree healthy in such a small container.
There are various bonsai trees that are over a century old, some are even over 1,000 years old. The main purpose of bonsai cultivation is for the viewer to enjoy the shape and size of this miniature tree. Bonsai trees are not cultivated for medicine nor for food.
The first bonsai trees appeared in Japan around the 7th century, after miniature trees were brought back from diplomatic missions in China. Bonsai was also described in Utsubo Monogatari (The Tale of the Hollow Tree), and started to appear in handscroll paintings in medieval Japan.
Before being called “bonsai”, the art was called “Bowl’s Tree”, or hachi no ki (鉢の木) in the 14th century. A deep pot was used to plant the tree at that time, unlike the shallow pots used nowadays.
However, bonsai only started to frequently appear in stories around the 17th century. At that time, shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu was a known enthusiast of the art. One of the oldest Bonsai trees dates back from that time. It is thought to be at least 500 years old, and is considered a National Treasure of Japan. It is held in the collection of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. This Bonsai tree, called the Sandai Shogun no Matsu has been taken care of by Tokugawa Iemitsu.
Bonsai cultivation started to be cultivated by the general population around the end of the 18th century, and became a common hobby during the 19th century. New tools and techniques to cultivate Bonsai trees were invented, and after the Second World War, this Japanese tradition became accessible to other parts of the world, thus increasing its popularity.
Nowadays, Bonsai trees are known worldwide and appreciated by many. Clubs, conventions, and associations of this art exist now in many different countries in the world, and can be accessible to everyone.