© 2002-2016  Robert J. Baran

This Page Last Updated: February 21, 2016



What are the social, cultural and political ramifications of personal involvement with dwarf potted trees?  How did one's hands-on experience (seeing, studying, caring for, designing, collecting, teaching, crafting, etc.) impact one's family, self, work, and civic life?  Were any lessons/concepts/terminology transferred to "outside"?  And what lessons, etc. from "outside" were transferred to dwarf potted tree culture?

How are our psyches altered by our relationship with the dwarf potted trees?  Our perceptions and concepts of growth over a period of time; aggressive or submissive lines of movement; seeming limits on our manual dexterity and imagination; biological similarity and partnership; how a living partnership differs from a nonliving one; self-image reflected in one's creative endeavors, both in what one alters and what one allows to remain and change as is; external reflection of our developing levels of skill; one's influence over spatial display vs. temporal display by allowing the growth/fill in/branch development later; continual cycles of nature and life fulfillment through the nourishing of a living thing which in turn provides a form of nourishment for our spirits; memories of other trees observed, worked on or dreamed of; the kinds of trees preferred or ignored.  Also, branches clipped or not clipped and secondary growth which occurred or never did; buds left or removed; soil mixes used or not used; special fertilizer components given or not given; watering given or not given (quantity and timing); climate protection given or not given; pests and disease removed early or ignored; sides chosen or not chosen to be the front; pots matched with the tree or not used; grafts made or not made; garden/growing bed/larger pot kept in for one more season or not; teachings of our teachers or other rules applied or not; formal display or not; words of praise or criticism by family members, friends or visitors; the experiences of our trees' siblings, clones or scions. How ignorant would we be if every one of our trees and cuttings, etc. lived?  All the space and pots that would not be available to us for new material on our display shelves; all the new material which we wouldn't try to find hardier or more appealing to us.   The limited amounts of pruning and wiring we could do on only our earliest chosen specimens.  Our experience from failure would be virtually nonexistent -- and that of our teachers as well.  What developments of the art could be traced to failure?

What part of our involvements is for the social interaction at the club setting, the tactile manipulation, the visual training, or the creative removal of everything that is not this particular ideal bonsai?  What elements do we need to absorb by this activity -- chlorophyll stains on and needle pricks into our fingers; aromas absorbed from juniper and pine; wood dust inhaled; the sound of different plant branches being clipped by concave cutters and of water soaking into the soil mix and dripping out the bottom of the pot; the clay of unfired pots, and so forth?

What is our love, purposes, belief, and intent with each of our creations?  Why do we create these magical miniature landscapes?  Where do we end and our bonsai start?  How much of our landscapes are us and how much are the previous caretakers and designers?

What facets of our trees did we not intend?  What characteristics did we not consciously emphasize in our landscapes, did not highlight, did not remove?

How many of our bonsai are designed as alternative versions of our own stature and posture in the world (upright vs. windswept, formal vs. informal, silhouette vs. evergreen, etc.) or suiseki as representing us in the world (dark and mysterious vs. precisely defined mountain or hut, solid vs. spirit-opened, etc.)  

Can we seek to take lessons from no-longer-waking-alive teachers in our dreams?  Can we get "second chances" in our dreams with trees and landscapes of ours that are no longer physically present because they have either gotten new owners or are no longer living?  What can we learn in our dreams about plant material, styling techniques, compositional symbolism, and so forth from artists who lived in other cultures or at other times?  Studying the past, we can learn of techniques and interpretations not currently in use in our culture.  These "old" methods might occasionally be useful for us now.  Are the ghosts of past trees or teachers around us working to see how we've learned from them?

Look at each of your bonsai and imagine each going through the seasons -- speeding up the time, beginning a few years past.  How big was each plant then? what branches did it have that are now gone, which branches had yet to grow? how did the tree's position and style change?  Do this for at least a decade worth of years -- what did you learn?  Try this on each tree some other time, but alter the shaping -- how will these two futures vary for this same tree?  BTW, while doing this, how did your display area change "over the years"?  which shows were the trees in, what repotting happened?  Any random weather disturbances or diseases affecting the trees?


Did Tokugawa Iemitsu ever receive bonsai as a present during any of the daimyo 's visits to Edo?

What was the pay scale and types of "percs" for Iemitsu's gardener compared with the average gardener or average person?  What about Kyuzo Murata for his care of the Imperial Collection?

