| "Dwarf Trees"
by Toichi Tsumura, M.J.S. (1901):
(The author of the paper having returned to Japan shortly after its delivery, there has been no opportunity of submitting the proofs to him, nor of obtaining from him information as to some obscure passages, which have therefore had to be omitted.--[EDITOR.])
“…So full of shapes is fancy,
[For the sake of some Web site readers who might not be accustomed to the verbose style of Victorian era writers such as Mr. Tsumura, RJB has taken the liberty of inserting some section titles to assist in reading through this article.]
| It is always a pleasure for the Japanese
to find that what they think graceful and beautiful is also admired by
other nations; and so I have particular pleasure in telling you that the
dwarf trees, which our artists try to make beautiful, are admired by Her
Majesty the Queen [Anne -- Victoria had died earlier
that year on Jan. 22], by whose gracious permission I am enabled
to show you pictures of certain specimens which have a home in a royal
The fancies of Japanese horticulturalists have created dwarf trees of certain shapes which Europeans look at in amazement. They do not understand that every shape is an attempt to express some thought or feeling of the soul. So landscape gardening (the kindred industry to Bonsai: Bon, “tray” or “to place in,” sai, “to plant,” a general term for dwarf trees planted on pots.) is seen in its perfection when the artists are philosophical, when the spectators regard their work with serious attention, as they do when their art ceases to be, as it so often is, a mere idle recreation.
It is often remarked that these dwarf trees are “decidedly curious,” “half crippled,” “distorted,” or “cruelly tortured;” yet those who criticize our trees in bitter language, walk in their gardens, pick the first flowers that come to hand, and arrange them anyhow in a manner which they call “studied negligence.”
Of course, it is evident that every one of these Liliputian specimens of horticulture cannot be called artistic. Imitation is often practised by way of flattery. Many of the eclectics are studied and copied, and not always with success. Another frivolous objection is that a great deal of timber could have been obtained in all these years from such a multitude of potted, shrivelled-up trees which serve to decorate rooms and make cabins more elegant. Such an argument proves that the rigid principles, which are wrongly termed utilitarian, are truly ridiculous, since they would abolish the cultivation of the æsthetic sentiment, that forms such an important element in realizing and promoting the utopian ideals of mankind. So utterly opposed is the æsthete to the utilitarian, that one can hardly ever be brought to appreciate and sympathize with the other. They differ in their fundamental ideas; but to explain the difference and discern of what it consists is the only way to arrive at an impartial conclusion. One point alone concerns us here: how far the Japanese and how far their critics are respectively philosophical. This difference is the crucial point, from which every thing must be measured; once cross this gulf, and we shall be in a position to acquire complete and intimate knowledge.
If we acquaint ourselves with the moods and habits of a people, we are sure to meet with fewer difficulties in appreciating what a people produces. How the little trees are looked upon in Japan is, therefore, a matter of considerable interest. You sometimes read in English newspapers such headings as “Motor cars as a social force,” or “Telephones as a social force.” The writers of such paragraphs evidently believe in the greatest happiness of the greatest number. But have they ever speculated upon tea as a social force in the humble dwelling of a miner or bricklayer? Decidedly that much-favoured beverage in this country is as great a comforter to a toiling labourer as almost any, and the newspaper hack might urge, to develop his theory, that Lipton’s tea-room has enlightened the outlook of many hard-working men. An ideal tea-room should win for its proprietor a higher fame than if he had won a hundred challenge cups. It is a nobler conception, and a more practical conception, than all the vapourings of ladies of title in society papers. If ideal tea-rooms had been established long ago, the young crusader who goes forth “slumming” would certainly have been relieved of cruel experiences to which his predecessors have been exposed.
In Japan, a jinrikisha man will bring home a pine tree about six inches high, with uplifted, exposed roots, intertwined and twisted in a most irregular fashion; he buys it with part of a day’s hard-earned wages. He might, indeed, have bought something that would yield more substantial comfort, but he preferred this – a pride to him – and to place it under a poor flickering light on the tiny supper-table at his right hand. He looks at it; smiles at it. He forgets, for a time at least, the bitter struggle for existence, while his inner self pays homage and reverence to the little tree, which is like a sympathetic friend and mesmerizes him with its silent beauty. He is indeed a Japanese in the true sense of the word. He is surely happier in the society of his favourite friend than the British working man when he hears that “The Fathers’ Beer Bill” has been rejected by an overwhelming majority. That is because it is in Japan, and if you look into the soul of the artist, whose work has awakened a jinrikisha man to a fine sensation, you will find his innermost feeling has been scrupulously expressed;
“And if the world knew his heart,
I will now invite you to look at some of the specimens, by means of the lantern slides reproduced from photographs, which, though they are not very pretentious, represent the honest endeavor of an industrious amateur.
