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Chiako Yamamoto and the ancient art of Bonsai

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Bonsai is the ancient Japanese art of shaping trees into potted miniature marvels that represent majestic full-size trees on a landscape. It takes painstaking attention and artful pruning over many years to create the effect. “Shaping nature in this way demands everlasting devotion without the prospect of completion.”

Chiako Yamamoto is reportedly the only female bonsai sensei or master in Japan. In this BBC Earth Unplugged video, a clip from the show Extraordinary Rituals, we see how she has meticulously worked to curve branches, cultivate leaves, and care for the roots of these small trees over decades, transforming them into larger-than-life representations of nature.

chiako yamamoto
“Chiako tends her tiny trees because they connect her to something deeper: The past.” One of the trees in her care was planted by her grandfather in the late 1800s, outliving three of Japan’s emperors. Many highly-cared for bonsai live for hundreds of years. She explains, via English translation:

“So when you die, your bonsai will survive. Thinking about that is overwhelming, but bonsai is always beside you, and it accumulates time filled with memories. I think that’s amazing.”

chiako yamamoto
Read more about the basics of bonsai at

Watch more tree videos, more made in Japan videos, and more videos about miniature worlds on TKSST next:
• The art of Japanese marquetry
• The art of suminagashi or Japanese paper marbling
• How tall can a tree grow?
• The Loneliest Tree in the World
• Kintsugi & kintsukuroi – The art of pottery mending with gold
• The biggest model railroad in the Northwest

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