Japanese Bonsai Trees Defy Nature, Survive Nuclear Bombs

Earlier this week, some bonsai trees were stolen from their owner in New South Wales, Australia. You’d think that the theft of some plants would be pretty unremarkable (Not my ferns, take anything but my ferns!), but these bonsai were estimated to be worth between $5,000 and $8,000 dollars.

Several thousand dollars seems like kind of a sizable pricetag for what is essentially is just a bunch of trees, but bonsai are often so much more than that.

Even though the only exposure most people probably have to bonsai are boxed kits in gift stores, true bonsai isn’t that kitschy. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll see that bonsai have qualities that easily make them worth it.

Unnaturally Natural

What makes bonsai trees so unique is the level of care put into them Obviously, raising a bonsai tree is a lot of work, taking constant care to make sure that the soil, climate, etc. are all just right, all the while continuing to shape and prune the tree to look perfect.

Timothy Takemoto uses the word “surnatural” when talking about how the Japanese shape the plants. (Think of sur as in surreal). The Japanese, generally speaking, tend to prune and clip their plants in a way that makes it seem more “natural.” “More natural than nature” — talk about an oxymoron.

This is pretty different from the way a lot of western cultures tend to their plants. With western culture, you tend to think of shrubs trimmed to look like animals or other shapes that plants don’t generally grow into. As Takemoto says, “[Western culture] attempts to impose conceptions and regularity on nature, [Japanese culture] attempts to remove those aspects of nature that appear to be conceptual or regular.”

It’s not just the incredible amounts of care and precision that make bonsai so valuable. Some bonsai can grow to incredible ages too, often against all odds.

Survivors

You would think that such trees would be finicky, but it turns out that despite their miniature size, they can be quite hearty. One bonsai, declared a National Treasure of Japan, has been around for nearly 600 years, and has been in the care of shoguns and emperors. It’s mind-boggling to think about what kind of conversations it must have been privvy to.

There’s one bonsai that completely one-ups all others in terms of heartiness and longevity: the Yamaki pine. Named after the latest of one of its many caretakers, Masaru Yamaki, the Yamaki pine has seen its share of hardships.

Yamaki pine

Photo by dogtooth77

It’s been around since at least 1625. Before the world wars, before the car and bicycle, before the American Civil War or even the United States of America, there was the Yamaki pine.

Not only is it coming up on 400 years old, but the Yamaki pine has also survived one of the most devastating events in recorded history: a nuclear bomb. One August 6, 1945, the Yamaki pine was sitting about two miles away from ground zero but miraculously, it was shielded from the blast by a wall.

It seems incredible that, despite the intense radiation that obliterated the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the relatively small Yamaki pine has fared well in the 70 years since.

While the bonsai stolen in Australia probably aren’t nuclear bomb survivors that have lived hundreds of years, it’s still easy to see why they’re valued at thousands of dollars. Maybe in hundreds of years, when we’re all riding around in autonomous, Google flying cars, these minature trees will still be around.

  • DAVIDPD

    And to relate to yesterday’s article the art of gardening, is another Chinese tradition borrowed by the Japanese; Bonsai included. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_garden

  • http://www.facebook.com/AbigailCamarillo Cam Abi

    Nothing to finish off a great article like a reference of google flying cars. On another note I had no idea this stuff existed! Amazing!

  • ZXNova

    If it weren’t for certain factors, like diseases, bad soil, lack of water, etc, a tree could live indefinitely. So those bonsai trees should be able to live forever if they are constantly treated properly.

  • Nakiami

    Hmm.. Get a bonsai again and risk killing another one?

  • ジョサイア

    Its not going to be Google! There are going to be icars and isaucers. ;)

  • kelseyroo

    yeah. :) I think some other random innovative company will come up with a great idea for a flying car and then apple will steal it and proceed to sue the pants off competitors for imitating them.

  • DAVIDPD

    LOL! So true…sigh…

  • orangedude

    My thought as well! I haven’t ever tried a bonsai myself, but considering I’ve killed bamboo before, I don’t know that I’d have the heart to try one! That poor plant would have to be able to survive a nuclear bomb to survive me!!!

  • http://twitter.com/ayabuns Aya

    THE GERE.

  • Kronk

    Glad someone understands how that works!

  • ジョサイア

    Exactly, But then Google will find a way around it and make the saucer+ xD

  • R. Ali

    Bonsai trees are so beautiful.. if I were ‘made of money’ I’d definitely get one… or 3 ;)

  • DeTo-13

    il buy a google car, icars sound expensive

  • ジョサイア

    Yeah…I’ll just buy a tux-car(Linux) That way I’ll have more control…It will break down every so often though.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Thanks for the link! I love reading your blog, always very interesting :)

  • Timothy Takemoto

    (Just noticed this) Thank you Fugu Lord!

  • Deborah Rowland

    LOL!

  • Deborah Rowland

    LOL!So i hear!