© 2002-2016  Robert J. Baran

This Page Last Updated: February 21, 2016



What and where were the worktables of the ancient Chinese and Japanese dwarf potted tree caretakers?  Does either the portrait of the Yang brothers or Kasuga Gongen Genki depict the norm, what has essentially continued to the present day?

Were certain types of pruning recommended at certain phases of the moon or on propitious days, or prohibited during others?

Besides termites ("white ants") and possibly grazing livestock, what other types of biological dwarfing and/or aging techniques have been employed?

What variety of soil mixes and components have been used, were in favor or not?  What were the most exotic ingredients?  (human bone meal to "continue" a late master's association with a plant, for instance?)  What about the same for fertilizers?

Are there any scrolls or other illustrations depicting the bamboo scaffolding said to have been used prior to 1800 to shape Chinese trees? 

What are the details of the use of copper wiring in Japanese dwarf potted trees' design (before 1910 ) and the seeming coincidental rise of Japan as the second largest copper-producing country in the world by 1876?  Was the shaping material just one of several domestic uses discovered for the metal?   (Japan, The Official Guide ; Tokyo: Board of Tourist Industry; 1941; pg. 103)

We can tell what an artist's handedness is by studying the direction of his/her wiring or the direction of growth in that person's cascades.  What other characteristics of the designer can a long-term composition reveal to us?

What was the first recognizable distinctly regional style?

What styles were predominant in the various provinces in the various time periods, which were indigenously developed, which were the result of communication/trade, which rose and/or fell out of favor through political changes (local, regional or national), lack of additional material, dying out of master-student lines, or natural disasters which may have added to any of the previous?

Has there ever been a style which could be accurately described differently just depending on the angle the tree was viewed?  

Was a tree ever restylized to camouflage it or make it pass for a specimen from a different region?  Have "body doubles" ever been made for a valuable tree -- or pot or stone?  Has any type of "body make up," carving or other techniques been employed to fake a tree's appearance/age, health, etc.?

What is the greatest number of times a tree has been redesigned due to change in ownership, care, age, etc.?

Some landscapes duplicated the famous views of Mt. Fuji.  Were there any other famous themes that generations of teachers/students/schools sought to replicate via penjing - specific topics or "patterns"?

What are the newest styles/stylings in each of the countries?  What will be the next fashions in this art?

Styles have a technological, aesthetic and pyschological "fit" to a given region during a given time.  Do changing styles of dwarf potted trees reflect the changing relationship of humans to plants in nature?  No longer just a handful of ancient, gnarling trees but a whole range of plants seen in the light of maturity, stability, and art-worthiness?  No longer passive decor not paid much attention to but active, vital and worthy of design and daily care and occasional exhibition?

Have there been artists who have explored magical miniature landscapes in ways which have not been historically recognized? 

What styles and schools have been dreamt of and developed in that fashion but have not yet been made manifest?  What compositions have only been dreamt about?  What reservoir of these designs is yet to be drawn from?

What was the largest phoenix graft composition?  How many phoenix grafts in a single container can be made using only one living plant?  A raft or saikei?


What horticultural knowledge was specifically gained from working with dwarf potted trees, as opposed to learnings from nursery or landscape plants?

How has/is bonsai affecting gardening in general?  Training of landscape plants for a "Japanese" look, increasing the number of plants tried, increasing some gardeners' abilities/confidence with some plants/techniques; better understanding of the growth patterns, disease and healing processes, effects of human intervention in shaping/caring for?

Are there significant decreases in the production of growth hormones and other substances, such as gibberellin, in long-time bonsai?  If such a specimen was then planted in the ground, how long would it take before the levels of those substances normalized?

What are the physical characteristics and possibilities of trees: for instance, what are the limits of branch bendung, or defoliation and subsequent leafing out, of deadwood vs. live wood proportions and interplay, rootage, etc.  The characteristics of lignified wood in a natural dance with green wood, the biochemistry of sugars and waters and pigments, etc.  What we do is dependent upon and limited by each tree's ability to grow, bend, be pruned for future growth.  Like materials from across the seas, would alien "plants" require different styles and shaping techniques?  

