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Saitama and the Bonsai museum August 27, 2013

Posted by ayasawada in Japan, Travel.
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Omiya Bonsai Art Museum

Toro is a small town in Saitama prefecture, about 30 mins from Tokyo. It’s a peaceful little place: station, supermarket, 100 yen shop all within a few metres of each other and then just sprawls of houses. But in amongst this is a little gem: the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.


My friends tell me that years ago after the Second World War the bonsai craftsmen of Tokyo were forced out of the city centre, I think by a combination of rebuilding, expansion and rising property prices. They decamped to Omiya in Saitama (just up the road from Toro) and the area is famous for many stellar bonsai dealers. Hence the opening of a small but plush and very technologically furnished (in terms of touchscreens and the like).

I didn’t really know that much about bonsai, so I didn’t know what to expect when my friends suggested visiting. To the ignorant foreigner ‘bonsai’ just means those little dinky trees about the size of a bowl. But bonsai actually means miniaturising and taming any tree into a smaller vessel. Certain trees work better than others of course, but I was stunned at the variety of species, colours and patterns. Most were the size of my iMac, some even larger, but all showed tremendous craftsmanship through the use of gentle wiring, careful pruning, repotting and applying just the right amount of light and water (I learned all this from the display videos, though not much since everything – even the signage – was in Japanese).

The well-furbished interior showcases how bonsai has been used throughout the ages to bring nature into the Japanese home, and this is supplemented by an outdoor garden with further trees that are in preparation. You can’t take photos anywhere other than a small area of the garden, so I can’t show you much of the museum, but it’s definitely worth your time. The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum has a 300 yen entrance fee and a tearoom on the first floor with a great view of the garden for you to maintain that zen feeling at the end of your visit.

Thanks to my friends’ local knowledge, I also got to visit one of the local bonsai dealers, one of the few that would allow visitors to browse their collections without necessarily purchasing. Again there were some stunning specimens retailing for upwards of hundereds of thousands (probably millions) of yen.

Not many people head out to Saitama, but it’s a nice place. And if the hustle and bustle of tourist-trap Tokyo is getting you down, a trip to the bonsai museum in the perfect antidote.