Beginner-friendly mini bonsai offer comfort during difficult times

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kazuhiro Horibe holds a maple tree mini bonsai at the Tobu Department Store Ikebukuro in Toshima Ward, Tokyo. “All mini bonsai are authentic bonsai, even though they are small. When growing bonsai, you can feel the season,” he said.

Mini bonsai have been enjoying a revival among people attracted to the appeal of having green plants in their lives. They are smaller and easy to grow, and the colors of their leaves can reveal the passage of the seasons.

A large number of new devotees are taking comfort from caring for them during this time of refraining from going out due to the novel coronavirus crisis.

On the rooftop of the Tobu Department Store Ikebukuro in Toshima Ward, Tokyo, there is an area with rows of plants in palm-size pots. They are mini bonsai of small pine, maple and other varieties.

Kazuhiro Horibe, who is in charge of the part of the area representing the Seiko-en bonsai shop in Saitama, said: “They are so small and cute. Unlike large bonsai, they are easy to carry. Their prices are reasonable, too. They are suitable for beginners.”

Mini bonsai include flowering plants, such as cherry blossom trees; fruits and berries, such as apple trees; and even grasses, in addition to coniferous pine and oak trees that are commonly associated with bonsai, and miscellaneous deciduous trees that change their appearances with the seasons.

Tiny maple trees, for example, display green leaves in the summer and red leaves in the fall.

“As you are growing your small bonsai, I’m certain you will come to have affection for them,” Kaori Yamada, the fifth-generation operator of Seiko-en, said with a smile.

Yamada explained that many people place their mini bonsai on the balconies of their apartments to enjoy viewing them. She also said that many customers say things like, “I feel stressed from teleworking, but I can relax when watering my mini bonsai on the balcony.”

Yamada added: “In addition to the scientific aspect of growing plants, trimming bonsai is a form of arts and crafts. Of course, it is also a great way to experience Japanese culture. Mini bonsai are a way to learn all of these things easily and increase your knowledge.”

A pyracantha tree bearing berries
A pyracantha tree bearing berries

Instructional videos

Amid the renewed popularity of bonsai, efforts have been expanding to convey their appeal and give advice on how to grow them.

Ryuichi Kitadani of Kitadani Yoseien, a company that grows about 7,000 pine trees, posts videos on YouTube showing how to water and prune bonsai trees in an easy-to-understand manner. Kitadani’s company is in Takamatsu, which boasts the nation’s largest shipments of pine bonsai.

His YouTube channel, called Yondaime no Bonsai Karasanai Juku, which means “Fourth-generation owner teaches ways not to wither bonsai,” has attracted about 16,000 subscribers.

Kitadani also accepts applications to participate in bonsai workshops through Discover Sanuki, a website operated by the Takamatsu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“I hope you start with a small, easy-to-grow mini bonsai and gradually experience the great appeal of bonsai,” he said.

Selecting the right pot

Choosing pots for is an enjoyable part of the bonsai experience. It is important to choose a pot that not only matches the plant, but also has a color and shape that harmonizes with the interior design of wherever it will be placed.

Morisun Co. in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, known for manufacturing traditional Banko stoneware, operates a website for individual customers called Hatimania, which means “mania for pots.” The website sells about 1,000 kinds of pots.

Takayoshi Mori, the manager of the online store, said that pots in muted colors were favored in the past, as people thought they should highlight the plants. Recently, however, more customers are choosing pots in bright colors such as turquoise, white and light pink.

Five years ago, the company started offering bonsai-cultivation classes on a reservation basis. Photos of works by participants are posted on Instagram. Explanations are also provided about the types of pots used for the works.

“I’d be happy if you refer to the photos and explanations when choosing the colors and shapes of pots,” Mori said.