Dwarf Potted Trees in Paintings, Scrolls
and Woodblock Prints

JAPAN -- Up to the TOKUGAWA Period

(to 1600)

Pre-1600 Portrayals

The Work:
     From about the year 1195, comes the earliest known depiction in Japan of a dwarfed potted tree. Saigyo Monogatari Emaki ( Biography of Monk Saigyo ) shows the deeds and experience of the poet-monk Saigyo.  One section of the scroll has a dwarfed tree in a ceramic container, a hobby and status symbol of the privileged class to which Saigyo (aka En-i, 1118-1190) belonged.

Saigyo Monogatari Emaki

The Subject:      Born Norikiyo into the Sato sub-branch of the vast and powerful Fujiwara clan, he became a captain in an elite corps of guards who protected the imperial family and the highest courtiers.  Suddenly at age twenty-three, he asked permission of the emperor to leave his commission, and then abandoned his wife and children.  (There is some historical question whether or not he had a wife at the time, or more than just one son.)  Becoming a bonze, he travelled throughout the provinces preaching, reciting poetry and demonstrating the bow, at which he had always been an expert.
     After trying a couple of Buddhist names he settled on Saigyo, which means "West-Go," and serves as the one he has since been called.  At first he lived on the outskirts of the capital, apparently in a private hermitage rather than in a temple or monastery.  Beginning in 1147, he made two journeys to the far north of Japan, and many shorter pilgrimages.  He selected lovely sites in the mountains for the practice of Buddhist austerities.  His poetry gives candid portrayals of the ongoing conflict between his still being very much attached to the world, and his quest for detachment and metaphysical probings.
     He died at Kyoto in the spring during the full-moon period of the second lunar month.  Traditionally in Japan, this is taken to be the anniversary of Shakyamuni's departure from this life.  A poem Saigyo  had written many years earlier predicted this, and his contemporaries viewed him as a Buddhist saint.  His two volumes of verse came to be widely recognized as a remarkable achievement and in the next major imperial anthology, Saigyo's poems outnumber those of any other poet.

The Author:      Attributed to Fujiwara Tsunetaka (active late 12th to early 13th cent.). 1


The Work:      The ink and color on silk scroll Ippen Shonin Eden is dated from 1299.  A series of forty-eight scenes mounted on twelve scrolls.  Contrary to the practice of the time when paper was the usual support for scroll paintings, this work is carefully executed on silk, which goes to show the importance attached by the brotherhood to the life story of its founder.   In the sixth scroll occurs one of the earliest representations of Mount Fuji, already reflecting the feeling of the Japanese for their beautiful mountain.  Current locations: Kankikoji temple in Kyoto and the Tokyo National Museum.

The Subject:      Ippen Shonin (1239-1289) was born Ochi Michihide, and at age seven entered the Tendai's Keikyo-ji temple.  There he successively studied the Tendai, Jodo, and Nembutsu sects.  After studying these and meditating on them in solitude for many years, Ippen developed the theory of self-sacrifice in the charity of Amida, founded the Ji-shu sect, and spent the rest of his life traveling through the length and breadth of Japan, converting over two and a half million people.  He is described as a revivalist preacher.  "Shonin" (lit. "superior man") was a suffix added to names of certain bonzes famous for their virtue.  Shortly after his death, the story of his life was written by Shokai (1261-1323), his favorite disciple and younger half-brother, who had faithfully accompanied him in all his wanderings.  The text on the scrolls is this biography.

The Author:      Attributed to E'ni, who no doubt was a fellow pilgrim of the great monk.  As the scrolls are unrolled, we almost seem to be following the itinerary at Ippen's side, in the small company of his favorite disciples, visiting the famous places and leading temples of each province.  So closely do the landscapes and buildings represented resemble those still in existence today, that we are forced to conclude that En-i drew these scenes on the spot in the course of his pilgrimage and based his work on these drawings. This procedure gives his paintings an unusual style and flavor, faithfully reflecting the varied aspects of Japan's natural scenery, from region to region and season to season.  At the same time he draws a complete picture of the age: nobles and warriors, tradesmen and peasants, and even beggars and vagabonds, are recorded by the artist with such a wealth of detail that these scrolls hold the mirror up to Japanese society in the Middle Ages, comparable in this respect to the masterworks of Western miniature painting of the same period. 2


The Works:      There are said to be two early works, Natural Methods of Figure Painting (1300) and A Collection of Springtime Sketches (1304) which contain pictures of dwarf potted trees. 3


