Saika Bonsai Experience
Saika Bonsai is a modern type of bonsai invented by the fifth generation bonsai master Yamada of Seikouen. Seikouen is one of the six bonsai gardens in the bonsai village in Omiya ward, Saitama City. Ms Yamada recognised that bonsai needed reinvention to appeal to a larger audience. To market bonsai in the modern day world she felt a fresh approach was needed in a time where few have the time or patience to learn the complicated techniques of traditional bonsai. She came up with Saika bonsai to target a wider audience, particularly younger people and women.
The meaning of Saika 彩花
In turn she devised a new word “Saika” 彩花. Literally meaning coloured flower, I presume the choice of “Sai” is an intended pun of “Sai no Kuni” a common name for Saitama. The chinese character 彩 is the same for both. Saitama,the land of colours, home and origin of Yamada’s original coloured flower in a potted plant. They are made from a tree (/s) with flowers and grass(es) with moss and stones decorating the surface.
Saika bonsai at Seikouen
The first Saika bonsai I saw in Seikouen captured my attention, because it conjured up the image of a small island for me. They are indeed supposed to represent a nature scene in a pot, but maybe not quite intended to be a potted island. Some bonsai masters initially questioned whether they are in fact bonsai at all. But whatever they are or aren’t: they are beautiful and captivating. And great news for the general public without the first bit of knowledge of how to cultivate and prune a bonsai tree; these potted plants are much easier to create and care for than traditional bonsai.
Make your own Saika Bonsai
There is an actual school in Seikouen where you can learn the principles and techniques of bonsai, or you can just book a one day experience to make your own Saika Bonsai. This is what I did yesterday, but it was for “work”. I was lucky enough to be asked to do it for an on location shooting for a television programme. I wasn’t able to take any photos and did it at warped speed, but once the TV programme is finished with the piece I created I will get to bring it home. I will update with a better photo at that time, but a preview!…
If you actually book to do it they will first explain bonsai and saika bonsai, then take you through the steps to make your own and finally they teach you how to care for it including how to water it. The teacher I had speaks fluent English. It costs 7,560 yen, which is very good value considering you get to take home your beautiful island in a pot!
You can book through their website, by email or by phone.
Email: Click here
What to bring
It can get quite messy, so it is advised you wear casual clothing and bring an apron. The school will provide all the materials and tools you need for the saika bonsai. They provide paper towels which you can use to dry your hands, but a hand towel might be useful too.
Seikouen was just one of four locations where we shooted yesterday. Each has something unique to offer. All are worth a visit and I will write about each location over the coming weeks, but I think Seikouen has the broadest appeal particularly to overseas visitors.
The nursery has a beautiful traditional Japanese wooden gate entrance leading to paved footpaths that wind their way through the gardens. People say it is reminiscent of gardens of the Edo period. Like most of the locations in the bonsai village, photos are generally prohibited within the gardens. In Seikouen there is one place you can take a photo. The photo spot displays a seasonal bonsai selected by the staff of the nursery.
Overall the trip to the bonsai region far exceeded my expectations. The hands on experience of making my own Saika Bonsai was particularly gratifying and I can’t wait to bring my piece home. In another location we visited the same day a bonsai master explained how bonsai are part of the family, reared with tender loving care. I will do my best to raise my Saika bonsai, I will certainly treasure it for as long as we both shall live! I hope you get the chance to try it for yourself someday.
Seikouen is referred to as being in Omiya, but officially it is in Kita ward. The address is:
〒331-0805 Saitama-ken, Saitama-shi, Kita-ku, Bonsaichō, 盆栽町268
The nearest station is Omiyakoen station on the Tobu Noda line. Toro station on the Tohoku line is also relatively close. Both are within walking distance of the garden.