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Displaying Bonsai Indoors

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Text and photos by Morten Albek (C)

Morten's personal web site at Shohin-europe.com is one of the most referenced siites on the web.

Bonsai can easily be brought inside the house for showing. It is a good way to welcome guests, or simply to enjoy a bonsai yourself. It is a Japanese (owners of bonsai) custom to set up a fine bonsai on display in order to welcome and show respect for the guest.

As I visited Mr. Tomio Yamada, the owner of the Bonsai garden Seikou-en in Omiya, Japan, some years ago, I was welcomed by a stunning Juniper communis.

It was placed in the Tokonoma that was in the main building of the garden.

I have to admit, that it was quite difficult to maintain contact, and be focused on the conversation through the interpreter, while this magnificent bonsai was in my view.

It was truly a fantastic tree, and I felt very honored and humble being brought together with this great tree and Mr. Tomio Yamada, whom I admire very much for his work with bonsai.

Displaying Bonsai Indoors


A Tokonoma is a kind of niche built into a room, often a central place, where objects are displayed. A Tokonoma is a very Japanese thing, but keen bonsai enthusiasts may like to add this Japanese tradition to their house. I myself had a vision of building a Tokonoma in my living room, to display bonsai when guests visited the house.

The problem I faced was though, that I am living in a western styled house, not a Japanese. I am not trying to build in a lot of Japanese culture or objects, although I certainly like some of the aesthetic values that Japanese art and culture are expressing. I use the elements I like, and try to adapt them into the surroundings, and hopefully in an aesthetic and harmonic manner I can blend the fascination, and aesthetics' from the Japanese world with the traditional Western and Nordic style that is closer to my life.

So I will describe here some solutions to displaying bonsai in your house. Whatever solution you might choose, please do it so it will be in your taste.

Bringing A Bonsai Into The house

Remember that bonsai brought into display in the house, should only be there for a few hours. Bonsai have to be set back outside after a short period, especially in wintertime, in order not to be damaged by the dry air and hot temperatures inside a house. Also in the summertime it is advisable to put the tree back on the stand or bench when not needed indoors anymore. Don't let the tree stay indoors for more than a couple of days during summer.

Be sure to spray the leaves or needles with water every day, and keep the soil and roots from drying out. The trees will need some amount of water because transpiration trough their leaves is continuously going on while inside the house. This is in order to cool down leaves, and keeping the cells filled with water in the dryer environment.

The Tokonoma

The traditional Japanese Tokonoma has a measure for the floor that is described as one tatami. Tatami is the kind of mats used for covering the bottom of a Tokonoma and for other purposes. The tatami is also a standardized Japanese measure used for many other purposes, and the exact measure is 90x180 cm / 35,5x80 inches.

The height from the ground to the plate where the bonsai is to be placed, can vary from 10 cm / 4 inches up to 70cm / 27.5 inches.

These measures can vary according to the regions in Japan.

The Tokonoma can be a closed or open construction.

There are no rules for the exact placement of the Tokonoma. But it has to be placed where it is easily watched, and has a natural appearance together with the rest of the room.

Often the Tokonoma has a window in one side. Light is placed in the top, in order to give a soft but clear light so the objects in the Tokonoma are well seen.

The materials used are wood, and the background is mostly painted in a light colour, on which the Bonsai, Suiseki, or any other elements are best viewed.

Yoma-Kazari - The Western Style

In my case, the Tokonoma was not suitable as a part of my living room. It would simply stand up against the Nordic way of indoor decoration.

So a Yoma-Kazari was chosen as the perfect way of displaying objects, like bonsai, in the house. A Yoma-Kazari can be a kind of table or shelf placed up against a wall, and has a more western look. As in the case of the Tokonoma, it is essential to have a light background colour in order to display the items properly.

The table chosen can be a variety of styles, but of course a bit oriental tough can add the right feeling for those who search for this.

Remember that the display can show many kinds of subjects (objects), not only bonsai. So when a bonsai is not taken in for a few hours, replace it with something else, in order to keep it from just being an empty space.

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