The Work:      From 1309, comes a twenty-scroll emaki-mono titled Kasuga-gongen-genki ( The Incarnations and Miracles at the Kasuga Temple ).  It is one of the rare Kamakura-period picture scrolls to be written and painted on silk.  (A twenty-first scroll carries the table of contents and a preface.)  These scrolls are also a valuable historical record of a variety of architectural styles.
       Dwarf potted trees are seen in the 16-1/3" high fifth scroll. This scroll is the one most widely known to be the oldest authenticated Japanese depiction of dwarfed potted trees.  Dwarf trees, grasses, and stones are seen in a shallow rectangular wooden tray -- actually a long wooden box with carved extensions (handles for carrying?  See below) -- which rests on a bench or stand out in a garden, all under the left edge of the main building roof.  Shown in this section is the residence of a Fujiwara governor, the so-called Ōmiya no Gondaibu, Toshimori (1120-c.1180).  He was the son of Akimori, who had served the Retired Emperor Shirakawa.  Toshimori himself served the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa, before becoming a monk in 1177.  Toshimori's son was Fujiwara no Sueyoshi, who became a monk in 1210, a year or so before his own death.  He continued his father's monthly pilgrimages, and a story about him is on the second section of the fifth scroll.


       Seen in the above section about one-third of the way from the right edge (where the gate and approaches to the mansion are crowded with visitors, not shown here), a birdcage and these tray landscapes add to the revelation of the owner's wealth along with the spaciousness and rich decoration of the architecture.  The miniature landscapes are probably exotics imported from the mainland.  The box or tray is filled with earth to suggest hills planted with trees neatly encircled by small light-colored pebbles.  Two light-blue dish-like pots on the other end of the bench also has this same ground cover. The beautiful pots of Chinese origin played a major role in the appreciation of dwarf potted trees.  The two together must form a single entity.  (Even to this day, the most highly sought after containers for the finest bonsai in Japan are very often antique Chinese pots.)  Were the plants in the trays also from China?  How long did the original plants last and were they replaced?  Whatever became of these possessions or this residence?  Why didn't flat trays "catch on" in Japan this early?

Kasuga-gongen-genki (detail)

       The text for the first portion of the fifth scroll can be translated as follows:
       "Lord Toshimori, the Provisional Master ( gon-no daibu, 1166) of the Grand Empress's Household, lived a long time in obscurity, having been left an orphan by his father.  He was pondering how to establish himself when he had a visit from the Kasuga priest Tokimori, and discussed the matter with him.  Tokimori recommended monthly pilgrimages to the Kasuga Shrine, and Toshimori took his advice.
        "For years he never missed a single pilgrimage, until he was named Governor of Sanuki.  In due course he gained the respect of all, was called into the Retired Emperor's intimate service, and became the Assistant Director of the Grand Empress's Household.  His house grew rich in consequence, and his reputation rose wonderfully high.  He attributed all this entirely to the blessings of the Daimyōjin ("great resplendent diety"), whom he served with ever-increasing zeal.
         "Once when he was on pilgrimage at the Shrine, a quiet night rain was dripping pleasingly from the pines.  Feeling unusually at peace, he was deep in reflection on the vanity of coming here in search of worldly gain, when he heard an awesome voice over by the Sanctuaries saying, 'The path of enlightenment too is the path of my Mountain.'  He shed tears of joy, and would wet his sleeves again long afterward, remembering.
        "As the years passed, the fortunes of Toshimori's house gradually declined.  All was quiet before his gate, and a visitor's horse was seldom to be seen.  Then he understood that glory and obscurity each have their portion, and prosperity and decline each their time; and so he gave no more thought to anything but the life to come.  Until the very moment of his death he entrusted himself to the Daimyōjin's protection..."

