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The beautiful, brutal world of bonsai

This is such an interesting article about bonsai in the New Yorker filled with so many interesting details, and ultimately a pretty brutal ending. It follows Ryan Neil on his quest to learn from a master bonsai artist in Japan.

On the intensity of the pursuit of bonsai expertise:

An essential peculiarity of bonsai is that, though many hobbyists take it up for its serene and meditative qualities, being a bonsai professional—caring for hundreds or thousands of trees at a time, teaching classes, training apprentices, managing a business—involves never-ending stress. Nearly all bonsai professionals work seven days a week; one day of vacation could result in a garden full of dead trees. Urushibata, the former Kimura apprentice, once told me, “My dream is to just lie down on the grass.”

And on the cruelty of the apprentice program:

He was often criticized for mistakes that he hadn’t actually made, and he was never complimented on his achievements. He learned that the only way to survive was to switch off his emotions, store away his ego, and give himself over to predicting and fulfilling Kimura’s needs. Neil’s parents, who saw him only three times during the apprenticeship, began to notice that his personality was changing in alarming ways. “He got very hard,” his father recalls.

Read the article here:

The beautiful, brutal world of bonsai


December 3, 2022


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