First of all, I should like to
show you a photograph of an ash tree trained into an arbour in the grounds
of the Royal Botanical Society, Regent’s Park [Plate I., Fig. 1].
The next illustration [Plate II.,
Fig. 1] is of a chamæcyparis, but two different varieties
are engrafted together. It measures over three feet, and stands rather
tall for a dwarf tree. Please notice the graceful boughs of Hiyoku
hiba mingling with the clusters of leaves of the ordinary Chabo
hiba. This is effected by whip-grafting. Hiyoku hiba
is the stock, and Chabo hiba is the scion. The whole thing
thus produced is rather different from either of these viewed separately,
and one would be inclined to think it imitated a weeping willow.
Next [Plate III., Fig. 1] we have
quite a different style of training from those which have been described.
The tree has here been severely handled, for the stem is twisted and bent;
evidently it was a young tree when it came under the supervision of the artist.
A typical specimen of a well-trained
pine is shown in the illustrations [sic],
[Neagari: exposed roots]
The uplifted roots are the main object in this training; they look monstrous or ornamental, whichever you like to call them [Fig. 1]. It is a theory, sometimes, and in some places much in favour, that things artistic must be copied within proper limits from the products of Nature that we see and experience frequently. But the pines with their roots so exposed form an argument against this favourite theory. Why should not the application to Nature of a preconceived idea equally deserve the approbation of the highest critic of art? The pine is such by its nature, as we always see; its foliage is not clustered in masses, but widely separate. Something was needed to fill the blank space. Besides, Nature, if I may say so, authorizes the gardener to dispense with some of the roots in his pot, since the fibrous or hairy part of the roots is only required for absorbing the nourishment, while such as are exposed above the ground serve only to ensure the upright growth of the tree. These are obviously not required in a little pot.
[Watering and soil mix]
In the cultivation of our miniature
trees, it seems to me that these two schools of painting come together.
Need it be mentioned here that the influence of the idealistic paintings
had a great influence upon the gardeners in forming the shapes of their
trees? Now, the gardeners in Japan are keenly sensitive to the beauties
of the trees in Nature, but at the same time they exert all their art,
whilst copying them, to try and excel Nature. And how their humour
and ingenuity succeeds in the result! The Bonkei – miniature
landscape [Plate VI.] – is the highest development [sic]
in this industry of the cultivation of dwarf trees. The idealistic
painting is indisputably the foundation of the Bonkei. Their
peaceful recreation and gentle refinement may, as is often anticipated,
vanish away before the tyranny of economical competition, which is called
modern civilization. This point I cannot here discuss. But
they have happily established in the pages of Art-history their claim to
be artistic; they may not have been either thinkers, or scholars, or travellers,
or inventors, but they were artists who cultivated such a tree. And,
though we must understand before we can admire and sympathize, I have every
confidence that the world will admire them more in proportion as it understands
The Paper was illustrated by lantern slides, and several interesting and beautiful specimens of the dwarf trees were exhibited.
After the reading of the Paper, the CHAIRMAN thanked the Lecturer for having prepared, on short notice, so excellent and interesting an account of dwarf trees, and said he knew he expressed the thoughts of all present when he marvelled at the skill with which our language had been handled by a member from Japan. He trembled at the idea of what would happen if a British member of the Society were called upon at such short notice to read a paper in Japanese! He then asked Mr. Osman Edwards, M.J.S., to propose a Vote of Thanks, which that gentleman did.
Mr. ALFRED EAST, A.R.A., M.J.S., who seconded the Vote of Thanks, said that the subject of the Paper had interested him very much. He well remembered having seen those little gardens in Japan which gave the impression of being so much larger than they were, and he had wished to know how the effects were obtained. He came there that evening hoping that he might perhaps learn something of the technical processes by which the dwarfing of trees was produced. He had heard of the grafting of the branches on the stem, and of the pruning of the roots, but unfortunately he had never had the opportunity on the spot of learning what he wanted to know, and he was a little disappointed to-night that the lecturer had not gone further into that part of the subject. Mr. East went on to say that they must not run away with the idea that Japanese trees were all small, and he alluded to the well-known magnificent avenue of cryptomerias at Nikko, which contained some of the largest trees in the world.
Mr. MICHAEL TOMKINSON, Member of Council, supported the Vote of Thanks, and said that no adequate idea of the beauty of dwarf trees could be got from seeing them grow in London. It was his opinion that the great fault of English growers in the treatment of conifers was that they gave them too much water; while as to bamboos and deciduous trees, he thought they probably did not get as much as they required.