The Subject:
     The series of scrolls comprising this work concerns the bonze Honen Shonin (1133-1212), as part of the fifty-six accounts depicted in the Records of the Miraculous Virtue of the Kasuga Deity.  During the so-called Kamakura awakening, minor doctrines once confined solely to longstanding monastic orders were taught openly by new leaders creating independent orders.  Honen was the first such leader to break with established Buddhist order by founding the Jodo or Pure Land Sect in 1175 (?).  Inspired by the earlier teachings of the bonze Genshin concerning the efficacy of prayer, Honen taught that salvation, which must be gained by relying on forces outside of oneself, can only come through faith in Buddhist's original vow.  Such faith is expressed by repeating with utmost sincerity the nembutsu, or name of Amida (the Supreme Buddha of the Paradise of the Pure-Earth of the West).  To Honen, the continued repetition of the nembutsu, thousands of times a day, was all sufficient and nothing more was needed for salvation.  Neither temples, monasteries, rituals, nor priesthood were required.  Furthermore, he taught that all were equal in the eyes of Buddha, high and low, male and female.
      These extreme views were naturally opposed by the older sects.  In 1207 Honen was exiled from Kyoto.  His subsequent travels into the provinces spread and popularized his teachings, and he returned to Kyoto in 1210.  There he built the Chion-in temple the following year, and died the next.  (Chion-in, a celebrated Buddhist temple, was destroyed by fire in 1633, rebuilt by the shogun Iemitsu, and solemnly reopened in 1639.  It is to this day the seat of the Jodo-shu sect, which has the second largest number of adherents in contemporary Japan.)
      Honen is quoted as saying that "a [dwarfed potted] tree can dominate your life."
      The Fujiwara was a family of courtiers, regents ( sessho, kanpaku ) and artists.  They wielded enormous power during much of the Heian period (AD 794–1185) and played a leading role in the regency government (sekkan seiji; AD 967–1068).  The years 894–1185 are often referred to as the Fujiwara period.  The Fujiwara clan was founded by Nakatomi no Kamatari (614–69), who had assisted Prince Naka no Oe (later Emperor Tenji, reigned 661–72) in the coup of 645 that eliminated the rival Soga family.  In 669 Tenji bestowed on Nakatomi the name Fujiwara (‘wisteria field’).  The Fujiwara reached the height of their power with the regent Fujiwara no Michinaga (966–1028), after whose time Fujiwara dominance at court began to decline.  The family also produced a number of skilled calligraphers who were instrumental in establishing or influencing styles of aristocratic Japanese-style ( Wayo ) calligraphy, such as those of the Sesonji and Hosshoji schools. 
       Kasuga-taisha Grand Shrine is generally believed to have been founded by the Fujiwara family in 768, the most important imperial court nobles of the Tempyo period.  It was built as a tribute to their tutelary deity after the capital was moved to Heijo (present-day Nara).  The Kasuga Shrine stands at the foot of Mikasa-yama (283 m.), a hill in the range along the eastern edge of the Yamato plain.  Mikasa-yama is clearly an ancient kamunabi, a sacred hill linked with the cult of ancestral spirits and powers such as mountain and water deities.  Though the shrine has been rebuilt at intervals over the centuries, it has looked this way since the late twelfth century.  Most of the present buildings of the four main sanctuaries in the compound date physically from the nineteenth century, although they reproduce older ones.
       The deities worshiped at Kasuga Shrine, who were venerated by the Fujiwara (formerly, Nakatomi) clan, include Takemikazuchi no Mikoto, Iwainushi no Mikoto (Futsunushi no Mikoto), and Ame no Koyane no Mikoto and his wife, ancestral kami of the Fujiwara clan.  According to a myth recorded in the Nihonshoki, Takemikazuchi and Iwainushi were commanded by Amaterasu Ōmikami (the sun goddess and the ancestral kami of Japan's imperial house) to descend from the Heavenly Plain to earth and subjugate the Japanese domain.  At the descent of Ninigi no Mikoto, a grandson of the sun goddess, Ame no Koyane was directed by Amaterasu to thenceforth attend and protect her descendants ( tennō, the emperors).   The tennō were to live in the palace hall with the sacred mirror ( yata no kagami ), one of her divine regalia, and to worship it.  By enshrining the four kami mentioned in the above myth at their clan-shrine at Kasuga, the Fujiwara attained religious authority to receive supreme political power at the imperial court.  Ame no Koyane's prestige as a mythic figure was enhanced during the thirteenth century with the publication of the Gukanshō, an interpretive history of Japan by the Tendai abbot Jien (himself a member of the Fujiwara line).  The Gukanshō combined certain eschatological notions found in Buddhist scripture with the myths of the founding the Japanese state.  It declared that during the so-called era of the True law ( shōbō ), Amaterasu had formulated a system of government in which there was direct administration by the tennō, but that in the subsequent eras of human history other forms of political organization had been sanctioned by her.  For instance, during the era of the Counterfeit Law ( zōbō ), Amaterasu had collaborated with Ame no Koyane to create the regent-chancellor system, in which the tennō was assisted by a regent from the Fujiwara clan (the descendants of Ame no Koyane herself).  For the era of the Latter Days of the Law ( mappō ), the Gukanshō continues, when human institutions have degenerated from their original integrity, Amaterasu consulted with Ame no Koyane and Hachiman to establish the regent-shogun system (combining the institutions of regent and shogun), in which the tennō is assisted by the regent-shogun of the Fujiwara clan, the descendants of Ame no Koyane.  Until the end of World War II Ame no Koyane served as a legitimizer of the imperial system.  Kasuga Shrine, which honors her, was accordingly revered by the imperial house and protected by the majesty and power of the state.
       In the year 768 four gods were brought to the shrine, the main one carried on the back of a white deer.  The deer thus became the shrine's symbol and its power increased along with the power of the Fujiwara clan during the Heian period.  Deer became protected at this shrine, as well as other shrines.  During the feudal era, deer had their antlers removed to prevent harm to people and they also were commonly used on samurai helmets.  Killing one of these sacred deer was punishable by death.
       The most famous representation of a pine tree in Japan is the one painted on the wall at the back of the Noh theatre stage. It is called "the pine of the appearance of the god," and is traditionally identified with one at the Kasuga Shrine in Nara.  A monk is reported to have seen the Kasuga deity dancing under the pine in the guise of an old man.  Pines like this link the planes of the world.  The sound of the wind in their branches ( matsukaze ) is a model of poetry and of communication, and a pine in Noh may in fact be treated as human.

