Thousand of years ago, bonsai was only available in a very small quantity called pun sai, a tradition of planting one variety of trees in pots in order to make the miniature trees resemble birds, animals, and dragons.
Bonsai was introduced in Japan during the reign of Kamakura through Zen Buddhism but it is believed to have become more widespread in the year 1195. It was refined as a Japanese art and was limited to the Buddhist monks and monasteries, but eventually, these trees were brought into homes and gardens of the upper classes. The Japanese believed that bonsai is the union of strong early beliefs and the Eastern philosophies of the harmony between man, nature, and soul.
Bonsai became part of the Japanese elite’s way of life, and the plants served as a display inside their homes during special occasions. Bonsais continue to evolve as a highly refined art form. Reduction of everything extra and leaving only what are vital elements are very symbolic in ancient Japanese philosophy and are manifested in the very simple Japanese gardens, like the Roan-ji.
Artists began to add different styles to bonsai, including the use of elements such as rocks, small buildings and people, and additional plants, which is known as the bon kei art. After 230 years of isolation, Japan became open to the world. The small twisted trees spread through word of mouth from those who visited Japan.
Because of the high demand for bonsai, it resulted in the commercial production of these miniature trees through breeding by artists. Today, bonsai symbolises the culture and ideals of Japan.