If you’re familiar with bonsai (miniature trees), then you probably have come across “bonseki” which are miniature landscapes presented in a black tray. It is an ancient Japanese traditional form of art which uses small dry elements such as white sand, pebbles, rocks and other tiny decorative things. These elements are combined together similarly to what they appear in actual landscapes. Most of the time the designs are only temporary as you can keep on recreating your own landscape view on different moods or settings.
If you try tracing the origin of bonseki, most of the time you will come across a vague answer. Evidence proves that this art form dates back to the Kamakura Period where hanging pictures include images of bonseki. Another story claims that the first emperor who made use of the bonseki techniques in describing landscapes and natural objects was Emperor Tenmu, the 40th emperor of Japan. It is also believed to have played a significant role as a blueprint in most numbers of Kyoto’s beautiful gardens.
In the 1400’s, bonseki became a popular technique used by wealthy families in Japan. It was mainly used in garden architecture which most aristocrats took pride in. Over time, schools dedicated to mastering the technique were set up. It was particularly popular for women during the Edo Period who were seen to have a keen interest in the subject matter.
Different styles were incorporated as bonseki technique evolved to fit the modern times. However, with the coming of different influences from countries abroad (especially Western influence), the popularity of bonseki started dwindling, leaving only a few schools preserving the traditional culture.
Bonseki is quite charming to see with its many peaceful elements. The miniature landscapes are often depicted with rocks representing mountains, gardens, structures and so on. Sometimes they are used as shorelines. The white sands are used to represent waves (ripples) coming from the sea. Making these miniature landscapes can be a fun and rewarding past time as you get to see the results.
Why don’t you start making your own marvelous landscape design with bonseki? It’ll surely fill your day with creativity challenge!