When we touch our trees, can we feel the pulse of the vegetable kingdom through them?  connect to this and related species and genera and families?  feel the seeds and parent trees from which this plant has sprung?  sense the short or long life that this particular bonsai may have?  


Was there ever a tree that so resisted being dug that several collectors died trying to retrieve it?

What is the highest percentage of wild-dug plants from a given region that survived? That didn't and thus were extremely valuable?

On a larger scale, did/are certain trees and other plants (and stones) wanting to have a lifetime that includes confinement in a relatively shallow container, dependent upon one or more humans for supply of nutrients in exchange for the energies of admiration which aesthetic fine-shaping ("fine tuning") and display would attract, and the possibility of a more sheltered/longer uninjured life?   Did/are certain humans wanting to have experience that includes confining trees and other plants and stones in relatively shallow containers and learning how to supply these with nutrients and appreciation in exchange for energies of sharing the "lifetimes" of these containerized beings, learnings about your creative and nurturing abilities, any energies of admiration directed towards them whether for efforts or ommissions by you, previous caretakers, or natural occurrence?  (Similarly, while some yamadori decided that they did not want to be transplanted and containerized, a minority chose to partake of this unique life and thus survived collection and transplantation.)

Who was/is the greatest yamadori (wild-grown specimen) collector of all times? 

Did a collector ever commit suicide (or perhaps was forced to do so) because a particularly valued tree which he collected did not survive transplantation?

Through the centuries, how many collectors died attempting to acquire trees and/or rocks?  Professional collectors?  Amateurs trying to get a prized tree or a little extra income?  How many were seriously injured/handicapped similarly?  Any killed or injured by rival collectors or by guards employed to protect a significant find until it could be otherwise safely collected? In addition to regular watering and tending, how were collectors' potted trees cared for compared to other items such as artwork, viewing stones, etc?


Did any student of the art ever deform/mutilate himself to try to better understand a dwarf potted tree's essence?

How many artists or other affectionados have had bonsai or penjing or suiseki tatoos or calligraphy emblazoned on their skins?

What kind of trees did those early teachers demonstrate with -- if at all?  Did any of them make drawings of what their trees would someday look like after whatever training they would do, as our teachers sketch nowadays?  Can we suppose that at those closed gatherings, even the earliest ones, educators and teachers and collectors shared orally their successes and failures, discoveries and questions?  Did they puzzle over which plants flowered in the wild but not in the container, what fertilizer (completely organic at the time) and water combinations produced abundant growth or compact foliage?  When were such bodies of knowledge first written down and circulated -- how much knowledge was initially kept secret, passed only between father and son, teacher and student, not for public or competitor's discovery?

Did adherance to a school's styles prevent participation in a larger realm?  Was a student coming in from another province -- if he was accepted at all by a new teacher -- prohibited from designing trees in his native styles?

How did one become a student or receive recognition as a master?

Were "independents" -- non-specific school associated artists --  held in less esteem?  Did some take on a false identity/credentials so as to not be so identified?

What is the oldest continuous teacher-student lineage still in existence? Ever?

Teachers who retired voluntarily or by misfortune -- what careers were they in afterwards?

Who was the oldest lived and practicing master?  Who was the youngest prodigy?  Did the latter maintain his (her?) brilliance in the arts or did he peak early and dim?

What teacher created with or without assistance the most non-starter dwarf potted trees during his (or her?) lifetime?

Has there ever been mention of any form of internal exercises or chants/prayers/meditations which were done by the ancient masters of penjing while digging up, potting or shaping trees?  What internal techniques, if any, might the masters have employed which never were passed on with the external ones when the art was taught outside of one's inner circle of students?