The motion was then put to the meeting, and passed unanimously. 1
1 Tsumura, Toichi, M.F.S.
"Dwarf Trees," Japan Society: Transactions, Vol. VI, Part I, pp.
2-15. A talk given before the 11th Session, November 13, 1901.
Some biographical information on the author of the above article has since been located. Per "Ambassadors of Commerce. II -- Mr. Toichi Tsumura, M.J.S." in The Anglo-Japanese Gazette, Vol. I, No. 4, October 15, 1902, pp. 76-77:
WHEN commencing the series of articles which will appear in the columns of the "Gazette" under the above heading from time to time, we little thought that we should so soon have occasion to perform the pleasing duty as that of chronicling the departure from these shores of a Japanese gentleman as representative of British industries in the Far East. Such an opportunity has, however, presented itself by the appointment of Mr. Toichi Tsumura to represent some of the leading firms in this country, and who sailed on the "Kawachi Maru" on the 10th inst. Moreover, it is, we believe, the first instance in which a subject of the Mikado has been entrusted with a mission of this nature.
Mr. Tsumura has received commissions from the following firms: Messrs. Thos. W. Ward, Albion Works, Sheffield, iron and steel work, machine tools, etc.; Messrs. Bullivant and Co., Limited, 72, Mark Lane, manufacturers of wire ropes, aerial ropeways, etc.; Mr. E. Hope-Pearse, St. Dunstan's House, Idol Lane, the sole agent for the following well-known brands: Cromartie whisky, Greenall's celebrated Warrington gins, Victor Clicquot champagne, etc.; Nicholson, Goswell Works. Stratford, varnish and paint manufacturers (this firm is making a special brand of white waterproof paint for the Japanese market, called Shirasagi, White Heron); and Messrs. E. Brown and Son, Garrick Street, of Meltonian blacking fame, etc.; Messrs. Genese and Young, 3 and 4, London Wall Avenue, wholesale clothiers and exporters; Messrs. Duhamel and Co., Plough Yard, E.C., preserved provisions, etc.; Messrs. J. and G. Webb, Limited, Islington, mineral waters.
Although still a young man, Mr. Tsumura has managed, like so many of his fellow-countrymen, to acquire, during his eight years' residence in this country, a very thorough acquaintance of English ideas and habits. It is experience, coupled with his knowledge of the customs and requirements of his native land -- and what he does not know in this respect, well, it would hardly be worth while going down the street to find out -- particularly fits him for the position which he has so deservedly won.
After leaving Japan, Mr. Tsumura came to London, and turned his attention to shipbuilding, serving a one-year's apprenticeship with the Thames Ironworks, who at that time were carrying out a contract for the Imperial Japanese Navy. During this period Mr. Tsumura studied the many intricacies of shipbuilding in its various branches. Possibly finding that his vocation did not lie in the direction of the shipwright's craft, he then turned his attention to commercial pursuits, and was for a short period attached to the Consulate at Antwerp, at that time filled by an honorary Consul; and owing to the many delicate matters which were continually cropping up -- it was about the time of the Japan and China War -- his services were of considerable advantage. From Antwerp, Mr. Tsumura returned to London, and entered the employ of the well-known firm of Messrs. Yamanaka and Co., of New Bond Street, which position he held until quite recently.
Mr. Tsumura quickly impresses one with his ability to cope with the many and varied duties he will be called upon to perform. He is a man brimful of humorous anecdote, but behind all this there is a bedrock of solid and practical information. We may mention a slight incident that occurred during a recent interview. Mr. Tsumura, after discussing the various interests which he will represent, called the attention of the writer to a very fine specimen of ivory handle for knives and forks, remarking that these would make suitable presents. Quite so. But has Mr. Tsumuru heard the tale of the philanthropic Hebrew who one day paid a visit to one of the crowded streets in one of the slum districts, and distributed rubber balls among the small boys with which to amuse themselves? The following day this same astute son of Abraham, etc., appeared on the scene as a journeyman glazier. One is inclined to ask whether Mr. Tsumura is prepared to supply "Turner" blades for these handles. Although a business man to the core, Mr. Tsumura has devoted much of his spare time to literary pursuits. At the  present time he is engaged on a work which will deal with the British commercial struggle with the Dutch during the seventeenth century. This should prove extremely useful to those who are interested in the present position of Japanese commerce. Mr. Tsumura is a member of the Japan Society in London, and at a recent meeting he contributed a very interesting paper on "The Dwarf Trees of Japan."