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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