Per Shinobu Nozaki, Dwarf Trees, 1940, pg. 24: "The Emperor Meiji, who was a fine poet besides being a great ruler, loved bonsai culture and encouraged it as a national art."  What part did the Meiji Emperor actually play in the popularization of bonsai?

The designers and trainers listed in the 1899 Yamanaka Auction Catalogue and the 1908 Royal Horticultural Society English version of MaumenĂ©, when did each of them enter into the bonsai picture?  How many were around in the early days from 1829 Asakusa forward?  How many have traceable lineages to Tokyo or Omiya pre-war, post-war, today?  Where are the Yoshimura and Kato clans first listed in English or outside of Japan?  What happened to the Yokohama Gardens by the late 1920s?  When and where did Norio Kobayashi first see a dwarf potted tree?  What happened to Ito Ibei's 18th century nursery and notes?  How many trees in the Shanghai collection are left from Japan's 1920s gift?  

Did any of the early 20th century bonsai teachers participate in or comment upon the Hachi-niwa displays at the turn of the century?  Did these exhibits or competitions have any influence upon subsequent bonsai events or display? 

Display rules were formalized and adopted by the 1930s.  When were the earliest version of these put into use?  What was the last modification to these rules prior to their widespread acceptance?

Did Shinobu Nozaki give any lectures or classes on bonsai?  In his 1940 book he lists thirty growers -- all in Tokyo? -- of the fifty pictured trees.  These included a Miss Etsu Goto.  Other than Norio Kobayashi, none of these names has been seen in post-war references.  Have they been overlooked or were these nearly three dozen enthusiasts either killed during the war, disheartened after the war, or simply thereafter anonymous to the records?

How many bonsai were on Imperial Japanese ships during WWII as momentos of home?  Are there any documented trees which successfully were in the Navy and are still extant?  Were any Chinese dwarf potted trees similarly carried by Chinese troops?

Did any of the bonsai which survived the blasts and firestorms following the atomic bombs on Hiroshima (Aug. 6) or Nagasaki undergo any type of  growth spurt along the lines of plants mentioned on pp. 95-96 of John Hershey's 1946 book, Hiroshima?  Did any bonsai there leave a "radiation shadow" burned into a nearby wall or bench?

When was the Imperial Palace garden in Tokyo first established and by whom?  What was the bonsai area's initial size and its current size; when was the first tree displayed there and how many are there now; what are the pedigrees and family histories of the various caretakers?  A tree inventory taken at its prime would show what as the most common, least common, oldest, youngest specimens?  Which ones are/were gifts from elsewheres or donated by a master's family?  What became of former parts of the collection?  Are there any photos or paintings of these gifts?

Other large/great collections: what is the same data as above?

What are the oldest compositions in each of the Omiya nurseries?  What are the most common trees and least common ones?  

Are there any Chinese trees long ago brought over to Japan still living bonsai?  What about cuttings or first-generation seedlings from these mainland specimens?

What taxes or tariffs have been applied specifically to dwarf potted trees?  (See Rein, for example.)

How and where were Japanese techniques ever brought over to China or Korea and employed with or without modification?


Were other Chinese Buddhist schools involved in penjing design besides the Chan?  Did any of these have some specific influence on the Japanese concepts of miniature landscapes?

Was the creation of dwarf potted trees ever considered to be an art form by any of the Chinese authorities to the same extent and with the same restrictions as painting or sculpture?  What and where was the earliest that it was officially recognized or acknowledged as an artform?

Was knowledge of penjing creation or writing about their appreciation ever remotely a requisite for successful completion of a civil service examination?

The "Clip and Grow" technique was developed by monks at a Guandong temple in the late 1800s.  What was that location's previous experience with penjing, what styles were concurrent with "C&G," where did they get the idea for, were there other styles attempted but discarded in favor of "C&G," what did the first "C&G" trees look like and what material were they?

Were there ever any versions of "Clip and Grow" used prior to the temple's technique?  Trees in some Southern School paintings seem as if shaped by "C&G."  Couldn't there have been an earlier version which perhaps fell out of favor?  Were the shapes of any dwarf potted trees immortalized in scrolls (by gardener artists or artist neighbors) by being depicted as wild or mountain-grown trees?