If the "magical miniature landscapes" were a part of Daoism and Buddhism, didn't the esoteric understanding of these objects cross with Buddhism over to Japan?  There were several distinct visits to China by Japanese monks, who then returned to further Buddhism in Japan.  When some of them brought back the miniature landscapes as presents, didn't they bring back the "magic" also?  Were the teachings so subtle that the Japanese who brought them back could not pass on the teachings for very long?  Or were the teachings brought over, but these flourished in secret, even to this day, never being revealed to the ignorant masses or foreigners?  To some extent, perhaps secrecy and "snobbishness" was reasonable based on the extensive classical training the aristocracy underwent compared to the ignorance and impatience of the non-aristocrats or foreign Westerners.

The "classical training" is said to have included poetry, calligraphy, painting, etc.  How far down the socio-economic scale did this extend?  What is the "poorest" dwarf potted tree student to have done some kind of study to broaden his viewpoint above and beyond ordinary "old quote" familiarity?

Were the shapes of some ancient trees in the wild ever "reverse constructed" by artisans who tried different pruning techniques on nursery-stock to see what "injuries" caused what growth patterns?  Was this a standard training technique for students of this gardening art?  Perhaps a "final" study project was the recreation in 3-D miniature of a tree seen in some famous scroll or perhaps one which the teacher knew existed hidden in the wilds.


When and where was what could be considered the first formal bonsai club -- in Japan or China?  What were the earlier meetings/gatherings like -- what degree of organization and business planning; what teaching schedule, membership requirements, accessibility of plant material and supplies?  Were there many do-it-yourself pot throwings or digs -- or were these always the work of specialists?  What about seed collection or propagation of cuttings?  Were outings ever organized to go into the forests and hills to gather plant material for penjing as well as for one's garden in general?  Or was collecting the sole privilege of professionals?

What was the earliest association of enthusiasts?  What is the most specialized club/association?  (A native Japanese visitor to the Phoenix Bonsai Society in the early 1990s mentioned a club whose members only had trees with good rootage showing.)

Do club experiences combine to form gestalts of creativity, of definition, of design?  Can a large-enough club affect the course of regional styles with more combined experience than dozens of individual and scattered masters centuries ago? 


When and where did the first nurseries start including some dwarf potted trees?  When and where were the first ones exclusively devoted to dwarf potted trees established?  Was the owner wealthy enough to support the nursery's operations, as opposed to the sale of the trees making even a small profit?  And how long did these operations last?

What is the most unusual type of plant ever made into a dwarf potted tree?  What species/variety is/was the most common?

What is the most common multi-species graft, black & white pines?  Most unusual ("fruit cocktail tree?")?  What about a multi-species raft?  What is the largest number of species of woody plants in a single penjing or saikei or forest planting which survived more than just a few years?

Could the top growth of a tree be re-grafted (given a new rootstock) for improved vigor?  Is there an upper limit on the number of times this could be done or the oldest the scion could be?

What was the first use of the thread graft technique to add a branch to a trunk?  Was a random branch once caught in a crack of a trunk and a reasonably attractive branch resulted growing in a desired direction?

What is the largest number of dwarf potted trees layered from a single landscape specimen?  Or propagated by cuttings therefrom?  

How much truth is there in Richard Gordon Smith 's statement that the great pine of Karasaki was the "'father' of all Japan's dwarf mushroom-shaped trees"?  Are there any dwarf specimens still extant which claim origin from the massive tree?  Could DNA comparison with seedlings from the now dead great pine prove this?

When was the first phoenix graft-equivalent purposely made, using a living tree attached in some fashion to a piece of driftwood/dead wood?  What was the designer's inspiration?  Might it have been to create the illusion of a previous potted tree still being alive? 


Have any books been banned/burned/heavily edited because they contained cultivation/design "secrets?"

