COVID-19 has frozen travel plans and events of all kinds, but it’s also set fire to the online world―now, even traditional bonsai culture can be learned in an online classroom!
Bonsai, the art of shaping tiny saplings into miniature pieces of art that reflect the natural beauty of full-sized trees, is an important part of traditional Japanese culture. Appreciating the beauty of the natural world has long been a tradition in Japan, alongside China and Korea, and the art of landscaped gardens has flourished for millennia. As time moves forward and urban spaces expand, however, large gardens and even potted plants have become more and more removed from people’s everyday lives, and gardening has even taken on the stereotype of being a hobby for senior citizens.
But in Japan, there are still people working to promote the survival of this traditional art, and quite a few well-established bonsai shops have started to offer lessons for those interested in bonsai. Recently, the Japankuru team visited Seikou-en in Saitama Prefecture, a bonsai shop established towards the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). These days, Seikou-en is trying to share bonsai with people of all ages, in Japan and abroad, and as part of that mission they’ve even started offering classes in English―including lessons given online!
Seikou-en’s online English-language bonsai classes are taught by Mr. Ishihara, who has high-level certification from Japan’s English proficiency test, and has been studying and working with bonsai for more than ten years. He definitely knows how to talk about bonsai in English! Each month, Ishihara teaches students how to take care of a different kind of bonsai in English, and as the seasons change, so do the trees. In winter the classes might focus on pine trees or plum blossoms, while autumn means concentrating on bringing out the best red and yellow leaves. It’s an interesting window into the way Japanese culture is connected to the seasons.
Of course, these classes are hands-on! Each class costs 30,000 yen plus tax, and that includes the materials for your own bonsai. If you’re in Japan, you can come in person and attend a class at the main school in Saitama’s Bonsai-cho neighborhood, or their branch in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi, or you can pick up the things you need to later attend online. If you’re overseas and can’t have the materials shipped to you, you can still gather your own things and learn what to do in the online classes. (Check the English-language blog and ask Ishihara for prices minus material fees.) Apparently, they’ve already had students from the US and Malaysia join in over the internet!
If you want a little introduction to the world of bonsai before diving head-first into bonsai classes, check out the videos that Seikou-en has been posting on their YouTube channel. They show off Seikou-en Bonsai Nursery, the English classes, and a lot of beautiful bonsai!
Of course, when travel is someday a possibility again, we wholeheartedly recommend visiting Saitama’s whole bonsai neighborhood! Not only can you visit Seikou-en in person, but it’s a treasure trove of old bonsai shops, a museum of bonsai, and cafes where you can sit and admire the trees.