With respect to the time period in which "C&G" seemed to originate, it would almost seem to have been a final "tribute" to what was essentially the end of dynastic rule in China, the formation of a "republic" and the overwhelming effects of foreign influences and intervention. Could "C&G" be interpreted, in part, as an attempt to leave for posterity a continuing appreciation for a specific artistic style (as demonstrated in landscape paintings) and belief system, and therefore a hopeful continuation of the ancient principles of Daoism?  Or maybe it was simply easier to train dwarf potted trees in this style with the material they had available...

What parallel developments died out, what cousins or offshoots were practiced for a while but are no longer?  In China, potted plants have been trained in the shape of auspicious characters -- "living lucky words," as it were -- and also in what the West would describe as topiary forms: were these ever considered in the same general category as penjing by Chinese teachers?  Were there any formal or distinct guidelines or boundaries for penjing vs. other potted creative plants?

During the Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901), trees in the streets of Peking -- and other locations throughout China -- were stripped of bark and leaves for food and then for firewood.  How many and what kind of dwarf potted trees suffered the fate of being turned into fuel?

Per Deborah Koreshoff, Bonsai; Its Art, Science, History and Philosophy, pg. 6, the Japanese gifted bonsai to the Shanghai Botanical Garden in 1928.  Who initiated the gift, how many trees were involved and from whom, how many persons saw the trees on display in China, how many trees have survived, what became of the other trees and/or containers, what newspaper or other documentation exists of the gift?

Why were some of the penjing spared on the mainland during the Chinese Cultural Revolution?  Was it because they were deliberately hidden, in [politically] out-of-the-way locations or in public museums and gardens, as opposed to private collections?  Were some actually moved ahead of the advancing Red Guard?


What was the longest that any of the earliest souvenir dwarf potted trees sent back to Europe (in the 17th or 18th centuries) survived?  Was a container, left over after its tree died, ever reused while briefly trying to duplicate the art with native stock?  Or did it become a fancy flower or herb pot, perhaps ending up catalogued in some museum or private collection as an obscure piece of Oriental porcelain?

The Chinese Hong merchant Puankequa II in Canton sent Joseph Banks rare plants, including a very old dwarf tree...[which] was eventually presented to the Queen before 1810.  "Several specimens of dwarf trees" were sent to England for Queen Victoria from China as early as 1847.  Trees from Japan were known to be in the South Kensington Museum by at least 1864.  How long did any of these live and what became of their containers?  Any documentation about these trees?

Did any early enthusiast mention having read Macartney, Livingstone, Main, Davis, or Fortune?  What ever happened to Hugo Mulertt's collection or the trees from the Acton nursery under the care of Segiro Takagi?

What percentage of dwarf potted trees shipped to U.S. or Europe in the late 19th/early 20th centuries survived just the journey?  Which kind of trees faired best?  worst?  What happened to the containers of the nonsurvivors?

When and by whom were the first bonsai smuggled into Hawaii?  How were they hidden or camouflaged from authorities' eyes?

Were there any bonsai on exhibit, however briefly, at any of the great New York beach amusement parks in the early 1900s?  Some of the exotic exposition displays found their way to these -- were there ever any little trees, however briefly, at Coney Island, Luna Park, Steeplechase Park, etc?

A photo is said to exist of General Douglas MacArthur's visit to young Saburo Kato's garden after the war.  The occasion was probably recorded by both USA and Japanese bureaucrats.  Kato recalled the occasion: "My heart pounded with fear when I heard that MacArthur was to visit my garden.  I knew only of traditional Japanese culture and it gave no worth to a defeated enemy."  ( Per e-mails to RJB from Lindsay Farr, March 18-19, 2003, who says he was told the story by David Fukumoto a decade or so earlier. )  Is there any independent documentation of this story which seems to have historical legitimacy due to MacArthur's known interest in having his officers (and their families) learn the traditional arts and culture of Japan?  


What is the oldest known pot and/or tree and/or landscape from each province?  What is the earliest known graphic portrayal of an extant old pot, tree or landscape?  What are the names of the actual historical styles of the trees shown in the various paintings?

What is the longest a single human has cared for a particular dwarf potted tree?  A single family through the generations?

What is the oldest plant continuously grown in a container or an extant cutting therefrom which continues the lineage? Ever?

What is the shortest-lived bonsai?  Can an annual plant be trained sufficiently to be considered as "bonsai"?

What masterpiece dwarf potted trees are in private collections and have never been publicly exhibited?

What was/is the most photographed tree?  Suiseki? What was the most depicted pre-photography dwarf potted tree?  Miniature landscape?

