Banzai vs. Bonsai
Before you start yelling “bonsai” thinking it’s a battle cry when you’re hard charging the buffet line, let us clarify a couple of things:
- Bonsai are tiny little (3′ and under) potted trees.
- Banzai 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.
Just like tonkotsu/tonkatsu and even macarons/macaroons, 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 (bone-sigh), so be sure to upvote the latter one on YouTube.
[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.”
If anybody is familiar with bonsai in the U.S., it may be due to the movie Karate Kid. In 1984, the movie came out, and 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’s 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, 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
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 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:
- Formal upright or “chokkaan”.
- Informal upright or “moyogi”.
- Slant or “shakan”.
- Cascade or “kengai” (unfortunately I do not have shot of one).
- 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 (TokyoGoodIdea.com).
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.
- Bonsai Empire – Karate Kid This site is to bonsai as Mr. Skin is to nude scenes of actresses in movies. Not only do they list where bonsai can be seen in all the Karate Kids, but they also point out other movies too.
- Tofugu – Understanding Japan through the Karate Kid. An extremely good and fun read here. Not to mention this site has a lot of amazing content.
- National Bonsai and Penjing Museum – it took a while to even know where this place is located because I could only guestimate where the U.S. National Arboretum (“National”) is located. Upon digging, it is of course in our nations capitol, Washington D.C.
- The Way of the Maple – you can learn a thing or two about who Dennis Makishima is.
- Want to visit a Japanese garden – here’s a resource of Japanese gardens in the U.S.
- Takanori Aiba – this is a site with his portfolio of his creations.
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.