The Artist:      Takakane Takashina was a Yamato-e painter known to have been attached to the Imperial Court painting bureau as chief painter at least during the years 1309-1330.  His commissions included making copies of several earlier paintings -- an art tradition in both the East and West which faded only with the development of lithography and photography -- of Buddhist deities and festivals and historical subjects.  At the request of the powerful political leader "The Minister of the Left" Saionji Kinhara (1264-1315), Takakane executed the series of scrolls to be presented to the Kasuga Shrine in Nara for dedication in March 1309 (Engyō 2.3).  This was the patron shrine of the Fujiwara family, of which the Saionji family was an offshoot. 
      In 1305 Kinhira was punished by the Retired Emperor Go-Uda, who confiscated his two proprietary provinces, dismissed him as head of the left imperial stables, and had him confined to his home.  Go-Uda's reasons are unclear, but they may have had to do with his displeasure over attempts to make Kinhira's grandson crown prince.  The following year Kinhira addressed himself to Kasuga, and twelve days later he was pardoned, thanks to the intervention of Kamakura.  He apparently took it that his devotion to the Kasuga diety had "worked."  The following year he began a seven-day retreat at the shrine, essentially praying that the fortunes of the Saionji house be fully restored.  Perhaps this is when he conceived the Kasuga-gongen-genki, which was dedicated only two years later.  In his preface he states "After I conceived this gesture of devotion, great good fortune blessed my house."  (It is possible that he knew of another recent, ambitious picture-scroll project, Ippen Shonin Eden, see above.)
      One of Takakane's most important extant works, this particular opus is delicately painted in rich color with selected pigments and gold and silver on silk.  Depicting various manifestations of the supernatural associated with the Kasuga Shrine, the scrolls begin with a scene in which the daughter of the lord of the old and honored Tachibana clan announces an oracle in the year 937 C.E .  The scrolls end with the miracle of the sacred fire flying into the shrine, purported to have happened in 1304.
      The scrolls give evidence of the painter's acute observation of nature, the lifelike depictive power of Kamakura period painting, and the refinement one would expect of the work of a court painter.  It gives a general idea of the style that prevailed among the artists attached to the painting bureau during that period.  As one might expect, Takakane prepared a full set of sketches ( nakagaki ) before executing the final version.  The sketches existed at least as late as 1438 but are unknown in modern times.
      The stories depicted were compiled by the Kōfukuji monk Kakuen (1277-1340, Kinhira's younger brother), in consultation with two senior monks of the same temple (Jishin and Hanken), and the text was written by the Former Regent Takatsukasa Mototada and his three sons, also members of the clan.  The Kōfukuji was the senior clan temple of the Fujiwara aristocracy.  There is evidence that at least half the stories may have been partially derived from existing manuscripts.
       Once presented to the shrine, the Genki was carefully kept there but seldom displayed.  It is known to have gone to Kyoto four times: in the late 14th century Ashikaga Yoshimitsu managed to get it for an e-awase "picture competition" party, then in 1490, 1529 with a side trip to Edo, and 1701.  In 1875 it was offered to the imperial household, for which it remains a property to this day, now no easier to see than in the 14th century.  At least six direct painted copies were made from the original scrolls between the early 1700s and 1935.  The first photographic copy was published in 1929. 4


The Work:     From the year 1317 comes Honen Shonin Eden ( Life of Saint Honen in Pictures ), a series of forty-eight scrolls. Each of the scrolls, on an average, measures thirty feet in length. A detailed study of it made by Shimada Shujiro has shown that this set of scrolls, begun at the emperor's behest in 1307, was twice added to and finally completed--or brought to the stage at which we now have it--toward the second half of the fourteenth century.  The seventh scroll has a small/medium-sized rock-growing tree in a bowl/dish on the veranda outside of where the seated and praying Honen is having a vision of a white elephant, a venerated animal in India (for both the Buddhist and Hindu faiths) and in lands directly to its east.  Scroll #46 shows a larger aged tree in a deeper pot on a rectangular wooden table.  A small bowl of companion grasses resting on a small display stand is also on the table.  The potted tree is historically significant in that it uses deadwood branches for what is clearly a calculated artistic effort.  Current location: Zojoji temple.

The Artist:      Attributed to Tosa Kunitaka, but probably the work of many artists. 5


