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Goin’ Japanesque!

Try Out Traditional Plant-craft at Tokyo’s Shunkaen Bonsai Museum

Nowadays, the Japanese art of living plant-craft called “bonsai” has spread across the globe and continues to grow in popularity both nationally and internationally. Today, we’re going to tell you about a spot in Tokyo where you can both appreciate and experience first-hand the joys and allure of bonsai.


First of All, What is Bonsai?


Having gotten its start in ancient China, bonsai spread to Japan during the Heian period (794–1185) and gradually developed its own uniquely Japanese characteristics until arriving at the shape it takes today, which has spread to many countries across the world. The universe in miniature created by a bonsai is an example of living art, and unlike other artistic works it has a unique allure from its continual change even after “completion.” This art form is also characterized by the depth of influence it has taken from Japanese culture and sensibility.


The Shunkaen Bonsai Museum


Located in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward, the museum is the lifetime project of current manager Kunio Kobayashi. Mr. Kobayashi is quite famous in the world of bonsai as an artisan and has received numerous awards for his works, including the Prime Minister’s Award. He has also been proactive in the preservation and transmission of Japanese culture, and since the 1990s he has held lectures and training overseas about bonsai. Turning to his more recent accomplishments, many people can still recall the introduction on Japanese television of one of his bonsai, which has an estimated value of a hundred million yen.


The museum is a strikingly Japanese building, located amidst the cityscape of Tokyo. This is the entrance.


Upon entering, a gorgeous Japanese-style garden will stretch before you, filled to the brim with over a thousand bonsai. For 800 yen, you’re free to enjoy the museum displays as much as you’d like. However, some of these bonsai are valued at truly shocking amounts, so make sure to savor with your eyes, not with your hands (i.e. don’t touch!). If you come across a specimen you’re taken with, you can also ask about purchasing it.

There are decorative carp (nishiki-goi) swimming in the garden’s water features. As sightseeing destinations go, this is a particularly attractive option.



Further in the premises is a splendid traditional home that has been opened as a museum. The Japanese-style interior, a place where time flows in calm silence, represents beautifully the aesthetics of the nation.


The Bonsai Experience


One highlight of the Shunkaen Bonsai Museum is that you’re not limited to simply appreciating this living art: you’re actually able to try it out yourself and come to feel first-hand what founder Kunio Kobayashi has intended. The miniature bonsai you’ll work with during the hands-on activity can also be taken home as a souvenir. Additionally, it seems there are actually a number of people who come from overseas to live and study here as apprentices in bonsai. Information: Map


Bonus: A Little Bonsai Trivia

A three-item set decorating a tokonoma alcove

Here are a few artistic basics and finishing tips for bonsai craft.

– Use as little fertilizer or water as possible. Keep the plant just shy of wilting. Doing so, you’ll be able to express the toughness of nature as well as show the contrast of the white of dried stems.
– The cornerstone of bonsai is the trunk. Keep the trunk visible, and trim away any leaves that hide it.
– Branches are deliberately bent, as to better express a sense of enfolding movement in a small space.
– When designing a bonsai that will decorate the alcove of a Japanese-style room, the balance between the bonsai, the hanging scroll, and any ornaments placed there is crucial. Moreover, attention is paid not only to the presentation from the front but placement along the axis of depth, as well.
– Decoration is done so that the most beautiful view is seen from the height of a person sitting seiza.


If you attend a workshop at Shunkaen Bonsai Garden, you’ll be taught the basics of bonsai in a comfortable and friendly atmosphere. By trying your hand at something new, you could very well open your world to a brand-new set of ideas!

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