How many people have gone through the decades pronouncing the “o” in bonsai like the “o” in bonbon (bän-bän)? Would it be surprising to hear that the Santa Anita Bonsai Society directs one to pronounce the word “bone-sigh” (bōn-sī)?
Then again, listening to Merriam-Webster online and clicking on the speaker icon, the supposedly Japanese speaker sounds as though she’s saying a combination of the long and short “o,” and the “s” sounds like a melding of an “s” and a “z.” (We have no idea how to write that phonetically.)
Bonsai, or planting in a tray, is a Japanese tradition that dates back over a thousand years and was originally derived from the Chinese practice of penjing. Peter Chan in Bonsai Masterclass (1987, Sterling Publishing Co.) states that the purposes of bonsai are “primarily contemplation (for the viewer) and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity (for the grower).”
In The Tale of the Hollow Tree (Utsubo Monogatari), published in the year 970, it was made apparent that “natural beauty becomes true beauty only when modified in accordance with a human ideal.”
Philosophical discussion about the definition of beauty aside, this historical tradition and cultural practice is an art form and requires an eye for aesthetics (formal upright bonsai, slant- or cascade style bonsai, root-over-rock bonsai, or even growing-in-a-rock bonsai), knowledge of techniques and styles, perseverance (regular watering, repeated repotting, soil upkeep and fertilization), and, we imagine, an impressive quantity of patience.
60th Annual Bonsai Show
Saturday & Sunday, March 25-26, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The Huntington, Brody Botanical Center
1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino 91108
For more info, visit Huntington.org