The Work:
    From the year 1351 comes Boki Ekotoba (aka, Boki E Shi ) which shows dwarfed trees on the 12-2/3" high ninth scroll in a series of ten.  The three trees shown are medium-sized sparse and twisted, each in a bowl displayed on a single-legged stand located off of a veranda ( engawa ).  The left-most tree is a twin trunk.  The left and center trees are mostly bare of foliage, and have dark brownish bark.  The right-hand tree has reddish brown bark and fine green leaves.  White sand covers the earth in each of the pots.
     Note that the trees here are shown alone, no rocks accompany any of them.  This is apparently the earliest depiction of free-standing dwarf trees in a Japanese work, the first true ancestors of what would be the art of bonsai.
     To one side of this scene there are green and blue tunnelled rocks on light blue sand (or water?) in a dark brown wooden box which sits on a green bamboo table/stand.  The ground and wooden walkway of the building behind and next to this are yellowish-goldenrod.  The ends of the front and rear sides of the box extend outward a little with a carved flourish.  There are groups of three golden nailheads or similar ornamentations spaced on the upper edges of the four sides of the box.  The tree at the top of the principal rock in this arrangement has green cloud layered foliage with a brown trunk.  Lower, on the side nearest the building, is a plant with thin black branches and bluish foliage or flowers (and blue grass beneath it near the rock's base).  A second one of these trees is at the center of the rock.  On the other side of the rock, partially hidden by a light blue stylized cloud coming into the scene, is what looks to be a plant with thin branches of light brown and delicate green foliage and small reddish flowers or berries.
     Two other views from the same source show companion plants.  One has what appears to be an open scroll or book (?) in a tokonoma -like setting (wood floor, shoji wall, and green tatami mat), flanked by two green pots with grasses (?) in whitish or pale yellow sand.  The one pot is rice bowl-shaped with an upward flare; the second is a footed oval with a "belly."  The second view has two companion plants near the edge of the engawa.  The green "double-layered" pot shows three feet, as does the yellowish drum-nail decorated pot with a narrower brim.
     The last scene from this same source shows a yellow wooden box of similar design as the one of the bamboo stand.  The latter, however, rests right on the engawa and contains what appear to be some small rocks interspersed with a number of small plants, grasses, etc.  Next to this display is a pale green serving tray/ikebana tray (?) with round base containing some darker green draped over a light brown rock.  [The copy of the print examined is too small to tell for sure.]
     In a second scene from the same scroll, rocks are placed in a large shallow dish containing a little water, with a gnarled pine and two broad-leaved trees growing on the rocks.

The Subject:      The story portrayed is that of the famous Buddhist saint Kakujo-Shonin (aka Kakunyo, 1270-1351), the great grandson of Shinran-Shonin.  Shinran (1173-1262) was born at Kyoto, and at an early age was introduced to the Tendai-shu sect doctrine.  At age thirty, Shinran became a pupil of Honen.  Not satisfied with either of these doctrinal systems, he went into meditation concerning the question of celibacy and abstinence imposed upon the bonzes.  Delivered from his doubts by a vision of the goddess Kwannon, he soon after married the daughter of Fujiwara Kanenori and founded a new sect.  Shinran declared that a single sincere call upon the name of Amida was sufficient for salvation.  He strenuously argued against the establishment of monasteries, and led the way in breaking traditional discipline by marrying, eating meat and living a normal secular life.  The new sect was named Shin Jodo Shu or True Pure Land sect.  This became known eventually as the Shinshu (True Sect), and later as the Ikkoshu or Single Minded Sect.  Shinran's preaching and his attacks on the other sects brought upon the animosity of the bonzes at Kamakura, and so he was exiled.  He was pardoned after five years.
     In 1272, the principle temple of Shinran's sect, built by his daughter and grandson, was given the name of Hongwan-ji in Kyoto.  Both the Pure Land and True sects became immensely popular, and while denying the necessity of a priestly organization, nonetheless gave rise to large communities of believers served by temples and priests.  The Jodo-shin-shu sect is, perhaps, the Buddhist equivalent of Protestantism in Japan.  The Shin sect in contemporary Japan has the largest number of adherents of any of these sects. 

The Authors:      These were executed by Fujiwara Takamasa and Fujiwara Takaaki (the latter is specifically credited with scrolls #2, 5, 6, and 8).  The scrolls were done within a year after Kakunyo died, and several artists attached to the Gion shrine co-operated to paint them.  Takamasu seems to have been the most active, and did some remarkable landscape views. 6


The Work:      Said to be from around the year 1480, another painting shows a landscape in one more of these "winged boxes."  A dark-clad, fan-wielding nobleman is entertaining at least four light-clad persons in his study.  The two walls behind them are lined with thin vases or vases on trays.  The study is open to the garden.  (Across the garden a black and red trouser-clad servant is carrying a round tray of apparently reddish delicacies.)  In the garden there are two miniature landscapes almost completely covering a long low splotchy green-and-brown-topped table.  The "winged box," long and tan in color, either rests on a thin slab of dark wood or else has such an edging applied to its bottom.  The box contains a large curiously shaped rock island: its left half is a light-colored flat plain whose edges show a slight rounding as they go into the "sea" of swirled sand, while its right half is a darker brownish-gray mountain dropping into billowing multi-colored cliffs.  A forest of dark green-leaved, thin-trunked dwarfed trees covers the mountain.  A few bare-branched trees are at the "water's" edge of the plain and at the foot of the backside of the mountain.  A smaller island of similar stone is off the back of the plain.
     A smaller, square "winged box" of lighter wood, more intricately crafted and with four full-corner feet, sits to the left on the low table.  A single dark rock island rises from the swirling sand and is graced by a few slightly larger versions of the leaf-less trees.
     Due to the cracked and faded appearance of the print, the original painting was probably executed on a wall or screen, exposed to everyday changes in light and humidity. 7


