Baaannnzzzzaaaai vs. bonsai

Before you start yelling “bonsai” thinking it’s a battle cry when you’re hard charging the buffet line, let me clarify a couple of things between “banzai” and “bonsai”.

Just like tonkotsu (pork bone broth)/tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutler) and even macarons (meringue confection)/macaroons (like a macaron but contain flaked coconut), these two words are unfortunately overlooked as being the same. There’s even a YouTube video of it being incorrectly pronounced by Emma Saying (bon-zai). Here’s the correct pronunciation by Japanese English 101, so be sure to upvote the latter one on YouTube.

Feel free to call the founder (Mr. Dumas) of your company a “flounder,” but do not ever expect to be promoted unless it’s for ordering office supplies.

Photo Description: Japanese bonsai tree in a tiny planter.
Yup, that is a bonsai tree and has nothing to do with banzai.

Bonsai ( bone-sigh) are tiny little (3′ and under) potted trees. Whereas banzai (bon-zai) is a Japanese exclamation meaning “ten thousand years” (of long life) which was used as a cheer of enthusiasm or of victory such as in sports.

Photo Description: a Japanese soldier seen standing with a grenade in his hand about to throw it with soldier hunkered down in the foreground.

Merriam Webster defines “banzai” as a Japanese cheer or war cry

If you have a keen eye, one is a tree, the other is a battle cry used in battle.

Photo Description: Mr. Miyagi with chopsticks trying to catch a fly with Daniel's in the background entering the room.
Mr. Miyagi is from Okinawa which is an island 400 miles South of Japan which would be like the Florida Keys or Hawaii in comparison to the mainland.


[Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel about trimming a Bonsai tree, telling him to picture the tree in his mind]
Mr. Miyagi: “Trust the picture.”
Daniel: “How do I know if my picture is the right one?”
Mr. Miyagi: “If it comes from inside you, always right one.”

Yes, I know, you are here because you are watching Cobra Kai on Netflix, and if you are old school, you know Jaden Smith is not the real Karate Kid. Also when I say “bonsai,” think only tree.

If anybody is familiar with bonsai in the U.S., it may be due to the movie Karate Kid. In 1984 because when the movie came out, it was a big hit.

It cost the studio only 8 million at the time to make, but it grossed roughly 90 million. Keep in mind that’s back in the 80’s, and if you were to take inflation into consideration, that’s appoximately 208 million dollars or roughly what Star Trek Beyond recently pulled in at the box office.

That is enough money that the studio also decided to spawn two more sequels throughout the 80’s, so maybe the notoriety of bonsai, catching flies with ohashi (chopsticks), and karate in the U.S. can be partially be attributed to this movie franchise. If it didn’t, it did at least give some the mantra of “wax on, wax off” when putting on that second coat of wax on their car.

The Origins of Bonsai (the Tree)

Hint: it has nothing to do with Lilliputians.

An example of Penjing. Image from Wikipedia.

Like so many things Japanese, many of the origins or influences are rooted in China (pun intended). The list of things is too long to list, but ramen (lamian), the kimono, and bonsai are several of them. In fact, “bonsai” is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word for penzai (aka penjing).

The 5 Styles of Bonsai

I can thank sensei Makishima for dropping some knowledge on me, so now I know that there are five basic styles that will help you visually classify what you’re looking at:

  1. Formal upright or “chokkaan”.
  2. Informal upright or “moyogi”.
  3. Slant or “shakan”.
  4. Cascade or “kengai” (unfortunately I do not have shot of one).
  5. Half or semi-cascade or “han kengai”.

Bonsai-B (for “beyond”?)

Early on, Takanori Aiba was a maze illustrator and an architect. In 2003 he merged those two fields together to turn to creating these miniature worlds around bonsai. All of these tiny dwellings look like something out of the game Final Fantasy VII. A role playing game that I had spent hundreds of hours playing (maybe I shouldn’t be admitting that) because of the labyrinths and mazes of spiraling cities and communities in the game. It’s the same way with his work because I could do some serious day dreaming with these miniatures.

Pictured below: “Hawaiian Pineapple Resort” this piece is made up of steel, resin clay, plaster, plastic, balsa veneer sheet, epoxy putty, FRP, styrene foam, and LED lighting. By Takanori Aiba (

This is where I would want to live.

If you are looking for a good read, go here

I can’t write, so I aggregate content.

Here are some of the resources I came across that turned out be quite useful or a good read regarding all things bonsai.

Nisei Week Bonsai Exhibition

Every year the bonsai exhibit is at Nisei week, so if you’re in the Los Angeles area, swing on by and say hi to Dennis Makishima.

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