What is the largest composition made up of only variegated plants, or otherwise genetic mutants?

What composition has the greatest purposely-included number of component species -- plant, fungal, microbiotic?

What is the tiniest old dwarf potted tree ever designed?  How long did it live?  (RJB recalls seeing a photograph in a Sunday issue of The Arizona Republic from the early 1970s of a dentist who grew seedlings in extracted human molars.)  What other "micropots" have been used?

Was there ever a matched set of a few viewing stones or dwarf potted trees assembled – different sizes but with very similar shape?

If a group of knowledgeable persons were to describe independently a given composition in detail, how varied could their subjective experiences of this miniature landscape be?

What do our trees or stones or pots look like under different EM wavelengths ( infrared, ultraviolet, X-Ray, T-ray, etc.; ultrasound)?

What percentage of each of the social/economic classes cared for dwarf potted trees in the various regions and times?

What is the longest a village has been able to survive economically due to dwarf potted tree related activities (pots, trees, tools, designers, teachers, etc.)?  Was there ever a temple furnished because of funds from the trees or stones which the members sold?

Was any dwarf potted tree at least marginally pivotal in any historical/political event?

Do the histories of any extant trees -- or pots -- include a note that they were taken as war booty?  Or when war threatened, were trees and other art treasures taken to safe havens such as temples or out into the country?

Were valuables or messages ever smuggled in the rootball or deadwood or hollowed trunk of a dwarf potted tree?

What methods have been employed to safeguard pots, stones or trees?

What was the highest price ever paid -- financially, in trade, in human life, in political alliance  -- for a single pot or tree or landscape?

What was the most unusual thing traded for a miniature landscape -- goods, land, livestock, persons, title, etc.?

Was ever a sale of a dwarfed potted tree faked using a green branch cut and stuck in a pot rootless?

What was the market and marketing of new or old trees -- first offered or being let go by an estate, for instance?

Were any documented trees or stones given as wedding presents or on the birth of a child?  Or would an ancient dwarfed tree be bad feng shui?  Were any trees or stones ever kept near a sick or dying person so as to: allow him to share in the ancient energies, give the evil spirits within him a place to go, or give his spirit a place to call upon death?

Were any magical miniature landscapes constructed for sympathetic magic purposes?  Perhaps to insure forest plenty?  As a channel to forest or mountain spirits?

What is the largest single tree or multiple plant composition -- height or width or depth -- to have ever been constructed?  When, where, by whom, why, what happened to this composition?

Were any herbal plants trained as miniatures and kept so that when they were regularly pruned for shape the cuttings therefrom would be specifically used for medicinal purposes? (See also Richard W. Bender's Herbal Bonsai.)

If we ate the non-cutting-striking pieces pruned from a bonsai, what would we learn about our tree?  How would the tree be transmuted to perceive the world in a fashion of the designer?  Even without eating, the starstuff that we all are and share -- water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, minerals, assorted fungi and microbes, sunlight, air circulation and pressure and temperature.  We are our bonsai and rocks and they are us moving along the fabric of time and warp and woof of the seasons.  (Our pots, soil mix, display stands and workbench areas with tools are similarly elemental siblings..)   Were early penjing/stones talismans which were kept to repel demons/evil spirits?  Could the presence of certain medical plants dwarfed or concentrated have been thought sufficient to return health?  What about even "just" a placebo effect from them being near?

Are there any individual quality trees which started as components of a saikei or penjing?

Have there been any significant geographically-restricted collections (types of native trees found only in a small area) or taxonomically closely-related collections of trees (only in a single family or genus, perhaps)?

What other members of families unofficially took care of prize trees?  Did some unrecorded but talented wife shape the trees which her husband was credited with?

Bonsai are said to be idealized representatives of trees growing under the influences of the various elements of climate and location.  They are "ideal" to certain humans, but are they "ideal" to nature?  Can they indeed stimulate the memory and soul to remember and visualize all the trees one has ever witnessed?  Would all humans, if so inclined, say the relatively sparse and clean branched dwarf potted trees are truly representative of nature?  Driving along the highway, for instance, we notice that the vast majority of full-grown trees have non-ideal characteristics including branch shape and outline.  Are these not also represented by our bonsai -- or are our small charges "sanitized" and "prettied-up," "plastic-surgeried beauty queens" even with occasional shari and jin?  What small percentage of actual growing-in-the-wild trees come close to the proportions of what we call good or great bonsai?  Would a bonsai with crossed branches or less definition also serve to stimulate our memories?