The Work:      Presumably from the same period is a special emaki-mono called Sairei-soshi.  Illustrating scenes from a festival, this scroll has a picture of two wooden trays, placed just outside of the veranda, each with little trees planted on what suggests a hill or a range of hills. 8


The Work:      A screen from the sixteenth-century, Portuguese in Japan shows European traders unloading various imported Chinese goods from a ship.  At least one of the merchants walking in the procession down the street is seen carrying a quatrefoil tray (equivalent to perhaps 30 cm wide by 2 or 3 cm deep) holding a multi-peaked mountain viewing stone (perhaps 23 cm tall).  Nearly 70 surviving examples of single or paired screens depict the arrival of the Portuguese to Japan.  With the exception of those depicting scenes in and around Kyoto, this is the largest group of Japanese screens on one subject, an indication of the enormous popularity of the theme. 9

Pre-1600 Portrayals


1.     Okudaira, Hideo Narrative Picture Scrolls, Arts of Japan 5 (New York: Weatherhill Inc. & Tokyo: Shibundo; 1963, 1973), pg. 135, there are no dwarfed trees visible in the three sections of the second scroll pictured here;

Image located at http://www.airdav.com/openbonsai/storia.php;

Perl, Philip and the Editors of TIME-LIFE Books  Miniatures and Bonsai (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books; 1979), pp. 13-14;

Koreshoff, Deborah R.  Bonsai: Its Art, Science, History and Philosophy (Brisbane, Australia: Boolarong Publications; 1984), pg. 6;

Saigyo, Mirror For the Moon (New York: New Directions Books; 1978, 1977.  Translated with an introduction by William R. LaFleur) pp. xix-xxv;

Papinot, E. Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan (Toyko: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc.; 1972.  Reprinting of original 1910 work.  Seventh printing, 1982), pp. 526-527;

Toda, Kenji  Japanese Scroll Painting (New York: Greenwood Press, Publishers; 1969.  Originally published in 1935 by the University of Chicago Press), pg. 92, which attributes scroll to Fujiwara Tsunetaka (while others say it is anonymous), plus for background on scrolls in general.  One scroll's location is given as at Tokugawa Reimeikai in Tokyo, a second scroll is in the Ohara Collection in Okayama Prefecture (west of Kyoto), an Important Cultural Property from the thirteenth century;

Paine, Robert Treat and Alexander Soper  The Art and Architecture of Japan (NY: Penguin Books; 1981, Third edition).  A section is shown as b&w Fig 106 on pg. 155 but there are no landscapes visible.

cf.  Nippon Bonsai Association  Classic Bonsai of Japan (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International; 1989), pg. 143, which has "...there is the Saigyo Monogatari Emaki (The Story of the Priest Saigyo Picture Scroll, around 1250-1270), in which the priest Saigyo is shown sitting close to a bonsai growing on a large rectangular piece of rock on a large stand."  And, "The transverse roll Saigyô monogatari emaki, by Tosa Tsunetaka (1249-1256)," per http://www.fluktor.de/works/photo/japan97/jap-prot.htm.  Per The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition (2001-07), Tsunetaka", "(Tosa Tsunetaka), fl. 12th cent., Japanese painter. He held the title of vice lord of Tosa, and later artists of the Tosa clan claimed him as the founder of their school, although there is no proof of any lineal relationship between them. No work of Tsunetaka remains today [sic] ."

2.     Nippon Bonsai Association Classic, pg. 143;

Papinot, pp. 208-209, 590;

Overview of Painting of The Kamakura Period (1185-1333);

Hoganji Temple;

Yugyoji Temple;

Small images at Nara National Museum;

Terukazu, Akiyama "Chapter 5: The Great Age of Scroll Painting (12th - 14th Century)," in Treasures of Asia: Japanese Painting, http://kaladarshan.arts.ohio-state.edu/studypages/internal/japan682/Ch5.htm ;

possible b&w photo of this on pg 371 of Fairbank, John K., Edwin O. Reischauer and Albert M. Craig East Asia, Tradition & Transformation (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company; 1989), with the caption: "A segment of a picture scroll of the late Kamakura period, depicting the life of a popular Buddhist religious leader, Ippen Shonin (1239-1289)."  One small tree seen right of center on a bench under a small roofed stall.

Paine and Soper, pp. 154, 357.  Sections are shown as b&w Fig 104 (pg. 154), 232 (357), 253 (375), 254? (376), 281 (403), and 290 (411), but there are no landscapes visible;

Still to be seen: Miya Tsugio Ippen Shōnin Eden (Tokyo: Shibundō; 1971), Nihon no bijutsu, 56.

3.     Liang, Amy The Living Art of Bonsai: Principles & Techniques of Cultivation & Propagation (New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.; 1992), pg. 107 and 102 which lists the latter work as an illustrated scroll.  The titles infer that these are artist copy books.

