By Angela Jones Tillman, Siler City, North Carolina


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(The Spirit & Philosophy of Bonsai)
An address by Saburo Kato of Japan

        All of you here with an interest in bonsai have been "chosen by bonsai." We are united in the brotherhood of bonsai. It's wonderful to gather together. In Japan bonsai has an ancient history borne of nature. Bonsai is enlightenment and brings peace. It is well known and appreciated. It's the duty of all of us that love bonsai to keep alive this "torch of peace."

        People who love bonsai appreciate the beauty of nature and plant trees in small containers. In doing so, they learn from nature and learn a philosophy of life. Even a person who doesn't understand bonsai can appreciate and be moved by its beauty. The power of bonsai is in its ability to portray the utmost beauty of nature. This is the goal for all who grow bonsai. There are three important things to consider.

        First, the roots.  When looking at an old tree, the roots form the foundation and gives strength. This is impressive and inspiring. Strong roots of large tree protect other smaller trees in a flood or a storm. These firmly rooted trees give us a feeling of stability and security. In the case of a bonsai, this should also be true.

        Second, the trunk and the way it's formed. In the case of a solitary tree, its especially important as to how the trunk emerges from the roots and the rising taper that it develops. After many years the aged characteristics and bark appear and you can sense the added character and personality of each tree.

        Third, the branches. These face the sky and are balanced and must have sunlight to flourish. Because branches and leaves are growing strongly, beautiful flowers can bloom. Even though growing vigorously and flowers are blooming, you must not be complacent and must be very diligent in the care of your plants. This care is important.

        Everyone here has gathered together from distant places. In each of your countries you have mountains, rivers, woods and forests. These are beautiful scenes to inspire you. Choose the most beautiful examples for your bonsai. Do not just copy anything. Rather, make your bonsai like the best parts of nature.

        To raise bonsai it is very important to learn the strong and weak points of each plant. Raising bonsai is like raising children. Be a teacher and a guide but with patience and loving care. Treat your plants as you do your family. I'm sure that each of you will also be able to create and grow beautiful bonsai.

        Bonsai is a living thing in the roots and even in the leaves. Every day that you are attending your bonsai, although the plant cannot speak to you, you'll sense that the plant is trying to tell you something. You'll one day know a plant is asking for water or fertilizer. When you come to that stage, you'll have developed a close bond. Bonsai responds to your love and becomes like honest friends with no human falsehood or betrayals.

        Bonsai are loyal if you water and fertilize regularly with loving care. Life is more meaningful when we attend these little plants. We learn the essence and dignity of life! Even the life of a bonsai is older than us. So bonsai must be passed on to the next generation to preserve the life in the tray. This is important.

        Bonsai is a god-given gift to man. This form of nature is closest to man and portrays the drama of life. Bonsai is nature without and end. So those who grow bonsai have a responsibility to be diligent and a duty to continue to carry on. In conclusion, I hope that the art of bonsai will never die and will keep the torch of peace burning throughout the world. I hope closer and deeper friendships will tie us together.


        The above essay was translated and edited from a presentation by Saburo Kato of Japan presented at the International Bonsai Congress at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii on July 6, 1980.  First published and copyrighted in 1983 by Fuku-Bonsai in the FUKU-BONSAI REVIEW; Fall 1983 issue.

          This portion of our bonsai unit was based on Saburo Kato of Japan.  After reviewing his " The Spirit and Philosophy of Bonsai" address,  we broke into small groups of four to five and began discussing how a plant can become a symbol of friendship and peace. Questions were tossed back and forth between members.

          "How do you feel about your bonsai representing those ideas?

          "Have any of your views changed concerning peace and international friendship as a result of this bonsai unit?"  

          After a few minutes, the group turned in a paragraph describing what they felt about the issues.  I was pleased to see that thought was given to the assignment and it was taken seriously.    Students did their part and next it was my turn.   I personally shared with the classes how it has broadened my horizons during this school year. With my first encounter via e-mail with David Fukumoto, I never imagined such a friend/partnership would result.

          However, over the past 9 months through various forms of correspondence, I've come to know David, learn about bonsai, Hawaiian and Japanese culture, and gained a new appreciation for how all of us in the world have connections of some kind . . . and therefore, need friendly and peaceful ties to sustain us. 

          Whenever I see a plant, now, my first thoughts are "Would this be a good Bonsai specimen?  Does it have an interesting form?  Will it be suitable for indoor or outdoor growing?    Will I be able to maintain it?"   Before  my connection to Fuku-Bonsai, I simply thought about the here and now.   "Will this plant look good in my kitchen?"   

          Bonsai has extremely strong ties to the concepts of friendship and peace.   This unit has changed my way of thinking.   I now look at my friendships with others in a new light. Bonsai, like friendships, need things.  It is not simply an issue of what can you do for me, but as two-way relationships.  The caretaker of the plant must nurture, care for, and encourage growth.

          Friendships are much the same.   Without care and interest from both parties, one and eventually both, will suffer.   For this realization, among numerous others, I thank David and the members of the Fuku-Bonsai team.  They have truly enriched not only my art education program, but my personal life.

Student essays:

By Jesse, Stephanie, Clare, Mathew & Jesse

        Bonsai represent peace and friendship because you have to take care of them and nurture the  like hyou do a friendship. Like friends, you have to encourage it and keep it bright insteady of dreary. You get a sense of calm and peace when you look at it. Your plant needs water and sun; and friendship needs these gifts too.

        A friendship needs pruning, just like a bonsai. Bad things and arguments need to be cut out, but good things can come from them!


By Tara, Jessica, Frank, Spencer and Micheal

        Friendships grow just like plants. You have to care for both to help them grow.  They only die when you put them to the side. If you ignored your friends they wouldn't be a big part of your life anymore. If you ignore plants they get unhealthy and die.  Plants and friendships bring up peoples' hopes. Friendships and plants are beautiful!

For more information, about the International Bonsai Movement,  go to:  The Spirit & Philosophy of Bonsai and Saburo Kato

         "Bonsai, Bridge to International Friendship and Peace" was the theme of the IBC 80 Hawaii and is similar to "World Peace Through Bonsai", the theme of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation whose website is at

Fuku-Bonsai Inc. & Angela Jones Tillman, 2002      All rights reserved

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