Tag Archives: Japanese art

Japanese poets in the garden

For centuries Japanese poets have been influenced by the beauty, magnitude and mysterious quality of gardens from their country. Their is an evocative yet subtle quality to Japanese gardens, that are usually depicted in an ideal landscape with a very stylized aesthetic and a precise perspective. Both in terms of the form and beauty, one can see the influence of these gardens on poets from Japan.

In general, nature has been a profound influence on Japanese poetry. Particularly, the rich and delicate landscape of Japan mixed with their ever changing climate. However, in a Japanese garden, nature is depicted in a highly stylized way without the intention of being artificial. On the contrary, a Japanese garden is supposed to appear real and an authentic landscape, as if it has grown there, organically on its own. The Zen monk, Kokan Shiren wrote about Japanese gardens. Most of Shiren’s writing depicted the connection and relationship man had with nature and the landscape. Further, Shiren was interested in how the garden could actually purify or cleanse the senses and soul of a man. So, in this sense, the effect the garden produced on this poet was of a spiritual quality which evokes a more imaginative and mysterious quality of influence.

One form of poetry that has been linked to the work of gardens is Haiku. Haiku’s specific structural form and precise historical context makes it an easy target for comparison with the Japanese garden. Many Japanese poets have used the influence of Japanese gardens within the realm of the poetic form of the Haiku. The 20th Century Japanese Haiku poet, Shuoshi Mizuhara was preoccupied with gardens and their effects to man. It is obvious how much Japanese gardens played a role in the poetical works of the past few centuries. Like sculpture or painting, Japanese gardens became a type of natural artwork that become an influential source of inspiration for many poets, architects, musicians, and teachers.

Japanese gardens not only influenced the poets of Japan but poets from other countries as well. The influence was international and widespread. It has also dominated in the works of architecture and other art forms both in Western and Asian cultures. Above all, Japanese garden making is a tradition built on centuries of knowledge and wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation, very much like Japanese poetry.



Selecting Appropriate Scrolls for Bonsai Display

A 表具師 Hyougushi is an artisan that works in paper, textiles, glue, and wood to create a variety of products. The two primary products made by a Hyougushi associated with bonsai display, are 掛け軸 kakejiku (hanging wall scrolls) and 屏風 byoubu (folding screens/partitions). The reader will be introduced to the methodology of judging scroll formality, how formality is related to different scroll designs, and some rules of thumb regarding the cloths and the pictures themselves.
The principles that the Hyougushi uses to design the frame for the scroll is entirely different from the principles used to display the scroll with a bonsai or viewing stone. When I first started working professionally as a Hyougushi, I understood little of the needs of the bonsai artist. It led me to learn new ideas, methodologies and ways of thinking to understand how to make scrolls more suited to the bonsaiist’s tastes.

The system of display that I have begun to study is called 雅道Gaddou or the “Way of Elegance/Refinement”. This display style focuses on the display of shohin bonsai and utilizes a very simple system of determining the formality of the display based upon every element. This article will only focus on the elements of the scroll in determining its use for a display. Additionally, the reader should realize that there are many more different types of scroll styles. Only the most basic elements of the scrolls will be presented to provide the bonsai artist with the ability to recognize the level of formality of the scroll. By recognizing these elements, decisions to select an appropriate scroll for a display may then be made with confidence.
The crux of understanding about the kakejiku is the ability to verify the level of formality of the scroll. Some basic attributes applied or omitted will resolve whether the kakejiku is ranked as 真Shin (formal), 行 Gyou (semi-formal) or 草 Sou (informal). This classification method also applies to the tree varieties, styling, pots, tables, slabs, calligraphy , accent pieces et.al.

The following are the most formal , Shin style scrolls. The most striking feature is the intermediate paper, called 台紙貼りDaishihari used as a buffer between the artwork and the cloths.


Figure 1; Photo provided courtesy of Al Keppler, and the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture


What type of scroll is pictured in Figure 1 to the left? This is the Shin no Shin style scroll, and is often reserved for Buddhism and religion related theme. Such religious themed works are not the most appropriate motifs to use for display.

In Figure 1 it is hard to see the picture, but it is quite clear that this is not religious themed artwork. This display was critiqued by my display Sensei and Figure 2 shows that the scroll being reduced in width would have produced a simplified display. In this case, the shin no shin is transformed into a shin no gyou scroll.




By removing the fuutai, the entire display becomes less busy and pushes the eye more to the bonsai. Additionally, by removing the 草者 kusamono there is no competition in the height between the tree and the accent. Replacing it with the 茅葺 Kayabuki, which is an old thatched roof Japanese house, correctly provides the depth (space) for this size of 地板 jiita used in the display. 

Figure 2; Photoshop version of Original Al Keppler photo courtesy of Kuzuhara Ikkou, Shihan Rank of Gadou Style of Display














[one_half]What is the scroll type in figure three to the right? The scroll is an excellent example of using good whitespace, and also has good color combinations of gold on light brown with khaki.Both of these points will be discussed in more detail below. One thing to consider when displaying this type of scroll is to properly straighten out the fuutai. In this case the fuutai are slightly bent and affect the display negatively.[/one_half] [one_half_last]

Figure 3; Photo Courtesy of Bob Hilvers, Bonsai Curator, Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture







The scroll to the right in Figure 6, is an example of a Gyou no Shin scroll. In this case the Fuutai are replaced with suji (the four vertical black lines running along the Ten or top of the scroll). Matching the season to the image on the scroll is very important. Appropriate images will not be discussed in this article, but the Magpie is often associated with a fall display. Based upon the information above though, this is too strong an image to be paired with a bonsai. It could become the focal point of the display rather than the bonsai.