If we cannot go back to the Isles of the Blessed Immortals -- the supposed original reference of magical miniature landscapes -- with our trees and stones today, where can we go?  Where are we going?  What will the meanings and purposes of these dwarf potted trees be a hundred or two years from now, or a thousand or two?

Were there the equivalent of magical miniature landscapes in ancient legendary civilizations as Atlantis?  Will these landscapes continue to be created and cared for bu humans into the next Ice Age?

Will magical miniature landscapes be used in the future off-earth as reminders of our first Nature?

What are the unexplored potentials of magical miniature landscapes?  What do we not yet realize about the undeveloped nature of dwarf potted trees and other portable landscapes?  Height, width, depth, weight, style, species, composition, school/tradition, season, health, container, chronological age, apparent age, aesthetic movement, negative space, intrinsic value, commercial value, other aesthetics, social/cultural symbolism, private symbolism, history, soil mix, accessory plants, watering, fertilizer, symbiotic properties, etc.?  What we don't know includes frames of reference not usually applied.  What other ways of directing branches and bud growth have not been tried or imagined?  All of this points to the true nature of bonsai -- a cooperative art/dance between people and plants with rocks being additional elements of our joint compositions.

What types of investigation and analysis will be done in this art in the next 10, 50, 100 years?

What answers will today's novices give to tomorrow's when the former have more experience, thought and demonstrated creativity?  How will these answers differ from the answers given today?

Do our trees dance in the winds and rains and snows?  or in the movement of the sun, moon and stars?

What are the plants and rocks own "names"/self-designations?  How do they perceive themselves in the wild or in compositions?  What are their time frames?  Do collected trees in their own ways bring down "news" from the mountains to other trees in our collections?  "News" of things that happened long before those seeds were formed in the parent cones, or flavors of weathers that happened after older potted trees were collected.  Do certain trees grow with less stable roots so they are more likely to be collected and become messengers for the mountains?  Or if time is not so one-way, are the trees in the future sent "back" with news from the flatlands and shelves, and can these be identified by their looser roots in the rocks?  Have any of us scoured an area for trees and later come back to find a specimen which was overlooked?  Was that tree really overlooked or did it came from the future to provide lessons for us?

Plants that can grow from cuttings, layerings or grafts: do they have a different experience of life than those plants which can only be propagated from seed and thus must go through a discreet life cycle?  What is the life experience of an evergreen compared with that of a deciduous tree?  needle-leaf compared with broadleafed?  single-leafed compared with compound-leafed?

What more can we learn about the plants' favoring of certain flavors of soil, precipitation, altitude, climate, and neighboring life-forms?

How do we enhance a plant's experience by propagating it from cuttings?  Is that one of our mutually agreed-upon values on this planet, the transportation and propagation of certain kinds of plants in locations and climes and times outside their usual settings, from simple seed collection and garden plots through microtissue culture and beyond?

Rented plants, each eventually put in multiple, different settings, or our trees temporarily shown in a variety of exhibitions -- how do we enhance their life experiences?  And what do our trees communicate between themselves at shows, especially at large-scale or international gatherings?  Or the stones' experiences by being collected and transported around the globe?

If our bonsai and suiseki were typical inhabitants of their own little landscapes -- unpotted and undiased -- what would those lanscapes be like?  The topography, weather, other inhabitants, etc.?  

How often do past or future trees visit us in our dreams?

How many parallel universes are populated by our trees with other branches trimmed and/or wired or cut or styled differently than we've done here?

The existence of one bonsai or suiseki implies the existence of all others which have existed or will exist.  And each type of magical miniature landscape gains its meaning because of the techniques not used, so that any of these landscapes imply the existence of all the others (to paraphrase Jane Roberts' Seth book, The Nature of the Psyche, pg. 114).  What other directions did the history of bonsai take or will take?  

Which of these questions are based on false, partially erroneous, or not-yet-valid assumptions?

We do realize that some of these questions probably incorrectly make comparisons of present day activities with those of a previous time.  What further questions might be more accurately asked of those earlier enthusiasts?  And how will our experiences of magical miniature landscapes change in light of the answers to these inquiries?

What fundamental questions still need to be asked?

Again, if you have any answers or corrections or additional questions, please contact rjb@magiminiland.orgAll who are and will be interested in this international gardening art thank you.

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