Bonsai History

The word “Bon-sai” (often misspelled as bonzai or banzai) is a Japanese term which, literally translated, means “planted in a container.” This art form is derived from an ancient Chinese horticultural practice

Bonsai is actually considered a form of art and not a specific type of tree. The practice stems from the Chinese art of Penjing, creating miniaturized versions of landscapes using rocks, sand and potted plants.

The ultimate goal of growing a Bonsai is to create a miniaturized but realistic representation of nature in the form of a tree. Bonsai are not genetically dwarfed plants, in fact, any tree species can be used to grow one.

Starting in the 6th century, Japanese Zen Buddhist students and diplomats from the Yamato court began visiting and returning with gifts including artistic potted plants from the Teng empire in China.

Sometime in the 14th Century noted priest and poet Koken Shiren wrote his essay “Bonseki no Fu” that would lay down the aesthetic principles of Bonsai that would be followed to this day.

The practice eventually became so widespread that trained bonsai from the 17th century still exist today, most notably Sandai-Shogun-No Matsu, a five needle pine tree that resides at the imperial palace in Tokyo and is believed to have been planted no later than 1610.

By the 19th century bonsai had become integrated into the Japanese culture, when the Meiji Emperor moved his capital to Tokyo the palace was adorned with some of the finest trained bonsai. Anyone in the government who didn’t love bonsai as much as the emperor soon fell out of favor.

While many immigrants brought their pots and trees and skills with them, the art of bonsai did not catch on with westerners until after World War II when national resentments had died down and embracing Asian cultures became more acceptable.

Miniture Cultivated Bonsai Trees
Prince Zhang Huai tomb mural (AD 706),
with miniature trees.
Source: Ritsumeikan University
Bonsai Tree
Bonsai Tree
Bonsai Tree


Bay Area Bonsai Society
Coos Bay/North Bend
(and surrounding area), Oregon
P: ‪(541) 991-8698‬

To email us, please use our contact form.

Become a BABS Member!


Bay Area Bonsai Society was founded in 1978. We are a group of bonsai tree enthusiasts. We have several events throughout the year, and we meet the third Thursday of each month except July, August and December. Generally our meetings are held at the Pony Village Mall.

We welcome new members and encourage you to contact us.

Bonsai Tree Graphic.