4.     A Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Oriental Arts (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. and Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Company; 1969.  Compiled from the Oriental Section of the Encyclopedia of World Art, 1968), Color Plate 67 (detail), which gives location as in the Imperial Household Agency Collection;

Toda, Plate XVIII has part of the left half with the caption "In a Japanese Garden," and pg. 109, which states there are fifty-seven accounts;

Tyler, Royall   The Miracles of the Kasuga Diety (NY: Columbia University Press; 1990), pp. 9-22, 27, 38-39, 42, 43, 65, text quote from pp. 193-194, with notes on pp. 195, 197.   This detailed work contains much more background information and history of the shrine than we have here, and also gives the annotated text for each of the fifty-six tales of the Genki along with twenty-one b&w line drawings of scenes from the scrolls.

Nippon Bonsai Association Classic, b&w picture on pg. 142, which says the light blue dishes contain suiseki;

Tatsui, Matsunosuke  Japanese Gardens (Tokyo: Japan Travel Bureau; 1957,  Ninth edition), small color frontispiece, with the caption "The Garden of a Wealthy Noble in the Heian Period (794 - 1185)"; 

1964 Olympic Bonsai Show Commemorative Pamphlet, pg. 2.  Courtesy of William N. Valavanis.

Kuitert, Wybe  Themes in the History of Japanese Garden Art (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002, 1988), pp. 17-18, with b&w tracing on 16-17;

From http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/arch339/images/ShindenPleas.jpeg ;

Koreshoff, pg. 7;

Chan, Peter The Complete Book of Bonsai: Principles and Practice (New York: Marboro Books Corp.; 1989), pg. 10;

Yanagisawa, Soen  Tray Landscapes (Bonkei and Bonseki) (Tokyo: Japan Travel Bureau; 1955, 1956, 1962, 1966), pg. 77-78, which also mentions that "Another emaki-mono dating back to the thirteenth-century and illustrating the life of a noted Buddhist priest named Honen-Shonin (1133-1212) contains a picture showing a pot with a tree growing on a rock, placed on the veranda of a house.";

Papinot, pp. 116-117;

Griffis, William Elliott, A.M.  The Mikado's Empire, Book I. History of Japan, From 660 B.C. to 1872 A.D., and Book II. Personal Experiences, Observations, and Studies in Japan, 1870-1874 (NY: Harper & Brothers, Publishers; 1876), pg. 198, "Japanese Buddhism is a distinct product among the many forms of that Asiatic religion.  Buddhism secured life and growth on Japanese soil only be being Japanized, by being grafted on the original stock of ideas in the Japanese mind.  Thus, in order to popularize the Indian religion, the ancient native heroes and the local gods were all included within the Buddhist pantheon, and declared to be the incarnations of Buddha in his various forms.  A class of deities exist in Japan who are worshipped by the Buddhists under the general name of gongen.  They are all deified Japanese heroes, warriors, or famous men.";

"Fujiwara," http://www.artnet.com/library/03/0301/T030130.asp ;

"Nara: Kasuga-taisha Grand Shrine," http://www.burgessbroadcast.org/japan/2001/024_Nara/027_Kasuga-taisha_Grand_Shrine ;

"Ame No Koyane," http://www.bookrags.com/history/religion/ame-no-koyane-eorl-01 ;

"shika," http://www.siskiyous.edu/NCTA/Japan2003/PhotoGlossary/shika.htm ;

Tyler, Royall "Buddhism in Noh," http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/world/country/014-Buddhism%20in%20Noh.htm ;

Honen quote per Hall, Doug and Don Black The South African Bonsai Book (Cape Town: Howard Timmons (Pty) Ltd.; 1983 Third Impression), pg. 15;

Okudaira, pg. 121;

Roberts, Laurance P.  A Dictionary of Japanese Artists (Tokyo: John Weatherhill, Inc.; 1976), pg. 169;

Tazawa, Yutaka (super.ed.)  Biographical Dictionary of Japanese Art (Tokyo: Kodansha International, Ltd. In collaboration with the International Society for Educational Information, Inc.; 1981), pg. 246;

Paine and Soper, pg. 408.  Sections are shown as b&w Fig 228 (pp. 352-353), 229 (354), 250 (373), 284 (404), 291 (412), and 292 (413), but there are no landscapes visible, except on the known section as Fig. 286 (pp. 408-409).

