page contents The Little Bonsai: The Art of Saikei 栽景 - Planted Landscape

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

The Art of Saikei 栽景 - Planted Landscape



Impressive chinese style saikei Bonsai with landscape


Saikei consists of two Japanese words, 'Sai' meaning a plant and 'Kei' meaning a view or a scene. Another way of describing this subject from a Chinese point of view is a Penjing Landscape, or rock, water, or land planting. And to confuse you even mere another name is Bonkei. Don’t get me to explain that one! Saikei is a descendant of the Japanese arts of bonsai, bonseki, and bonkei, and is related less directly to similar miniature-landscape arts like the Chinese penjing and the Vietnamese hòn non bộ.


It is the art of creating tray landscapes that combine miniature living trees with soil, rocks, water, and related vegetation (like ground cover) in a single tray or similar container. A saikei landscape will remind the viewer of a natural location through its overall topography, choice of ground materials, and the species used in its plantings.

Unlike bonsai this style gives you the opportunity to play with cuttings and seedlings. You can also use developed smaller bonsai. In addition to this you can also work with small stones and rocks. As this material is within everyone’s reach Saikei can be the perfect starting point for aspiring new enthusiasts. The art of Sakei became popular in the US around 1960 but it was already known since some early Chinese settlers came to america to build the railroad.




Saikei is planted up in a shallow tray. This is usually a rectangular or oval shape. You can also use very flat rocks. The best colour for the base is earth tones for a natural look.



Saikei is planted up in a shallow tray. This is usually a rectangular or oval shape. You can also use very flat rocks. The best colour for the base is earth tones for a natural look.

Your main objective in creating a Saikei (or any other name that you choose) is to imitate a landscape
Moss Spores used for Bonsai landscaping
in nature. For this of course one has to understand nature just like in bonsai. This time you have to observe the total scene in the environment, not just what the environment has done to the tree. It is a good idea to observe rocky scenes, mountain sides, and coastal scenery to get a feel for this style. Observe how the trees grow and the direction and shape of the rocks.

Creation of a Sake can be done with the same species of trees or a mixed variety. Make sure the leaves are small. Some can have berries or flowers. lf a variety of plant types are used make sure they are in harmony with each other, for example colour and texture, if you want your Sake to appear realistic. If you choose small young trees you will get the chance to explore shaping and arranging without the expense of large expensive trees.

Stones and rocks can be included. Make sure they have interesting shapes. Rough and jagged surfaces are better than smooth shiny ones. The stones must be all of a similar type and texture and be a variety of sizes. For example a stone with a white streak down the side of it can be used to create a waterfall or an arched rock could be a seaside cave- Fine gravel is also used for pathways and seaside scenes.

Grasses and mosses are also an important component. These are best being very small in leaf and fine in texture. Different types and colours of moss can be used to create texture.

Figurines of animals, bridges, people, boats and pavilions can also be added. These add interest and can personalise your Sake. It must be remembered though to keep these additions in proportion.

So if you want to create something truly memorable get together the following; flat rectangular or oval tray, or large flat rock. A selection of rocks and gravel. moss, grasses and last but not least a selection of small trees and have a go. Bring your creation to your next bonsai club meeting for discussion.




Saikei History

To better understand the art of saikei, we have to go back in it's history. The school of saikei was founded in Japan by Toshio Kawamoto after World War II. Kawamoto was born in 1917, the eldest child of the bonsai master Tokichi Kawamoto, and was trained in the art of bonsai. In 1960, following
his father's death, he ran the family bonsai nursery Meiju-En. He actively promoted the practice of saikei after this time, publishing two seminal books on saikei (Bonsai-Saikei and Saikei: Living Landscapes in Miniature) and participating in the creation of the Nippon Bonsai-Saikei Institute and the Nippon Saikei Association.

At the time Kawamoto began developing the rules and form of saikei, the practice of bonsai was at a critical low point in Japan. The labor-intensive cultivation of bonsai had been near impossible under wartime conditions. Many bonsai, in development or completed, had died in the nation's major collections, as well as in the gardens of individuals across the country. Post-war economic conditions made the purchase and cultivation of a real bonsai almost impossible for average Japanese households.