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Figure 6; Photo Courtesy of Rich from Bonsainut Forum.



Calligraphy with Scrolls


When placing a scroll which utilizes calligraphy, it is recommended to hang one written in the 草書Sousho (Full Cursive) or かな Kana styles. If one looks closely, the character for 草 Sou is the same as that for the informal scroll style. The full cursive style is the most informal writing style, and is appropriate for display with a bonsai, because it is softer, less bold and does not compete for the viewer’s attention. The example in Figure 7 is a sample of Sousho writing and reads, 清風万里秋Seifuu Banri no Aki. This is a poem and means the Pure Wind is the Completion of Autumn.

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[one_half]jm-figure8[/one_half] [one_half_last]One additional note is that one character scrolls are discouraged to use with bonsai because they compete for the viewer’s attention, but often do work well with certain types of 水石 suiseki. The scroll labeled Figure 8 is actually not a character, but is an abstract painting of the Ru Yi (Chinese) or 如李Nyoi (Japanese) scepter. It was a scepter held by the Chinese Emperor and would grant a requestor their wish by using the scepter. Poems and Sutra’s like the one outlined in Figure 7 are better suited to display with a bonsai, particularly those that expound on nature or the seasons.[/one_half_last]


裂地Kireji (Cloth) Colors

[one_half]The correct term for the cloth mounted into a wall scroll is Kireji. This is the last point to consider when selecting a scroll for a display. The Gadou style of display encourages the use of very light earth tones for the cloth color. The justification of this is that these colors are soft, neutral and do not compete with the bonsai or main display piece. Khaki’s, tans, golds, grays, light greens, and light browns are the most desirable colors. The above Crow scroll in Figure 6 is a good example of using a light brown and tan. It can be further pointed out that colors can go with the seasons. The green with gold ivy arabesque with the khaki cloth in Figure 7 was designed specifically to represent fall colors that would likely be seen during the Autumn season. The last scroll in Figure 9, is a spring scroll written in Semi-cursive style and reads梨花一枝春 Rikka Isshi no Haru. This is a spring poem that states the blossoms on one branch of the Nashi (pear) tree signals spring. In this case, the scroll cloth colors of the light green with a moss design and a celadon/teal cloth were used to represent colors related to spring, especially young growth of the flower buds.

With these ideas in mind, it is hoped that the bonsai artist can be more confident to look for certain characteristics associated with scrolls that will enable them to select or design something that will complement their tree and add value to the entire display. If the reader has questions, please e-mail to [email protected]

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Selecting Appropriate Scrolls for Bonsai Display
By Jonathan Maples, 表具師Hyougushi of Custom Japanese Calligraphy

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From Bonsai: Writers comments and statements in their articles are the subjective opinions of the writer.


Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging

A Tokonoma is a time-honored architectural detail of many older Japanese homes. These alcoves occupy a corner in a room, and often hold a scroll, an ikebana flower arrangement or other artwork. More than a display area, a tokonoma is seen as a sacred space that is not to be invaded, and the seat closest to it is often reserved for the most honored guests.

Ikebana is an important part of such a display. First developed by Chinese monks in the 1500s, its principles were a closely guarded secret for many centuries. When the art arrived in Japan, this method of floral arranging was practiced only by Japanese royalty and samurai families. Much later, it became better known to more people, spreading eventually to the West.

The word itself means “the way of the flower.” Its purpose is to create a harmonious balance between flowers and the environment. Where Western flower arrangements are often a profusion of wide-open blossoms, ikebana’s art is based on the idea that less is more. Arrangements are spare, and emphasize the linear rather than the circular. An arrangement consists of three main parts, each with its own spiritual meaning. The center section is the tallest, and represents Heaven. The second section on one side represents Mankind, and the third section on the opposite side represents Earth.

Proportion is also very important. “Mankind” is designed to be three-quarters the height of Heaven, and “Earth” is meant to be three-quarters the size of Mankind. Thus, a beautiful proportion of descending height is created, bringing the spiritual into balance with the corporeal and human worlds. After the three main stems are established in their proper proportion and place, a few carefully selected, smaller stems may be added, but it is always a good idea to add as little as possible so as not to overwhelm the eye. Also of great importance is the choice of container as an added artistic element. Containers may be wide and shallow, such as the type used in bonsai arrangements. They may also be tall and slender. The base of the container should hold a heavy piece of metal with closely-set prongs called a kenzan, to hold the stems in place.Ikebana-Yoshiko_Nakamura

There are three main styles of ikebana: Rikka, which is upright and vertical, Nageire, which has a natural form that can be upright or cascading, and the lower Moribana, which means “piled flowers.”

Much like the art of bonsai, this type of floral arranging can take many enjoyable, meditative hours. The life of the arrangement can be extended by various methods such as charring the ends of stems, crushing them and adding salt, vinegar or even rubbing alcohol, however, it is best to research the best method for each particular type of flower before applying one of these methods.

To learn “the way of the flower,” begin simply. There is no limit to the type of arrangements that can be made if the basic philosophy of heaven, mankind and earth in proportion is observed.




  • Shiko Ikebana image with permission from Junko. Ikebana training school and shop.
  • Image on right side. Photo taken by Joe Mabel. Artwork created by Yoshiko Nakamura.
  • If you are interested in antique Ikebana pots see the Craig Coussins Tokonoma page.