Like bonsai itself, bonsai pottery is filled with classical designs and traditional motifs. Visual motifs like paintings and carvings on bonsai containers often come from famous paintings, poems, and prints. Stylistic motifs like shapes and details(say of the feet, or rim) can come from individual artists and be named after them or from specific eras. In this series of articles, we’ll look at the origins of often seen classical and traditional motifs and styles as well a variety of examples. I’ll keep the critique on the pots to a minimum on this one as it’s already run a bit long!
A Little History: The Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, commonly called the Chojugiga, is an ancient Japanese cultural property and National Treasure owned by the Kozan-Ji temple and dates from the 12th to possibly 13th centuries. It is a series of painted hand scrolls featuring anthropomorphic, frolicking animals, magical humans, and samurai. Thieving monkeys, bathing rabbits, and wrestling frogs appear throughout, and these are the elements of the scrolls that find their way onto bonsai pottery often enough to be called traditional motifs. Originally the animal elements of the scrolls were whimsical and satirical representations of the priests of the time. The scrolls have been highly influential in Japanese art and culture, and are often credited as being the first manga. Some of the stylistic painting effects such as movement lines used by the artist are still in use in Manga in Japan today.
Raijin and Fujin
A Little History: Raijin and Fujin are Japanese weather deities(Kami). Raijin is the god of thunder, storms, and lightning. Fujin is the god of the wind. Thought of as both protectors and destroyers, like many Japanese deities Raijin and Fujin are neither good nor bad. In a nation like Japan where natural disasters related to the weather are more commonplace than other societies with extensive mythologies, it’s difficult to see how two weather deities are thought of as protectors. Raijin’s positive aspects come from agriculture, as the bringer of storms and rain. Fujin’s good side is historically rooted in winds that twice decimated Mongol naval invasions in the 13th century.
The Fox’s Wedding
A Little History: “On a day when the sun shines bright and the rain falls, wise parents advise their children to play indoors. It isn’t that they are worried about them catching a cold. No, it is something more mysterious. For on such days the kitsune, the magical foxes of Japan, hold their wedding processions.”-From the Hyakumongatori website. The “kitsune no yomeiri”, or “Fox’s Wedding” in Japanese folklore is an explanation for unexplained forest lights or a ‘sunshower’(where it is raining but the sky is clear and the sun shining). Folklore surrounding the sunshower is fascinating reading. I’ve long been enamored of stories in folklore and fiction involving trickster gods and spirits, and they always seem to be associated with fairy lights and sunshowers. For further reading on the Fox’s Wedding, I highly recommend the article on this site Hyakumonogatari.com.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Part 1 in a series on classical motifs that appear frequently on bonsai containers. Almost all of the artists in this article have full articles devoted to them as well, check the Table of Contents if you’re interested in seeing more work from and learning more about any artist. In future installments of this series we’ll look at famous woodblock prints like The 53 Stations of the Tokaido, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa and other Hokusai, as well as the origins of some named bonsai container styles and details.
I've been collecting Japanese Bonsai pots for a few years, and feel that the famous, and some of the lesser known but great Japanese pot artists could do with a little more writing and exposure in English.
Additionally, this blog will feature My own And others bonsai for discussion.
The purpose of this blog is to further knowledge of Japanese pottery and Japanese style bonsai. If you have any questions about Japanese bonsai pottery, or would like to acquire pots by some of the potters presented in the blog, feel free to email me at
Great Article many thanks