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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 37

Object Matters

A potted history of the bonsai tree. Words by Katie Calautti. Photograph by Gustav Almestål. Styling by Andreas Frienholt.

The impulse to bring the outside in is centuries old, a fact that bonsai trees are testament to. Beginning in the first century A.D., the Chinese practice of penjing, “pot scenery,” replicated the natural world in realistic miniature. Enthusiasts believed that scaling down landscapes gave them access to nature’s powers, which they felt became more potent in the process.

The horticultural technique of raising trees in small landscapes was first only indulged in by the elite using natively collected specimens. Ancient images from around 700 A.D. show the tiny universes being given as gifts. According to artistic depictions, the practice was adopted by the Japanese around the beginning of the 14th century. But the Japanese style focused only on trees instead of on full landscapes. In fact, “bonsai, ” the Japanese word for the craft, means “a tree

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Thirty-Seven

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