Have you heard of the term “bonsai (盆栽)?” If you have and think of those little trees that you see in a friend’s house or in gardens, you are partly right. But more than just the plant themselves, did you know that bonsai is actually a form of Japanese art? As a matter of fact, a Japanese man, Masashi Hirao (平尾成志), who is dubbed as a “bonsai master” takes the art of bonsai making to another level by using new techniques. Who is this bonsai master and how does he make bonsai feel new, modern, and innovative? Let’s find out!
Before anything else, what is bonsai and how did it become what it is today?
Bonsai is a Japanese art form that uses trees grown in containers and its name literally means “tray planting” or “planted in a container.” Originating from the Chinese tradition of cultivating miniature landscapes that dates back over a thousand years, the Japanese adopted and made it their own by growing miniature individual trees instead. It is said that the original purpose of bonsai making was for contemplation and to enhance patience and creativity. Essentially, bonsai making is a combination of horticultural techniques and Japanese aesthetics.
Now that you know the basics of bonsai and its art form, it’s finally time to get to know the Japanese man behind the title, “Bonsai Master.”
Masashi Hirao, born on February 15, 1981, was studying in Kyoto Sangyo University (京都産業大学) when he visited Tofukuji Temple’s Hojo Garden (東福寺方丈庭園). He witnessed how beautiful the place was and got inspired to carry on the Japanese culture of bonsai cultivation.
Determined to pursue his passion, Masashi apprenticed at the bonsai garden, Kato Manseien (加藤蔓青園), in Bonsai Cho, Saitama (さいたま市盆栽町) and studied the art of bonsai making under Mr. Saburo Kato (加藤三郎)’s supervision. After gaining enough knowledge and experience, he started doing bonsai performances and demonstrations both inside and outside Japan.
One of Masashi’s recent bonsai performances overseas was held in Malaysia last 2016. Let’s take a look at this video of the event from his YouTube channel!
As Masashi arrives in his destination, he mentions that he does not know how bonsai spread in Malaysia since it is his first time. He also mentions that if he gets to know the local culture, it could help him bring his performance to the next level.
So before anything else, Masashi explores the streets of Penang to familiarize himself with the local culture.
After arriving at the venue and in preparation for his performance, he stares at the huge piece of rock. How will this rough rock be transformed to an artwork?
Finally, Masashi gets started with his performance!
Look at him working on his bonsai creation so intently!
And voilà, Masashi’s artwork is completed! He has transformed the lifeless rock into a masterpiece and made it look as if it has its own life. It is said that he is the only one able to make this kind of phenomenal change happen.
At the end of his performance and the video, Masashi got the chance to mingle with his audience and have a cultural exchange through the art of bonsai, which is one of his main goals.
You can watch the full video of Masashi’s bonsai performance here:
Aside from performing various bonsai demonstrations, Masashi also holds workshops and performs in bars, clubs, and even on streets to further spread bonsai awareness among people not familiar with it.
To see more of Masashi’s innovative bonsai performances, check out his YouTube channel here! Go watch his other performances in different places in Japan and be amazed at how he presents the art of bonsai making in front of an audience.
With his talent, commitment, and contribution to keeping the tradition of bonsai making alive, the Agency of Cultural Affairs appointed Masashi as a Japan Cultural Envoy in 2013. Having been named as such, he now aims to become the person who spreads the great art of Japanese bonsai not only in Japan but also all over the world, just as his bonsai teacher, Mr. Saburo Kato, once told him to.
So if you are interested to know more about the Japanese art of bonsai and Bonsai Master Masashi Hirao, go ahead and explore their world through Masashi’s YouTube channel. And more importantly, carry on his goal to spread bonsai awareness and appreciation to as much people as possible.
FYR, a TV program featuring Masashi Hirao will air in Malaysia. The details are as follows:
Episode 1 / Sat, February 11th, from 14:00
Episode 2 / Sat, February 18th, from 14:00
Episode 3 / Fri, February 24th [broadcasting time to be decided]
Episode 4 / Sat, February 25th, from 14:00