In a remote age, some workaday person or some great genius who was very impressionable and artistic must have been moved by the great beauty and loveliness of nature and must have felt deep peace of mind when imbued with that atmosphere. In the first flush of this feeling, the idea must have come into his mind to copy some of the beauties of nature, in miniature, in containers; in other words, to create the art of bonsai, or dwarfed potted plants.
The oldest authentic record of bonsai is pictures of dwarfed trees and herbaceous plants in containers in a noted scroll written in 1310. Through the long eras of the civil wars in Japan the cults - nature-bonsai, flower arrangement, and tea ceremony became deep-rooted in average men and great heroes alike.
Then came the Tokugawa Era. Turning the leaves of old Japanese gardening books published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I often came across illustrations and descriptions of bonsai. From these I am convinced that the people of that time were very skillful in dwarfing and training plants and that they had a great desire to find new kinds of plants that could be dwarfed successfully.
What one finds in these books may at first glance seem merely a completed bonsai; but closer inspection will often reveal that on each branch of tree, for example a cypress, two to three scions a different tree have been grafted. When the graft unions are completed, all the branches of Sawara cypress are to be cut off and the whole tree converted into a different tree.
These are not childish attempts or vague ideas but are the products of long years of an age of military ascendancy, when every profession was hereditary- the time called the Tokugawa Era. In those wonderful long peaceful years, the Japanese people were accustomed to escape from daily life into something that interested them; they devoted their leisure time to things that freed them from the restraint of social life; they entered into friendly rivalry with their fellow fanciers or tried to surprise them in some way.
Hence improvement, discovery, and skill in the art of bonsai were much advanced by amateur fanciers. When amateurs have their enthusiasm aroused, they are always without regard for the gain or loss involved; that attitude greatly advanced bonsai.
Professional men have been interested only in seizing the cream of the amateurs' discoveries in ideas and in materials. Therefore I praise the amateur bonsai fancier. In Japan there are nearly as many amateurs as bonsai trees. A large number of them are worthy of saying, as did G. K. Chesterton, "We wear proudly the name of amateur."
Example of an Amateur
As an example of an enthusiastic amateur bonsai fancier, I will tell you of a Mr. Watanabe of the city of Takamatsu, a place noted for bonsai and cage-bird fanciers.
Mr. Watanabe is a salaried man, past middle age. Since the time in his youth when he worked in the Takamatsu post office, he had been enthusiastic about bonsai as a hobby and had built up a varied and interesting collection. Then on a hot summer day in 1945 his house and all his collection were burned and completely destroyed by bombing. A few blank years passed. Gradually, relieving him from self-abandonment, his enthusiasm for bonsai revived and crept back into him.
I have come across young men who are planning to gain refined taste and pleasure by growing bonsai. Some Americans living in Japan also seem to be attracted to bonsai "simply to waste time," as an American Army Colonel said during a course of instruction on the art of bonsai. Doubtless a more serious purpose will be found by many Americans and people in other countries.
If You Are Interested In Growing Your Own Bonsai - You Can!