All the beauty of the great outdoors in one tiny tree. In Saitama Prefecture, bonsai trees are a part of the culture!
Bonsai trees aren’t just small plants, they’re carefully shaped creations meant to represent the world of natural beauty, and the Omiya Ward of Saitama is a hotspot for these natural works of art. The culture is particularly concentrated in the Omiya Bonsai Village, where people gather to create and compare bonsai trees, visit Bonsai Art Museums, and see bonsai trees that have been around for a whole millennium. If you’ve ever wondered how bonsai trees are made, or just wanted to see some of the most beautiful ones in Japan, this is the place to be.
Opened in March 2010, this art museum is the first in the world to focus exclusively on bonsai trees. Aside from over a hundred beautiful specimens of bonsai trees themselves, the museum collection also includes paintings, displays on history and technique, bonsai-related artifacts, and more.
Visitors are greeted with seasonal bonsai trees upon entering the museum, and the different rooms inside concentrate on all the information needed to enjoy bonsai trees to the fullest, like bonsai culture, tree species, and techniques. In a Japanese-style room with tatami mat floors, displays show real-life examples of the different trimming and shaping methods used on the trees: gyo-no-ma (行の間), so-no-ma (草の間), and shin-no-ma (真の間).
The outdoor garden always has at least 60 different bonsai trees on display at any time, including examples of bonsai that show off the changing of the seasons, and some particularly valuable specimens only found here.
Each tree has its own little plaque, and many of them carry names, a sure sign of a high-quality bonsai tree. The tree in the photo above is the largest one in the museum collection, named “Chiyo-no-matsu” (千代の松). Its large size makes this bonsai tree hard to move around, so the platform it sits on is regularly rotated, to ensure the whole tree gets plenty of sunlight.
Don’t miss a chance to climb up to the second-floor terrace for a look out at the bonsai garden from above! The benches are a perfect place to relax and take in the beauty of this unique art form.
Omiya Bonsai Art Museum (大宮盆栽美術館)
2-24-3 Torocho, Kita-ku, Saitama
Hours: 9:00 – 16:30 (~16:00 Nov to Feb) / closed Thursdays
Admission: General 300 yen / High School, University Students + Seniors 150 yen / Children 100 yen
Official Website (en)
Seikou-en has been a bonsai garden for over 150 years, established back in 1853, and not only do they maintain a garden, sell bonsai trees, and offer special bonsai care, but they also offer a bonsai tree class for beginners! They introduce bonsai amateurs to the art, and teach basic techniques for taking care of the little trees. When the Japankuru team visited, we learned about “saika bonsai” (彩花盆栽), a tradition where trees and other plants and grasses are planted together.
For our very first bonsai experience, we arranged moss and grasses around a tiny plum tree (the main attraction!), to create a vision of spring! We chose a flower pot, secured the tree in the pot with the important step of “nedome” (根止め), loosened the tree’s roots, and planted it in the new soil. Once the tree was set, we covered the dirt in moss for a perfect “saika”-style bonsai.
The most important step, though, is showering the bonsai tree with plenty of water, and letting it soak up lots of warm sunlight! Et voila, your new bonsai is ready.
Seikou-en Bonsai Nursery (清香園)
268 Bonsaicho, Kita Ward, Saitama
Hours: 9:00 – 18:00 / closed Thursdays
Bonsai Workshop Fee: teaching fee (1,080 yen) + cost of sapling/pot (3,240~ yen)
Official Website (jp)
These little trees may be hidden away in a little village within the big city of Saitama, but the natural beauty and centuries of history held within each bonsai tree make for a big impact! Don’t miss a chance to take a bonsai-tree-themed trip to Saitama, to see some of Japan’s most beautiful bonsai trees, and perhaps start growing one yourself!