Kawamoto created a simple form of tree display providing many of the aesthetic and contemplative qualities of bonsai, while also supporting the cultivation of plant stock that could eventually be used as bonsai material. He based this art form mainly on the principles of group plantings from bonsai and rock displays from bonkei and bonseki. His original objective was to age and thicken up the trunks of young nursery stock. Saikei was a way for inexpensive plants and stones to be brought together in a pleasing arrangement, easily accessible to the average person. As a saikei specimen aged, it would produce candidate bonsai trees, which could be removed from the saikei for cultivation as bonsai.

As a relatively young art form, Japanese saikei does not have deep traditions of its own. But it is related to a number of older confined-landscape forms popular in Asia, including Japan's bonkei, the Chinese art of penjing, and the Vietnamese art of hòn non bộ. The term penjing applies both to individual trees growing in containers, similar to bonsai, and also to detailed miniature landscapes which include trees, other plants, rocks, soil, water, and miniature figurines of people, animals, and other items. Similarly, hòn non bộ emphasizes the creation of stylized miniature islands projecting from a body of water and carrying a burden of trees and other plants.

In post-war Japan, saikei was seen as an environmentally and economically responsible way to propagate trees for eventual use in bonsai. Even economically constrained individuals or families could enjoy many of the contemplative and aesthetic benefits of bonsai, without incurring the effort and the costs related to mature bonsai specimens. The same benefits accrue to saikei today.


The ancient art of Bonsai landscaping - book release 1974
The ancient art of Bonsai landscaping 1974


More Interesting Books on Bonsai can be found here:

The Complete Book of Bonsai --> I've been into bonsai for 25 years and this is the basic Bible for beginner and intermediate bonsai enthusiasts. It has an excellent section on techniques, including pruning, wiring and whatnot, and it has a large species-specific tree guide. If you're into bonsai and want only one book, this is it.

Indoor Bonsai The Great Selection --> Creating beautiful, healthy bonsai is a wonderful skill that anyone can learn, with a little time, patience, and this all-inclusive manual. With color photos and drawings to illustrate the points, it introduces all the cultivation techniques; offers expert advice on location, soil types, watering, and pest control; and provides intricate instruction on training the bonsai--including pruning, wiring and stretching it.

The Secret Techniques of Bonsai --> In The Secret Techniques of Bonsai, the author of the groundbreaking Bonsai With American Trees teams up with his son to offer not only the basics for creating perfect bonsai, but also secret techniques they’ve developed over years of careful work and observation.

Bonsai Survival Manual --> Problem solving when your Bonsai get sick. Expand your gardening repertoire as you create a captivating and exquisite miniature world. In this introductory guide, Colin Lewis covers everything you need to know to design, grow, and successfully maintain attractive bonsai.

Bonsai and the art of Penjing --> Bonsai & Penjing, Ambassadors of Beauty and Peace describes how Chinese penjing and North American bonsai were later added to the Museum, making its collection the most comprehensive in the world. Stories of individual trees and forest plantings are featured, as are the roles played by the skilled and talented creators of these living art forms people such as John Naka, Saburo Kato, Yuji Yoshimura, Harry Hirao, and Dr. Yee-Sun Wu.

Bonsai with Japanese Maples --> With their delicate foliage, seasonal color changes, and intricate pattern of branching, Japanese maples are among the most popular and suitable plants for bonsai design. In this long-awaited book, internationally renowned expert Peter Adams discusses both the specific horticultural needs of Japanese maples as bonsai subjects and illustrates proven techniques for creating and maintaining beautiful specimens.

The Modern Bonsai Practice --> The most current, useful information on growing Bonsai. Fresh, practical, definitive, comprehensive reference guide to the finest art of horticulture: growing miniature trees. Common sense bonsai answers separating myth from fact with depth and detail. Appropriate for both bonsai hobbyists and experienced practitioners.


More Bonsai articles can be found here:


Please click here for more information on --> Chinese Penjing Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> The Origins of Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> The Art of Saikei Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> Japanese Tanuki Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> How to Water a Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> Bonsai Healing Methods




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