'The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscapes'
by Yuji Yoshimura and Giovanna M Halford
Charles E Tuttle Inc. (USA): 220pp., USD$??? **
First published 1957
Reviewed by Hector Johnson*
If bonsai was a religion then this would likely be its bible. Renowned as the first serious English language publication on the subject of bonsai, this book is so much a part of the art and cultivation of bonsai in the West that it has been somewhat to the detriment of Western understanding of bonsai. Simply, the slavish obeisance and application of the principles portrayed in these pages has been responsible for many bonsai being styled far more rigidly, in compliance with "the rules" Yoshimura describes, than would be the case if there had been other information available in the 1960s and 1970s.
25 colour plates and 245 halftone plates and 42 diagrams are used to convey a comprehensive look at traditional Japanese trees and styles. In addition, there are more than 340 plant descriptions, to lend guidance to anyone interested in bonsai. I find it hard to imagine anyone who reads English, and purports to be serious about bonsai, not having a copy of this indispensable book in their library.
Some of the information is now starting to look a little dated, as technological changes in the 50 years since it was written has seen the advent of plastic pot mesh and anodised aluminium wire. Our understanding of suitable soil mixes for bonsai has moved on a little since then, too. Nonetheless, the bulk of this book is as relevant today as when it was first written.
Yuji Yoshimura passed away in 1997, after a lifetime devoted to the enhancement and furtherance of the art of bonsai, all over the world. He is probably responsible for a greater proportion of the interest in bonsai in the US than any other person, living or dead.
Giovanna Halford was an English military officer's wife, stationed in Japan, and studied at the Kofu-en, during the Allied occupation of that country. She studied bonsai for two years in Japan and became one of Mr Yoshimura's most skilled students. Her other works on Japanese art and culture range from Kabuki
theatre to Suiseki
The only criticism one might raise in respect of this book is that modern publications are more likely to show a greater range of colour plates, though it should be borne in mind that this book was first published 50 years ago.
This book was, and remains, the gold standard of English language works on bonsai, to this day. It is not always easy to find, so one should take your opportunity to obtain a copy when and where you find it.
**Prices may vary somewhat, with offerings from online booksellers such as http://www.amazon.com being substantially cheaper than the RRP. It may be difficult to find a new copy of this book, but there are many available on the secondhand market.
*About Hector Johnson
Hector Johnson is an amateur bonsai enthusiast from Brisbane, Australia. In 16 years of involvement in the art of bonsai he has managed to amass a modest collection of trees of reasonable quality. His recent involvement with the Art of Bonsai project, as editor of print articles, is a rewarding and welcome activity, allowing him to contribute to the development of bonsai on the worldwide scene.