"Japanese Dwarf Trees" in The Gardeners' Chronicle

      ...For more than thirty years past, flower exhibitions of a very original description have existed at Yedo, and there, though playing an important part in the recreations of the people, possess no religious signification.  Among these exhibitions, those which took place this year at the great temple of Asakusa, and in the garden suburbs of Sugamo and Somei, are especially deserving of attention.
       The temple enceinte [enclosure] of Asakusa, situated upon the Golden Dragon Hill, near to the chief river, is a rallying point to the tradespeople of Yedo.  The various attractions to sight-seers are here combined.  A French circus, a stereoscopic panorama, a building fitted up with a variety of electrical apparatuses, a remarkable waxworks, and rare animals may be seen; while jugglers perform their wonderful tricks, and storytellers, jesters, and soothsayers exercise their attractions upon a pleasure-loving public.  Objects for sale are displayed in numerous booths, such, for instance, as cheap ornaments, children's toys, &c.  In fine weather the grounds are crowded with visitors from town and country, while walking or flying among them are numbers of fowls and pigeons which are fed by the pious worshippers at the temples.  Within, a garden is situated, where one of the before-mentioned sights is exhibited for a trifling fee.  Here may be seen bushes or shrubs cut so as to represent the figures of individuals or groups, mostly of the size of Nature, the faces being made from paper and painted, while clothes, fans, and weapons are formed by suitably trained leaves and flowers -- in fact, in just such a manner as a mosaic is created by the combination of a number of bright coloured stones.  Skilful though the work of these figures may be they are far excelled in originality of invention and careful execution by the products of the gardeners of the suburbs of Sugamo and Somei, who, relying upon the attraction of a special chef d'oeuvre to bring them customers, expose to view some curiously-trained plant in such a position as to challenge the attention of the passer-by.  Among these may be seen the often described Japanese dwarf trees in flower or fruit bearing descriptions, many of them with leaves marked with spots or stripes, and a numerous selection of deformed dry stumps of the Plum tree, the Mume so dear to the Japanese horticulturist.  These flower-figures are most numerously represented in Dango Sanka in the tea-house grounds, their proprietors seeking by this means to add to the other attractions of their hostelries.
       For nearly a month these tea-houses, favoured by fine weather, are filled with crowds of joyous guests, and a long holiday reigns of which the sellers of toys, cakes, and fruits do not fail to avail themselves.  The exhibitions in the gardens are also numerously attended, and the behaviour of the visitors, while testifying to the pleasure excited by the flower-tableaux, evidences also the deep-rooted sympathies of all classes of the people with the clever productions of their national art-gardeners.  -- The Japan Mail 1


1     The Gardeners' Chronicle, Vol. III, January 2, 1875, pg. 12

"For more than thirty years past" would put the start of these market "festivals" in the early 1840s.  Obviously this report does not tell us when the plum stump dwarf trees were first offered for sale here, but graphic depictions of these plants in Japan can be found at least back to the mid-18th century.

In 1829, tako-tsuki (octopus-style) dwarf potted trees were being offered by a grower in Asakusa Park.  Within 20 years the neighborhood would be crowded with nurseries selling bonsai.  (Per Nozaki, Shinobu  Dwarf Trees (Bonsai) (Tokyo: Sanseido Company, Ltd.; 1940), pp. 25-26 and O'Connell, Jean  "The Art of Bonsai," Science Digest, March 1970, pg. 38.)

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