Is bonsai an old person’s hobby? Sometimes it seems so– and it certainly can be portrayed as such in Japan.
John and I read a novel by one of our favorite Japanese writers, Natsuo Kirino- entitled Grotesque. In the book an old man pursues his bonsai habit and the picture is not exactly pretty (he ends up selling trees from his prized collection to fund a new romance!) So, yes the stereotype exists and usually stereotypes exist for a reason. In Japan many of the premier growers are run by a man and his wife- often in their seventies or eighties, These people are bonsai heroes- they do the growing, training and cultivating for the better know artists to buy and ‘style’ as their own.
It’s important to remember that bonsai is a process that takes time and dedication. There are a few younger Japanese people stepping into this arena- friends like Hiromi Tsukada, Jun Imabayashi and Mitsuo Matsuda. But the life of a professional bonsai grower is tough- as Mitsuo says- ‘I celebrate a holiday when the trees have a holiday, like when they are dormant’. No wonder young people are not taking over their family bonsai businesses.
There are many shining star stylists and artists coming out of Europe these days. We are very happy about this, since it underscores the ART of bonsai and inspires people to approach bonsai as an art form not just a horticultural pursuit. These people still need to get their excellent material from somewhere besides Yamadori (collected) trees– all eyes still look to Japan for the best bonsai.
The mean age for Japanese hobbyists is still over 50, so like it or not, for now, at least bonsai is still considered an old folks hobby, but I have noticed something over the recent months– teenage boys and girls with a bonsai habit. Some as young as 12 and younger. They come with their Mom or Dad or someone else who is enabling them in their rather unusual quest. These are bright, curious kids who somehow got hooked on the idea of bonsai and despite their peers’ penchants for computer and video games they have made it as far as our nursery.
Maybe something is changing and there is a slight shift. Maybe people are teaching their children to respect nature and to love plants. To take the time to grow a garden or have a bonsai- to care for and to nurture something.
In light of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with tragic losses and damages to wildlife and sea plants, let’s hope the lesson learned is: take care, appreciate life. Let’s hope that younger people start to get that message. Once we age and experience loss and truly see and feel the fleeting nature of life, then we cherish life more fully. If bonsai helps bring this message to young people, it might make society more enlightened.
Now there’s an excellent reason to nurture the bonsai artist in us all.