Aesthetics is a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty (definition from Google). Now, think of that old saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and then think how difficult creating a universally aesthetically pleasing tokonoma can be.

First of all, you have to remember the importance of the number three when trying to create balance and harmony. Two is acceptable, but three is the master. Secondly, the magic triangle is also important. You need to create height but also width in the display and preferably it needs to be asymmetric.

Each object must be on a stand or similar as it frowned upon to have objects sitting directly on the display surface. The height of the stand is then important in creating that overall look, as height and weight of the stand contribute or deflect from the overall image.

I found it fascinating to challenge my own views and then listen to others in the room saying why they liked or disliked something. Everyone views things so differently, but I did find myself being different to most, which was then even more confusing and challenging to my mind! But overall the meeting appeared to be a success, it promoted discussion, thought and encouraged us to think more broadly when creating our bonsai, as well as when it comes to displaying them.

In traditional terms, a tokonoma is actually a niche or alcove in a traditional Japanese house where objects such as bonsai, suiseki (viewing stones) or ikebana are displayed. These displays would change with the seasons and they can even be arranged with particular guests in mind. They would come and the host and guests would sit and admire the items in the display and socially drink tea together.

(This tokonoma concept might well be what encourages people to believe that bonsai are just ‘indoor trees’.  This is far from the case as they are kept out of doors and just brought into the tokonoma for display and hence why so many newcomers to growing bonsai have them die before long, which discourages them.)

dans-pineSo, what constitutes a tokonoma?  I had the great privilege of going to Japan a few years ago with other members of our society and were invited to visit bonsai masters who had set out tokonoma displays.  They had a scroll depicting a simple scene, a bonsai and an accent (companion plant) or suiseki. (viewing stone).  It is important when creating a true tokonoma to remember the relationship between the objects and what they symbolise. The most beautiful tokonoma will achieve that harmony and the onlooker will be at peace appreciating and be lost within that scene.

At our society venue we struggle to be able to create a true tokonoma because of the layout and furniture we can use.  However we set out our two items with bamboo rods separating the individual displays on tables and it gives members a chance to submit a tree and a complementary item of their choice.  Sometimes we vote on these and of course we discuss each in turn and that way members start to appreciate and get a feel for it. Because the only way many members are able to see the tokonoma arrangement is to go to a top quality show or subscribe to a good bonsai magazine, this is the best we can do to help the understanding of this very Japanese form of art.