Bonsai (literally, “tray plantings”), bonkei (tray landscapes), bontei (tray gardens), bonsan (tray mountains)... the common element in all of these traditional Japanese art forms is bon, which refers to a shallow tray or tray-like pot, which in these traditional art forms is used to create miniature representations of the natural world.
With the exception of bonsai, these three-dimensional depictions are composed of mostly non-living, dry materials such as rocks, pebbles, white sand and papier-mâché. They’re created in a similar manner to traditional dry landscape gardens, only within the much smaller confines of a tray.
Bonseki (“tray rocks”) uses small rocks and sand to create miniature landscapes on black lacquer trays. This traditional Japanese craft dates back to at least the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) of Japanese history, but you can still find woodblock prints that depict bonseki, like the one above painted by Yoshu Chikanobu in 1899.
Common bonseki scenes include mountains, seascapes and gardens, and unlike typical bonkei, the natural depictions created are usually meant to be viewed only temporarily. In the words of one modern bonseki school in Tokyo, “The importance of bonseki is the peaceful feeling and satisfaction you derive from creating a bonseki scene, not the result of the work.”
We’d have to agree that creating a bonseki scene would be an extremely relaxing way to spend an evening after a stressful day of work.
Feeling inspired and want to try creating your own bonseki, but aren't sure where to start? Check out Hosokawaryu Bonseki's Youtube channel where she explains step-by-step how to lay out the rocks and sprinkle the sand onto the black tray.
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