Welcome to Bonsai-cho, Saitama Prefecture. Here, bonsai master Takatoshi Kato serves as the fifth- generation owner of Mansei-en Garden. Bonsai has become widely known throughout the world as a traditional Japanese art form. Together with the interior brand TIME & STYLE, Kato is engaged in initiatives to connect this art form with the modern lifestyle and popularize it not simply as a symbol of traditional Japan, but rather as a Japanese aesthetic form with an extensive cultural background.
Unlike gardening, which provides the pleasure of observing superficial transformations, such as the blossoming of flowers or the changing colors of leaves, bonsai involves a deeper and more time-
consuming relationship with nature embodied in a miniature, aestheticized format. This highlights the importance of“tree-likeness”as the essential image of trees rooted in the original landscape as we imagine it. Trees that are taken from a mountain have spent a long time in the harsh natural environment, developing a character that cannot be replicated by the human hand. The philosophy upheld by Mr. Kato is that bonsai is not a man-made true-to-life miniature of a real tree. Rather, he believes that by subtracting from the natural environment to the maximum degree and crafting an abstraction of a“tree,”and creating a bonsai “composition,” it is possible to create elements that stimulate people’s imagination based on what is rendered imperceptible.
Moreover, bonsai is not just about trees. A bonsai composition for presentation includes a vessel and a table arranged in an appropriate spatial setting. The timing of a bonsai presentation is also very special. It happens in front of visitors, when the tree is in its most beautiful state. A large portion of the time the artist spends with the bonsai to achieve this state is dedicated to painstaking watering and pruning. The popular image of a bonsai composition involves a traditional Japanese room alcove replete with a hanging scroll and suiseki, or small decorative “viewing stones.” According to Kato, however, a bonsai composition does not have to be placed in an alcove and it is possible to enjoy bonsai in a contemporary setting as long as it conveys a story that smoothly
integrates all elements of the space where the bonsai is placed.
“The important thing is to display the bonsai, appreciate it, and develop a connection with it. This forms the foundation for more sophisticated bonsai cultivation techniques and understanding of the tree’s individuality.”A life with bonsai is a life with a higher aesthetic consciousness. It involves learning the traditions and historical background of this ancient art and considering the contemporary living space from the perspective of bonsai. There, you can find the condensed essence of Japanese sensitivity.