6 Jun /14


Bonsai pine tree
George Meister (1653-1713) was a garden explorer who joined the Dutch East India Company as a soldier for a chance to investigate horticulture around the world and provided the West with what are thought to be the world’s first reports on Japanese “dwarf potted plants” in 1692. However, it was not for another 250 years that the Japanese term bonsai came into use in the West and could be understood without the need for an English translation. In 1950, Mr. Norio Kobayashi, editor of a long running magazine about bonsai, wrote the book, “Bonsai-Miniature Potted Trees” in an attempt to answer questions from Westerners who were becoming increasingly interested in Japanese cultural pursuits.

Bonsai – Word of the day – EVS Translations

The two Chinese characters 盆 (bon) and 栽 (sai) literally translate as “tray” (or some kind of shallow pot) and “planting”, which Kobayashi changes to “miniature potted trees” for his book. It is not a terribly exciting translation when one considers the discipline and skill that goes into creating this peculiar piece of art, so perhaps it is unsurprising that in the West we have continued to use the Japanese term bonsai which, while being both succinct and easy to pronounce, gives a greater sense of the exotic.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace is now home to one of the oldest known bonsai which dates back to the seventeenth century and is considered a national treasure. I wonder if Mr. Meister ever considered that the dwarf plants he discovered during his travels in Japan might one day become a national treasure sitting in the Japanese Emperor’s garden, here in 2014.

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