JAPAN -- Up to the TOKUGAWA Period
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.
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.
The Author: Attributed to Fujiwara Tsunetaka (active late 12th to early 13th cent.). 1
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.
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
From 1309, comes a twenty-scroll
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
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?
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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;
Mirror For the Moon
(New York: New Directions Books; 1978, 1977. Translated with
an introduction by William R. LaFleur) pp. xix-xxv;
Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan
(Toyko: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc.; 1972. Reprinting of original
1910 work. Seventh printing, 1982), pp. 526-527;
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
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
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
2. Nippon Bonsai Association
Classic, pg. 143;
Papinot, pp. 208-209, 590;
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
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.
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.
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
(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;
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
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
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.
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;
Koreshoff, pg. 7;
The Complete Book of Bonsai: Principles and Practice
(New York: Marboro Books Corp.; 1989), pg. 10;
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;
"Nara: Kasuga-taisha Grand Shrine,"
"Ame No Koyane,"
Tyler, Royall "Buddhism in Noh,"
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;
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,
Bonsai – Miniature Trees, Their Selection, Culture, and Care
(New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.; 1955), pg. 4;
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
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
scroll showing his collection.";
5. Nippon Bonsai
Classic, pg. 143, with two b&w sections on pg.
; Hirota, pg.
has a b&w line drawing of the table area. Attribution per
"One Hundred Masterpieces of Japanese Pictorial Art Published by Shimbi
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.
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;
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;
Bonsai For the Home and Garden
(North Ryde, NSW, Australia: Angus & Robertson Publishers; 1985), pg.
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 (
), 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;
No. 26, pg.
56, no other identification of the painting is given. Image scan by Max Miller;
8. Yanagisawa, pg.
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-
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 (
) and locations of their copies can be found