May 18, 2014

red_maple_tree_bonsai_1400x1050How 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.)

Luckily, the Santa Anita Bonsai Show will proceed May 24th-26th, no matter how one chooses to pronounce the word.

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.

Example of a juniper bonsai tree

Example of a juniper bonsai tree. Note: Al Polito, originally of Southern California and now a resident near Portland, Oregon, wrote us to say that this is actually not a conifer bonsai, but more likely from the tropics and referred us to Thank you, Al!


Santa Anita Bonsai Show
Saturday-Monday, May 24th-26th
L.A. Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia 91007
Free with price of admission


Japanese black pine bonsai tree;

Japanese black pine bonsai tree;





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