How much more did some of the authors know about bonsai/penjing than what they wrote?  Who had ghostwriters who knew more about bonsai or were more eloquent than the designated author?  What did the various editors cut out, change or remove -- and why (changes in political or philosophical thought, passings of masters, family secrets, personal differences with the author, etc)?

Nüshu is/was a script specifically used by and taught among Chinese women of old.  Was there ever a penjing equivalent?

What specialist writings did Chu Shun-shui bring with him from China to Japan in 1659, and what specific teachings on the art did he impart?

Is there any evidence from older times of how the designers of magical miniature landscapes thought and talked about their creations or the tools and other materials used therefor?  If we did have written evidence, what particular changes in meanings and subtle shadings of terms may have been used back then that are not known to us currently?

When will we see translations in a European-based language of the records from the various "Garden of Dragon Flowers" shops southwest of Shanghai which have been engaged in cultivating miniature trees in containers since the sixteenth century and perhaps even earlier?  (Hrdlickovi, V.aZ. "The Garden of the Dragon Flowers," Bonsai, BCI, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, May/June 1989, pp. 20-21.  Translated by Vladamir Mandl.  Reprinted from Vol. VII, No. 1, 1987 of the publication of the Bonsai Club of Praha (Prague, Czechoslovakia)) The garden masters' names are said to have been preserved in the same way as their work in that location  -- who were they, what was their training, what was their legacy?

When will we have annotated translations with illustrations -- with author biographies, commentary and historical references, later citations, bibliography, idiomatic explanations, etc. -- of the older Chinese works on penjing in one or more European-based languages?  What other Asian works on the subject do we not have listed?

How many first published illustrations does Kyosuke Gun have?  Which ones are the most reprinted?

Are there any documented losses of collections or individual compositions or teachers to flooding, earthquake, typhoon, or wars?

What are the different forms of records and documentation which exist for various old and revered trees?  What happens to the records for trees which die of old age or injury?  Are sketches included in any of the records, besides maybe a listing of when assorted designers cared for the plant, when it perhaps was restyled or significantly repotted, propagations from the parent plant, viewings by notable personages, etc?

How many total copies of the 518 consecutive issues of Norio Kobayashi's Bonsai magazine were printed?  (Journal, ABS, Vol. 2, No. 1, pg. 17)  What is the oldest issue still extant?  What kind of influence did that periodical really have on the Japanese style of the art?  Who were some of the teachers to have articles, photographs, illustrations or their trees displayed in the pages?


Was there ever a Ming tree constructed with stones used as leaves which were specifically chosen due to their natural edges which added to the resemblance of a tree?

What was the most intrinsically valuable Ming tree ever constructed? 

Were any Ming trees built around the trunk or branches of a deceased bonsai, effectively immortalizing the original plant?


Were viewing stones ever treated similarly to the large garden stones submerged in Tai Hu by one generation and then retrieved two generations later appropriately "aged"?

In August 1969, the long-lost suiseki of Shinran Shonin, "Hongwan Reiseki" was discovered in a warehouse of the Fukuzo Temple.  The stone had been lost for centuries.  During 1580, with the "War of Ishiyama" raging through the area, the stone was transferred to the Fukozu Temple of the Koyasan near Kyoto for safekeeping by Kennyo Shinran, the eleventh generation successor to Shinran.  The stone then disappeared after that.  The authenticity of the stone was confirmed through writings found in the box with the stone, dated equivalent to April 13, 1585 (per unattributed "History of Suiseki" in Bonsai, BCI, June 1970, pg. 11) .  Was the suiseki simply forgotten about, buried under other objects, smuggled elsewhere?  What other famous stones have been rediscovered -- or have yet to be?

Are there any fossil equivalents of Chrysanthemum stones with leaves and other discernable features?

Was there ever a portable stone which naturally resembled a large stone in the same owner's garden?

When we touch our suiseki, can we sense the stream bed in which it was tumbled, the ground from which it was hatched, or mountain from which it was birthed?  Is it still "in touch" with its sibling minerals and ores?  

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