Hirota, Jozan Bonkei, Tray Landscapes (Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd.; 1970), pg. 24;

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.; 1991  Based on material from The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, ©1989 by Shambhala Publications, Inc., a translation of Lexicon de östlichen Weisheitslehren, edited by Stephan Schumacher and Gert Woerner, © 1986 by Otto-Wilhelm-Barth Verlag, a division of Scherz Verlag, Bern and Munich.  Translated by Michael H. Kohn), pg. 105, describes the Paradise of the Pure-Earth as '"the Boundless Light" of the state of consciousness known as the pure land.';

cf. the 1310 date in “The Amateur Bonsai Fancier” by Kan Yashiroda in Yashiroda (ed.) Handbook on Dwarfed Potted Trees: The Bonsai of Japan (Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden; 1953, revised 1959), pg. 81,

Chidamian, Claude  Bonsai – Miniature Trees, Their Selection, Culture, and Care (New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.; 1955), pg. 4;
Hull, George F.  Bonsai For Americans (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.; 1964), pg. 23, and O'Connell's article (pg. 38);

Per Kobayashi, Norio  Bonsai – Miniature Potted Trees (Tokyo: Japan Travel Bureau, Inc.; 1951, 1962, 1966), pg. 23, "dating from the beginning of the thirteenth century"; and Shufunotomo, Editors of  The Essentials of Bonsai (Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1982), pg. 8: "There are, however, earlier hear-say references [than Kasuga-gongen-genki].  It is said that Honen Shonin (1133-1212), a revered Buddhist figure, was a bonsai enthusiast and there is a much later [sic] scroll showing his collection.";
     cf. Folsom, Barbara "Bonsai: A Living Koan, Part I (A University Thesis) in Bonsai, BCI, September 1971, pg. 16: "Kasuga Gongen Genki-e pictures a boxed pine and some palms in containers.  Section two of the fifth scroll shows Toshimori, who has paid monthly homage to the shrine and risen to a high rank, enjoying the fruits of his prosperity in a luxurious home with an elaborate garden, and aviary, and a small rock and tree garden set into a table top."  Also per this page, the scrolls were executed at the request of Saionji Kimihara.

5.     Nippon Bonsai Association Classic, pg. 143, with two b&w sections on pg. 144 ; Hirota, pg. 24, has a b&w line drawing of the table area.  Attribution per "One Hundred Masterpieces of Japanese Pictorial Art Published by Shimbi Shoin 1913,"  http://www.baxleystamps.com/litho/shimbi_shoin_100.shtml ;

Terukazu, Akiyama "Chapter 5: The Great Age of Scroll Painting (12th - 14th Century)," in Treasures of Asia: Japanese Painting, http://kaladarshan.arts.ohio-state.edu/studypages/internal/japan682/Ch5.htm ;

Paine and Soper, pp. 154.  A section is shown as b&w Fig 289 on pg. 410 but there are no landscapes visible.

Still to be seen: Maho Tōru   Hōnen Shōnin Eden (Tokyo: Shibundō; 1974), Nihon no bijutsu, 95.

6.     A Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Oriental Arts, b&w Plate 17, location given as in Nishi Hongan-ji, Kyoto;

Classic, has two b&w section of on pg. 143, while stating that the scroll has four scenes showing a total of eight different bonsai, only shows four of the trees in two b&w photos;

Papinot, pp. 576-577;

Lesniewicz, Paul  Bonsai: The Complete Guide to Art & Technique (Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press; 1984), pg. 12, has a small color picture and states that the three trees are a pine, an apricot and a flowering cherry;

Webber, Leonard  Bonsai For the Home and Garden   (North Ryde, NSW, Australia: Angus & Robertson Publishers; 1985), pg. 3, has a small b&w copy with a slightly larger portion of the scroll with the caption: "This early Chinese [sic] painting shows three specimens.";

Bonsai Today, No. 26, pg. 56, which has five color photos of and seems to imply that Boki Ekotoba was "done around 1480" along with a following work ( Sairei-soshi ), and pg. 57, which has a reversed color print of the Lesniewicz/Webber scroll and shows a little more of the scene, including the green and blue tunnelled rocks on light blue sand (or water?) in a dark brown wooden box;

Yanagisawa, pp. 173, 178, which state that "Another tray-like pot in one of the pictures contains a stone" and in the scroll "we find on the veranda a wooden tray-like pot planted with water plants."  Image scans by Max Miller;

Paine and Soper, pp. 157.

7.      Bonsai Today, No. 26, pg. 56, no other identification of the painting is given.  Image scan by Max Miller;

A reversed image of a larger part of the painting is found at http://www.sengoku-expo.net/text/tea/E/21-a.html

8.     Yanagisawa, pg. 78.

9.     Colvello, Vincent T. and Yuji Yoshimura  The Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation, Suiseki and Its Use with Bonsai (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle; 1984), pp. 18- 19, Fig. 1 with detail also shown.  Location given (pg. 13) as the Freer Gallery.  A different screen of similar nature and title is shown and described as Figs. 12-18 here.  The two screens may be the subject of "Digital images in art history," http://web.reed.edu/reed_magazine/feb1997/computers/5.html; Jackson, Anna and Amin Jaffer (ed.)  Encounters, The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800 (London: V&A Publications; 2004), pg. 203.

A listing of Japanese handscrolls ( emaki ) and locations of their copies can be found here.

Japan  1600 to 1800
Japan  1800 to 1868
Japan  1869 to 1912

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